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Bluegrass & Horse Country
Lexington, Kentucky Spiral Tour
In the heart of Kentucky lies the Bluegrass region, known for beautiful rolling hills, majestic horse farms, quaint small towns, and artisan crafters. Surrounding Lexington, Kentucky’s second largest city, places like Richmond, Winchester, Paris, Georgetown, Frankfort, Versailles, and Lawrenceburg offer charm, local fare, unique shopping, and more. Horse farms, distilleries, wineries, and many scenic, winding roads lie in between and provide a true get-away-from-it-all experience. And we can’t forget Kentucky’s capital of Frankfort, a unique place in itself. We’ll explore it all on the Bluegrass & Horse Country Tour of Kentucky, which will bring us around the area and into Lexington.
This is basically a spiral route, so none of the destinations – as the crow flies – are all that far from each other!
Let’s begin in Richmond, a busy city of 30,000 along I-75 & U.S. 25 and home to Eastern Kentucky University. EKU traces its roots back to 1874 although it did not become Eastern Kentucky “University” until 1966 but today its student body of 16,000 enjoys high rankings, including top 10% nationally in Forbes and recognition for community and regional engagement by the Carnegie Foundation. The EKU Colonels teams, including NCAA Division I-AA football and NCAA basketball, play in the Ohio Valley Conference. Campus facilities include the 2,000-seat EKU Center for the Arts, which hosts a series of major events and concerts and the Hamill Planetarium, which occasionally offers public shows on top of educational programs. Located on the south side of town and visible for the skyscrapers on campus including the 20-story Commonwealth Hall, EKU’s size and influence makes Richmond a strong college town only 45 minutes south of Lexington.
Downtown Richmond is filled with Victorian-style structures. Richmond was a pretty bustling city in the 1880s. A horse-drawn streetcar brought people from the railroad station to neighborhoods filled with large residences and an elegant old hotel called the Glyndon, which opened back in 1892 to replace a burned-down original. Though closed as a hotel, the building and stands as a monument to a bygone era of swanky hotels from the 19th century; its architecture is interesting and local tales of ghost stories from the hotel may be revealed if you stop downtown for a bite or beverage. The Richmond Area Arts Center on Water Street, built in 1887, draws residents and visitors alike seeking art exhibits and a variety of events.
Historic sites flank the city; south of Richmond near the Blue Grass Army Depot is the site of the Battle of Richmond. On August 29 & 30, 1862 Union and Confederate forces engaged in what became the second-largest Civil War battle fought in Kentucky. Do you recall who won the battle? Find out at the Battle of Richmond Visitors Center, located about six miles from downtown Richmond along U.S. 25. Four historic buildings on the site (two homes, a church, and a former courthouse) add to the intrigue, as do memorials on the grounds. The Visitors Center itself is a former residence and longtime inn, originally built way back in 1811.
Just north of Richmond and west of I-75’s Exit 95, the White Hall State Historic Site lets you explore the home of Cassius Marcellus Clay, an emancipationist, newspaper publisher, Minister to Russia, friend to Abraham Lincoln, and one of the original founders of the Republican Party. His home went up in the late 1700s with additions around the Civil War; costumed guides show visitors around and share stories. We should call this a mansion, actually… it covers almost 10,000 square feet and was one of the first homes in the nation to feature central heating and indoor plumbing.
From Richmond and its sights, you can follow I-75 north to Exit 95 and head north on KY 627, or follow Madison Avenue north from downtown and KY 388. The two roads meet near Ford by the Kentucky River, where you’ll find another historic site: Fort Boonesborough State Park. Period buildings, craftsmen, Daniel Boone history (he established the fort, after all…look at the name!), and exhibits in the Kentucky River Museum help you learn while hiking trails, birding areas, fishing, swimming pools, and even mini-golf help you enjoy some recreation. In the reconstructed fort, craft artisans are regularly at work and offer their wares.
