Hardin County is situated slightly west of central Kentucky and was formed in 1792. Hardin was the 15th Kentucky county in order of formation. The county was named for John Hardin, a Continental Army officer during the American Revolutionary War who was wounded at Saratoga and was killed by Shawnee in Ohio while delivering a message of peace from Secretary of War Henry Knox and President George Washington. A few notable historical figures lived in Hardin County, including President Abraham Lincoln, who was born there, and Gen. George Custer, who lived in Hardin County for two years as part of a military effort to suppress Ku Klux Klan and carpetbaggers.
It currently encompasses almost 630 square miles and boasts a population of approximately 108,000. Its county seat is Elizabethtown.
Radcliff is conveniently located adjacent to Fort Knox in the “Heartland of Kentucky” — a historic location known for its accessibility from almost every possible direction. With a population of approximately 23,000, Radcliff boasts the second-highest population in Hardin County. It is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts, as well as history buffs. Radcliff was once known as Mill Creek, an area that was scouted out by the Boon brothers, Daniel and Squire. In 1814, Coleman Lewis built the first section of Radcliff’s oldest standing structure, the Haycraft Inn. The inn is one of three major inns, which were used extensively during the era of stage coach transports. It is listed on the National Registry of Historical Structures and is located off modern-day Wilson Street.
Horace McCullum coined the name Radcliff during a lot auction in 1919. He named the new community after Maj. William Radcliffe, who was head of the Quartermaster Corp at Fort Knox. In the 1930s, Fort Knox expanded into Stithton and New Stithton, causing former residents, shopkeepers and innkeepers to relocate to Radcliff.
Radcliff’s annual events include Radcliff Days in October, which features a parade, and Christmas at the Cabins in December, which boasts a holiday parade and caroling. Visit the Colvin Community Center in December to attend the annual Festival of Trees.
Radcliff is also home to Saunders Springs Nature Preserve, one city-sanctioned skate park, a community center and a seasonal public pool. For the licensed outdoor enthusiast, fishing and hunting is plentiful.
Saunders Springs Nature Preserve is a heavily wooded, natural area located on steep terrain with interesting historic features. The preserve provides opportunities for nature study, hiking, picnicking and historic interpretation. The 26-acre nature preserve is owned and operated by the city of Radcliff and overseen by the Radcliff Forestry and Conservation Board. Adjacent to the nature preserve is a 73-acre tract called the Saunders Springs Annex which the city leased from Fort Knox. There is no entrance fee to use the preserve and annex areas and they are open for recreational use from dawn to dusk year-round, weather permitting.
There are three vintage cabins (from the 1800s), two pavilions plus many picnic tables with BBQ grills and a scout camping area available for use.
Elizabethtown, the seat of Hardin County with a population of nearly 30,000, is located south of Radcliff. It is central to some of the state’s most stunning historic landmarks, as well as being a former home to a multitude of famous historic figures.
Thomas Lincoln owned a successful carpentry business while watching over his son — the 16th president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln. John Audubon was a shopkeeper in Elizabethtown long before his famed ornithology book was published.
Freeman Lake Park, a 170-acre lake with more than 90 acres of picnic space, features several volleyball courts, playgrounds and 7 miles of walking trails. The park also has three historical learning structures: the Lincoln Heritage House, a recreated one-room schoolhouse and the Sarah Bush Johnson Log Cabin. The park is home to the annual Heartland Festival, featuring hot air balloons, a parade, fireworks, food and game booths, rides for children and live music.
Meade County’s northern border runs 56 miles along the Ohio River. Most of Meade’s communities were founded in the late 1700s and early 1800s and still remain today. It is probably best known in the surrounding counties as the home of the Meade County Fair (http://meadeky.com/meade-county-fair) — an extravaganza of rides, horse and agriculture shows, live music and National Tractor Pullers Association events.
As the seat of Meade County, Brandenburg is steeped in local history. The town was named for Samuel Brandenburg, the owner of Brandenburg’s Landing and Ferry, located on the Ohio River.
After a brief rivalry with John Rush of Claysville, the county seat was relocated from Claysville to Brandenburg, since Claysville was deemed unsafe by an act of General Assembly. Once Brandenburg became the county seat, Samuel donated land and resources for a county courthouse, county square and tavern. Brandenburg’s tavern later became a haven for such historical notables as Aaron Burr and James Audubon.
