The Braille Monitor                                                                                       February 2003

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The Kentucky Country: Land of Tomorrow

by Pamela Roark-Glisson

A collage of Kentucky pictures.
A greeting from Kentucky

From the Editor: Have you made your convention reservation? Already the east tower of the Galt House is full, so don't delay any longer. Consult the reminder at the front of this issue for convention details and reservation information.

Kentucky is a wonderfully warm and welcoming state. Below is a sampler of interesting facts about the Bluegrass State. The material has been gathered by Pamela Roark-Glisson, president of the Lexington Chapter of the NFB of Kentucky. This is what she says:

Nestled almost in the center of the North, South, East, and West, about a one-day's journey from 75 percent of the population of the United States, is the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Some know Kentucky as the Bluegrass State, the horse capital of the world, the dark and bloody ground, or the land of beautiful women, fast horses, and good whiskey.

 Ancient Indians, known as mound builders, first inhabited what is known today as southwest Kentucky in about 1650. Because of the abundance of wild game, Kentucky became a hunting ground for the Indians to the north--Shawnee, Delaware, and Mingold--and for the Indians to the south--Cherokee and Iroquois. Yet this land remained unclaimed by any one tribe.

In 1736 French traders are recorded as the first white settlers to cross the Ohio river at Portsmouth, Ohio, to develop a village for a brief period before moving on westward. Later, in 1750, an exploring expedition led by Dr. Thomas Walker entered the Kentucky country through the Cumberland Gap. But with these early explorations no official settlement of the land occurred.

Even though Daniel Boone was not a native of Kentucky, he achieved much of his fame as an American pioneer and frontiersman during his exploration of Kentucky. In The Adventures of Daniel Boone he is reported to have written on May 1, 1769, "I resigned my domestic happiness for a time and left my family and peaceable habitation on the Yadkin River in North Carolina to wander through the wilderness of America in quest of the country of Kentucky. We proceeded successfully, and after a long and fatiguing journey through the mountainous wilderness, we stood on the top of Pilot Knob and saw with pleasure the beautiful level of Kentucky. This land is replete with wild, rugged mountains; rushing torrents, which meet with cliffs to make majestic waterfalls; romantic woods; glens; palisades; and the calmly rolling meadowlands. The natural beauty and realism of Kentucky is unending and unrestrained."

In the early days, when Kentucky was being developed, the settlers discovered a land with miles of waterways, rich farmland, favorable climate, and an abundance of minerals. The white settlers mined the minerals, made salt, and planted crops. Often business was interrupted and the crops were not harvested because of Indian attacks.

The first settlers came mainly from Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and eastern Tennessee. A group of Baptists from North and South Carolina settled in southern Kentucky in Monroe County in 1773 and constructed a new house of worship. Daniel Boone's sister Hannah is buried in the cemetery next to the church. Boonesborough, along with other settlements, was established in 1775. With the increase of white settlers in more and more villages, by 1777 the conflicts with the Indians were also on the increase. In 1778 the Shawnee Indians captured Daniel Boone and held him five months; he finally escaped in time to warn of a planned attack on Fort Boonesborough. Even with the impending danger from the attacking Indians, the white settlers maintained their faith and determination. The first Baptist church west of the Allegheny was formed in Elizabethtown in 1779.

Harrodsburg was the first parliamentary settlement in Kentucky. It was established in 1784. Today a historic replica of Fort Harrod is located near Harrodsburg. Frankfort was established in 1785 and later became the state's capital. It now has one of the nation's most beautiful statehouses, with elaborate historical murals. Kentucky's floral clock, dedicated by Governor Bert Combs in 1961, is unique in all the world. The clock is situated directly behind the capitol building, high in the air above a pool of water with its face, a planter, weighing one hundred tons and using 20,000 plants as decoration. Frankfort is located in central Kentucky on the Kentucky River.