From the Fort, jump back onto KY 627 and head into Winchester. This town of 18,000 is the seat of Clark County and one of the gateways to Daniel Boone National Forest. The city holds an annual Pioneer Festival in honor of Boone, who lived near Winchester when he established Fort Boonesborough. (The National Forest named after Boone offers prime recreation opportunities via I-64 and KY 402/Combs Mountain Parkway about 40 minutes to the east, including excellent rock climbing at Red River Gorge.) The city is proud of its history and takes advantage of its location along I-64 where “Horse Country” transitions into “Hill Country” to the east. The Bluegrass Heritage Museum explores local history through numerous era from Native American settlement to present day. Housed in a former medical clinic (but the really pretty kinds they had in the 1880s), exhibits explore agricultural and military history, and the museum is noted for its collection of antique quilts, medical equipment, and telephones. Downtown is anchored by the lovely Clark County Courthouse, a 1853 Greek Revival structure capped with a clock tower. Also of note is the Leeds Theater, which opened in 1925 and – after a 1990 renovation – still shows movies from Hollywood’s “Golden Era” as well as other music and stage performances. Nearby, the Holly Rood-Clark Mansion dates back to 1814, when it was the home for a former Kentucky governor. A prime example of the Federal style of the era, tours of this mansion are available by appointment.
The Winchester Opera House was opened in 1873 by the city’s mayor at the time. A 2003 renovation resulted in a beautiful facility, which while often booked for private events is open for exploration including a lovely 2,000 square foot art gallery that mixes traditional and eclectic Kentucky art. One block away, a former Presbyterian church from 1904 now serves as the Historic Church at Winchester Opera House with original half-moon oak pews; that can also be toured.
Soda lovers may know Winchester as home of “Ale-8-One,” a long-popular ginger and citrus-flavored soft drink. Pronounced “a late one,” local bottler G. L. Wainscott began experimenting with sodas in 1902 and began bottling Ale-8-One in 1926. Today, Ale-8-One can be found all over Kentucky and some nearby areas in adjacent states. It’s a popular mixer with Kentucky bourbon and whiskey, helping to ensure a tasty “all-Kentucky” beverage. Tours of their facility are available in the morning hours on Thursday and Friday; (859) 744-3483 has details. If wine is a favorite of yours, the Hamon Haven Winery makes unique wines from nine varieties of grapes grown in their own vineyard, including a blackberry. They recently opened a tasting room just outside of town along Rockwell Road (859-745-4161 for more information.)
We already noted to the east of Winchester a little ways into Daniel Boone National Forest you’ll find the beautiful Red River Gorge; also via I-64 and the Combs Mountain Parkway but a little closer is Kentucky Equestrian Park, a good place for fans to check out; history buffs, meanwhile, can get a look at Indian Old Fields [same link], the site of the last Native American village in Kentucky. Called Eskippakithiki (“Place of the Blue Licks” in Shawnee), this village lasted roughly from 1670 to 1754. It’s a good side trip if you want horses and history combined.
In Winchester, the Best Western Country Squire is right along I-64, convenient to the whole area.
There’s much, much more ahead on the Tour! From Winchester, head north on KY 627 about fifteen miles into Bourbon County and its county seat of Paris. Paris is located on the Stoner Fork of the Licking River (you can’t make this stuff up.) A town of 8,500 – about 1,000th the size of its French namesake – Paris calls itself the “Thoroughbred Capital of the World.” Founded as Hopewell in 1789, the name was changed to Paris the following year to honor French assistance during the Revolutionary War.
Like many towns in the Bluegrass region of Kentucky, Paris has done a banner job of preserving and reviving its downtown. Six very walkable blocks of the area are known as the Antiques & Gallery District, with “Horses, History, and Hospitality” featuring ten museums, antique shops, and galleries. Daniel Boone had a few beverages (and who knows what else) in Paris – at the time still part of Virginia – at what is now the Duncan Tavern Historic Center. A stone tavern that began life as a residence, Duncan Tavern was built way back in 1788. Today it’s a museum furnished with rare antiques (like sugar chests, used for sugar storage back when families only got one or two deliveries a year) and exhibits, with guided tours available. The Hopewell Museum – having the settlement’s original name – preserves history and heritage for Paris and all of Bourbon County. Art and history exhibits, drive tour information leading you to each of Bourbon County’s 25 historic markers, and rotating displays covers a variety of topics are all featured.
Paris’ art community is pretty substantial for a smaller town; the Downtown Paris ArtWALK draws from all over the state. Gardens, which are essentially a marriage of nature and art, include the Nannine Clay Wallis Arboretum, which also holds the Garden Club of Kentucky’s headquarters. The Arboretum is free to the public, open sunrise to sunset, and features over 70 tree varieties including some that date to the 1850s. Rose gardens, herb gardens, and a reflecting pool round out the offerings.
Trivia: Downtown Paris features the Shinner Building, dubbed by Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! as the “tallest three-story building in the world.”
