By Renée S. Gordon
Kentucky’s pride rest on its spirits, be they internationally renowned bourbons or the unique essence of its people. The name probably comes from the Iroquois “Ken-tah-ten,” meaning “land of tomorrow,” a very appropriate name to the pioneers who first settled in this portion of what was then Virginia. For approximately 12,000 years prior to first contact various groups of Native Americans inhabited the land but it is the Iroquois and Shawnee who lived in the area when the Europeans arrived. www.kentuckytourism.com
There is much dispute over whether the first non-natives in Kentucky were English or French or, as some believe, Welsh Prince Madoc in 1170. We do know that the French claimed the entire Ohio River Valley but in 1669 the Virginia General Assembly sent out the first exploration party. In 1751 the Ohio Land Company sent Christopher Gist to survey the terrain around the Falls of the Ohio River as far as modern day Louisville. His companion on the journey was a black man, considered the first in Louisville.
At the close of the nine year French and Indian War in 1763 the Treaty of Paris granted French Canadian holdings and all territory east of the Mississippi to the British. Settlement began almost immediately with the first permanent colony, Harrodsburg, established by Pennsylvanian James Harrod in 1774. The pioneers were constantly alert for Indian attacks and in October of 1774 Chief Cornstalk signed the Treaty of Camp Charlotte ceding the land south of the Ohio River and releasing all captured whites and blacks, including blacks who had fled enslavement. www.harrodsburgky.com
One year later Daniel Boone led a group of settlers and slaves from Virginia to an area later called Boonesborough. It is believed that Kentucky’s first emancipated slave, Monk Estill, lived at the fort. He received his freedom based on heroic acts performed during an Indian attack and his skill at making lifesaving gunpowder. www.fortboonesboroughlivinghistory.org
The city of Louisville began in 1778 when George Rogers Clark landed on Corn Island at the Falls of the 981-mile Ohio River, the point where the rapids began a 26-ft drop and porterage became necessary. His men constructed the “Fort-on-Shore” on the Kentucky side of the river. The city was named in honor of Louis XVI for the support he gave the country during the revolution and in 1780 Thomas Jefferson signed a city charter. Fort Nelson was erected near the earlier fort in 1781.
The singular spirit of the people of Louisville is recounted through its architecture, museums, attractions, trails and tours. I strongly suggest you begin your quest to partake in all things spirited in Louisville by taking the number one rated tour of the city with City Taste Tours. These tours are ideal because participants are given the opportunity to taste, touch, see and learn about all of the significant locations. Tours are three to five hours, are offered daily seasonally and I recommend reservations because they sell out fast. www.citytastetours.com
Our tour begins across the Ohio on the Indiana shore with a panoramic view of the Louisville skyline and the Falls of the Ohio State Park and Interpretive Center. The area includes the second largest, 200-acre, 390-million year old, Devonian fossil beds in the world, a sculpture on the spot where Lewis and Clark first shook hands and the McAlpine Dam. www.fallsoftheohio.org.
Before crossing the river there are several other intriguing sites in Jeffersonville including one of the ten most haunted places in America, the former Colgate-Palmolive Plant. The Romanesque building was originally a jail housing slaves and Confederate prisoners and then it became the Indiana Reformatory for Men. In 1918 it suffered a devastating fire in which, though the prisoners were released and made a frantic break for the river, many died. In 1923 the building was sold to Colgate for use as a soap plant. Basement workers were paid higher wages because of unusual occurrences in their area.
Perched atop the building is the second largest clock in the world. It measures 42-ft in diameter, weighs 500-lbs and has a 21.5-ft minute and 19-ft. hour hand.
Schimpff’s Confectionery opened in 1891 and is the oldest continuously operated family-owned candy business in the country. This historic site is replete with antique equipment, a museum of candy related memorabilia, a 50’s soda fountain and a candy making area. Tours are free and the candy is incredible. Purchases can be made in the store and on the web. www.schimpffs.com
The five-minute trip to Louisville takes you over the Second Street Bridge past the spot where Muhammad Ali threw his Olympic Medal in the river after being refused service in a restaurant. Ali would gone on to be one of the greatest spirits Louisville would produce and he is honored there in a variety of ways.
