Article Overview: Historic Sites In Kentucky
Historic Sites In Kentucky. More Than Just Parks has 10 incredible must-see sites for you to visit.
I’ve been to so many of these amazing places since retiring from teaching in 2018. Did I mention that I taught history? I spent a lifetime teaching about the history behind these momentous sites. Then I got to see them firsthand. And now I’m sharing the stories of these incredible places with you. It doesn’t get any better than that!
I’m going to give you my list of the Top 10 Historic Sites In Kentucky that you’ll want to see.
To be clear, this list includes national park sites (as in sites managed by the National Park Service) as opposed to national parks. It also includes sites not managed by the National Park Service. After all, we’re more than just parks!
If you are planning a trip to Iowa then you might want to pick up a copy of Kentucky Bucket List Adventure Guide: Explore 100 Offbeat Destinations You Must Visit! It’s written by Paul Mckee.
Without further ado, let’s dive in!
Top 10 Historic Sites In Kentucky
10. Churchill Downs
Historic Churchill Downs is a famous racetrack in Louisville, Kentucky, known for hosting the Kentucky Derby, a prominent horse race held annually on the first Saturday in May.
The track was built in 1875 and named after John and Henry Churchill, who originally provided the land for the racetrack.
Over the years, Churchill Downs has undergone several renovations and expansions, becoming one of the premier venues for Thoroughbred horse racing in North America.
The Kentucky Derby, first held in 1875, has become one of the most famous horse races in the world, attracting large crowds and showcasing the best horses and jockeys from around the world.
Attractions At Churchill Downs
There are several attractions to see at Churchill Downs:
- The Racetrack: Visitors can take a tour of the historic racetrack, see the paddock area, and watch live horse races from various viewing areas.
- The Kentucky Derby Museum: This museum showcases the history of the Kentucky Derby and includes interactive exhibits, artifacts, and multimedia displays.
- The Twin Spires: These iconic spires are the most recognizable feature of Churchill Downs and offer panoramic views of the racetrack and surrounding area.
- The Winners’ Circle: Visitors can take a picture at the Winners’ Circle, where horses and their jockeys are awarded after a race.
- The Jockey Silks Room: This room displays the colorful and distinctive riding attire worn by jockeys during races.
- The Horse Barns: Visitors can take a behind-the-scenes tour of the horse barns and see the horses being groomed, exercised, and prepared for races.
- The Kentucky Derby Festival: During the Kentucky Derby, Churchill Downs is the center of a two-week festival that includes various events and activities, such as a balloon race, a parade, and a marathon.
9. Jefferson Davis Monument
The Jefferson Davis Memorial is a monument located near the site where Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederate States of America during the American Civil War, was born.
The monument was completed in 1924 and stands at a height of 351 feet.
It serves as a tribute to Davis, who also served as a senator and congressman, and as Secretary of War under President Franklin Pierce.
He was also a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point.
The monument is a significant historical and cultural site that provides insight into the history of the American Civil War and the life of one of its key figures.
It is a popular destination for history buffs and those interested in the Civil War era.
8. Old State House in Frankfort
The Old Statehouse in Kentucky is a historic building that was built in 1827 and served as the state’s capital building from 1830 to 1910.
It was designed by Gideon Shryock in the Greek Revival style, which was popular at the time. Shryock’s choice of the Greek style was intended to create a symbolic link between the ancient Greeks and Kentucky’s young democratic government, as it was modeled after the Temple of Minerva Polias at Priene.
The building is significant for its architectural style and historical importance, as it was the center of government for the state for over 80 years.
It is a popular destination for history buffs and architecture enthusiasts, and it provides a glimpse into the early history of Kentucky and the political and cultural influences of the time.
7. Ashland, Henry Clay’s Home
Henry Clay was a 19th century American statesman and political leader. He served as a representative and senator from Kentucky, and was a leading member of the Whig party.
He is considered one of the most important political figures of the early 19th century, and was known as the “Great Compromiser” for his ability to bring together opposing sides and broker deals.
During his time in Congress, Clay was a vocal advocate for the American System, an economic plan that sought to promote domestic manufacturing, infrastructure development, and protective tariffs.
He also played a key role in the passage of the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which helped to temporarily ease tensions between the North and South over the issue of slavery.
Clay also served as Speaker of the House of Representatives for several terms and was a three-time candidate for the presidency, but never won the election. Despite this, his influence on American politics during his lifetime was significant and his legacy continues to be celebrated by many.
Ashland is the historic home of Henry Clay. The land for the estate was purchased in 1804 and the house was completed by 1809. The estate was named after the ash forest that surrounded the plantation grounds. The home is an impressive example of Federal architecture, and has been well-preserved over the years.
Visitors to Ashland can tour the house and grounds, which are filled with artifacts and memorabilia from Clay’s life and career. The house features many original furnishings, including family heirlooms and items that were used by Clay himself.
