Life in My "Old Kentucky Home"
Hardin is situated slightly west of central Kentucky and was formed in 1792. It currently encompasses almost 630 miles and boasts a population of more than 96,000. Its county seat is in Elizabethtown.
Radcliff is conveniently located adjacent to Fort Knox in the “Heartland of Kentucky,” a historic location known for its accessibility from almost every possible direction. With a population estimated at 22,000, Radcliff boasts the second highest population in Hardin County. It is also a haven for the outdoor enthusiast, as well as history buffs. Radcliff was once known as Mill Creek, an area that was scouted out by the Boon brothers, Daniel and Squire. In 1814, Coleman Lewis built the first section of Radcliff’s oldest standing structure, the Haycraft Inn. The inn is one of three major inns which were used extensively during the era of stage coach transports. The inn is listed on the National Registry of Historical Structures, and is located off of modern-day Wilson Street.
Horace McCullum was the man who actually coined the name Radcliff during a lot auction in 1919. He named the new community after Maj. William Radcliffe who was head of the Quartermaster Corp at Fort Knox. In the 1930’s Fort Knox expanded into Stithton and New Stithton, resulting in former residents, shopkeepers and innkeepers relocating to Radcliff.
Radcliff is well-known for the Community Holiday Festival which is held on the first Friday of December. In addition to hot food and drink concessions, the highlight is the Radcliff Holiday Parade. Following the parade, there is often a choral presentation and traditional tree lighting. Should you wish to visit the Colvin Community Center in December, it hosts a Festival of Trees annually.
Radcliff is also home to three public golf courses and country clubs, one city-sanctioned skate park, a youth center and seasonal public pools. For the licensed outdoor enthusiast, fishing and hunting is plentiful.
Elizabethtown is located south of Radcliff and is the seat of Hardin County. Elizabethtown is central to some of the state’s most stunning historic landmarks, as well as being a former home to a multitude of famous historic figures.
Thomas Lincoln owned a successful carpentry business, while watching over his son, the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln.
John Audubon was a shopkeeper in Elizabethtown long before his famed ornithology book was published.
Families and friends can spend some quality time at Freeman Lake Park, a 170-acre lake with over 90 acres of picnic space. The park also features several volleyball courts, playgrounds and seven walking trails. The park also has three historical learning structures: the Lincoln Heritage House, a recreated one-room schoolhouse and the Sarah Bush Johnson Log Cabin. The park is also home to the annual Kentucky Heartland Festival, featuring hot air balloon races, parade, fireworks, food and game booths, rides for children, and live music.
Meade County’s greatest attribute is its northern side, of which 56 miles is bordered by the Ohio River. Most of Meade’s communities were created in the late 1700s and early 1800s and still remain today. It is probably best known in the surrounding counties as the home of the Meade County Fair—an extravaganza of rides, horse & agriculture shows, live music and Motocross.
As the county seat of Meade County, Brandenburg is steeped in local history. The town was named for Samuel Brandenburg, the owner of Brandenburg’s Landing and Ferry, which was located directly on the Ohio River.
After a brief rivalry with John Rush of Claysville, the county seat was relocated from Claysville to Brandenburg, since Claysville was deemed unsafe by an act of General Assembly. Once Brandenburg became the county seat, Samuel donated land and resources for a County Courthouse, County Square and a tavern. Brandenburg’s tavern later became a haven for such historical notables as Aaron Burr and James Audubon.
When the first railroad came to Kentucky, Brandenburg was completely ignored, and in protest, the townspeople built the first hardtop road to and from the station. In hindsight, this was a major factor in its longevity.
Currently, Brandenburg boasts an 18-hole golf course, resplendent with a country club. It also has three major city parks: Flippins Run, Concordia and Meade-Olin, all of which have extensive picnic grounds, hiking trails, caves and boat ramps. But the most dazzling location in Brandenburg is the city park, spanning the entire downtown area. The park features a playground, chess area, picnic tables and a stunning view of the riverfront, where you can watch the barges and towboats drift by.