Just outside of town are two prime examples of horses and history. First, the history: about six miles east of town via KY 537 the Cane Ridge Meeting House is one of the oldest churches in Kentucky and its largest one-room wooden structure. An 1801 Christian revival event drew 10,000 people to this location and a time when getting around wasn’t exactly easy. Considered the first Christian-based religious movement on American soil, Cane Ridge is still used for services. For horses, thoroughbred farms dot the landscape and among the most celebrated is Claiborne Farm, home to Secretariat and many other champions. A must for true horse lovers, Claiborne offers tours (they MUST be pre-arranged; call 859-987-2330 to do so) offering access to the beautiful grounds. Learn about the workings of the farm, see horses graze in the pastures, and check out graves of some of the greats through history. Besides, it’s fun to take a tour guided by someone with the title of “Stallion Manager.”
Leaving Paris, head west on U.S. 460, we go from a French name to a British-inspired name in Georgetown, a booming town just north of Lexington along I-75 just north of I-64. With 30,000 residents – triple what it was in 1980 – Georgetown has benefitted greatly from the massive Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky plant on the northeast side of town, which opened in 1988. The Toyota Camry, Avalon, and Venza models are all manufactured in Georgetown, and the Lexus ES Sedan is also beginning production. Tours of the plant are available, starting in the 11,500 square foot Visitor Center and continuing with an electric tram ride through the 7.5 million square foot facility. Yes, this thing is massive! Reservations for a tour are recommended by calling 502-868-3027.
U.S. 25, U.S. 62, and U.S. 460 all meet in the heart of Georgetown, providing a nice look at this bustling burg. Georgetown College was chartered in 1829 and became the first Baptist college west of the Allegheny Mountains. This four-year liberal arts school with 1,200 students adds a college influence to downtown, which offers a wide variety of Victorian buildings filled with boutiques, antique shops, coffee shops, and restaurants. The area is known as the Oxford Historic District. Of particular note are the Georgetown City Hall and Scott County Courthouse, located adjacent to each other. The Courthouse went up in 1877 and you can explore the interior space; City Hall was built in 1899 and is built with a mixture of brick and stone, the result of a “change in plans” part way through construction.
Owing in part to the Toyota plant, Georgetown has closer ties with Japan than most towns. Their sister city is Tahara, Japan; to vividly display this connection, the Yuko-En on the Elkhorn serves as the “Official Kentucky-Japan Friendship Garden.” Covering nearly six acres, this beautiful four-season garden offers everything from native Kentucky bluegrass landscaping to Japanese Koi ponds amidst stroll paths, arched bridges, and waterfalls. You’ll also find the Kiln House, made of recycled tobacco barn timbers, and a Japanese-style Stone Garden and Tea House.
About a mile west of downtown stands Ward Hall, the largest Greek Revival mansion in Kentucky. Built in the 1850s, this mansion is over 12,000 square feet and sits upon 40 acres of rolling hills; it is so grand that the Kentucky Legislature considered using this house for the State Capitol back in the 1880s. Fluted Corinthian columns, cast iron facades and cut stone frames are just part of the reason this home is worth a visit and tour.
Trivia: Georgetown has the largest spring-based public water system in Kentucky; it inspired the Rev. Elijah Craig to produce the first-ever batch of Kentucky bourbon whiskey with this water in 1789.
Among other titles, Georgetown bills itself as “Gateway to Kentucky Horse Park,” and the park itself is indeed only a few miles south via I-75. Kentucky Horse Park combines a working horse farm, racetracks, and an educational theme park to create an equestrian’s dream spread across nearly two square miles. The International Museum of the Horse on the grounds is a Smithsonian affiliate and horse sculptures can be found all around it, including Man o’ War, Secretariat, and more. Rolex Stadium is a beautiful outdoor track that also serves as the largest outdoor event venue in central Kentucky; while the main grandstand typically accommodates around 7,400 for horse shows or races, the venue can hold up to 52,000 for some events, which range from soccer games to concerts. The Alltech Arena is the sister facility, providing indoor shows and events. The Kentucky Horse Park Arboretum opened on the grounds in 2004 and features a combination of native trees and plants as well as those indigenous to Europe and Asia, with over 75 species represented. All are accessible with a single admission fee. It is very easy to spend several hours at Kentucky Horse Park, so allocate time accordingly.
Once you’ve had a chance to enjoy everything Georgetown has to offer, let’s head west!