In 1792 Kentucky became a state--the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Kentucky is one of four states to call itself a "commonwealth." It was the fifteenth state and the first on the Western frontier. The term "commonwealth," meaning government based on the common consent of the people, dates to Oliver Cromwell's England in the mid-1600's. The other U.S. commonwealths, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, were originally British colonies. Kentucky, once part of Virginia, chose to remain a commonwealth when it separated from Virginia.

 Despite the ruggedness of the land and the hostility of the Indians, easterners continued their movement west. The frontiersmen and women were a strong and courageous people with great passion for the development of the new nation. Twenty thousand people attended a church meeting at Cane Ridge Meeting House in Paris (Bourbon County) in 1801. This was the largest religious gathering west of the Allegheny Mountains at that time, and the site is believed to be the largest log structure meeting house today in North America and the birthplace of the Christian Church Disciples of Christ. During the War of 1812, over half of the American casualties were Kentuckians who left their homes to fight for the freedom of the new nation. The 1840's saw Kentucky the most traveled region of the new world by steamboats using its 3,000 miles of river waterways. The 1850 census ranked Kentucky as the eighth largest among the existing states with almost one million people, among whom were many notable Kentuckians.

Abraham Lincoln, president of the United States during the Civil War, and Jefferson Davis, the only president of the Confederate States, were both born in Kentucky just seven months and one hundred miles apart. Lincoln was born in 1809 and Davis in 1808. With the prominence of this new land, located between the north and the south, came a greater challenge than all previous hostile forces had presented. Kentuckians were faced with abolition of slavery.

After President Lincoln rejected Kentucky's policy of neutrality, the spell of peace for the meadowland vanished. The Union began its deployment across Kentucky to lay the foundation for some of the most significant battles fought during the war between the states. The first major battle fought on Kentucky soil during the Civil War took place near Prestonsburg in 1862. The bloodiest civil war battle fought on Kentucky ground was the battle of Perryville, also in 1862. Columbus, located in the far southwestern region of Kentucky, was known during the Civil War as the "Gibraltar of the West." It was the key to the lower Mississippi River defense. Guerilla activity during the Civil War destroyed more of Kentucky's covered bridges than any other force even though Kentucky was neutral ground, not officially supported or protected by either side.

Although the pioneers met with many obstacles to survival, exploration, and development of this new country, generation after generation persevered into the industrialization of a new society. Settlements continued to be developed, such as Beattyville, situated at the fork of three rivers and then known as the Paris, France, of the mountains. Tobacco growing, the development of the railroad, and coal mining increased the wealth of these early pioneers. Since 1825, when loose-leaf tobacco was marketed for the first time, Lexington has become the largest loose-leaf tobacco market in the world, and since 1865 Kentucky has been the leading producer of tobacco among the states.

Kentucky's first horse races were held in Harrodsburg in 1783 with the first annual Kentucky Derby run at Churchill Downs in Louisville in 1875. The leading occupation in Kentucky was thoroughbred horse farms. In addition, the settlers found the bluegrass growing on Kentucky's limestone-rich soil, and traders began asking for the seed of the "bluegrass." Bluegrass is not really blue; it is green. In the spring it produces bluish purple buds that, when seen in large fields, appears to have a rich bluish cast, from which derives the familiar term, "Bluegrass State." The unique and beautiful bluegrass seed and orchard grass seed were profitably traded and widely distributed in the early years and remain internationally known today.

Currently Kentucky's economy has expanded to include some of the largest industrial groups. Kentucky is third in the nation in coal mining and the production of hardwood. Travel and tourism is Kentucky's third largest revenue-producing industry and the second largest private employer in Kentucky.

Kentucky abounds with travel opportunities, including six national areas, forty-nine state parks, and hundreds of historic, natural, cultural, and recreational attractions. One such attraction is found at the Cumberland Falls State Resort Park--the Moonbow, the only phenomenon of its kind in the Western Hemisphere. Cumberland Falls in Kentucky is known as the Niagara of the South. A 125-foot curtain of water plunges sixty feet to the boulder-strewn gorge. The mist of the falls creates the magical colors of the Moonbow, visible only on a clear night with a full moon.