The estate also includes a museum, which offers a more in-depth look at Clay’s life and legacy, as well as the history of the estate and the surrounding area.
Ashland is an important historical site that offers a glimpse into the life of one of America’s most influential political figures, as well as the history of the antebellum South. It is a popular destination for history buffs and those interested in the life of Henry Clay.
6. Dr. Ephraim McDowell House in Danville
This is the incredible story of Dr. Ephraim McDowell.
He was a pioneering physician who is known for performing the first successful ovariotomy, a surgical procedure to remove a tumor from the ovary, in the United States.
In 1809, he performed the surgery on Jane Todd Crawford, who had a 22.5-pound tumor, without the use of anesthetic. The successful surgery was considered a medical miracle at the time and it established Dr. McDowell’s reputation as a skilled and innovative surgeon.
The Dr. Ephraim McDowell House is the site of this historic surgery and it is now open to the public as a house museum.
Visitors can tour the house and learn about Dr. McDowell’s life, his medical achievements, and the history of medicine in the early 19th century.
The house is filled with period furnishings and artifacts, including medical instruments used by Dr. McDowell. It is a unique and interesting destination that offers insight into the life of an important figure in American medical history.
The Top 5 Historic Sites In Kentucky
5. Belle Of Louisville
The Belle of Louisville is a historic steamboat that was built in 1914 by James Rees and Sons in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Initially, she was named Idlewild and owned by the West Memphis Packet Company. In 1962, she was acquired by the city of Louisville, Kentucky, and renamed the Belle of Louisville.
The Belle of Louisville is now considered a National Historic Landmark and is one of the oldest active steamboats in the United States. It is part of the annual Great Steamboat Race as part of the Kentucky Derby Festival, and is said to hold the record in her class for years in operation and river miles traveled.
The boat offers sightseeing tours, dinner cruises, and special events on the Ohio River, giving visitors the opportunity to experience the beauty of the river and the thrill of riding on an authentic steamboat.
The Belle of Louisville is a iconic and historic attraction that offers a unique way to experience the city of Louisville and the beautiful Ohio River.
4. Mill Springs Battlefield National Monument
The Battle of Mill Springs was a Union victory early in the Civil War. The battle took place on January 19, 1862.
Confederate General Felix K. Zollicoffer was killed when he mistakenly approached a Union officer thinking it was one of his own men.
The death of the their commander coupled with intense Union volleys of gunfire quickly demoralized the Confederate forces. They subsequently retreated into Tennessee.
The Union victory led to the total collapse of the eastern sector of the Confederate defensive line established to defend the Upper South. This, in turn, helped to solidify the Union’s control of what was a pivotal border state in the conflict.
Things To Do At Mill Spring
There’s a wonderful Mill Springs Visitor Center which features a 20-minute film about the Battle of Mill Springs. Visitors will find a museum with many fascinating exhibits which provide a greater understanding of the battle’s combatants and its impact on the war.
Regarding the battlefield itself, much of the battlefield can be seen from public roadways. The Mill Springs Battlefield Association developed a 10-stop Driving Tour, which begins at the Visitor Center.
All stops along the tour are marked with large signs. There are also informative signs to help you understand a site’s significance. Parking is limited at certain stops.
If you’re looking to stretch your legs then I recommend Zollicoffer Park. The park is named for the Confederate general who died there.
There’s a half mile Ravine Trail which takes hikers down into a ravine, crossing the battle-lines of the two sides. Signs along the way explain key battle events.
You may also want to tour the Brown-Lanier House. It’s an antebellum home built before the Civil War. The home housed the families that operated the nearby grist mill.
During the battle, the historic farmhouse became headquarters for generals on both sides of the fighting.
You can also see the nearby grist mill which is currently operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It is located on the shores of Lake Cumberland and fed by springs.
The mill has been completely restored with a working water wheel.
3. Camp Nelson National Monument
Camp Nelson National Monument is a national monument located in central Kentucky that preserves the history and legacy of one of the most important Civil War-era sites in the state.
The site was originally established as a supply depot and training center for Union soldiers during the Civil War, and it played a key role in the recruitment and training of African American soldiers.
The monument features a number of historical buildings and structures, including the Camp Nelson Quartermaster Depot, which served as a supply center for Union troops, and the Camp Nelson Hospital, which treated sick and wounded soldiers.
Visitors can also see the remains of the Camp Nelson Earthworks, which were built to defend the depot from Confederate attacks.
The monument also features a number of interpretive exhibits and educational programs that tell the story of the Civil War and the role of Camp Nelson in that conflict.
The monument is a popular destination for history buffs, Civil War enthusiasts, and those interested in the history of African American soldiers in the Civil War.
2. Fort Donelson National Battlefield
Fort Donelson National Battlefield commemorates the Battle of Fort Donelson, which was fought in February 1862 during the American Civil War.