From Georgetown, head west on U.S. 460 (or I-64, if you’re coming directly from Kentucky Horse Park) briefly and then southwest on U.S. 62. After crossing I-64, U.S. 62 meets with U.S. 421 (which is coming in from Lexington) and heads northwest. This is the heart of Bluegrass country; rolling hills, stone fences, horse farms, and fields nurturing hay and tobacco crops surround you. Follow that a few miles to Equus Run Vineyards a former tobacco farm turned winery in what they like to call a “secret wine country” (it won’t remain a “secret” for long.) Accessible via twisting, narrow, charming country lanes off U.S. 62/421, Equus Run earned the distinction of “Official Licensee of the 140th Kentucky Derby Commemorative Wines” and creates a changing variety of wines based on the season and grape harvests across their 35 acres. Their tasting room inside an old tobacco barn adds to the flavor of Kentucky history and culture, and the vineyards surrounding it are tourable on foot or by car (slowly, as a sign politely asks that you not kick up dust onto the grapes.) Equus Run also hosts small concerts and other events, so you never know what you might find.
Back to U.S. 62/421 and the beautiful Kentucky countryside, the next town up is Midway, the first town in Kentucky founded by a railroad. Established in 1833, Midway (originally “Middleway,” for its location halfway between Lexington and Frankfort) features a charming historic district with the railroad running in the center of a boulevard that serves as the historic main street. Midway draws shoppers and foodies attracted by the emerging farm-to-table restaurants and boutiques that line the main street. Several major festivals draw people from across the region and state each year, with the Midway Fall Festival being rated one of the top festivals in the state. Thoroughbred horse farms are peppered across the surrounding landscape and history abounds: Weisenberger Mills to the east of town dates back to 1865 and is the oldest continuously operating mill in Kentucky; just south of town off U.S. 62 is the Offutt-Cole Tavern, which is not only Kentucky’s first-ever stagecoach stop (established in the 1780s!) but is also the birthplace of Zeralda Cole James, whose sons Frank and Jesse James grew up to be quite well-known.
From Midway, follow U.S 62 south past the Offutt-Cole Tavern and at Nugent Crossroads, follow KY 1681 (Old Frankfort Pike) northwest to KY 1685. Follow KY 1685 past U.S. 60 and follow the signs to KY 1659 and the Labrot and Graham Distillery, home to Woodford Reserve. One of the oldest distilleries in Kentucky, it dates back to 1797. The Distillery has a beautiful Visitor Center overlooking the grounds, stills, and surrounding countryside. Inside is the starting point for tours along with a snack bar and elegant tasting room.
From there, get back on KY 1659 and follow the winding road through the countryside into the capital.
Frankfort is the capital city of the Commonwealth of Kentucky; based on population it’s the fifth smallest state capital in the United States. It was selected as the capital city in 1792 after heavy lobbying.
Along the Kentucky River you’ll find the Buffalo Trace Distillery, an historic complex of buildings with a fascinating history from both the 19th century and post-Prohibition eras. The tours and tastings are free and very popular. It is a National Historic Landmark, with distilling history on the site dating back to 1775. While it lays claim to being the oldest continuously operating distillery in the U.S., it has done so under several names. Among them: George T. Stagg, O.F.C., and Ancient Age. Today, Buffalo Trace manufactures its namesake bourbon here as well as a series of other bourbon brands, a vodka, rye whiskey, and more.
Downtown Frankfort lies in a valley along the Kentucky River, surrounded by hills and filled with history. KY Highway 420 winds through downtown just off U.S. 60, and streets like Ann Street, Broadway Street, and Main Street are where many of the sights can be found. Along High Street (KY 420) you’ll find the Old Governor’s Mansion which, since it dates back to 1797, is one of the oldest Executive residences in the U.S. still standing. Over thirty Governors lived here during their tenures until a new one was built in 1914. As late as 2002 Lieutenant Governors lived here; today the mansion is available for tours of the house and garden behind it. Along Main Street you’ll also find Daniel Boone’s Burial Site, which is interesting because Marthasville, Missouri also claims to his burial site. Either way, a nice memorial to the trailblazer stands in Frankfort Cemetery, which features a beautiful view overlooking the river and capitol. Towering above downtown and visible for miles is a state office building called the Capitol Plaza Office Tower, which can serve as a navigation point for people as they go about town.
