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22 Mar 2014

Louisville, Kentucky, America’s First Frontier

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March 22, 2014 Category: Travel Posted by:

ABOVE PHOTO:  Ed Hamilton Memorial Panel


By Renée S. Gordon

“I hope to have God on my side, but I must have Kentucky.”  –Abraham Lincoln

In the Last of the Mohicans Daniel Day Lewis’ character, Hawkeye, announces that he is headed for the frontier because the coastal region has become way too crowded. The year is 1757 and the isolated frontier he speaks of he refers to as “Can-tuck-ee.”  This was the land for adventurers and those of independent spirit in 1757 and more than 200 years later, nothing has changed.

Native American presence in the region can be documented to 13,000 BC but the earliest non-indigenous people in the area were hunters. mountain men and British explorers seeking the riches this section of Virginia offered. Surveyors Thomas Walker and Christopher Gist set out to map the land in 1750 but were interrupted by the French and Indian Wars. Daniel Boone’s 1767 visit is credited with being one of the first explorations when hostilities ceased and eight years later he founded Boonesborough, one of the state’s oldest cities.

Settlers immediately recognized the importance of the 981 mile Ohio River. It flows from Pittsburgh to Cairo, Illinois where it joins the Mississippi and continues to New Orleans. Louisville was established at the Falls of the Ohio, the river’s widest point.

Gen. George Rogers Clark landed on Corn Island in May of 1778, accompanied by both civilians and soldiers. The island, surveyed in 1773, was 70-acres and during low tide it was connected to the shore. In 1779, after more settlers arrived, the colony relocated to the mainland and chartered the settlement in1780 as Louisville. The settlement was then part of Virginia and was not ceded to Kentucky until 1797.

The village took its name from King Louis XVI of France. He was so honored because of his assistance to the colonials during the American Revolution. Montpellier, France and Louisville are sister cities and a 12-ft. tall sculpture of Louis XVI was gifted to the city in 1967 and placed outside the City Hall.

Louisville is an ideal destination for a weekend getaway or family vacation. The Louisville International Airport is only 10 minutes from downtown and once there, there are numerous transportation options including “Daytripper Passes” that offer unlimited, one-day, rides on the public transit system.

Kentucky is most noted for horseracing, bourbon and larger than life personalities and visitors can discover all three along West Main Street. The six block corridor houses seven museums and a host of other venues. A good thing to take along on a stroll down this street is a magnet because it is also the designated historic district containing the second largest collection of cast-iron fronted buildings in the country. In the 1800s, pre-fabricated iron facades were used as a less costly alternative to stone.

Begin your visit with “KENTUCKYSHOW!” This 32-minute, multimedia film is an excellent orientation to both the city and the state. It is shown on a regular schedule throughout the day in the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts at 501 W. Main Street.

The Muhammad Ali Center is a museum and multicultural center that deftly blends artifacts and exhibits based on Ali’s life and career with the mission of promoting leadership, multiculturalism and world peace. The center presents programs and special exhibits on a regular and rotating basis.

You can’t miss the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory because of the iconic bat, the largest in the world, situated just outside of the museum. The bat is 120-ft. tall and weighs 68,000-lbs. This state-of-the-art facility traces the history of the Louisville Slugger and the people who wielded it. A highlight of the museum tour is a photo-op with the 17-ton statue, “Play Ball,” a baseball glove handcrafted of 450-million-year-old Kentucky limestone. Thirty-minute factory tours are available and each visitor receives a free mini-bat.

Two famous routes, the Heartland Baseball Trail and the Louisville Slugger Walk of Fame, are connected with the museum. The Heartland Trail is a route that includes six sites in Indiana and Kentucky that interpret the history of baseball in the region. The Louisville Slugger Walk of Fame features 1-mile of bronzed “Slugger” bats and home plate plaques that honor the legendary batters depicted on the walk. The path begins at the museum and ends at Louisville Slugger Field. Look for such names as Josh Gibson, Babe Ruth, Roberto Clemente, Ty Cobb, Cal Ripken Jr., Ernie Banks, Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle, Jackie Robinson, and Joe DiMaggio.

One of the most unique history museums in the nation, and a personal favorite, is the Frazier History Museum. The Frazier presents more than 1,000-years of history through creative use of exhibitions, displays and a troupe of actors who bring historical personalities to life in daily 10 to 20 minute interpretations. Highlights of the tour include the oldest existing Confederate monument in the US, the Royal Armories, 10,000 toy soldiers and the American History galleries. Ed Hamilton’s 2003 “Migration to the West” is located adjacent to the exit into the gift shop in the lobby.

Heaven Hill Distilleries, the largest family owned and operated distillery in the US, premiered the $10.5-million Evan Williams Bourbon Experience in 2013. This urban, artisanal, distillery is the 8th stop on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. The venue is located near the site of Evan Williams’ original 1783 commercial distillery, the first in the country.

Through the windows on the front of the building can be seen a five story Evan Williams Bourbon bottle that sends bourbon cascading into a 1500-gallon lowball glass and Bourbon Fountain. The tour begins in the lobby with a historic timeline and proceeds with a film that introduces viewers to Evan. The tour is completely immersive and as you walk-thru historic locations including the colonial distillery and the wharf.

