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A timeline through Kentucky’s past

Six places for history buffs 

Obelisk at Graveyard No. 1 is the final resting place for refugees who perished at Camp Nelson. Photo: National Park Service
Twin spiral staircases at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill. Photo: Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill
The Symbolic Birth Cabin at the traditional site of the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln. Photo: National Park Service
Each September thousands flock to the Trail of Tears Heritage Park. Photo: Tommy Lopez
Visit a replica working fort at Fort Boonesborough State Park. Photo: Jack Winburn/Kentucky Department of Parks

Fort Boonesborough State Park, Richmond 

Legendary explorer Daniel Boone established Kentucky’s second settlement. (Harrodsburg was first, settled in 1774 by Boone’s pal, James Harrod.) Boone and his party hacked a path along the Wilderness Road, for decades considered the “roughest, most disagreeable road on the continent” before reaching their destination: “about 60 yards from the (Kentucky) river and a little over 200 yards from the salt lick.” 

  • The year: 1775 
  • The setting: Reconstructed working fort with blockhouses, cabins and furnishings. 
  • What you won’t find in history books: “Fort Boonesborough was to be the capital of the ‘Transylvania Colony—the 14th colony,’” notes Park Manager Jack Winburn. 
  • See and do: Enjoy 18th century life skills and period craft demonstrations, boating, camping, hiking and shopping for handmade pioneer items. 

Constitution Square Historic Site, Danville 

Constitution Square is “the birthplace of Kentucky.” The first mail was delivered five months after Kentucky achieved statehood, on November 3, 1792, from the original post office built before statehood. 

  • The year: 1792 
  • The setting: In the heart of downtown Danville, near shops, restaurants and other attractions. 
  • What you won’t find in history books: America’s first serial killers, the Harpe Brothers, were held at the jail in 1799. 
  • See and do: Tour the site of the signing of the state’s constitution, its frontier jail and meetinghouse and the first post office west of the Alleghenies. 

Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, Harrodsburg 

The largest national historic landmark in Kentucky was home to the third largest Shaker community in the United States between 1805 and 1910. Today, Shaker Village offers dining, daily adventures, workshops, special events and overnighting in 13 restored historic Shaker buildings. 

  • The year: 1805 
  • The setting: 34 historic structures (the largest collection of privately held buildings in the country) on 3,000 rolling acres. 
  • What you won’t find in history books: The progressive Shakers believed in racial and gender equality, and women held leadership roles within their society. They also purchased the freedom of enslaved people. 
  • See and do: See Shaker architecture at the twin spiral staircases in the 1839 Trustees’ Office, home of The Trustees’ Table restaurant; the 1824 Centre Family Dwelling; and the 1820 Meeting House. 

Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Park, Hodgenville 

It is hard to imagine one of this country’s most revered leaders and beloved presidents as a babe in swaddling clothes, but here in a log cabin on the Kentucky frontier is where Abraham Lincoln’s story began. 

  • The year: 1809 
  • The setting: Beautiful park grounds, stands of hardwood trees and a neoclassical memorial building housing the Symbolic Birth Cabin. 
  • What you won’t find in history books: The humble one-room log cabin might suggest otherwise, but the Lincolns were not poor. “They would have been considered ‘middle class,’” says Chief of Interpretation and Resource Management Stacy Humphreys. 
  • See and do: Tour the Symbolic Birth Cabin, the Sinking Spring at the Birthplace site and the newly reopened Knob Creek Tavern Visitor Center at the Boyhood Home at Knob Creek. 

Trail of Tears Commemorative Park, Hopkinsville 

This National Park stop, encompassing the Trail of Tears Commemorative Park and Heritage Center, tells the story of those Native Americans forcefully removed from their homelands. It includes two of the few known gravesites on the Trail, which extends through 10 states. 

  • The year: 1830s 
  • The setting: Lushly landscaped grounds with gravesites, a restored log cabin filled with Native American artifacts and picnic areas. 
  • What you won’t find in history books: Several African Americans were included in the removal. 
  • See and do: See a Bible written in Cherokee among artifacts at the Heritage Cabin and the statues and gravesites of Native American Chiefs Fly Smith and WhitePath. 

Camp Nelson National Monument, Nicholasville 

It began as a Federal army supply depot and hospital and became one of the largest recruitment and training centers for African American soldiers during the Civil War. It was also a refugee site for formerly enslaved peoples and wartime refugees. 

“Camp Nelson provides an opportunity to understand the complex and contested narrative of our country’s history,” says Chief of Interpretation, Education and Visitor Services Steve Phan. 

  • The year: 1863 
  • The setting: Park grounds, served by Blue Grass Energy, bear the imprint of history through infantry entrenchments, earthen forts, burial grounds and archaeological excavation sites. 
  • What you won’t find in history books: That Civil War sites extend beyond the battlefields to the complexities of emancipation, the experience of wartime refugees and the service of African Americans soldiers during and after the Civil War. 
  • See and do: Explore the Visitor Center and Museum, Grave No. 1 (obelisk) and the trail system.
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