The seat of Kentucky government should of course showcase the state’s history, and the Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History does just that. The museum takes you through Kentucky’s history with exhibits, including ones on coal mines, military history, horses, and more. This is where tours of the Old Capitol district begin, which includes the Capital City Museum, a small but interesting museum with more about the history and culture of Frankfort and the state, including exhibits on a Governor-elect’s assassination in Frankfort, lock and dam construction on the Kentucky River, and the old hotel which the museum is houses, and more. Naturally, a tour in the Old Capitol district features the Old State Capitol. Built in 1830, it was the first Greek Revival-style structure in Kentucky and replaced two earlier capitol buildings in the old public square. Iconic columns front the lovely old building; check out the rotunda with the spiraling self-supporting marble staircase inside. This building, now a National Historic Landmark, served as the State House for 80 years and has plenty of displays on Kentucky history.
South of the Kentucky River is the new Kentucky State Capitol. In this case “new” is being used loosely, since it opened in 1910. For a few years prior to its 1904 groundbreaking Louisville and Lexington were trying to get the capitol moved to their respective cities; it became quite a quarrel. When it was decided to keep the seat of government in Frankfort, the new Capitol design was so large it had to be constructed in a new location. The majestic “new” State Capitol sits on a hill, with a circle drive surrounding it and the new Governor’s Mansion – in this case “new” meaning 1914 – on one side. Tours are available and you can call (502) 564-3449 for details. On another hill behind the Capitol is – in season – a large floral clock, 34 feet in diameter suspended above a pool of water. Many locals and visitors use it as a wishing well.
Also in the downtown area, you can satisfy your sweet tooth on a Rebecca Ruth Candy Tour. Rebecca Ruth started her candy business in 1919 and invented Bourbon Ball Chocolate Candies, combining liquor and chocolate in a way only a Kentuckian could. They have their main store and factory with the short but fun and interesting tours available on Second Street downtown between the Old Capitol area and the new Capitol. They also have a store on Versailles Road elsewhere in town.
On the south end of Frankfort along KY 676 (Vernon Cooper Lane) across from the Kentucky River and Capitol View Park is the Kentucky Vietnam Veterans Memorial, notable for its unique “sundial” on a granite plaza overlooking the State Capitol. The sundial design, dedicated in 1988, is arranged in a unique way: every one of the 1,103 Kentuckians who died during the war is located so the shadow of the pointer falls on their name on the anniversary of the veteran’s death. It’s a moving tribute at one of the largest granite memorials in the nation.
Just west of town along U.S 60 past Capital City Airport is the Salato Wildlife Education Center, a great place to bring kids and wildlife lovers alike. It’s a mix of nature hiking, wildlife experiences and museum exhibits including a reptile room, habitats for animals like bison, bears, and more, aquariums, and native plants along hiking trails, The Salato Center has become a favorite for people from around Kentucky.
From Frankfort, head south on U.S. 127 into Anderson County and Lawrenceburg, a city brimming with bourbon, wine, and cigars. Kentucky Gentlemen hand rolls bourbon barrel-aged cigars downtown; the Blanton brand originates here, as do several other brands – including Mint Julep. Their shop at 120 S. Main lets you buy the freshest cigars possible. Main Street and the surrounding blocks offers plenty of other shops, boutiques, and restaurants that serve this city of 10,000 and the many visitors who come in for festivals. A popular attraction in town is the T.B. Ripy Mansion (the “house that bourbon built”), completed in 1888, which offers regular tours. The Lawrenceburg Ghost Walk [same link] originates here and offers fall tours of “haunted places” around town every Saturday night. On the outskirts, the 60-acre Lovers Leap Vineyards & Winery northeast of town overlooks the Kentucky River and provides a beautiful view while fruits and grapes are grown on the hills that for years sprouted tobacco. The overlook, which has always been called “Lovers Leap,” has been home to the winery since 2002; they offer tours and tastings. About five miles south of town off U.S. 127 near the Bluegrass Parkway along KY 749 you’ll find the Four Roses Distillery. Built in 1910, this distillery is noted for its beautiful Spanish mission-style architecture. Tours and tastings focus on the ten Four Roses Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey editions. Regardless of where you check out the sights in Lawrenceburg, the Best Western Lawrenceburg Inn is conveniently located right along the U.S. 127 Bypass on the west side of town.