A second video explains the bourbon-making process and provides you with facts to confound your friends. In order to be classified bourbon it has to be 51 percent corn and nothing can be added to enhance the color or alter the flavor. Kentucky is ideal for making bourbon because it has limestone-filtered water that rids it of iron and hot summers and cold winters. Congress designated it America’s Native Spirit in 1964. An operational artisanal distillery is on view and you watch as bourbon is produced and tested. A recreation of Whiskey Row exteriors, from the 1890s on, completes the tour with venues you can enter to taste the products. This is a fun and accessible tour.

On the corner of 7th & Main a 33-foot golden statue of David, inspired by Michelangelo, by Serkan Ozkaya stands in front of the 21C Museum Hotel. He and the Red Penguin on the roof invite you and hint at the unique offerings inside. Artwork fills all the spaces inside the hotel and spill out onto the sidewalk. The museum is the only one in North America that is dedicated solely to the presentation of 21st-century art. Docent led and self-guided tours are offered.

The 90-room boutique hotel has been named the “#1 Hotel in the South” by Condé Nast Traveler. It offers all the standard amenities and luxury linens, designer bath products, fitness center, WIFI and a rental PIP Mobile, a Lincoln Town Car stretch limo decorated by local artists. The bar and the restaurant, Proof on Main, are also award-winning venues.

Situated a few miles from downtown Louisville is the five acre Locust Grove Estate, former home of Gen. George Rogers Clark. The mansion has witnessed visits by three presidents: Meriwether Lewis, William Clark and Aaron Burr. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1986.

In 1790, William and Lucy Croghan purchased the 694-acre plot of land and built the Georgian mansion. The home was built of materials made on the property with the exception of the brass and glass using enslaved labor. The majority of the furniture was crafted in Philadelphia. Lucy’s brother, George Rogers Clark, shared the residence from 1809-18. Clark was moved there after an accidental fall into a fire that resulted in the amputation of his leg. He lived at Locust Grove until his death.

The mansion was recently restored and the woodwork and textiles are American gems. Some of the wallpaper is the earliest example of an American allegorical design. The house also features Kentucky-crafted furnishings and family portraits. No slave cabins exist, but there is a memorial on the grounds where the slave cemetery was located. Records indicate that the plantation housed approximately 32 slaves.

On the mansions’ third-floor the story of Stephen Bishop is interpreted. His owner, Franklin Gorin, who also owned the Mammoth Cave, made African American slave Stephen Bishop a cave guide in 1838. In 1839, Dr. Crogan purchased the entire estate including the cave. Three years later, Bishop was sent to Locust Grove to map the cave system from memory. While there, he wed one of the plantation’s slaves. Legend has it that Bishop was a polyglot, speaking more than three languages he learned while guiding foreign tourists.  Stephen was given his freedom but died before he could purchase that of his wife and children. He is considered one of the foremost explorers of Mammoth Cave.

Fifteen minutes from Downtown is Louisville Mega Cavern. This fantastic attraction offers the only completely underground ziplines in the country, an 80-element aerial adventure park and a Mega Cavern Tram Tour. These totally unique exploits have been featured on the Travel Channel.

Both Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis were born in Kentucky and during the Civil War the state was deeply divided. Lincoln, from the outset, was always fully aware of the strategic importance of the border state’s resources, railroads and rivers and needed to keep Kentucky pro-Union. Kentucky initially voted to stay neutral but in late 1861 the Confederates invaded the state and Kentuckians felt they were forced to join the Union because the South failed to respect their neutrality. A pro-South faction established a rival Confederate government.

Louisville African American sculptor Ed Hamilton created the 12-ft. statue of Lincoln and four bas-reliefs that are unique features of the extraordinary Lincoln Memorial at Waterfront Park. A path lined with four sculpted panels depicts four pivotal phases in his life, his Kentucky childhood, his rise to political prominence, his leadership in the Civil War and the genesis of his anti-slavery stance.

Lincoln sits atop a boulder facing the river with a book in his hand and his hat and several books resting beside him. Behind him is a small amphitheater with several of his most memorable quotes carved into the risers. The park is open daily until 11 PM.

It has been said that Kentucky is the southernmost northern state and the northernmost southern state and in all the best ways it’s true and Louisville is a prime example of the unexpected treasures visitors can enjoy. It is a short flight, it is affordable and is filled with great restaurants, entertainment venues, festivals and special events. Find your own frontier.


The annual Columbus Arts Festival will be held June 6-8, 2014. The festival has been voted one of the best in the country by several magazines and is an outstanding family activity. More than 400,000 people attend each year and it is early enough for you to make plans to join them.

Southern Delaware has added three itineraries created to facilitate ease of travel for visitors to any and all 26 of the region’s museums. A trip to Southern Delaware is an ideal, nearby, cost effective, family-oriented getaway and you will be stunned at how much fun you can have at this eclectic collection of museums. Complete information is available on the website.

The line-up for the 47th annual Hampton Jazz Festival, held at the Hampton Coliseum from June 27-29, 2014, has just been announced. Performers include Charlie Wilson, the O’ Jays, Chaka Kahn, Morris Day & The Time, Toni Braxton and Babyface. Tickets will go on sale on Saturday, March 22 at 10:00 a.m. at the Coliseum and will be available at Group orders are available only through the Hampton Coliseum Box Office by fax or mail. Additional information is available at or by contacting the Hampton Visitor Center at 800/800-2202.

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