Legislative Update - October 20th, 2020
Each fall, Kentucky joins the rest of the nation in celebrating several aspects of our diverse history, with September dedicated to archaeology, October focused on historical archives and November spotlighting Native Americans.
The commonwealth has made considerable contributions in all three areas. In fact, we made a significant mark thousands of years before we even became a state, given that archaeologists say that the Red River Gorge in Eastern Kentucky is among the first places in North and South America where our earliest settlers began cultivating plants for food.
Another well-known archaeological spot is Northern Kentucky's Big Bone Lick, which is home to the country’s first large-bone fossil discovery. Thomas Jefferson was especially fascinated by the bones of such animals as mastodons and giant sloths, and he even had some delivered to his home for display.
Going back much further, scientists announced a few days ago that they had discovered a new trove of shark fossils in Mammoth Cave. a relic from an era when Kentucky and most of our country were under water.
In much more recent times, we’ve come up with a large roster of historical places to visit. There are 42,000 officially listed on the National Register of Historic Places – only three states have more – and we’re also home to 32 National Historic Landmarks, those irreplaceable sites that help define both who we were and who we now are. Those include Shakertown, Churchill Downs, Fort Boonesborough and the Dr. Ephraim McDowell House in Danville, which pays tribute to his pioneering role as an abdominal surgeon more than 200 years ago.
Just last week, we became home to the National Park Service’s newest monument with the dedication of the Mill Springs Battlefield in Pulaski County. That Civil War-era battle is considered the Union Army’s first significant victory.
For most Kentuckians, it doesn’t take long to find a museum or archive nearby. We have about 300 overall, and the largest is the Kentucky Historical Society's Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History in Frankfort. Since it opened in 1999, it has welcomed more than one million people.
Beyond the historical society, which got its start more than 180 years ago, other organizations that have helped preserve our past include the Kentucky African American Heritage Commission, the Kentucky Military Heritage Commission, the National Underground Railroad Museum, and the Main Street Program, which uses tax credits to help save many of our historic downtowns. Kentucky became the first state to join when it became a member more than 40 years ago.
If you would like to learn more about our past, the Kentucky Historical Society’s Explore KY History smartphone app/website highlights hundreds of places. More than 100,000 people used the app last year alone, and many undoubtedly took advantage of its “tours,” which link sites focused on such people, things and events as the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln and bourbon.
One of the tours also focuses on Kentucky’s Native Americans. In Greenup County, for example, you can learn more about where the Shawnee tribe built Shannoah, a village on the banks of the Ohio River, and in other counties there are tributes to burial mounds and locations where Native Americans traveled during the Trail of Tears.
With Native Americans in mind, I'm proud to say that the Kentucky House voted unanimously this year to declare the second Monday of October as Indigenous Peoples’ Day here in the commonwealth. This is an important recognition that helps illuminate their history and contributions.
As these and many other examples show, we have a lot to be proud of when it comes to preserving and promoting our history. The success and failure of the Kentuckians who came before us are also invaluable when it comes to charting our own future.
I encourage you to learn more about our past through the historical society’s app and, when possible, by visiting our museums and those places across the commonwealth where history truly comes alive. You won't regret it.
If you have any questions about this or other issues affecting Kentucky, please let me know. My email is email@example.com, or you can leave a message during normal business hours for me or any legislator at 800-372-7181.
Thanks for all you do, please don’t forget to vote if you haven’t already, and holler anytime.