When the first railroad came to Kentucky, Brandenburg was completely ignored, and in protest, the townspeople built the first hardtop road to and from the station. In hindsight, this was a major factor in its longevity.
Meade County’s Otter Creek Outdoor Recreation Area offers 2,200 acres of outdoor recreational opportunities and shares borders with Fort Knox. Otter Creek Outdoor Recreation Area is managed by the Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources and offers activities and areas for hiking, running, horseback riding, mountain biking, camping, rock climbing, shooting (at the archery or rifle ranges), fishing and hunting. The park is one of the area’s favorite Family places to picnic and float the Otter Creek.
After your adventures at Otter Creek, consider a visit to historic downtown Brandenburg’s scenic Riverfront Park, where you’ll find the entrance to Buttermilk Falls Recreational Trail. Riverfront Park features a playground, a chess area, picnic tables and a stunning view of the mighty Ohio River where you can watch the barges and towboats drift by. Brandenburg also enjoys two golf courses, the 18-hole Doe Valley Golf Club and the nine-hole River Trace Golf Course. And, if you’re visiting in late July, enjoy the award-winning Meade County Fair, which was voted the best county fair in Kentucky.
Established in 1796, with a current population of nearly 800, this community is a history lover’s paradise. The city is home to the Civil War-era Fort Duffield. The fort is one of the oldest, most well-preserved earthen structures in the state. It’s not the traditional structure either. It’s a horseshoe-shaped earthen dugout with walls that are 20 to 30 feet high, built on Pearman Hill. The Fort Duffield Memorial Cemetery pays tribute to the 61 Soldiers who died while in service at the fort and West Point. Visitors can also enjoy Civil War re-enactments and the fort’s park, which offers 10 miles of hiking and biking trails.
The historic district’s most famous structure is Young’s Inn, built in 1797, and has served the likes of Andrew Jackson, Henry Clay and John Audubon, who even mentions the inn in his essay on carrier pigeons.
West Point is also home to a historic river walk and the riverside Veterans Memorial Park, which welcomes picnickers and anglers.
Located on the outskirts of Fort Knox, Muldraugh is only 2 miles north of the Main Gate on Bullion Boulevard. When traveling south into town, don’t be alarmed — a retired military tank crouches at the bottom of Muldraugh Hill. The monument was built from the foundation stones of the historic Grahampton Grinding Mill that once stood where modern-day Fort Knox now sits.
The town features a quaint park, as well as multiple churches and hotel and motel options.
Founded in 1778 by George Rogers Clark, Louisville was named for King Louis XVI of France.
Perhaps Louisville’s most well-known landmark is Churchill Downs, the home of the Kentucky Derby, the kickoff of the famous “Triple Crown” of racing, occurring annually the first weekend in May.
If you’re interested in the history of the Kentucky Derby, visit the Derby Museum at Churchill Downs, a showcase that features clothing and racing equipment that has been used over the years. There is also a backyard paddock for children with thoroughbred and miniature horses.
For art lovers, Louisville is home to the Speed Art Museum, established in 1927. It is both the oldest and largest art museum in the state. The museum is currently undergoing a $50 million expansion, which will double the overall square footage and nearly triple the gallery space from the existing wing. The expansion will include new contemporary art galleries, an indoor and outdoor cafe, a Family education welcome center, a museum shop, a pavilion for performances and an art park for sculptures. The expansion is planned through 2016. For more information on the museum, visit www.speedmuseum.org.
Louisville is also home to several inventions that are staples of our daily life. In 1873, John Colgan invented “Taffy Julie,” later known as bubblegum. Unfortunately, another inventor beat Colgan to the patent, though he is still credited with the invention. In 1884, Bud Hillerich invented the world’s first Louisville Slugger in his father’s woodshop. The first use of the term “Louisville Slugger” was in 1893, when the bat became a baseball staple. Thanks in turn to Bud and the Slugger, Louisville is also home to the world’s tallest bat, which leans against the Louisville Slugger Museum, in the heart of the historic West Main District.
Louisville is also famous for being the birthplace of the cheeseburger. In 1934, the first cheeseburger was ordered in Kaelin’s Restaurant, when Margaret Kaelin’s husband requested a slice of American cheese on his hamburger. The “special request” soon became a staple at Kaelin’s and started the world-famous trend.
