By Marty Rosen
Bourbon County is quintessential Kentucky. It beats with a soft, subtle rhythm that’s hard to make out at first – especially if the jangled sounds of the city are still ringing in your ears.
But drive across the county line on Paris Pike (US 68 East/US 27 North) and you’ll feel it humming under your tires. You’ll see it in the gentle swell of bluegrass pastures and the gray bones of hand-stacked limestone fences. Stop by the side of the road, and you’ll hear the rhythm in the sound of thoroughbreds cantering in the breeze. Stroll through Paris, the historic county seat, and you’ll discover it in the slow, neighborly smiles of the lucky folks who call this place home.
In Paris, you’ll want to start your visit in the center of town at the Welcome Center (with its own replica Eiffel Tower!) and a year-round Farmer’s Market, where you can chat with the locals, pick up maps and directories, and shop for pumpkin butter, bars of old-fashioned soap, quilt squares and a full range of locally made artisanal crafts and food items.
Settled in the late 18th century, Paris is a compact city, scaled for walking, with a treasure-trove of early American architecture. The rough-hewn stone walls and centuries-old wooden beams of Duncan Tavern date back to 1788, when pioneers like Daniel Boone and legends like Aaron Burr dropped in to meet friends and raise a pint. (Nowadays, it’s the state headquarters of the Daughters of the American Revolution, who maintain a museum and genealogy library on site).
A few steps away, the ionic columns and sharply-peaked cupola of the Bourbon County Courthouse loom over the town with classic grace. A few blocks away, at the Wallis House and Arboretum, the Garden Club of Kentucky maintains flower gardens and groves of stately trees – a peaceful spot for quiet meditation or watching flocks of songbirds.
Just across the way, in a boldly designed Beaux Art building from 1909 (originally a post office), the Hopewell Museum documents the history, culture and art of Bourbon County with exhibits that include tattered Civil War flags, tributes to the dozen or so Kentucky Derby winners who have galloped the area’s farms and the rich African-American heritage that has long shaped this part of the world.
And if you need to relax and replenish after your stroll, visit one of the area’s restaurants for a delicious break.
History & Relaxation
Outside of town, you can circle back in time on the scenic highways of Bourbon County.
South of the city, historic Claiborne Farm has been home to some of the most storied thoroughbreds in modern history and is the final resting place for the legendary Secretariat. (Tours are available by appointment.) If you’re looking for peace, solitude and sacred ground, sweet spots dot the northern part of Bourbon County where the Colville Covered Bridge, its massive wooden trusses dating to 1877, quietly spans Hinkston Creek.
Located on KY 537 east of Paris is the exquisitely preserved Cane Ridge Meeting House. It stands as a vibrant testament to frontier faith. Built in 1791, and now carefully sheltered by a deftly designed stone structure, it is believed to be the largest single-room log structure in America. In 1801, it was the epicenter of a great revival that attracted some 12,000 souls. (You can learn more at the on-site museum.) These days, the house is an active church visited by congregations and religious groups that come to hear the echoes of hymns and prayers that have been ringing out for more than 200 years.
Horses, History and Hospitality. Bourbon County has them in abundance. For more information about places to go and things to do, call 859-987-8744 or visit www.parisky.com.
If You Go
- Bourbon County Courthouse & Visitor Center
- Cane Ridge Meeting House
- Claiborne Farm
- Colville Covered Bridge
- Duncan Tavern
- Hopewell Museum
- Paris/Bourbon County Farmer’s Market & Market Store
- Wallis House & Arboretum