Georgetown, KY Attractions
History; Arts & Culture; Downtown; Sports; Barn Quilt Trail; Scott County Gems; Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Inc.; Japanese Sister City; Free Things to Do
Georgetown is the perfect location to discover genuine Kentucky treasures. Explore relics of Georgetown’s spirited past at Ward Hall. Uncover the religious origins of the Cardome Centre and St. Francis de Sales Mission. Everywhere you look, you’ll find Southern architecture, antiques and museum artifacts. Each location weaves a tale of history, mystery or cultural uniqueness. Treasures for the entire family; treasures you will find nowhere else.
Historic Georgetown, 10 miles north of Lexington off I-75, is where Kentucky bourbon whiskey was first produced. Royal Spring, still visible today at Royal Spring Park on West Main Street, provided the water for Baptist minister Rev. Elijah Craig's new mixture in 1789. It is Kentucky's largest spring-based public water system, serving some 7,000 customers. Also at the park is an authentic 1874 log cabin built by former slave Milton Leach. It is a mini-museum for local history (free, mid May-mid September, Tue-Sun 10-4, Water Street & West Main, 502-863-6201, cabin is not handicapped accessible).
A walking tour of downtown Georgetown offers a look at some of the city's outstanding residential and commercial architecture that includes over 200 buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
GEORGETOWN COLLEGE, also included on the walking tour, was established in 1787 and is the oldest Baptist college west of the Alleghenies. Georgetown is recognized for its rich traditions, high ideals, superb faculty and challenging curriculum. At the college's Anne Wright Wilson Fine Arts building you can see major art exhibits at one of Central Kentucky's largest galleries.
CARDOME CENTRE - Former monastery building designed for the Sisters of the Visitation in 1898 on land acquired from the family of Kentucky Governor James F. Robinson. Cardome has been preserved and today hosts a variety of events, festivals and meetings, as well as serving as the future home of the Museum of the Written Word. Please call for information & hours of operation. 800 Cincinnati Road/US-25N, 502-863-1575
GEORGETOWN-SCOTT COUNTY MUSEUM - Area history comes alive with a video, time line, and an eclectic collection of local artifacts and exhibits. Wednesday-Saturday 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; 229 East Main Street. (Free) 502-863-6201
GEORGETOWN CEMETERY - The city's main burial ground since the 1850's is full of interesting Victorian monuments. Equine artist Edward Troye and several Kentucky governors are among the notables buried here (enter from Hamilton Street or South Broadway.
WARD HALL - Located 1782 Frankfort Road, US460 west, 1 mile from downtown Georgetown. Completed in 1853, is said to be the largest Greek Revival Architecture in Kentucky, and referred to as the finest example of Greek Revival Architecture in the south. The mansion was built by Junius Ward, grandson of Col. Robert Johnson, one of Kentucky's richest men. It is located on 40 acres of rolling Bluegrass countryside just west of downtown Georgetown. Prior to 1884 the Kentucky Legislature considered using this great house for its State Capitol. For information or for Tours, visit the website.
History of Georgetown/Scott County
Native-peoples have lived, hunted, and fished along the lush and temperate banks of Elkhorn Creek in what is now Scott County for at least 15,000 years. In particular, the Adena culture (800 B.C. - 800 A.D.) thrived in the area, with several significant Adena mounds still marking their presence.
Exploration by people of European ancestry can be traced to a surveying expedition from Fincastle County, Virginia, led by John Floyd in June of 1774. A journal kept by one of the group noted a prominent feature of the rich land that is now Scott County: the "spring is the largest I have seen in the whole country, and forms a creek in itself."
The region was sporadically settled by as early as 1775, and an army outpost, McClelland's Fort, was built overlooking the spring in 1776. After an attack by Indians in 1777, the fort was abandoned. A permanent community was not established until the winter of 1783 when Robert and Jemima Johnson established Johnson Station near the North Fork of Elkhorn Creek. Johnson Station was later renamed Great Crossing because of the buffalo crossing nearby, and is approximately five miles west of the current location of Georgetown. In 1792, Scott County became one of the first two counties created by the newly formed Kentucky Legislature, and was named for General Charles Scott, a Revolutionary War hero who later served as the Commonwealth's fourth governor from 1808 through 1812.
