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Rustic Roots

Kentucky’s rough-and-tumble frontier history is memorialized in that most rugged symbol of the pioneering life: the log cabin. Sturdy, strong, enduring—these structures were emblematic of a hardscrabble life and a reflection of those early settlers who would forge a community from the wilderness.

BitterSweet Cabin Village and Museum
Wander through the collection of authentic log cabin structures at BitterSweet Cabin Village and Museum in Renfro Valley and you’ll traverse more than 150 years of history. The cabins and their furnishings, tools, and artifacts depict Kentucky’s Appalachian heritage from the 1700s through the 1940s.

The cabins, part of a private collection, came to Renfro Valley from nearby London in 1999. With its butter churn, cradle, and candle-making implements, one cabin depicts the daily life of a pioneer woman. A variety of old looms are exhibited in the Heirloom Room. Other buildings include tinsmith and cobbler shops, an old general store, and a two-hole outhouse. And the wishing well? It’s original and planted with flowers to mark the site of the first settlement in Renfro Valley.

During the holidays the cabins are outlined in lights. A gift shop tucked into one of the cabins stocks handmade crafts from local artisans, and Christmas in the Valley, the original stage production of the Renfro Valley Entertainment Center, is just a short stroll away.

Magoffin County Historical Society and Pioneer Village
Nineteen structures were relocated to the courtyard of the Magoffin County Historical Society in Salyersville to create a living-history experience for visitors to this pioneer village.

“The hills of eastern Kentucky seem to hold a special appeal for a great many people who may be removed several generations from the ancestors who settled and carved their homes from the wilderness,” says volunteer Connie Wireman. “Each year, hundreds of people come back to visit the homeland of their forefathers.”

The village is the focal point of Salyersville’s annual Hometown Christmas festival and each cabin is decorated by volunteers. Hot apple cider, hot chocolate, and cookies are served; a tree-lighting ceremony and parade in town add to the merriment.

Old Bardstown Village
This reproduction 1790s frontier community has 12 log buildings that are more than 150 years old, plus several Native American habitats. Set into the brow of a hill adjacent to Bardstown’s Museum Row, the grassy lawn with its log structures, mill wheel, and covered bridge is a fitting backdrop for the Civil War re-enactments and drills that take place throughout the year.

“With a historical resource like this, historical re-enactors, vendors, and performers are able to bring to life the sights, sounds, and experience of Kentucky’s dramatic frontier history,” says Dennis Medley. He is the director and founder of the event and a re-enactor who portrays a long hunter or surveyor.

During the Market Fair, held each spring during Bardstown’s Colonial Days Weekend, you might spot Daniel Boone, George Rogers Clark, and Native chiefs milling about the wheelwright shop, still house, and forge. Silversmiths, blacksmiths, seamstresses, woodcarvers, and toymakers demonstrate their crafts.

Old Fort Harrod State Park
This village is actually a fort, one that replicates the garrison built in 1775 by town founder James Harrod and 32 men from Pennsylvania. Harrodstown (now Harrodsburg) is what these settlers called the town when they laid it out in June 1774, the first permanent settlement west of the Allegheny Mountains.

“Visitors can interact with and engage our interpreters through conversation and hands-on learning while gaining inside knowledge of just how much work it took to build this Commonwealth and the nation,” says David Coleman, park manager. “The very hard work, danger, and turmoil these early pioneers not only survived, but thrived in, is the very backbone this country relies on today.”

Today, the blockhouses and log cabins are a backdrop for pioneer demonstrations, including blacksmithing and broom making that recall those early years. The fort also hosts events throughout the year. The Holiday Open House, November 16, 6-8 p.m., enchants with candle lantern tours of the simply dressed cabins and visits with Mr. and Mrs. Claus in the blockhouse.

Old Washington
The village of Washington, with 119 log cabins built before 1790, predated statehood. It was established in 1786 (six years before Kentucky became the 15th state), and was once the second-largest town in Kentucky and a thriving shopping mecca for the citizenry of Lexington. After all, 20 mercantile houses flourished here, not to mention two taverns. Several log cabins remain today, including the only known working log cabin post office in the United States.

Visitors still shop in this pocket-size village, where museums and an Amish bakery have joined the shops. Stroll the flagstone sidewalks with a tour guide in period costume to learn how Simon Kenton once saved the life of his friend Daniel Boone, and visit the general store Kenton operated back in the day, now a museum named in his honor.

“All history is relevant to our life today,” says Phyllis Helphenstine, who owns Phyllis’ Lamp Shop in Old Washington, “from the crude, three-sided log cabins with the fourth side covered in animal skins, to the beautiful, luxurious homes we live in today.”

More stories unfold during Old Washington’s 46th annual Frontier Christmas, December 7-8 this year. All museums will be dressed for the holidays, as will strolling costumed carolers. Music will be supplied by bagpipes, banjos, dulcimers, and fiddles, and there will be plenty of old-fashioned activities, such as weaving, quilting, and candle dipping. Shops will be open, with lots of handmade gifts for those on your Christmas list.


Plan your village visit
Visit one of Kentucky’s pioneer villages and “come away with a greater appreciation and knowledge of how your ancestors lived,” says Connie Wireman, a volunteer with Magoffin County Historical Society and Pioneer Village. “It makes (visitors) a prouder people.”

BitterSweet Cabin Village and Museum
U.S. 25, Renfro Valley, (800) 252-6685, (606) 256-0715, (click on Things to Do/Attractions).
Open year-round. Free self-guided touring. Live demonstrations are held the first weekend in June and October. Closed Thanksgiving and Christmas days.

Magoffin County Historical Society and Pioneer Village
191 South Church Street, Salyersville
(606) 349-1607
Open Monday-Friday year-round (except during very cold and snowy weather), 10 a.m.-4 p.m. or by appointment. The tours are guided. Salyersville’s Hometown Christmas is held the first Saturday in December.

Old Bardstown Village
310 East Broadway, Bardstown
(502) 349-0291
Buildings open daily March-October, and Friday through Sunday
November 1-December 15. Closed December 15-March 1 except for tour groups and school groups by reservation only. Colonial Days Weekend is scheduled for April 11-13, 2014.

Old Fort Harrod State Park
100 S. College Street, Harrodsburg
(859) 734-3314 (under Recreation Parks click on Old Fort Harrod)
Winter hours are in effect December 1-February 28, when the fort, gift shop, and Lincoln Marriage Temple are open 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m., Monday-Friday, but the museum is closed. The fort is open for tours Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-4 p.m., in December and only by appointment in January and February. Park grounds open year-round. Call the park or go to its Web site for event details and to confirm current hours.

Old Washington
2112 Old Main Street, Maysville
(606) 759-7411
Washington is about 5 miles south of Maysville on U.S. 68 Business Route. The Visitors Center is open 10 a.m.
-4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday, and noon-4 p.m. Sunday from mid-April through Frontier Christmas. Guided tours available 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Saturday, and noon-3 p.m. Sunday. During the off-season, guided tours are available by appointment.

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