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Kentucky Travel Tips



The old saying, "a nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there," does *not* apply to Frankfort. Downtown Frankfort is a nice place to visit, and I *do* want to live here. Why? First, because of it's history. Frankfort has been the capital since statehood in 1792 and the town has preserved it's historical buildings wonderfully. Although many are private homes and businesses, the owners seem to have a reverence for the past, and accentuate their rich architectural legacy. Tree-lined main street is quaint and quiet. And Broadway, which parallels Main Street, has the Old State Capitol, the Old Executive Mansion, antique shops, pottery shops, a sweet little pedestrian mall, great coffee shops and restaurants -- and it has a railroad track running down its center, where a yellow line separating two-way traffic would normally be. An occasional train chugs alongside the automobiles moving to the left and right of it. Sounds disturbing but it's thrilling. Further uptown is the "new" (1910) State Capitol and Executive Mansion. And just beyond the Capitol is the lovely Frankfort cemetery where Daniel Boone and his wife, Rebecca, are buried,overlooking the majestic Kentucky River. The other reason to love Frankfort is the Kentucky River that surrounds the town with interesting Riverfront activities, buildings, bridges and houseboats.

Tip: A charming old English pub, St. George's Dragon, sits on the corner of Main Street and the Capitol Bridge that spans the Kentucky River. It's a tiny, red brick building with a delightful warmth and friendliness inside. (Great prices, too.)

Statehouse (502) 564-3449
Named by AAA as one of the most beautiful Capitols in the nation, Kentucky's Beaux Arts statehouse is a pleasant departure from the many classical Greek and Roman statehouses in other capital cities throughout the country. The 19th century, Iowa-born architect showed his penchant for classical French design in both the interior and exterior features of the building. His design for the massive marble stairways in the Great Hall resembles the stairways in the Paris Grand Opera House. French influence extends to the State Reception Room, inspired by Marie Antoinette's drawing room in Versailles. The hand-carved French Baroque walnut furniture is original, as are the hand-painted French murals depicting early American scenes. The imposing dome was modeled after Napoleon's tomb at the Hotel Des Invalides in Paris. Kentucky's terra cotta dome crowns the memorial statues in the Rotunda of native sons Abraham Lincoln*, Henry Clay, Jefferson Davis*, Dr.Ephraim McDowell,* and Allen Barkley.*

The President of the Confederate States and the President of the Union were both born in Kentucky, less than 100 miles from each other, less than a year apart.
Dr. McDowell was a pioneer in gynecology and is remembered for his daring 1809 operation in which he successfully removed a tumor from a 46-year old woman who had thought she was 10 months pregnant.The brave woman rode horseback for miles to the doctor's office, and back again only days after her surgery.
Allen Barkley, the man who coined the term "Veep" served as Vice-President under Truman.

Tip: The Governor's office hands out candy called "Govern-Mints." The wrapper features a drawing of the State Capitol building.

Check it out . . . The "Kentucky's First Ladies in Miniature" display on the first floor is a doll collection of all the First Ladies dressed in their inaugural ballgowns, including Kentucky's most glamorous First Lady, former Miss America, Phyllis George, who was married to Governor John Brown, Jr.

Check it out . . . The Kentucky Capitol is famous for its Floral Clock on the south side of the building. It weighs 100 tons and holds thousands of plants across its 34-foot wide face. The minute hand is 21 feet long, and keeps perfect time.

Governor's Mansion (502) 564-3000
On the east of the Capitol is a formal garden leading to the 1912 Beaux Arts Executive Mansion where the Governor of Kentucky and his family reside. The building was modeled after Marie Antoinette's Petit Trianon villa at Versailles.In the 1980s the interior was painstakingly restored under the leadership of First Lady Phyllis George Brown (former Miss America) who was fastidious in filling the rooms with French furnishings. Each room presents its own unique personality. In one room, for example, Louis XVI chairs line the wall in a very formal cream-carpeted, white room. The walls were actually painted five different shades of white and cream to give it a clean, crisp appearance, without appearing flat and uninteresting. A contrary effect is the private dining room down the hall with wood paneled ceilings and walls, and many wall decorations of art and ceramics, creating a dark, cozy feeling. The mansion open for public touring Tuesday and Thursday mornings.