In 1784, Elijah Craig (1743-1808), an idealistic Baptist preacher from Spotsylvania County, Virginia, incorporated the town of Lebanon near the site of McClelland's Fort in the Virginia legislature. In 1790, the town's name was changed to George Town in honor of President George Washington. And in 1792 it became George Town, Kentucky, when Kentucky became the15th state of the union.
Craig is credited by some with the establishment of "the first classical school in Kentucky, the first saw and grist mill, the first fulling and paper mill, and the first ropewalk. Others affirm that he also produced the first bourbon whiskey. In the December 27, 1787, edition of the Kentucky Gazette Craig advertised for fifty or sixty scholars to study at an academy that would open on January 28, 1788 "in Lebanon town," and would offer courses in Latin, Greek,and "such branches of the sciences as are usually taught in public seminaries." Ten years later the school was absorbed by the Rittenhouse Academy, which was given by the state some 5,900 acres in Christian and Cumberland counties so that they might sell the land to benefit their endowment fund. The academy, in turn, was absorbed by Georgetown College in 1829.
The community went into a decline after the death of Elijah Craig in 1808. When Elder Barton Warren Stone (1772-1844), a founder of the Christian Churches movement during the Great Revival, moved to Georgetown in 1816 to become principal of Rittenhouse Academy, he found the community "notorious for its wickedness and irreligion."
Georgetown College was founded in 1829 by orthodox Baptists to provide education for clergy to combat the reforming threat of the Disciples of Christ, and by those men simply interested in providing a superior classical education. Thereafter the college continued to prosper and in 1898 became one of the first such institutions in the South to become coeducational.
During the nineteenth century Georgetown's cultural and economic life, the latter based on tobacco, milling, distilling, and the rope and bagging businesses, was closely tied to the deep South. While Kentucky remained officially neutral during the Civil War, Scott County's leanings were Southern.
After the war, many of Scott County's African American citizens took part in the "Great Migration to the West," with many settling in the newly formed, all-Black community of Nicodemus, Kansas. After experiencing the hardships of life on the Great Plains, many of these people would later return to Scott County. With the end of slavery, the new African-American communities of Zion Hill, Watkinsville, and New Zion were formed. Today, in New Zion's cemetery, lie the remains of several local residents who seized the opportunity to join the first all-African American military units formed during peace-time, the 9th and 10th Cavalries, and the 23rd and 24th Infantries. Cemetery records from "Gone, Forgotten, Now Remembered: Scott County, Kentucky Cemeteries" indicate there are at least four soldiers buried in the Old Georgetown Cemetery that served in Buffalo Soldier Unites. The troopers assigned to these regiments were more commonly known as "Buffalo Soldiers." All four units established outstanding records during the campaigns and policing actions in the American West.
While Georgetown was growing, other communities in Scott County were also flourishing. In 1834 Stamping Ground, so called for the buffalo herds that would gather at the salt spring and stomp the ground while waiting for water, was incorporated.
Sadieville, once called "Big Eagle," was formed in the northern portion of the county as a rail stop along the Cincinnati Southern Railroad in 1879. The city was named in honor of Sadie Emison Pack, an honored citizen who was hostess to the construction engineers working on the line.
Throughout the 20th century, Georgetown and Scott County have been in a transition from an economy based primarily on agriculture, to a diversified one mixing manufacturing, small business, and the family farm. During the 1960s, the construction of Interstate 75 placed the county on one of the busiest highways in America. The selection of Georgetown as site of Toyota's first American assembly plant in 1985 has resulted in the greatest period of growth in the county's long and storied history.
Today, Georgetown and Scott County stand as a mix of a rich past and an exciting future. We invite you to visit with us and experience our heritage.
In the Bluegrass
Of Central Kentucky
In silence and solitude
An ancient wanderer
Timeless and tireless
Moves through our lives
He is a wanderer
A traveler among green hills
Ancient among the ancient
Timeless and tireless
Here before our time
Here after our time
Timeless and tireless
An ancient among the ancient
A wanderer in the Bluegrass
© Jerry Richardson