Visitors can trace Ali’s youthful journey through the city by visiting nine designated locations and the Muhammad Ali Center. The sites include the schools he attended, two gyms where he trained and the Clay Home. www.AliCenter.org
The Muhammad Ali Center anchors Louisville’s four-block, nine-site, Museum Row. The award-winning Ali Center offers 2.5 floors of state-of-the-art galleries filled with interactive exhibits, videos, mixed media, artifacts and memorabilia. A highlight of any visit is the opportunity to “Train with Ali.” www.MuseumRowOnMain.com
I love the Frazier History Museum and you will too. The museum is home to the Royal Armouries USA, an affiliate of the British Royal Armouries, and interprets 1,000 years of history on three levels. The museum has excellent dioramas and displays and has a permanent staff of costumed docents who present living history programs on a daily schedule. www.Frazier Museum.org
The 21C Museum Hotel is an inspired combination of boutique accommodations and the only museum showcasing 21st-Century contemporary art from established and emerging artists. The space was created combining five bourbon and tobacco barns dating from the 1800s. Since 2009 it has been consistently rated in the top ten hotels in the country. www.21c.com
One of the best photo ops in the city is the façade of the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory (LSMF) and the world’s largest bat. The 120-ft. tall bat is self-supporting and leans 11.5-degrees off vertical center. It bears the signature of “Bud Hillerich,” maker of the first Louisville Slugger. The bat itself is a 68,000-lb. replica of model R43, Babe Ruth’s 34-inch choice in the 1920s. The interior 17-ton sculpture, “The Big Glove,” is 12-ft. long and 9-ft. wide is also a favorite picture spot.
The 16,000-sq. ft. LSMF opened in 1956 but the story began in the 1880s in a woodworking shop when Bud Hillerich joined his father in the business. He attended a major league game in which the star, Pete Browning, broke his bat and Bud invited him to come to the shop where he crafted him another. Browning’s batting improved and he told his teammates. The shop soon began handcrafting bats for players and in 1894 the “Louisville Slugger” name was patented. www.sluggermuseum.com
Museum tours begin, more or less, chronologically with a timeline, videos of living legends, priceless historic bat displays and a recreation of the original workshop. The museum is filled with creative interactive exhibits that are designed to replicate the thrill of the game. Everything here is a highlight but you must not miss the “The Field of Heat” where a hologram of Philly’s own ace pitcher teaches you about the speed of a baseball. Visitors can also wield game-used bats by some of baseball’s legends, Mickey Mantle, Rod Carew, etc., and have your picture taken. The factory tour takes you through the entire process and ends with each guest receiving a mini-bat.
Until March 31st there will be an extremely historic display of a Negro League game-used bat. Hall of Famer Mule Settles owned the bat, and it is accompanied by full documentation. The bat is model S128 and was used during his 21-season career.
The museum store is filled with souvenirs and memorabilia and visitors can order personalized bats. www.sluggergifts.com
The Louisville Slugger Walk of Fame spans 12 blocks, from Jackson to 9th Streets, on Main. Notable players are honored with an informational bronze plaque and their personal bat models.
The Kentucky Derby, the initial leg of thoroughbred horse racing’s Triple Crown, has been held at Churchill Downs since May 17, 1875. The track was constructed for $32,000 and consisted of six stables, a grandstand and clubhouse on 80-acres. On opening day the winner of the Kentucky Derby was Aristides, trained by Ansel Williams and ridden by Oliver Lewis, both African American.
The first documented racecourse in Kentucky was in Lexington and dates from 1789. At that time blacks, usually slaves, dominated the field. After the Civil War blacks continued in racing until they were systematically banned from the industry by white jockey clubs because of their high wages and prestige. Black jockeys were nonetheless the nation’s first famous professional athletes and the term “jock” can be traced to their athleticism. The most renowned among them were Jimmy Winkfield, Isaac Murphy, Alonzo Clayton and James Perkins. It was not until 2000 that a black jockey would ride in the Kentucky Derby again.
Churchill Downs has a museum that tracks the history of horse racing and interprets the African American contribution. www.churchilldowns.com
A stop at the gravesite of Colonel Sanders in the 380-acre Cave Hill Cemetery is warranted. This beautifully designed cemetery is also noted for its sculptures. www.cavehillcemetery.com
The Galt House Hotel is perfectly located within walking distance of all the major sites. The original hotel was built in 1835 and hosted such noted figures as Lincoln, Sherman, Grant and Dickens. The new Galt House offers luxurious accommodations, numerous dining options, a rooftop fitness club with a panoramic view and 2 revolving restaurants. The hotel features Christmas activities that have been rated in the top ten in the nation. A holiday at the Galt is outstanding. www.galthouse.com
The spirit of Louisville is everywhere. Make plans to visit soon. www.gotolouisville.com
I wish you smooth travels!