Tip: Like the Governor's office at the statehouse, the staff at the Executive Mansion also hands out mints, wrapped in candy wrappers featuring a drawing of the Executive Mansion. These mints are tastier than the ones at the statehouse.

Old State Capitol (502) 564-3016
Built in 1830, Kentucky's Old State Capitol is an elegant Greek Revival structure designed by Kentucky-born architect, Gideon Shryock, who was only 25 when his architectural plans were selected over more established architects. Beautiful, thick-tiled marble floors lead to a freestanding marble staircase, held together only by precision and pressure.This is the only pro-Union state Capitol occupied by the Confederate army during the Civil War. Plans to install a Confederate governor were soon thwarted by the Union army. Years later, in 1899, a mini-civil war within the state boiled after a bitterly disputed gubernatorial race ended in a candidate being assassinated at the Capitol. State soldiers faced armed citizens on the Capitol grounds.

Old Governor's Mansion (502) 564-5500
Built in 1798, six years after Kentucky achieved statehood, this home remains the oldest official executive residence in the country still in use. Referred to as "The Palace" in the frontier days of Kentucky during the 18th and early 19th centuries, it was home to 33 governors and welcomed such distinguished guests as the Marquis de Lafayette, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, Zachary Taylor and Henry Clay. No longer towering above log cabins, "The Palace" today is an unassuming federal style brick home in the historic area of downtown Kentucky, and serves as the residence of Kentucky's Lieutenant Governor. It is open for public touring Tuesday and Thursday afternoons.

State History Museum (502) 564-1792
Recently opened in June '99, Kentucky State History Museum presents tons of exhibits, artifacts and historical recreations in a huge hall with maze-like corridors. The first thing to greet visitors is a pile of midden trash, with a "job opp" posted, "Be a Trash Detective." Lift up a piece of archeological trash and guess what it indicates about the ancient litterer. The answer is written underneath the item. (Fun.) Next is a flatboat on a river port, complete with sound effects of river life. Again, lift up lids of barrels and stuff and learn about the times. There's a quilt exhibit, too, where you can actually touch some handiwork to get the "feel" of each different type of quilt. One disturbing quilt on display is called the "Graveyard Quilt," a brown, gray and black quilt with coffins on it. Children died so often back then that mothers, to ease their grief, made a quilt of the caskets from each dead child, and leave empty caskets ready for the remaining children still living, though expected to die. On this particular quilt shown the mother must have died before all of her children because there are still empty coffins never filled in with a name. The museum also has a replica coal mine with animated mannequins. A really fun part of the museum is to "Guess my job." The tools of a 19th century occupation are on display and you must guess what that person did for a living (surprisingly difficult in some cases.) If one reads all the descriptions, examines all the artifacts and listens to all the push-button narrations, well, there's no way to see everything by closing time.

Liberty Hall Historic Site (502) 227-2560
This 1706 Federal style mansion was the home of one of Kentucky's first senators, John Brown, and remained in the family for four generations. The antique furnishings are original to the Brown family. Of particular note is the first Mrs. Brown's sewing basket, opened for display as though the lady had just left the room for a moment. The threads, old bobbins, buttons and accessories are a peek into fashion fandangles of the late 18th or early 19th century.

Check it out . . .The central staircase is beautiful, but it almost didn't come out that way. Seems John Brown asked his friend, Thomas Jefferson, (no slug when it came to architectural design) for his opinion on the plans for Brown's new home. Jefferson wrote back that the staircase was a waste of space. Not functional enough. But, luckily, TJ's missive arrived too late. The staircase was a done deal -- and a masterpiece.

