By Debra Gibson Isaacs from January 2014 Issue
Environmentally friendly education center is the latest Frankfort history-maker
What happens in Frankfort doesn't stay in Frankfort. As the state capital where laws are passed, this small, central Kentucky city is the site of decisions that affect us all. Now, visitors can enjoy a new education center while soaking up the political and historical ambiance.
"There is no other state in the nation that has an educational center for visitors like this one."
That statement about the newest attraction on the state Capitol campus comes from Kentucky first lady Jane Beshear, who had the idea for the Capitol Education Center and then spearheaded its development.
The Center is a green building that was literally recycled—created from a structure that originally was used to house heating and cooling units. Once an eyesore among the historic architecture surrounding it, the building now stands out for its modern, environmentally friendly design.
Inside, visitors find a range of interactive and multimedia exhibits to learn about sustainability, geography, history, tourism, and government in Kentucky.
"Our young people are so savvy with technology," Beshear says. "They love to work on computers. The kiosks at the Center allow children to individually choose what they want to learn about. They can choose so many different topics. And it's not just children. The technology engages everyone—adults and children."
Beshear says the building's special quality is its emphasis on energy efficiency. For example, it's insulated with recycled denim, which visitors can see through a cutout in the wall.
"The building is totally green," she says. "The toilets work through the use of rainwater that is collected in receptacles in the back. The floor tiles are made with recycled plastic. Even the paint is green."
There are also exhibits about energy efficiency. One display shows how much energy it takes to light a regular light bulb compared with a compact fluorescent bulb. Two kiosks display how much energy the Center is using in real time and how much energy the building's solar panels are creating.
Outside, visitors can go on the roof to see solar and wind energy in action. A viewing platform features solar panels, a wind turbine, and even a rooftop garden with native plantings. It also offers a great view of the Capitol and its environs.
"The Center has so many purposes," Beshear says. "It provides an opportunity for teachers to give lessons and a space for all Kentuckians to come and learn. To me, it is really a showcase."
And the showcase will not be static. She says the state will continue to update the exhibits with new information.
Say happy birthday to a mansion
Frankfort's relatively small size for a state capital is an advantage for visitors, with many attractions packed around the center of government, including the Governor's Mansion just across from the Capitol.
January is a perfect time to visit the mansion, which turns 100 this month. The Mansion Centennial Celebration kicks off January 20 and will feature public exhibits and events throughout that week and throughout 2014. To schedule a tour of the mansion, call the Capitol Tour Desk at (502) 564-8004. For more information on the celebration, go online to http://governorsmansion.ky.gov or Facebook.com/KentuckyGovernorsMansion.
Within a few miles from the state Capitol are more landmarks, significant for their history and architecture. They include the Old State Capitol, which dates to 1830, and Liberty Hall Historic Site.
For genealogists and history buffs, a visit to the Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History is a must. There are two permanent exhibits to explore. A Kentucky Journey follows the development of Kentucky through its residents. It contains 2,000 artifacts, including Abraham Lincoln's pocket watch—its ticking was heard in the 2012 Steven Spielberg film, Lincoln. The other permanent exhibit is the Toyota Kentucky Hall of Governors. Visitors also can use the library's extensive collections, including manuscripts, maps, oral history, photographs, and rare books.
Capitol Education Center
706 Capitol Avenue Loop, Frankfort
Kentucky State Capitol
700 Capitol Avenue Loop, Frankfort
www.capitol.ky.gov or www.historicproperties.ky.gov
New Governor's Mansion
704 Capitol Avenue Loop, Frankfort
Liberty Hall Historic Site
202 Wilkinson Street, Frankfort
Kentucky Historical Society's "History Campus"
For information on the following, go online to www.history.ky.gov and click on "Visit."
Old State Capitol
300 W. Broadway Street, Frankfort
Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History
100 W. Broadway, Frankfort
Kentucky Military History Museum
125 East Main Street, Frankfort
While unquestionably a mecca for Kentucky politics and history, Frankfort also has a serious sweet tooth and an entertaining side.
Rebecca Ruth Candy, founded by Ruth Hanly and Rebecca Gooch in 1919, was the first company to make candy with 100-proof bourbon whiskey and is considered the inventor of the bourbon ball. The third generation is still making the gourmet candies. At the Rebecca Ruth Candy Tours & Museum, visitors can see where the sweet treats are made. Admission is $3 per person; free for children age 5 and under. Appointments preferred for groups of 10 or more. Guided tours are Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-noon and 1-5:30 p.m., 116 E. 2nd Street in downtown Frankfort. For more information, call (502) 223-7475 or go to www.rebeccaruth.com.
Grand Theatre opened in 1911 as a vaudeville house and later became a movie theater before it closed in 1966. The historic Grand Theatre reopened as a performance venue in the fall of 2009 after a $5 million restoration. The 428-seat performing and visual arts theater is host to a wide variety of acts, and provides a venue for social, educational, and civic events. It's in downtown Frankfort at 308 St. Clair Street. For more information, call (502) 352-7469 or go to www.grandtheatrefrankfort.org.
DEBRA GIBSON ISAACS, an award-winning writer and photographer based in Lexington, still savors the challenge of producing captivating journalism after more than 35 years.