Kentucky ranks thirty-seventh in land size and is bordered by seven states. Its neighbors are Indiana, Ohio, Virginia, West Virginia, Illinois, Missouri, and Tennessee. The highest point is Black Mountain in Harlan County (far southeast Kentucky), and the lowest point is at the Mississippi River in Fulton County (far southwest Kentucky). It has more miles of running water than any other state except Alaska. Kentucky has 12.7 million acres of commercial forest land, which is 50 percent of the state's land area. The principal minerals and by-products are coal, crushed stone, natural gas, and petroleum.

Kentucky naturally divides into six regions: the Mountain in the eastern part of the state, also known as the Eastern Coal Basin; the Knobs Region, producing oil and natural gas (an aerial view depicts this area as an array of enormous door knobs); the Bluegrass Region, the fertile ground and meadowland; the West Coal Fields Region, the western mining area; the Pennyroyal Region, named for the pennyroyal herb of the mint family; and the Jackson Purchase Region, purchased from the Chickasaw Indians by President Andrew Jackson.

 Kentucky's history is replete with firsts, lasts, oldests, largests, and onlys. The longest siege in United States frontier history was the thirteen-day siege of Fort Boonesborough in September of 1778. The Gazette, Kentucky's first newspaper, began publication in 1787 by John Bradford in Lexington. Colonel William Price, a Revolutionary War veteran, held the first Independence Day celebration in the West in Jessamine County on July 4, 1794. Mammoth Cave (discovered in 1809) contains the longest underground cave system in the world and is second only to Niagara Falls as the oldest tourist attraction in the United States. The first millionaire west of the Allegheny Mountains was John Wesley Hunt, who settled in Lexington in 1814. His Federal-style house remains as a historical landmark and is known as the Hunt-Morgan House. Mary Todd Lincoln's childhood home is the site of the first national shrine to a First Lady, also located in Lexington. The first steamboat trip was taken in 1817 from New Orleans to Louisville, which was a twenty-five-day trip.

The public saw the electric light for the first time when Thomas Edison introduced the light bulb in Louisville in 1883. Mother's Day was first observed in Henderson, Kentucky, by teacher Mary S. Wilson in 1887 and became a national holiday in 1916. Camp Knox was established in 1917, and in 1932 became Fort Knox. It is a permanent depository for national gold. More than six billion dollars worth of gold is stored in the underground vaults, the largest amount of gold stored anywhere in the world. Cheeseburgers were introduced in Kealin's Restaurant in Louisville in 1934. Colonel Harland D. Sanders started his nationally known Kentucky Fried Chicken business in Corbin, Kentucky, in the 1930's. Today more than 10,000 KFC restaurants flourish worldwide.

Middlesborough is the only city in the United States constructed in the middle of a meteor crater. Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort is the largest bourbon distillery in the world. Labrot and Graham Bourbon Distillery in Versailles is the oldest operating distillery in America. Penn's Country Store in Danville, Kentucky, is the oldest country store in America. Shaker Village, located at Pleasant Hill, Kentucky, is the largest restored Shaker Village national historic landmark in America. Berea College in Berea, Kentucky, is the first interracial college of the South.

The only monument south of the Ohio River dedicated to a Union soldier was constructed in Vanceburg, Kentucky. High Bridge National Park contains what was once the highest railroad bridge in the world. Bybee Pottery in Berea is the oldest pottery business west of the Allegheny Mountains. The Latrobe House, Pope Villa, located in Versailles, is one of the few remaining examples of the work of Benjamin Henry Latrobe, architect of the U.S. Capitol. Kentucky was the first state to complete the writing of its state constitution and was the first state to be mapped topographically.

