June 2, 2015
FRANKFORT – Eighty years ago, historical preservation took a major step forward when the federal government began compiling a list of those irreplaceable landmarks that help define our country’s heritage.
More than 2,500 National Historic Landmarks have since been identified, including 30 scattered across the Commonwealth. Some are well known – from Churchill Downs and Fort Boonesborough to Makers Mark distillery and the Old State Capitol – while others are less familiar except to those who may live nearby. Those sites range from the Ephraim McDowell House in Danville, where the world’s first successful abdominal surgery was performed, to the Zachary Taylor Home in Louisville, where the nation’s 12th president lived a large portion of his life and is buried today.
About 14 years after the U.S. Department of Interior, and now the National Park Service, began documenting these landmarks, Kentucky began its own historical marker program. It has since grown to 2,200 markers, with more added each year.
They highlight the essence of what makes Kentucky Kentucky, and while they are designed to stand alone, they can be strung together to tell a great story. The Kentucky Historical Society, which formed in the 1830s, has compiled more than 40 tours linking them together.
Some stretch across a region while others are contained in a single county. They can be found online or through the ExploreKYHistory app on smart phones.
One of the longer tours promotes those who were pioneers for women’s rights. Mary Elliott Flannery of Boyd County, for example, was the first woman elected to a legislature in a southern state, while Emma Guy Cromwell in Simpson County became the first woman elected as Kentucky’s secretary of state. Both of these elections took place within three years of the 1920 passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, which granted women the right to vote.
In Daviess County, one tour highlights the three Medal of Honor winners who were born there. Two earned their medals in the late 1800s, while the third was awarded his after he died protecting others in 1968 in Vietnam by shielding them from a live grenade.
In Frankfort, there is a cluster of about 40 homes spread over four acres that is known as the Corner in Celebrities. Few if any areas of similar size in the country produced as many national leaders. Those who lived there for at least a time include two U.S. Supreme Court justices, nine U.S. senators, six congressmen, eight governors, seven U.S. ambassadors, three Navy admirals and John Bibb, who served as a state legislator and developed Bibb lettuce.
Over the last year, Kentucky has added several other noteworthy historical markers. In April, one was unveiled in Butler County to honor Maurice Hudson Thatcher, who was the first governor of the Panama Canal Zone and, while in Congress, helped secure passage of the law creating Mammoth Cave National Park and the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site.
Last fall, meanwhile, one marker dedicated near Henderson commemorated Louis “Grandpa” Jones, a long-time fixture at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville and on the television show “Hee-Haw.” Interestingly, he earned his nickname at the young age of 22.
The two newest markers will be added on Saturday, June 6th. They will recognize the Old Stone Jail in Simpson County and James Young in Hardin County. He was founder of West Point, one of Kentucky’s oldest towns and so named because, at the time, it was the western most outpost for settlers coming down the Ohio River.
Kentucky has a lot of which to be proud when it comes to preserving our past. Only three states have more listings on the National Register of Historic Places, and we were the first state to join the popular Main Street program that preserves and promotes our downtowns. We also have more than 400 museums and historical organizations dedicated to keeping our history alive.
We are among the state leaders in the use of federal historic preservation tax credits, and this year marks the 10th anniversary of a similar state-level program the General Assembly authorized. Together, these incentive programs have led to literally hundreds of millions of dollars of improvements.
Thanks to work of the state’s preservationists, and the access the internet provides, it’s easier than ever to get to know Kentucky’s past in a way no textbook could ever show. Now that summer has all but arrived, I encourage you to search out some of these places, especially if you have school-aged children. You won’t regret it.
As always, I would like to hear if you have any thoughts or concerns regarding this issue or any other affecting the state. My address isRoom 366B, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601; or you can email me at [email protected].
To leave a message for me or for any legislator by phone, please call 800-372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305.
I hope to hear from you soon.