One of the great things about Kentucky is that we recognized the importance of protecting and promoting our past early on.
The Kentucky Historical Society, for example, got its start in 1838, and received its first state funding in 1906. Still going strong, it is an integral part of a network featuring several hundred smaller historical organizations and museums that commemorate everything from our military contributions to incredible quilts.
We have 30 of the country’s 2,500 National Historic Landmarks – those irreplaceable locations that help define who we are as a nation – and here in Kentucky, you can tour them at such places as Shaker Village, Fort Boonesborough and the Old State Capitol.
When counting the tens of thousands of smaller historical districts, we rise considerably in the state rankings, with only New York, Massachusetts and Ohio having more than our 3,400. If the landmarks paint the big picture, these districts add the crucial details.
Most tell stories that would be all but forgotten except by those who live nearby or are a student of history. But these little facts add up quickly. Consider Frankfort’s Corner in Celebrities, which was once home, during some point in their lives, to two U.S. Supreme Court justices, nine U.S. senators, eight governors, seven U.S. ambassadors and three Navy admirals. Measuring just a few hundred acres, few if any other similarly sized tracts in the country can boast that many national leaders.
Kentucky has a historical-marker program that takes an even closer look at sites that might otherwise be lost to time. There are well over 2,000 of these now, and many have been linked as part of 54 separate tours.
These will take you to 100 places affiliated with the Civil War, 30 that have ties to President Lincoln and almost two dozen highlighting our contributions during World War I.
If you would like to learn more about these tours, there’s a smartphone app that puts this history right in your hands. Look for “ExploreKyHistory” in your phone carrier’s app store or access it here, https://explorekyhistory.ky.gov/. According to the Kentucky Historical Society, there were more than 200,000 page views of this app in 2017, double the number from the year before.
Another area where Kentucky gets high marks is its Main Street program, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this week in Covington. We were the first state to join, and according to the Kentucky Heritage Council, it has steered more than $4.5 billion in public/private investments within our downtowns, preserving buildings that might otherwise be lost to time and using their location to re-strengthen these economic centers.
It’s worth noting that Kentucky has some other interesting historical connections. In Northern Kentucky, Big Bone Lick State Park is home to the country’s first large-bone paleontology dig, with some of the bones of mastodons and mammoths collected by Thomas Jefferson.
Archeologists, meanwhile, think some of this hemisphere’s first farmers were Kentuckians, so to speak, since there is evidence that early bands of pre-historic settlers settled in Red River Gorge and domesticated such wild plants as the sunflower, whose seeds added both flavor and nutrition to their food.
On the western side of the state, Mammoth Cave is more than just the world’s longest cave system by far – bigger than the second- and third-longest combined – it is also the nation’s second-oldest paid tourist attraction, trailing only Niagara Falls.
Thanks to our state preservationists and historians, it doesn’t take a long drive to learn more about Kentucky’s rich heritage. With school nearly out and summer ahead, I encourage you to search out some of these or other places to learn more about our commonwealth. It’s one thing to read about them in a history book, but another thing altogether to see them in person.
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PS: In case you haven’t heard, Julian Carroll has said publicly in the news media recently he will retiring at the end of his term next year and endorsing me for his 7th Senate District seat. I’m very happy about this especially since I’ve been “running” for that seat since 2001. Your support would be appreciated. Thanks so much and holler anytime.