Harrodsburg, KY is a town of less than 10,000 residents, yet it boasts farm-to-fork dining, history dating back 243 years, inclusion in the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, a replica pioneer fort and 3,000 acres (1,214 hectares) demonstrating a bygone culture at Shaker Village. It is billed as “The Coolest Place in History,” and it has the credentials to back that up.
Old Fort Harrod State Park
The centerpiece of Old Fort Harrod State Park is a full-scale replica of the fort that was built by James Harrod in 1774. There are cabins and other structures furnished with tools, furniture and animal skins providing a glimpse into the way of life in those early days. McGinty’s Ordinary was an early boarding house and is one of the larger buildings on the grounds. The fort itself is open Wednesdays through Saturdays from 9:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m. and on Sundays from noon until 5:00 p.m., but the park is open seven days a week from 8:00 a.m. until dusk. Volunteers in period costumes are on hand to demonstrate techniques used for dyeing cloth, weaving, blacksmithing and making baskets, candles and brooms. Near the entrance to the park is a large osage orange tree that is taller and broader than the National Champion of this tree variety, but because of its split trunk, it remains the Unofficial National Champion. The bark was used to make a beautiful orange dye for the handspun yarns.
In addition to the fort, the park features the oldest cemetery west of the Alleghenies, the George Rogers Clark Federal Monument, the Lincoln Marriage Temple, an amphitheatre and the Mansion Museum.
A well-preserved Main Street
Harrodsburg’s Main Street is working hard to maintain its historical significance with the majority of the buildings dating to the 1850’s. Kentucky Fudge Company is not really a fudge company but rather a cafe serving breakfast and lunch all week and dinner on weekends. From 1868 to 1983, this property operated as Dedman Drugstore, and the interior has retained its authenticity, right down to the vintage soda fountain. On Saturday morning, the “Pickers and Grinners” around Harrodsburg come into Kentucky Fudge Company with their instruments and provide live music for the customers.
On the first Saturday of the month from April through September, custom, antique and classic cars and trucks line Main Street for “Cruiz on Main.”
In many of the downtown businesses, you can find a brochure for your own self-guided Historic Walking/Driving Tour of the preserved landmarks around the area.
Food to satisfy many palates
In addition to the salads, sandwiches and desserts at Kentucky Fudge Company, some visitors might want to wander over to the Olde Bus Station, which once served as the town’s Greyhound Bus Terminal. Comfort foods and soft-serve banana ice cream await you there.
For upscale dining, the Main Dining Room of Beaumont Inn received the James Beard Foundation America’s Classic Award in 2015. Perhaps you will want to sample Kentucky ham that has been cured for two years, yellow-legged fried chicken, corn pudding or General Robert E. Lee orange-lemon cake. This is a place where you will want to put on some nice clothes, maybe dressy casual, to preserve the ambiance.
Only a few miles down the road, the Trustees’ Table in the Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill utilizes ingredients from the large, well-tended garden on the grounds. In 1816, the Shakers invented the practice of packaging seeds into small paper envelopes. That reference explains the seed-to-table concept used by the chefs at the Trustees’ Table. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served daily, but reservations are recommended. At lunch, slaw and corn muffins are passed to each table, and for dinner, homemade vegetables, bread and a seasonal relish are passed. Be sure to notice the twin spiral staircases that sweep up three stories on either side of the entrance to the Trustees’ Table. They were designed by Micajah Burnett who was an architect and a member of the Shaker community.
Shaker Lemon Pie is a two-crust confection that is said to use “every part of the lemon except the seeds.” It’s tart and exceptionally good.
Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill
A short 10-minute drive from Harrodsburg’s Main Street, you can explore the 3,000 acres (1,214 hectares) at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill. The Shakers, the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing, were initially known as the “Shaking Quakers” because of their frantic and exuberant behavior during worship services. The community here in Kentucky was the third largest of the several dozen established in the U.S., and it was active and operational from 1805 until 1910. Besides being Kentucky’s largest National Historic Landmark and the largest collection of original 19th century buildings in the United States, there are present-day tours, demonstrations, exhibitions and hands-on activities. By checking the calendar on the website, you could easily visit during one of the Discovery Treks, a Music on the Lawn night, a Dixie Belle riverboat ride or for a hayride. And, there are forty miles (64.3 km) of hiking or horseback riding trails in The Preserve portion of Shaker Village.
Overnight accommodations are available in the 72 guest rooms, suites and private cottages on the grounds.
So much to explore
Harrodsburg, in fact, all of Mercer County, offers much more than just history, cuisine and Shaker Village. Two major yard sales pass through Harrodsburg: 400-Mile (643.7 km) Sale Across US 68 happens the first Thursday through Sunday in June and the 127 World’s Longest Yard Sale happens the third week in August. Do you love quilts? Drive through the area to find the hand-painted quilt squares on the Harrodsburg/Mercer Barn Quilt Trail. Harrodsburg and Mercer County have their place in both the Bourbon Trail and the Brewgrass Trail with the Old Owl Tavern at Beaumont Inn and the Lemons Mill Brewery on Marmion Avenue, which is open on Fridays and Saturdays. Pioneer Days Festival is a huge town event held at Old Fort Harrod Park in August, and the Mercer County Fair and Horse Show is the longest running fair and horse show in the United States. It is generally scheduled for the last week in July. If art, music and drama are your loves, then Harrodsburg can satisfy those needs, too, with concerts, art shows, and summer theater productions.
Harrodsburg has the advantage of its proximity to Kentucky’s major cities, so visitors can easily plan a one-day visit or several days soaking up the history and flavor in this “The Coolest Place in History.”
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