Bluegrass Country

Overview

Introduction

This region in north-central Kentucky is a lovely area of rolling hills, racehorses and lavish estates. Lexington serves as the epicenter of Bluegrass Country and is the location of many of the horse farms and racetracks. The surrounding area should not be overlooked, however: If you have time, we strongly recommend that you make a pleasant—and convenient—circle tour of central Kentucky's historic towns and villages.

Begin by taking Highway 68 southwest out of Lexington to Pleasant Hill. Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill is a restored Shaker community of 30 buildings in absolutely beautiful countryside. Dedicated to the purity of living as a form of religious worship, the 19th-century Shakers created an approach to life that produced innovations in architecture, design, crafts and basic technology. Their emphasis on the grace of simplicity reaches out to you, no matter how much of a modern urban animal you might be. Don't rush your visit—if you can, overnight in one of the original Shaker buildings at the village to get the full feeling of this remarkable community. At least take time to dine at the Trustees' Office Inn. We found the paddleboat ride on the Kentucky River a total delight: Because the bluffs are too steep to build on, the scene has changed very little since Shaker times.

Head southwest to Harrodsburg, where you can see a replica of the first permanent settlement west of the Alleghenies at Old Fort Harrod State Park. A little to the south, your next stop is at Danville, home of the Constitution Square State Historic Site, where the state's government officially began. In Danville, be sure to tour the McDowell House, the 1792 home and apothecary shop of a wealthy doctor, surrounded by a peaceful medicinal herb garden.

As you head west, you'll pass through Perryville, which has a number of mid-1800s buildings downtown. The battle of Perryville, the largest Civil War engagement fought in Kentucky, took place just outside of town in October 1862. The site is preserved at the Perryville Battlefield State Historic Site, and a re-enactment of the conflict is staged there each year in early October, complete with cavalry charges and booming cannon. It's great fun, but the noise may upset small children.

Continuing west, when you reach the Bluegrass Parkway, you'll be at Bardstown. From Bardstown, head northeast to Frankfort, then northeast again to Georgetown, the home of a Toyota manufacturing plant. You can tour the plant aboard a tram that lets you view the automobile-making process. Drive past Ward Hall, an enchanting Greek Revival mansion built in the 1850s—it's just what you imagine a southern palace ought to look like. The home is open for tours the first weekend of the month April-December. Tours at other times may be granted upon request.

Continue east to Paris: Daniel Boone slept there at Duncan Tavern, which was built in 1788. It's now the history and genealogy library of the Kentucky Daughters of the American Revolution. Paris was also the home of Garrett A. Morgan, an African American who invented the gas mask and the tricolor stoplight. From Paris you can drive southwest back to Lexington. If you're aiming to take in all of these Bluegrass sights, allow two or three full days.

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