From Lawrenceburg, follow U.S. 62 east just a few miles to the other major source of bourbon in town, the Wild Turkey Distillery. Set in the rolling hills abutting the Kentucky River, the distillery was founded by the Ripy brothers (hence the mansion back in town) in 1869 and consolidated to its current location by 1905. Master Distiller Jimmy Russell joined the distillery back in 1954; he pioneered flavored bourbons in 1976 with the introduction of their American Honey brand. Today, Wild Turkey distills eight brands popular across the world. Their Visitor Center originates a series of tours (on the hour throughout the day), offers a tasting room with a river view, and has plenty of exhibits on bourbon and – of course – Wild Turkey-oriented products for sale.
Trivia: A fire in 2000 at the Wild Turkey Distillery destroyed a seven-story aging warehouse. Over 17,000 wooden barrels of whiskey burned, setting nearby woods on fire and causing limestone deposits to explode. Don't tell us bourbon can't be intense.
From the Wild Turkey Distillery, head east again on U.S. 62. Be sure to marvel at the beautiful bridge crossing the Kentucky River next to the distillery; both the bridge and surroundings offer prime picture-taking opportunities.
Continue east on U.S. 62 toward Versailles, a pleasant town of 8,500 in Woodford County. Founded in 1792 on land literally owned by a child, the town was named after the French city but is locally pronounced “Ver-SAYLES.” Thoroughbred farms abound in the vicinity, including places like WinStar Farm (859-873-1717) and Three Chimneys Farm (859-873-7053) which offer tours of their impressive operations. Kentucky Horse Tours (859-312-1124) offers tours of multiple farms.
Revolutionary War buffs will appreciate the Jack Jouett House, home of the “Paul Revere of the South,” “Captain” Jack Jouett. In 1781, Jouett rode 40 miles through the woods of Virginia to warn Governor Thomas Jefferson and the legislature of approaching British troops, helping to prevent their capture. Jouett was credited with helping to save the American Revolution and became a legislator and prosperous planter in Kentucky, just southwest of Versailles off today’s KY 1964/McCowan’s Ferry Road. His homestead features a 1780s frontier stone cabin and a brick house constructed in 1797. Loaded with period furnishings, the Jouett House features docent-led tours.
In Versailles itself, railroad and toy buffs can enjoy the Bluegrass Railroad Museum (just west of downtown along U.S. 62), which offers train rides in authentic antique passenger cars through the rolling hills and scenic thoroughbred horse farms. You can also check out antique track maintenance equipment and sills from the first railroad in Kentucky from back in 1834. Passenger cars, first generation diesel locomotives, and World War II munitions boxcars are also on display. Downtown on Depot Street, the Nostalgia Station Toy Museum features model trains and antique toys in an original Louisville & Nashville Railroad train depot built in 1911. Operating layouts, displays from different eras, and a variety of other toys are all on display.
From Versailles, follow U.S. 60 east. Shortly after the Bluegrass Parkway merges in you’ll find the Castle Hill Winery, which literally features a castle. And a winery. Further east into Fayette County lies Keeneland, a major thoroughbred horseracing track, along with the region’s primary airfield Blue Grass Airport. The Aviation Museum of Kentucky is on the grounds of the airport and showcases a number of aircraft, from an AH-1 Cobra helicopter to an F-14B Tomcat and a U.S. Navy Blue Angels A-4 Skyhawk. This 25,000 square foot museum offers docent-led and self-guided tours, and there are always a number of traveling exhibits to check out.
Past Keeneland, the airport, and museums, we cross the KY 4 bypass loop and head into Lexington, the second largest city in Kentucky and “Horse Capital of the World.” Over 300,000 people call Lexington home; nearly 30,000 students alone call the University of Kentucky their school, making Lexington a major college town (along its status as a “many-horse” town). Their Kentucky Wildcats are a local obsession; Rupp Arena downtown is the world’s largest basketball-specific arena, and Commonwealth Stadium holds 67,000+ for football. The men’s basketball squad has won eight national titles and regularly get close every other year. UK (as it’s sometimes called) is comprised of 16 colleges, with 15 libraries on campus – one of which is a federal depository. Older classic structures like Main Building (built in 1882), Patterson Hall (1904), and Memorial Hall (1929) are flanked by more modern high-rises (Patterson Office Tower at 18 stories, the Kirwan and Blanding Towers at 23 stories each.) At Rose and Euclid Avenues, the University Of Kentucky Art Museum inside the UK Singletary Center for the Arts features American and European collections as well as others from around the world. UK art professor and major artist John Regis Tuska left a huge legacy and his former home, the Tuska House, is now art studio with over 300 works you can explore.
