Georgetown is truly a blend of old and new. Evolved from a 1775 log stockade, this central-Kentucky community embraces its colorful heritage and rolling acres of exquisite horse farms, yet boasts a new $8 million recreation and fitness complex, as well as the largest Toyota plant outside of Japan.
Thanks to a $3 million downtown renovation about six years ago, the town of around 20,000 radiates old-fashioned charm, with many original storefronts, brick sidewalks, old-time streetlamps, and more than 300 structures on the National Register of Historic Places. Antique shops grace nearly every block.
“We’ve maintained a lot of beautiful old buildings and kept the character of the community intact,” says John Simpson, director of the Georgetown Scott County Tourism Commission. “I think that’s pretty rare, especially for a town of this size.”
Also rare is an impressive relationship with its Japanese sister city, Tahara-shi.
Sixteen years ago, Toyota Motor Manufacturing gave a million dollars to establish a community center for the people of Scott County. Set on 87 creekside acres north of town, 100-plus-room Cardome Centre–former monastery and academy of the Sisters of Visitation–houses community service organizations, offers meeting space, and is the location of five-acre Yuko-En on the Elkhorn, the official Kentucky-Japan Friendship Garden, with a mile-long walking trail and Zen garden.
Each year, Cardome Centre hosts two very disparate events.
In April, delegates from Tahara-shi and kite masters from the Tahara Kite Preservation Society fly battle kites and lead kite-making workshops at the Georgetown International Kite and Cultural Festival.
And on Father’s Day weekend, re-enactors breathe life back into Confederate Brigadier General John Hunt Morgan’s raids on the Bluegrass State, complete with military drills, daily battles, night canon firing, period music, clothing, arts and crafts, and Morgan’s Grand Ball.
“This facility lends itself to the event,” says Sherry Williams, its executive director. “John Robinson was governor of the state for a year during the Civil War and his home was on this property. One of Morgan’s raiders, Basil Duke, who was married to Morgan’s sister, was from Scott County.”
Several years ago, Georgetown College added a program called Georgetown’s Exchange with Tahara, which sends recent grads to the Japanese city to teach English, and sponsors high school and middle school student exchanges.
One of the top football and basketball colleges in its league, Georgetown is a small liberal arts school and town resource. Its new Learning Resource Center library and Anne Wilson Fine Arts Building add cultural events, while summertime brings fans to its stadium to watch the Cincinnati Bengals Football Training Camp.
“The college feels that having an NFL camp here lends a lot of credibility to their own program and helps them recruit and generate alumni dollars,” says Simpson. “It puts the college on the national map because during training season, every newspaper in the country will have a Georgetown byline.”
Other seasonal community events include the Festival of the Horse in September, a fall Harvest Trail, and a Christmas Tree Festival at Amerson Farm Orchard.
More about Georgetown
Right off I-75 on US 25, Georgetown is 10 miles north of Lexington.
The inspiration for Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, North Elkhorn Creek flows through town, providing hiking, fishing, boating, and Georgetown’s 1790 birth spot, Royal Spring. With these waters, town founder and Baptist preacher Elijah Craig created the first bourbon in 1789.
For more info, contact the Georgetown Scott County Tourism Commission at (888) 863-8600 or online at www.georgetownky.com. For college events, go to the college’s Web site at www.georgetowncollege.edu.
For outdoor fun in the Georgetown area, grab a paddle with Canoe Kentucky, (800) K-CANOE-1; bicycle scenic byways through Stamping Ground, where buffalo once roamed; hike an Elkhorn Corridor Trail; or drop a line with Feared By Fish Guide Service, (502) 863-0022.
Duffers can polish their 18-holes skills at Coal Ridge Golf Course, (502) 863-0754, while a must-see for equine enthusiasts is the nearby Kentucky Horse Park, (800) 678-8813 or online at www.kyhorsepark.com.
Georgetown is noted for its profusion of historic houses and has some of the finest antique shopping in Kentucky. Old fashion street lamps and bricked sidewalks round out Georgetown’s nostalgic ambience.
Take a swim at the Community Sport and Activity Pavilion, (502) 863-7865; hone in on local history at the Georgetown & Scott County Museum, (502) 863-6201; and see cars being made on a tour at Toyota Motor Manufacturing, (800) TMM-4485 or www.toyotageorgetown.com.