Established in 1796, with a current population estimated at 1,062, this community is a history lover’s paradise. In addition to a historic river walk, the Civil War era Fort Duffield is the oldest, most well preserved earthen structure in the state. It’s not the traditional structure either. It’s actually a horseshoe-shaped earthen dugout with walls that are between 20 and 30 feet high, built on Pearman Hill. The Fort also hosts re-enactments weekly during the summer season.
Adjacent to the Fort, in Hill Park, hikers, adventurers and mountain bikers will find almost eight miles of hiking and biking trails. The park is also part of the Fort Duffield Civil War Cemetery, where nearly 50 Union Soldiers are buried, who died while serving at the Fort.
The historic district’s most famous structure is Youngs Inn & Tavern, built in 1797, and has served the likes of Andrew Jackson, Gen. William Sherman, and John Audubon, who even mentions the Inn in his essay on carrier pigeons.
West Point is also home to a 500+ seat amphitheatre as well as a riverside Veteran’s Memorial Park that welcomes picnickers and anglers.
Located on the outskirts of Fort Knox, Muldraugh is only two miles north of the Main Gate on Bullion Blvd. When traveling south into town, don’t be alarmed - a retired military tank crouches at the bottom of Muldraugh Hill. The monument was built from the foundation stones of the historic Grahampton Grinding Mill that once stood where modern-day Fort Knox now sits.
The town features a quaint park, as well as multiple churches and hotel/motel opportunities.
Founded in 1778 by George Clark, Louisville was named for King Louis XVI of France.
Perhaps Louisville’s most well known landmark is Churchill Downs, the home of the Kentucky Derby, the kickoff of the famous “Triple Crown” of racing, occurring every first weekend in May.
If you’re interested the history of the Kentucky Derby, visit the Derby Museum at Churchill Downs, a showcase that features clothing and racing equipment that has been used over the years. There is also a backyard paddock for children with thoroughbred and miniature horses.
For art lovers, Louisville is home to the Speed Art Gallery, established in 1927. It is both the oldest and largest art museum, featuring more than 12,000 permanent pieces in its collection. It is estimated that the museum has more than 180,000 visitors annually. The collection covers a broad spectrum of tastes, and exhibits range from ancient Egyptian exhibits up to and including modern and local art. For museum hours, directions, and current showcases visit www.speedmuseum.org for museum hours, directions and current showcase.
Louisville is also home to several inventions that are staples of our daily life. In 1873, John Colgan invented “Taffy Julie,” later known as bubblegum. Unfortunately, another inventor beat Colgan to the patent, though he is still credited with the invention. In 1884, Bud Hillerich invented the world’s first Louisville Slugger in his father’s woodshop. The first use of the term “Louisville Slugger,” was in 1893, when the bat became a baseball staple. Thanks in turn to Bud and the Slugger; Louisville is also home to the world’s tallest bat, which leans against the Louisville Slugger Museum, in the heart of the historic West Main District.
In 1934, the first cheeseburger was ordered in Kaelin’s Restaurant, when Margaret Kaelin’s husband requested a slice of American cheese on his hamburger. The “special request” soon became a staple at Kaelin’s and started the world famous trend. Kaelin’s is still located off of Newburg Road and is open for lunch and dinner year-round.
Naturalists will find a sense of serenity and knowledge in Clermont, in the Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest. In addition to more than 30 miles worth of hiking trails, beautiful lakes and spread over its 14,000 acres (of which 12,000 acres is an accessible research forest), Bernheim also boasts a hands-on nature center, and hosts several annual “natural” festivals. Bernheim’s mission is three-fold: First, to provide ample opportunities for quiet, personal experiences with the outdoors; Second, to foster curiosity and the love of learning with imaginative, inter-disciplinary, outdoor-oriented horticultural and natural history programs and exhibits, as well as nature-inspired art and cultural activities; And third, to increase understanding of the natural world through progressive, inter-disciplinary research in horticulture, natural areas management, and habitat restoration.
