50 States in 50 Days: Kentucky – The Bluegrass State

Posted By: Arthur Evans, Assistant Cultural Affairs Officer

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Lexington Horse Farm
Lexington Horse Farm

The state of Kentucky is a land of verdant green and quiet charm. Kentucky was the first region west of the Allegheny Mountains to be settled by American pioneers like Daniel Boone. James Harrod established the first permanent settlement at Harrodsburg in 1774. To this day, the state’s eastern Appalachian Mountains retain that rugged mystique with ample opportunities for hunting, fishing, mountain biking and canoeing.

Kentucky was caught in the middle during the Civil War, supplying both Union and Confederate forces with thousands of troops. Not quite the Midwest and not quite the South, the state is unique in its history and geography. Visitors always seem to find a way to spend just one more day in the bluegrass state, perhaps because the countryside of its central counties is a painter’s dream of rolling hills, lonely oaks, limestone cliffs and old black tobacco barns. Four-board “Kentucky-style” fences run like stitching across the pastures of stately horse farms with names like “Three Chimneys,” “River Fork” and “Silver Spring.”

Oak barrels with whiskey
Oak barrels with whiskey

Kentucky’s most famous attraction is the horse race that bears its name: The Kentucky Derby. The race, which has been run every consecutive year since 1875, is referred to as “the most exciting two minutes in sport.”  On the first Saturday of May, twenty of the world’s best thoroughbred horses line up at the starting gate at Churchill Downs to cover the one and a quarter mile track (2 km). The race caps the two-week-long Kentucky Derby Festival which is visited by tens of thousands each year.

Kentucky has long been known for its special brand of whiskey. Bourbon, named for one of the counties where it was first made, is created from a sour corn mash and cured in charred oak barrels. Distilleries dot the bucolic hills around the state’s two major cities, Lexington and Louisville and most offer free tours. Tour promoters have created the “Kentucky Bourbon Trail” to draw visitors to six of the better known distilleries in Kentucky: Jim Beam (Clermont), Maker’s Mark (Loretto), Wild Turkey (Lawrenceburg), Four Roses (Lawrenceburg), Heaven Hill (Bardstown), and Woodford Reserve (Versailles).

Louisville Slugger Museum
Louisville Slugger Museum

Of course there is more to Kentucky than just horses and bourbon. Baseball fans may choose to visit the Louisville Slugger baseball bat factory and museum in Louisville Kentucky – home of the world’s largest baseball bat, a six-story replica of the bat used by baseball great Babe Ruth. Or the Muhammad Ali center, also in Louisville. History buffs will want to visit the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln in the rural center of the state. The simple cabin, now preserved as a national park, emphasizes the humble beginnings that helped shape the character of one of America’s great presidents.

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