If summer in the city is getting too hot to handle, you can find relief just 12 miles west of downtown Lexington, where the Pisgah community has a long and remarkable 225-year history.
Pisgah began in 1784, when a group of families, originally from the area known as Calf Pastures near Staunton, Va., left the protection of McConnell's Station, near Lexington, and settled in Pisgah. The settlement was named for the biblical Mount Pisgah, from which Moses viewed the promised land.
Unlike many early settlements that later developed into urban areas, Pisgah has retained its agricultural character. Since 1987, it has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places under a rare designation as a rural, agricultural district.
Many of the farms are owned by descendants of the original settlers, and the community remains strong, as does the will to preserve its rural heritage. "What we're all interested in is preservation, spelled with a capital P," says Sallie Cochran, whose ancestors were early Pisgah landowners.
"Deep, fertile soil, large trees and old homes encourage a strong sense of history and continuity," she said.
The Pisgah District — which encompasses an area roughly bordered by Shannon Run Creek, Big Sink Road, Versailles Road and Old Frankfort Pike — holds many examples of an agrarian history, which was documented when the historical designation was being considered, and more recently in an illustrated brochure created by the Historic Association.
What features make the area so special? Pisgah resident Vivian Acton suggests looking at the roads first.
"Instead of being straight, the path the winding roads took was determined by following the natural landscape features and farm borders," she says. "In some places, the roadbeds are worn well below the surrounding land, by the action of wagon wheels."
Groves of Osage orange trees, once planted as living fences, now create a green arch over the road.
Another necessity for farmers was a close, reliable water source. Pisgah settlers built their homes near springs, covering them with small springhouses to keep the water clean and provide cool storage places. Along Pisgah Pike, there is a small rock-edged pond called Silver Pool, which was used to harvest ice. Visitors can see a corner slide-way, where blocks could be hauled out and taken just uphill to a circular, underground ice house. Located on what is now WinStar Farm, the complex also includes a historical brick farmhouse, a barn and a smokehouse.
Some of the original two-room cabins survive but have been absorbed into larger structures. One hand-hewn log cabin was converted to a conference room at Three Chimneys Farm, where rough planks were left in place as the interior walls. Another early stone cabin along Paynes Mill Road has become the rear first floor of an expanded frame house. Barns, silos, rock walls, pastures and plowed fields indicate working farms, many of which raise horses and cattle today.
Payne's Mill is gone, but follow the road east for an example of an early Pratt Pony Truss bridge, installed about 1900 over South Elkhorn Creek.
The Mt. Vernon Baptist Church and the Pisgah Presbyterian Church remain centers that have welcomed and supported community activities for generations. A playground, tennis courts and a shady lawn at Pisgah offer space for weekly summer get-togethers.
On Saturday, Pisgah residents will host A Day in the Country, its annual fund-raiser, at Ashbrook Farm.
Resident Sue Fosson, who helped organize the day's activities, says that the picnics, monthly coffees at area homes, and even exercise classes at WinStar provide opportunities to keep in touch.
The non-profit Historic Association uses the money it raises for improvements like tree planting, and to finance preservation efforts. Dan Rosenberg, Three Chimneys farm manager for 30 years, says the close-knit community involves everyone.
Fosson says that last year, the farm donated extra ends from fence planking to a Boy Scout project that established a Pisgah bluebird house trail, a development that sets a good example for the next 200 years.