Two downtown eateries serve their meals with a side of history. Once an early 1900s confectionary, Fava’s Restaurant, (502) 863-4383, offers breakfast, lunch, and a Cajun Christmas buffet. Or you can relax in the vault and sip a cup of java at the Lock & Key Coffee House & Cafe, (502) 867-1972, built in 1899 as a bank. Stay overnight right on Main Street and tuck in your napkin for a full gourmet breakfast at Bryan House Bed & Breakfast, (877) 296-3051.
Katherine Tandy Brown is a regular contributor to the Traveling Kentucky column.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Case in point: historic Hanson, in the Pennyrile region of western Kentucky. Teresa Anthony, who grew up in this tiny hamlet of a few hundred residents in the 1960s and 1970s, remembers it fondly as “authentic, charming, the center of community”–the quintessential American small town.
Founded in 1869 and established officially in 1873, the town was plotted by Henry B. Hanson, an engineer for the Henderson and Nashville Railroad, on a 50-acre tract. In 1889, a fire devastated the commercial district, an area soon rebuilt with one- and two-story brick and frame buildings, which today comprise the historic district.
By the end of the 20th century, Hanson was down on its heels and deserted. That’s when Anthony stepped in and kicked things in gear, buying up 10 buildings in town, including her Aunt Willie Haywood’s “mansion,” and beginning a process of revitalization that has resulted in businesses returning to and thriving in downtown Hanson.
Today, the village at Hanson Station, as it is known, is an antiques and art center that boasts a number of one-of-a-kind, locally owned antique shops, bakery, restaurants, a day spa, and a used book, movie, and music exchange, including two shops owned by Anthony, Miss Willie’s Emporium and Apple House Art Gallery.
Not only does Hanson enjoy the distinction of being Kentucky’s smallest historic district on the state registry, it is a place that Anthony describes as once again “authentic, charming, the center of community.”
“For me, Hanson has always been a special place and I’m thankful for my deep roots,” says the former Marine who now lives in Waynesville, North Carolina, but returns home on a regular basis.
“The history and integrity of the historic buildings have been saved, and with that is a renewed sense of community pride and appreciation,” says Anthony. “It looks great and it feels great, and people really enjoy the shops and the community festivals that take place downtown.”
Eating in Hanson has become nothing less than a pleasure for the palate. The Hanson Country Market, operated by Carlis and Shannon Oakley, has made a name for itself with its homemade barbecue and fresh deli sandwiches. Liz Yoder’s Country Oven Bakery is known for its made-from-scratch Amish recipe pies. The Campus Grill & Fish House is the place where the locals gather Wednesday through Sunday for three square meals.
In spite of its hustle and bustle, Anthony still has several goals for this burgeoning burg: “I’d like to focus more time on promoting local artists and expanding the shopping area. I’d like to see volunteers organized to keep our small museum open on a regular basis. And I’d like to make a second historical video, one that records locals telling stories and anecdotes about their families and friends and their Hanson memories.”
Visiting Charming Hanson
Historic Hanson is located halfway between Henderson and Hopkinsville along the Pennyrile Parkway, north of Madisonville. Shops are generally open Tuesday–Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., and until 6 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. A few shops are open on Sunday.
Holidays in Hanson
Hanson is holding its annual Holiday Open House on Saturday, November 12, 10 a.m.–7 p.m. All the buildings in downtown Hanson will be outlined in white lights, and roving musicians will entertain shoppers and merchants alike. All the shops, from the Four Door Gallery to Pepper’s Old Books to Backdoor Creations, will be decorated for the holidays and will welcome shoppers with refreshments, apple cider, and door prizes.
For More Information
For more information about Hanson, contact the Hopkins County Tourist & Convention Commission, 15 E. Center Street, Madisonville, KY 42431, (270) 821-4171, e-mail email@example.com, or go online to Hanson’s Web site at www.historichanson.com.
Hanson Festivals & Fun
Festivals include the Village Arts Festival in March, Antique Tractor and Mule Days the first Saturday in May, a July Summer Sidewalk Sale, and the November Holiday Open House. Other events have included a folk art festival, a fall Harvest Market, and classic car cruise-ins.
“One of the most important and largest events is the annual Mule Days festival,” says Sharla Austin-Darnell of Hopkins County Tourist and Convention Commission. “This has been in production for over 25 years and includes a parade, antique tractor show, outdoor concert, and other activities.”
Several authors have stopped by Hanson for book signings, including children’s author Mona Larkins (Pablo’s Art Adventures: Exploring The Studio), and community movie nights have featured old westerns projected onto the side of a building.
Kathy Witt is a regular contributor to the Traveling Kentucky column.