Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Home of Fast Women and Pretty Horses

Magnet # 257:  Map of Kentucky

Material:  Acrylic

Purchased By:  Me

As far as statehoods go, today is a twofer, so to speak. It was on this day back in 1796 that both Kentucky and Tennessee were admitted to the Union. But, as Kentucky is the 15th state and Tennessee the 16th, I've decided to feature the Bluegrass State today and the Volunteer State tomorrow, in a two part celebration of their anniversaries. So let the traveling begin!

It's not known whether the first Europeans to reach what would become Kentucky were from England, France, or even Spain under the command of Hernando DeSoto, but the first permanent settlement there wasn't established until 1774.  That was when colonists from Pennsylvania traveled down into the area and founded Harrodsburg.  Daniel Boone also led settlers into the area and founded Boonesborough.  Life was hard for the settlers when they faced Indian attacks, as the Appalachian Mountains made it difficult for the colonies to send reinforcements.  But they continued on as best they could, eventually making it almost impossible for the British to aid the Indians, who in turn backed down.  Kentucky actually started out as an amalgamation of the western counties of the state of Virginia after the American Revolution, but they soon wanted to separate and form their own state. Over the next six years, delegates from Kentucky and Virginia met to form an agreement on the terms of their separation. And two years after this was achieved, Kentucky was able to receive statehood. It has definitely formed an identity very different from that of Virginia's, or even West Virginia's. Horses can be found all over the state and have become some of its most prominent symbols, and there is a saying that they have "fast horses and pretty women." I've even seen that on a magnet, but I passed on that one.

I've been to Kentucky a fair amount of times over the years. When I was growing up, I traveled there once with my family and we trekked all over the Bluegrass State, getting a real feel for all that it has to offer. We saw Mammoth Cave National Park, the longest cave system ever discovered worldwide. It was definitely impressive, although we only saw a fraction of what it has to offer. We toured the Maker's Mark distillery in Loretto and the Kentucky Derby Museum in Louisville. And we stayed in two unusual sites that are exclusive to the state of Kentucky - Berea College and the former Shaker community in Pleasant Hill. Berea is an institution that is open to students of low-income families. Tuition and often room and board are offered at no charge, but the recipients must work for the college to earn their way through. This system has been in place for over 150 years, and it has improved many lives. We stayed at a hotel run by the college and ate at one of their restaurants and were very impressed by the quality of service we received. It's definitely an interesting stay if you're in the Berea area and your money couldn't go to a more worthwhile cause. As for Pleasant Hill, it once was home to a community of Shakers, very religious people who strongly adhered to a life of hard work and simplicity. But, mainly owning to their policy of complete abstinence, the Shakers eventually died out, leaving their communities behind. Fortunately, Pleasant Hill was restored after World War II by a Trappist monk who realized the value of the site. It's now a popular tourist destination where guides dress as Shakers and give demonstrations on how they lived, worked and even give performances of the music they played. We stayed there overnight and I was pretty disappointed that there was no television in my room - but at least it's accurate. It's said to be the "largest historic community of its kind in America" and is worth checking out if you're in the area. As an adult, I have traveled to Kentucky on my own for the past couple years to attend fantasy artist Larry Elmore's art class near Louisville. We stay almost all week at the Doe Run Inn, which also features a restaurant where we have pretty much all of our meals. It's a historic site with a Mill and a creek running nearby, and is a truly idyllic place. I'm definitely planning on staying there again. Larry took to nearby to have a look at two of Fort Knox's most important places. First was the United States Bullion Depository, which is much smaller that I would have ever expected - we were only able to check it out from a distance, of course. He also let me pop into the Patton Museum of Cavalry and Armor's gift shop. We were in a hurry, so I didn't get to tour the rest, but it definitely looked interesting. That's okay - I'm pretty sure I'll be back in the Bluegrass State again, perhaps to have another look at places I've already seen and some new ones, like the state capitol in Frankfort, which is said to be one of the nicest in the country. Kentucky combines its beautiful rolling hills and picturesque landscape with interesting sites, both historic and relatively new, making it a great place to explore and maybe even live in.

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