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Kentucky’s best – hiding in plain sight in Harrodsburg

Shaker Village
Shaker Village
by Doug Bardwell -

There’s something to be said for being first – sort of akin to being best. Either is good but being both is great. Harrodsburg, KY can certainly lay claim to both.

Turns out that Harrodsburg was the first English settlement west of the Alleghenies when it was founded in 1774. It is also home to America’s largest restored Shaker village. From the simple elegance of the Shaker architecture to the plethora of architectural examples in historic downtown Harrodsburg, I can honestly recommend it as a destination for anyone who appreciates great design.

Photographers, woodcrafters, & history buffs are going to find this place irresistible. The days we spent here were dreary, cold, cloudy, and rain was threatening most of the time…but my shutter finger never left my camera. There was that much to photograph.

Fort Harrod

Completed a year after the town’s founding, Fort Harrod was instrumental in protecting Kentucky’s first inhabitants. In 1927, today’s replica was opened to preserve the memory of this first western outpost.

Cabins and blockhouses can be toured when the fort is open. Buildings are complete with furnishings and tools actually used by the pioneers. Small animals can be found in holding pens within the fort.

A park surrounds the fort with picnic areas and a gift shop. Look for the (unofficial) largest Osage-orange tree in the nation in the park grounds.

Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill

In 1805, a group of Shakers settled here, establishing an area they named Pleasant Hill. As the group grew to almost 500 men, women and children in the 1820’s, they kept adding acreage until they reached more than 4,000 acres.

With the rise of the Industrial Revolution in the late 19th century, the Shaker community entered a period of decline and now Shakers can only be found in New England.

[See slide show of Shaker Village]

Today, 3,000 of those acres are maintained and 34 of the buildings are operated as a 501 (c)(3) insuring preservation of this National Historic Landmark. While the Shakers designed their buildings and furnishings quite simply, the stairways are some of the most beautiful I’ve seen anywhere. So graceful and so elegant, they are not to be missed.

Shaker Village operates a seed-to-table restaurant (The Trustee’s Office Dining Room) with a menu of homegrown selections that is just amazing and you can even spend the night if you are lucky enough to get a reservation at the Inn at Shaker Village. Whether you come for hours or days, this is a place you deserve to add to your must-do list.

Downtown Harrodsburg

While not necessarily showing signs of its rugged pioneer past, downtown Harrodsburg is a great place to wander and soak up all the various architectural styles of the last couple centuries. From unique storefronts to quaint homes to the wealth of church architecture, there’s bound to be something that appeals to everyone. Allow an hour just to wander the few blocks around downtown and read the historical plaques to appreciate the history of this area.

[See slideshow of Harrodsburg]

Catch a play at the Ragged Edge Community Theatre, check out the artwork at the Arts Council for Mercer County Studio Gallery, marvel at the huge farm implement sculpture in the County Library or drop in Dedman’s Drugstore/Kentucky Fudge for some refreshment. Or, a block over from Main Street is the Olde Bus Station, where a sign on the wall proclaims “Free Beer – tomorrow.”

Spend the night

If you’ve arrived in Harrodsburg by following the Bourbon Trail, you owe it to yourself to reserve a night or two at historic Beaumont Inn, Kentucky’s oldest family-operated country inn. Originally built as a prestigious girl’s boarding school in 1845, the family has been hosting guests here since 1918. Now the fifth generation continues to offer the same fabulous service and food which has earned the inn national acclaim.

If you are a Bourbon aficionado, you should plan ahead to get a seat at the private, premium bourbon tasting events hosted by Dixon Dedman here at the Inn. Not only will you be able to taste some of the most famous, and expensive, of all the bourbons available, he will equip you with enough Bourbon tales to last a lifetime. Most instructional and enjoyable! If you’ve still got room for more, head downstairs later and order from over 75 different Bourbons available in the Old Owl Tavern or the Owl’s Nest Lounge.

Rooms overlook their 33-acre park and are outfitted with beautiful antique furnishings. Be ready for a great complimentary breakfast in the morning with their signature cornmeal batter cakes with brown sugar syrup. Before you leave, be sure to stroll through their lengthy, well-stocked, Kentucky-crafted gift shop for all sorts of treasures you never knew existed.

More information

For more information on Harrodsburg, contact Harrodsburg/Mercer County Tourist Commission at 800-355-9192.

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