Naturalists will find a sense of serenity and knowledge in Clermont in the Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest. In addition to more than 35 miles worth of hiking trails and beautiful lakes spread across its 14,000 acres, Bernheim also boasts an education center and hosts several annual “natural” festivals. Bernheim’s vision is to be a nationally treasured leader in ecological stewardship that inspires the exploration of our deep connections with nature.
Probably the most famous landmark in Clermont, however is the Jim Beam American Stillhouse. Jacob Beam, a local farmer and grain mill foreman, sealed and sold his first barrel of “Old Jake Beam’s Sour Mash” locally in 1795 — a spirit that was highly praised by friends and Family alike. The name of the bourbon changed in 1894, when ownership was passed to the great-great-grandson, James “call me Jim” Beam. Shortly after, prohibition struck the industry, and Beam retired to Florida until 1933, when prohibition was repealed. In 120 days, Beam (then 70) rebuilt the Family distillery by hand; the distillery has since become a household name.
In 1964, Congress declared bourbon to be the official native spirit of the United States.
A city with a lot of “spirit,” Loretto is probably most well-known as the home of the Maker’s Mark distillery. Originally created in 1840 by T.W. Samuels, the secret Family recipe was passed from generation to generation. A Samuels Family business was formed soon after and prospered until 1943, when Bill Samuels Sr. left the T.W. Samuels distillery and burned the only copy of the bourbon recipe. He then crafted a new recipe, using maize and the notoriously mild winter wheat. The recipe was perfected in 1952, and the world-famous “wax seal” was created the same year. In 1958, the first bottle was sealed, dipped in wax and sold for $7.
The U.S. secretary of the interior officially declared the Maker’s Mark distillery as a National Historic Landmark in 1980, and in 2000 (through 2001) the distillery expanded, effectively doubling its capacity to produce whiskey.
In 1780, William Baird received a land grant of 1,000 acres from the Virginia General Assembly, in an area that was tentatively named Salem. Baird used this land to create a town and crafted its buildings out of indigenous timber. When the first courthouse was built in 1785, the town officially took the moniker of “Bardstown,” a derivative of William’s Family name.
One of the most significant Bardstown buildings — the Federal Hill mansion — was the muse for Stephen Foster when he wrote “My Old Kentucky Home.” The mansion is also etched on the state quarter, released in 2001. Visitors to Federal Hill will find re-enactors in antebellum-era clothing hosting tours in the restored structure. There is also the J. Dan Talbott Amphitheater on the grounds, which hosts “Stephen Foster — The Musical,” an outdoor extravaganza that features 50 Foster songs and brightly colored interpretative dancers, swirling throughout the historic hillside.
The largest concentrations of historically significant structures in Kentucky reside in Bardstown. More than 300 of Bardstown’s buildings appear on the National Historic Registry. Its success was due in part to a great concentration in lime deposits in the town’s water supply, a prized blend sought by distillers. So it comes as no surprise that the town was the center of the early distilling industry, and many of these distilleries remain close to Bardstown today.
Since the end of prohibition, a staple of Bardstown has been Heaven Hill Distilleries. The company was founded from the ground up, producing and marketing without notable brands, available stores of whiskey or notoriety — and it was started during the Great Depression. Today, Heaven Hill is the biggest independent, Family-owned and operated producer and marketer of distilled spirits in the U.S. Not only that, but the distillery also boasts the largest inventory of aging bourbon in the world — more than 900,000 barrels.
MAMMOTH CAVE NATIONAL PARK
Located roughly 95 miles southwest of Louisville, Mammoth Cave is the longest recorded cave system in the world, with more than 400 miles of explored underground terrain. There are a host of cave tours available of varying difficulties and durations. For first-time ventures, the historic tour is recommended, which spans 2 miles of cave and runs approximately two hours. The tour explains the cave’s history as well as showcases the cave’s largest spaces and oldest routes.
The cave also offers introductory caving lessons, as well as lantern-lit tours and chances to witness cave-dwelling animals in their native habitats.
For those who prefer to stay above ground, the park also offers miles of hiking trails and horseback riding. Enjoy the total experience, and check out campsites scattered throughout the park. Campsites must be reserved in advance. Please note, in order to camp in the backcountry, a backcountry use permit is required.
