by Connie Pearson
Whether you have business in Louisville, Lexington or the capital city of Frankfort, Kentucky, I urge you to extend your trip and drive a short distance to include a couple of days in a more relaxed, but very historical setting. Folks who know Harrodsburg and Mercer County well refer to it as “The Coolest Place in History!” And, truly, they have plenty of “cool things” to offer visitors who come to their part of the state. As you drive into the area, you will enjoy miles of meticulously-manicured horse farms in this Bluegrass region. Then, once you arrive, you can satisfy a vast number of interests with all of the offerings in and around Harrodsburg.
History, history and more history will be a large part of your experience. The town itself is the oldest one in Kentucky. James Harrod built the fort which made Harrodsburg the first permanent settlement west of the Allegheny Mountains in 1774. A full-scale replica of that original fort is just a few blocks from Main Street and comprises a significant part of Old Fort Harrod State Park. The park itself is open every day from 8:00 a.m. until sundown, but the fort section is only open Wednesdays through Sundays. During those days, you are likely to find costumed townspeople giving demonstrations to visitors of many Early American practices – blacksmithing, weaving cloth, dyeing fabric, candle-making, basket-making, etc. Pioneer Days Festival takes place on the grounds in August and is one of the biggest events of the year. For 2017, the dates are August 18-20.
For other prominent glimpses of history, consider staying at the Beaumont Inn or at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill. Beaumont Hill was once a women’s college that was built in 1845, but for almost 100 years, it has been an inn and is Kentucky’s oldest southern country inn. There are three dining options at Beaumont – Owl’s Nest, Old Owl Tavern (listed on the Bourbon Trail) and the Main Dining Room, which was the 2015 recipient of the James Beard America’s Classics Award. Perhaps you’ll be inclined to try one or more of the specialty items of yellow-legged fried chicken, Kentucky-cured ham, corn pudding or General Robert E. Lee orange-lemon cake.
Shaker Village is about seven miles from downtown Harrodsburg and is composed of 3000 serene and tranquil acres. The Shakers, a religious sect who began a community here in 1805, left the area in 1910, but forward-thinking developers now own the property and maintain 72 guest rooms, a full calendar of tours, demonstrations, hands-on activities and events, and a highly-regarded restaurant called the Trustees’ Table. Using ingredients from the large working garden and farm on the property, Trustees’ Table serves breakfast, lunch and dinner every day except Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. This is a perfect setting to completely relax and unwind, but if you want to keep in shape, there are 40 miles of hiking and horseback riding trails.
Main Street in Harrodsburg is committed to keeping its historical relevance and many of the buildings date back to the 1850’s. One of them was once Dedman’s Drug Store but now houses Kentucky Fudge Company. Yes, you will find fudge there, but you’ll also be able to order sandwiches, salads, ice creams and other casual menu goodies in this setting with an original soda fountain and lots of glass display cases.
Harrodsburg and Mercer County play host to four districts on the National Register of Historic Places, so be sure to take advantage of a self-guided walking or driving tour to find the most significant structures. Brochures can be found in local businesses or at the tourism office at 488 Price Avenue. Many historical homes are still intact, largely because there were no Civil War battles fought in this town.
Do you like antique cars? “Cruiz on Main” takes place on the first Saturday of the month from May through September. Stroll the street and admire the classic, antique and custom cars and trucks.
Are you looking for comfort food or banana soft-serve ice cream? Head over a block or two to the Olde Bus Station, a retro diner in the building once used as the Greyhound Bus Terminal.
Do you enjoy quilting or looking at quilts? The Harrodsburg/Mercer Barn Quilt Trail is a fun journey. Drive through the countryside spotting the hand-painted quilt squares on the sides of barns. You will be amazed at the colorful, intricate patterns.
Are you a yard sale fanatic? Well, this would be a great place to search for treasures. Harrodsburg is the only town in Kentucky where the trails of two gigantic yard sales intersect. The 400-Mile Sale on US Highway 68 was held June 1-4, and the 127 Yard Sale covers 690 miles from Michigan to Alabama along Highway 127 and goes right through Harrodsburg. The next one is scheduled for August 3-6, 2017.
What about summer theatrical performances? The James Harrod Story (a local tradition) is slated for July. Also in July is the Mercer County Fair and Horse Show, the oldest continuously running fair and horse show in the nation.
Don’t worry if you come to town on a busy weekend, because there are plenty of chain hotels and eateries along Highway 127. But, if you plan ahead, I urge you to take advantage of the more unique offerings of Shaker Village or Beaumont Inn.
Did I leave anyone out? Bright Leaf Golf Resort and Palisades Adventures (for canoe or kayaking) should entice the outdoor enthusiasts. And, of course, there are auctions, an art studio and gallery and even an extensive Genealogy Library at Morgan Row, which happens to be the oldest standing rowhouse in Kentucky. As I said, history, history and more history.
The people of Harrodsburg and Mercer County are proud of what their area has to offer and would love to welcome you.