Buffalo Trace Distillery (formerly Ancient Age Distillery) (502) 223-7641
A distillery has been operated on this site since 1796. Learn all about the history of making Kentucky Bourbon through a film, (viewed in the comfort of an old rocking chair), a tour of the ancient warehouse, artifacts, and watching the today's workers hand-bottle and hand label the finer Bourbon. The Buffalo Trace Distillery also has a lovely recreation area of log cabins, running streams, stone bridges and rock gardens. (Sorry, no free samples. But you can buy chocolate-covered Bourbon-Balls from Rebecca-Ruth Candies described below.)

Rebecca-Ruth Candies, (502) 223-7475 or (800) 444-3766
Rebecca-Ruth Candies company is world-famous as the "Originators of Bourbon Candy." The business was established in 1919 by two girlfriends, Rebecca and Ruth, who failed as teachers and decided to make candy for a living. During Prohibition a ritzy hotel owner let them use his empty bar to make their candies. Smells of chocolate wafting into the hotel lobby brought dry guests into the bar for a different kind of treat. The young women used all kinds of kookie publicity to get their candy noticed. Twice, marriage broke up the partnership, until Ruth took over the company for good just months before the Depression. This amazing woman constantly hung on through the tough times of the Depression and the sugar rationing of WWII. An offhand comment overheard at the Kentucky Derby led her to create her famous "Bourbon Balls." (Someone had said their favorite snack was a glass of Kentucky Bourbon and Ruth's chocolates.) This old-fashioned candy store, with its red-and-white striped awnings, is still in Frankfort on an unassuming residential street. Free tours take visitors behind the store counter and into the factory to see how the chocolate is still hand-stirred in copper kettles. Next is a tour of the "factory," where people sit by conveyor belts (a la Lucy and Ethel) and place nuts on the chocolates coming out from the "chocolate waterfall" and chocolate "Enrober." The final process at the end of the line is Quality Assurance where chocolates are inspected and those that don't meet the strict size and shape standards are tossed into the "Boo-Boo Bin" and sold at a discount out front. Best of all . . . free samples!

Natural Bridge State Park, Slade (606) 663-2214
Within the Daniel Boone National Forest hikers can climb a breath-taking trail to the 70-million-year-old "Natural Bridge," a natural limestone bridge 40 feet thick and 85 feet wide. (Not only does the scenery take your breath away, so does the climb -- it's almost perpendicular.) For those who dislike hiking, climbing, or perspiring, a skylift takes you to the top quickly and painlessly. Other trails lead to Balanced Rock, Devil's Gulch, and Lover's Leap, as well as a super-long trail leading to Red River Gorge nearby for views of other natural bridges, cliffs and wildlife.

Tip: Visit in the Spring when the forest's abundance of rhododendrons are in bloom.

Kentucky Horse Park, Lexington (606) 233-4303 or (800) 568-8813
Everything you'd ever want to know about horses and horse racing is here, including a horse cemetery. A film shows the historic relationship between man and horse. The museum depicts the history of all breeds. and various outdoor exhibits showcase a behind-the-scenes view of caring for these animals.

Keeneland Race Course, Lexington (606) 254-3412
This beautiful thoroughbred race course has a private clubhouse, grandstand, and stables accommodating more than 1500 racehorses. Racing events, including the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes and the Three Chimneys Spinsters, are held in April and October. Watch the daily workouts from dawn until 10 a.m. mid-March to late-November, and get one of the best equestrian treats you can get.


Elkhorn Campground, Frankfort (502) 695-9154
Quiet. Clean. Beautiful surroundings around Elkhorn Creek, "one of the best small-mouth bass fishing spots in the south." Nice location. Close to all Frankfort sites and major highways. Bathrooms are kinda dreary with brown indoor-outdoor carpeting and beige and brown walls, which accentuate the facility's old walls and doors.

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