With natural attractions like these, it’s no wonder that Fort Knox and its surrounding counties are among the most visited locales in the country.
Whether you are looking for a place to call home or for a weekend getaway or adventure, consider the Southern hospitality of Bullitt County and its county seat, Shepherdsville.
Bullitt County, which has a population of nearly 80,000, lies just south of Louisville and can be reached by Interstate 65. Bullitt County is also home to the U.S. Army post, Fort Knox.
Before European settlement, the region was a hub of game trails from the Beargrass, the Bluegrass, the Barren and the Falls of the Ohio made by bison, elk, deer and other game seeking the salt licks, later named Bullitt’s Lick. Native Americans used the lands, and especially the salt lick area, to hunt game. Salt was an important meat preservative, and the first European settlers in the 1760s became salt workers. The salt industry at Bullitt’s Lick became the first industry in Kentucky, where more than 1,000 people eventually worked.
Bullitt County is home to the Jim Beam distillery, the oldest manufacturer in Kentucky. The 200-year-old landmark shines a light on the art of bourbon-making and the Beam Family history. The Jim Beam American Stillhouse (in Clermont) is open for tours so visitors can observe the distilling process. They can tour the museum, which contains an antique pot still, visit the nearby Beam Family homestead and enjoy a tasting of the famous bourbon.
Shepherdsville is the gateway to the Bourbon Trail, which has four award-winning wineries — Wight-Meyer, MillaNova, Forest Edge and Brooks Hill. All offer a large array of wines and indoor and outdoor tasting areas and are on the Wine and Bourbon Passport Tour, along with the Jim Beam American Stillhouse and the Four Roses historic distillery. Pick up a tour “passport” at any of the participating locations. Shuttle service for the tour is available. For more information about the Bourbon Trail passport and shuttle services, visit www.kybourbontrail.com or call (502) 875-9351.
Bullitt County is home to the more than 14,000-acre Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest, of which 12,000 acres were donated to the people of Kentucky by distiller Isaac Bernheim. He bought the land in 1928 to restore it to its natural state after early industries took a heavy toll on the land. The forest has almost been restored to its “old growth” status and is visited by more than 250,000 people each year. The forest includes an arboretum, more than 8,000 labeled plants, an education center and a variety of programs. The wildlife and biological diversity make Bernheim a natural treasure. Bernheim researchers study native landscapes, plants and trees to determine the best species for the growing zone. Results are shared with the public at the visitor center and with horticulturists in Kentucky and across the nation.
Bernheim Forest (Interstate 65, Exit 245) opened to the public in 1955, and has more than 35 miles of hiking and biking trails. The visitor center has achieved the highest rating from the U.S. Green Building Council and includes a canopy tree walk where visitors can walk among the tree branches. It is handicapped-accessible and senior-friendly. A variety of tours are also available. The arboretum is open year-round, free during the week and $5 a carload on weekends. For more information, visit www.bernheim.org or call (502) 955-8512.
For the boot-scootin’ crowd, Bullitt County offers live country, rock ’n’ roll and Southern gospel music at the Shepherdsville Country Music Show (www.shepherdsvillecountrymusicshow.com).
Hawks View Gallery in Louisville (Interstate 65, Exit 121) offers visitors the opportunity to see artisans make hand-blown glass artwork. The gallery offers hand-crafted glassworks for sale. Visitors can even try their hand making their own hand-blown glasswork.
Kart Kountry Family Entertainment Center has the nation’s longest go-cart track as well as a miniature golf course, batting cages, bumper boats, arcade games and trampoline basketball. Call (502) 543-9588 for more information.
Shepherdsville offers of host of shopping opportunities, including antiques, florists, retail stores and an outlet store (Shepherdsville is the home of the Zappo’s online store distribution center). Shepherdsville’s Most Awesome Flea Market is also a big draw for locals and visitors alike. It’s a giant, sprawling affair with a community fair atmosphere along with bargains and treasures.
Bullitt County offers a full range of affordable lodging conveniently located near Interstate 65. Visit the Shepherdsville/Bullitt County Tourist & Convention Commission, www.travelbullitt.org, or call 800-526-2068 for information on accommodations as well as other amenities the region offers. The Bullitt County Chamber of Commerce website, www.bullittchamber.org, is also a rich source of information for tourists and business visitors alike.