Union forces, under the command of Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant, captured the Confederate fort, which was a major victory for the Union and helped to open the Cumberland River to Union traffic.
The park features several historical structures and monuments, as well as hiking trails and a visitor center with exhibits about the battle and the Civil War in general.
Things To Do
Some things to do at Fort Donelson National Battlefield include:
- Visiting the Fort Donelson National Battlefield Visitor Center to learn about the history of the fort and the Battle of Fort Donelson.
- Taking a tour of the fort and its various earthworks and fortifications.
- Exploring the battlefield on foot or by car to see the sites of the key battles that took place there.
- Visiting the Confederate Memorial Hall Museum, which houses exhibits on the Civil War and the Battle of Fort Donelson.
- Hiking or picnicking on the many trails and grounds located on the battlefield.
- Visiting the grave sites of Union and Confederate soldiers who died during the battle.
- Attending ranger-led tours, talks, and programs offered by park staff.
- Fishing in the nearby Cumberland River.
- Visiting the nearby Dover Hotel, where Confederate General Simon Bolivar Buckner surrendered to Union General Ulysses S. Grant during the battle.
CHECK OUT: 10 BEST Civil War Sites In America
1. Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park
While in Kentucky, you can visit the birthplace of the man whom many historians consider to have been the greatest president of the United States.
Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States, serving from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865. He is widely considered one of America’s greatest heroes due to his role as leader in the American Civil War and his work to end slavery.
During his presidency, Lincoln successfully navigated the country through its greatest internal crisis, the American Civil War, preserving the Union, ending slavery, strengthening the federal government, and modernizing the economy.
He issued his Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, which declared slaves in Confederate-held territory to be free. He also pushed for the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which abolished slavery.
Lincoln is also known for his speeches, particularly the Gettysburg Address, one of the most famous speeches in American history. He delivered this speech during the American Civil War, on November 19, 1863, during the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
In addition, Lincoln was known for his leadership qualities and his ability to inspire and unify the country during the Civil War. He was a skilled orator and writer and is often quoted for his wisdom and eloquence.
Lincoln was assassinated on April 15, 1865, by John Wilkes Booth, a Confederate sympathizer. His death was a turning point in American history and his legacy continues to be celebrated and honored.
Visit Lincoln’s Birthplace
The Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park preserves the site of the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States. The park is located in the small farming community of Hodgenville, and it includes two main components: the Lincoln Birthplace and the Lincoln Boyhood Home at Knob Creek.
The Lincoln Birthplace is the centerpiece of the park and it is a replica of the one-room log cabin where Lincoln was born in 1809. The cabin was reconstructed in the 1930s, based on historical research, and visitors can tour the cabin and learn about Lincoln’s early life. There is also a visitor center that provides more information about Lincoln’s life and legacy.
The Lincoln Boyhood Home at Knob Creek is located about 9 miles away from the birthplace, it is where Lincoln lived from the age of 2 to 7. The site includes a memorial building, a replica of the Lincoln family cabin, a walking trail, and a Memorial Peace Garden.
The park also features a hiking trail that leads visitors through the surrounding countryside, which is similar to the landscape that Lincoln would have known as a child.
The park also offers ranger-led tours, talks, and special programs throughout the year, which provide visitors with an opportunity to learn more about the history and significance of the site.
Overall the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park serves as a place for visitors to learn about the early life of Abraham Lincoln and reflect on his legacy. It also offers an opportunity to explore the rural landscape where Lincoln grew up and to appreciate the natural beauty of the area.
List Of Historic Sites In Kentucky
- Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park
- Fort Donelson National Battlefield
- Camp Nelson National Monument
- Mill Springs Battlefield National Monument
- Belle Of Louisville
- Dr. Ephraim McDowell House in Danville
- Ashland, Henry Clay’s Home
- Old State House in Frankfort
- Jefferson Davis Monument
- Churchill Downs
About The People Behind More Than Just Parks
You should probably know that we don’t just make this stuff up out of thin air. My sons have spent their entire adult lives exploring and filming America’s national parks and public lands.
As for me, I’m a retired lifelong educator and proud dad of these two guys hopelessly obsessed with the national parks.
We’ve worked with the National Park Service, the Department of Interior, and the U.S. Forest Service for years creating films on important places and issues. Our work has been featured in leading publications all over the world and even some people outside of our immediate family call us experts on the national parks.
Meet The Parks Brothers
We’re Jim Pattiz and Will Pattiz, collectively known as the Pattiz Brothers (and sometimes the Parks Brothers) and we absolutely LOVE the national parks.
Our goal here at More Than Just Parks is to share the beauty of America’s national parks and public lands through stunning short films in an effort to get Americans and the world to see the true value in land conservation.
We hope you’ll follow our journey through the parks and help us to keep them the incredible places that they are. If you’re interested joining the adventure, sign up below!