FRANKFORT – In one way, it’s fair to say that some of the first farmers on this side of the world were Kentuckians.
Archaeologists believe that the Red River Gorge in the eastern part of the commonwealth was one of the early places in North and South America where modern agricultural practices literally took root. Like our farmers today, these earliest settlers found growing conditions to be ideal as they domesticated such wild plants as the sunflower, whose seeds added both flavor and nutrition to their food.
With September being Kentucky Archeology Month, and October set aside as Archives Month here and across the country, fall is the perfect time to highlight stories like this that underscore the rich cultural history Kentucky is famous for.
While the finds at Red River Gorge are relatively new, Kentucky can also lay claim to one of the country’s first archaeological digs. At what is now Big Bone Lick State Park, early settlers found the bones of such large pre-historic mammals as mastodons, which were drawn to the area because of the salt lick but died when they got trapped in the marshy soil.
This discovery even drew the interest of President Thomas Jefferson, who had some of the bones delivered to the White House and kept some for his personal collection.
Kentucky has long been at the forefront when it comes to recognizing and preserving what makes us who we are today. The Kentucky Historical Society, for example, formed more than 180 years ago.
Other organizations that also play a critical role include the Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives, the Kentucky Military Heritage Commission, the Kentucky Heritage Council and the Kentucky Main Street Program, which was the first of its kind among the states and has helped many of our downtowns keep their historic charm.
Meanwhile, some of our most iconic sites – 30 altogether – have been designated as National Historic Landmarks and include such places as Churchill Downs, the Henry Clay Estate in Lexington, Shaker Village in Central Kentucky and the Old State Capitol in Frankfort.
Overall, only New York, Massachusetts and Ohio have more listings than we do on the National Register of Historic Places. We have 3,400 districts scattered across the state that contain more than 42,000 historic features.
The newest was added earlier this month in Lexington. Pope Villa was designed by Benjamin Henry Latrobe, who also was the architect responsible for the U.S. Capitol. There are only three residences designed by him that are still standing, and this one – built more than 200 years ago – is the only one in the commonwealth.
One of Kentucky’s most famous sons, the author Robert Penn Warren, perhaps summed it up best about why it is so important that we maintain what came before us: “History cannot give us a program for the future, but it can give us a fuller understanding of ourselves, and of our common humanity, so that we can better face the future.”
To put it another way, the more we know about yesterday, the better prepared we will be to face tomorrow – and the more likely future generations will be able to enjoy and appreciate the Kentucky we love.
As always, if you have any questions about this issue or any other affecting the state, please let me know. My email is Rick.Rand@lrc.ky.gov, and you can leave a message for me or for any legislator at 800-372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305.