Probably the most famous landmark in Clermont, however, is the Jim Beam Distillery and Museum. Jacob Beam, a local farmer and grain mill foreman seals and sells his first barrel of “Old Jake Beam’s Sour Mash” locally in 1795—a spirit highly praised by friends and family alike. The name of the bourbon changed in 1894, when ownership was passed to the great-great-grandson, James “call me Jim” Beam. Shortly after, prohibition strikes the industry, and Beam retires to Florida until 1933, when the prohibition is repealed. In 120 days, Beam (now 70) rebuilt the family distillery by hand; the distillery has since become a household name.
In 1964, Congress declared bourbon to be the official native spirit of the U.S.
A city with a lot of “spirit,” Loretto is probably most well known as the home of the Maker’s Mark distillery. Originally created in 1840 by T.W. Samuels, the secret family recipe was passed from generation to generation. A Samuels family business was formed soon after, and prospered until 1943, when Bill Samuels Sr. left the T.W. Samuels distillery, and burned the only copy of the bourbon recipe. He then crafted a new recipe, using maize and the notoriously mild winter wheat. The recipe was perfected in 1952, and the world-famous “wax seal” was created the same year. In 1958, the first bottle was sealed, dipped in wax, and sold for $7.
The U.S. Secretary of the Interior officially declared the Maker’s Mark distillery as a National Historic Landmark in 1980, and in 2000 (through 2001) the distillery expanded, effectively doubling its capacity to produce whiskey.
In 1780, William Baird received a land grant of 1,000 acres from the Virginia General Assembly, in an area that was tentatively named Salem. Baird used this land to create a town, and crafted its buildings out of indigenous timber. When the first courthouse was built in 1785, the town officially took the moniker of “Bardstown”—a derivative of William’s family name.
Definitely its most significant building—the Federal Hill Mansion—was the muse for Stephen Foster, when he wrote “My Old Kentucky Home.” The Mansion is also etched on the most circulated U.S. quarter, minted in October of 2002. Visitors to Federal Hill will find re-enactors in antebellum-era clothing hosting tours in the restored structure. There is also the J. Dan Talbott Amphitheater on the grounds, which hosts “Stephen Foster—The Musical,” an outdoor extravaganza that features 50 Foster songs and brightly-colored interpretative dancers, swirling throughout the historic hillside.
Today, the largest concentrations of historically significant structures in Kentucky reside in Bardstown. More than 300 of Bardstown’s buildings appear on the National Historic Registry. Its success was due in part to a great concentration in lime deposits in the town’s water supply, a prized blend sought by distillers. So it comes as no surprise that the town was the center of the early distilling industry, and many of these distilleries remain close to Bardstown today.
Since the end of prohibition, a staple of Bardstown has been Heaven Hill Distillery. The company was founded from the ground up, producing and marketing without notable brands, available stores of whiskey, or notoriety—and it was started during the Great Depression. Today, Heaven Hill is the biggest family-owned, independent marketer, producer and distributor of distilled spirits in the U.S. Not only that, but the distillery also boasts the largest inventory of aging Bourbon in the world-more than 675,000 barrels.
Mammoth Cave National Park
Located roughly 95 miles southwest of Louisville, Mammoth Cave is the longest recorded cave system in the world—more than 360 miles of explored underground terrain. There are a host of cave tours available, ranging from $4 to $45 and can vary from 30 minutes to seven hours. For first-time ventures, the historic tour is recommended, spanning two miles of cave and running approximately two hours, and explains the cave’s history as well as showcases the cave’s largest spaces and oldest routes.
The cave also offers introductory caving/spelunking lessons, as well as lantern-lit tours and chances to witness cave-dwelling animals in their native habitats.
For those who prefer to stay above ground, the park also offers miles of hiking trails and horseback riding. For those who wish to make a “total” experience, the North Side of the park offers more than 70 miles of natural surroundings with campsites scattered throughout the park. Campsites are $30 per night, and must be reserved in advance.
With natural attractions like these, it’s no wonder that Fort Knox and its surrounding counties are among the most visited locales in the country.
NOTE: In order to camp in the backcountry, a Backcountry Use Permit is required.