UK grew out of Lexington’s original institution of higher education, Transylvania University. Founded in 1780, Transylvania was the first college in Kentucky – in fact, it was part of Virginia at the time – and also the first west of the Appalachian and Allegheny Mountains; heck, it’s one of the oldest colleges in the entire United States. Transylvania is basically Latin for “across the woods” and their alumni have gone on across the spectrum: former U.S. Vice Presidents, former U.S. Supreme Court justices, Texas favorite son Stephen F Austin, and actor Ned Beatty have all been delivered into the real world from Transylvania University. Central campus is mere blocks from central Lexington and it’s worth a nice walk.
Off campus, how about learning some more history? Get a map from the Lexington Visitors Center on Main Street and check out sites like the Mary Todd Lincoln House just down the street. As you might imagine, this is where the wife of Abraham Lincoln grew up from her birth in 1818 until 1839 when she moved to Illinois and met some guy. When it became a museum in 1977, it was the first to honor a First Lady. Also down Main Street, the Lexington History Center is located in the former Fayette County Courthouse and showcases not only Lexington’s extensive history, but highlights many of the other historic sites in town. The Loudoun House on the east side of town dates back to 1851 and is considered one of the finest Gothic Revival style mansions in Kentucky. Tours are available to check out see architectural spectacles like diamond-paned windows, towers, and vaults. The Hunt-Morgan House downtown on Mill Street in the Gratz Park Historic District, an antebellum-era site. It was built in 1814 by the first millionaire west of the Alleghenies, John Wesley Hunt. The tour includes period furniture and a Civil War Museum. Just south of downtown, you can check out Ashland, The Henry Clay Estate, a National Historic Landmark. Now a house museum, you can tour the 18 rooms, check out exhibits on Clay, or wander through the formal gardens and outbuildings. For another Greek Revival-style mansion (check ‘em all out, they’re pretty cool) head just south of Lexington outside the bypass; just off U.S. 27 you’ll find the signs pointing you to the Waveland State Historic Site. Sprawling across 10 acres, Waveland served as a plantation back in the 1840s. Tours of the site include the mansion, a servants quarters, a smokehouse, ice house, the barn, and more.
If you prefer a stroll through some serenity outside but still in the heart of Lexington, explore McConnell Springs. Now a 26-acre park and a National Historic Site, it’s centered around an actual natural spring discovered by William McConnell in 1775 (hence the name of the springs.) McConnell and his crew made camp there and named the site “Camp Lexington” which, of course, is how the city got its name. Hiking trails, remnants of an old distillery, and quite a few community events take place in the park.
Thirsty? Breweries and distilleries are (not shockingly) quite prevalent in this huge college town in Kentucky. The Town Branch Distillery is part of the Alltech's Lexington Brewing Company right in Lexington close to the UK campus, Rupp Arena, and downtown, just off U.S. 60 on Cross Street. West Sixth Brewing Company – guess what street it’s on – brews custom craft beer in a former bread factory (which makes sense, since beer is essentially liquid bread.) Nearby is the Barrel House Distilling Co., which produces rum, vodka, and moonshine. If you want to add chocolate to the mix, check out Old Kentucky Chocolates, a longtime maker of bourbon chocolates, bourbon cherries, fruit and pecan cakes made with Jim Beam – they get mighty creative.
Before or after all this you can check out minor-league baseball at Whitaker Bank Ballpark, home of the Lexington Legends. The Legends are an “A”-affiliate to the Kansas City Royals and offer great baseball action as well as areas for kids to play and an in-the-park restaurant and bar called the Kentucky Ale Taproom. It gives Lexington residents the sports they crave when UK teams are on summer break!
And there you have it: a nice swath of Kentucky’s beautiful Bluegrass Region, complete with thoroughbred horses, lovely scenery, city and college vibes, small-town charm, wineries, breweries, distilleries, two places where they make chocolate with a kick, beautiful mansions, interesting museums, and more. From Lexington, you can easily connect to Best Western hotels in Richmond (via I-75), Winchester (via I-64 or U.S. 60), Paris (via U.S. 27 & 68), Georgetown (via I-75), Frankfort (via I-64) or Lawrenceburg (via U.S. 60 and 62). Enjoy the beauty of the Bluegrass Region, and stay with people who care!