Some tidbits about Kentucky: Man O'War won all of his races, except for one, which he lost to a horse named Upset. The Robeling Suspension Bridge in Covington is a scale model of the Brooklyn Bridge. In nearby Maysville the Simon Kenton Memorial Bridge is a model of the Golden Gate Bridge and is built across the Ohio river. In 1833 the importation of slaves was prohibited. Kentucky was second to Georgia to lower the voting age from 21 to 18. The University of Kentucky Wildcats basketball program is the winningest program in basketball history. Louisville houses the largest manufacturer of baseball bats (Louisville Slugger). Bowling Green, Kentucky, is the home of the only Chevrolet Corvette manufacturing plant.

Music is perhaps one of the most notable factors that bring recognition to Kentucky. Stephen Collins Foster's writing of "My Old Kentucky Home" in 1853 has brought much fame to Kentucky and has been adopted as the official state song. Earlier in mountain history, mountaineers plucked out melodies expressing the savagery and fury of mountain life as well as the majesty and gentleness of the wilderness and meadowlands. Kentucky is well known for its bluegrass music, which tells of Kentucky country life. "Blue Moon of Kentucky," written by Bill Monroe in 1947, is Kentucky's official bluegrass state song. Artists in all areas have capitalized upon the beauty, magnificence, tranquility, magic, ferocity, and wilderness of Kentucky life.

A good number of notable Kentuckians have contributed to the development of the nation. Muhammad Ali, formerly Cassius Clay, born in Richmond, Kentucky, achieved fame at the top of his field, world championship boxing. Johnny Unitas, a football star from Kentucky, became a household word in the 1960's. And PeeWee Reese from Kentucky received recognition in the baseball world.

Country music stars from Kentucky have continued to bring attention to the state: the Judds, John Michael Montgomery, Montgomery Gentry, and Loretta Lynn, to name a few. Contemporary pop musicians from Kentucky, such as the Everley Brothers, have also made contributions. Many others, including Jesse James, whose first bank robbery was of the Southern Bank in Russelville, and Kit Carson, who was a noted frontiersman and Indian scout, bring both negative and positive examples of success to the Kentucky Commonwealth.

Richard M. Johnson served as vice president under President Martin Van Buren beginning in 1836. Henry Clay, notable congressman and diplomat, and Laura Clay, women's rights activist, were both from Kentucky. Bobbie Ann Mason is a well-known author. Paul Hornung is a Heisman Trophy winner in football. Marsha Norman is a Pulitzer Prize winner for her drama. Other native Kentuckians have also brought honor to the state, for example, Robert Penn Warren (Poet Laureate and twice winner of the Pulitzer Prize), Henry Watterson (journalist), Terrence W. Wilcutt (astronaut), and Whitney Young (civil rights activist).

Perhaps southern hospitality began in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. After all, hickory-smoked and sugar-cured ham, along with apple stack cake, exemplify delicious food originating in Kentucky. The elegance of hand crafted furniture and the colorful spinning, weaving, and quilting (telling stories of the past, present, and future) exemplify the state's mellow and friendly culture. The state seal and flag, as well as other official state indicia, depict solidarity, beauty, and serenity. The state seal pictures two men greeting one another above the words "United We Stand, Divided We Fall." This is surrounded by the words "Commonwealth of Kentucky." The seal is embroidered on a field of blue as the state flag. The original is displayed in Frankfort at the Kentucky History Museum. The state bird is the Kentucky cardinal, and the pleasant melodies of this red-crested songbird can be heard year round. The state flower is the goldenrod. The golden blooms of this wild flower decorate the highways each fall. The state tree is the tulip tree in the magnolia family, growing 145 feet tall and living two hundred years. The state gem is the elegant freshwater pearl. The Kentucky bass is the state fish, and the gentle grey squirrel is the state wild animal. Now that you know something about the history and culture of Kentucky, come and explore what we have to offer. See you in Louisville.

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