3 Days Uncovering the Past In and Around Lexington
Kentucky is full of stories of courage, ingenuity and challenge. Some taught in schools for generations, others still largely unknown. When you’re ready to start uncovering them, Lexington is a great place to start your journey – and a trio of attractions just a short drive away make for three fascinating days of exploration.
Day 1: Lexington & Nicholasville
Begin your day with an early-morning stroll through history. Dating back to 1869, African Cemetery No. 2 honors African Americans who fought for social, political and economic changes during and after the Civil War.
Today, it has grown into an eight-acre, 5,000-grave final resting place for countless trailblazers who helped shape the area’s rich history. As you walk row after reverent row, you’ll see the headstones of 43 soldiers who served in the United States Colored Troops during the Civil War. One of them is George Thomas Prosser, who served in the famous 54th Massachusetts Regiment profiled in the Hollywood film Glory.
Enjoy a nice lunch in downtown Lexington, then hop in the car for a quick 30-minute drive south to the Camp Nelson National Monument, a former 4,000-acre camp that once housed 300 buildings and fortifications operated by the Union Army. Today, the site remains one of the best-preserved landscapes and archaeological sites associated with Civil War-era U.S. Colored Troops. After exploring the grounds and some of its five miles of interpretive marked trails, stop by for a guided tour of a restored antebellum home and scan Civil War artifacts on display at Camp Nelson National Monument Interpretive Center.
- Where to Play: Kentucky Horse Park, Keeneland, James E. Pepper Distillery, Town Branch Distillery, Tee Dee’s Lounge
- Where to Stay: 21C Hotels, The Sire Hotel by Hilton, Hilton Lexington/Downtown, Hyatt Downtown
- Where to Eat: Charlie’s Seafood, Mimi’s Southern Style Cooking, Zim’s Café, Indi’s Fast Food Restaurant, Ramsey’s Diner, Crank & Boom Ice Cream, Track Kitchen at Keeneland, middle fork kitchen bar, Honeywood, Dudley’s
Day 2: Frankfort
Enjoy a leisurely breakfast in Lexington, then make a quick one-hour drive to the Kentucky Historical Society headquartered at Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History in Frankfort, where a treasure trove of history awaits. The society dates back more than 120 years and houses a growing collection of historic Kentucky memorabilia presented through a variety of themed exhibits, including “A Kentucky Journey” tracing 12,000 years of the area’s history, from prehistoric times to bourbon, baseball bats, horse racing and sports cars. At the society’s genealogical library, visitors can get assistance searching extensive records, including records specifically relevant to African American ancestors.
You can also stroll the “Kentucky Hall of Governors” portrait gallery and a display of historic decorative art, tour the Old State Capitol and see an impressive display of the Commonwealth’s military history in a nearby fortress-like building overlooking downtown.
- Where to Play: Buffalo Trace Distillery, Daniel Boone’s Grave at Frankfort Cemetery, Canoe Kentucky
- Where to Stay: Best Western Parkside Inn, Fairfield Inn & Suites, Hampton Inn, Holiday Inn Express, Home 2 Suites by Hilton
- Where to Eat: B’s Bakery, Bourbon on Main, Capital Cellars Wine & Spirits, Rick’s White Light Diner, Sage Garden Café, Serafini
Day 3: May’s Lick & Maysville
Get an early start this morning for your 90-minute drive east toward Maysville for a visit to the Col. Charles Young Birthplace Cabin in May’s Lick. Young was the third African American to graduate from West Point and the first African American superintendent of a National Park. Next, head to Rosenwald’s May’s Lick Negro School, one of few still standing of the thousands of state-of-the art schools built for African American children across the South in what has been called the most important initiative to advance black education in the early 20th century. The four-room schoolhouse is being gradually restored to be utilized as a community museum, learning and activity center.
Just a few miles north, the Harriet Beecher Stowe Slavery to Freedom Museum inside the circa 1807 Marshall Key House puts you in the place where the future author witnessed a slave auction that later inspired her to pen the classic novel, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” Nearby in Maysville, tour the National Underground Railroad Museum, which contains exhibits of artifacts, documents and other memorabilia documenting the local abolitionist movement and the role of slavery in America in general. You’ll also get to see a documented Safe House and authentic servants’ quarters, complete with hidden slave chambers.
- Where to Play: Kentucky Gateway Museum Center, Washington Opera House, Newport Aquarium, MainStrasse Village
- Where to Stay: French Quarter Inn, Moon River B&B
- Where to Dine: deSha’s Restaurant & Bar, Café Stone, Capronis Restaurant & Bar, Chandler’s, Delites Diner, Parc Café, Pasquale’s Restaurant, Tater’s, The College Bakery
Stay Another Day!
If you’re not in a rush to get home – and who would be after this trip? – drive about two hours southeast of Lexington to mighty Mammoth Cave, the longest cave system in the world. That designation most people know, but few realize the significant contributions African American guides played in the exploration of the cave itself and the popularization of modern day cave tours.
As you explore the system’s dark, dramatic passages, you’ll learn how many of the cave’s first guides were enslaved, who not only discovered large parts of previously unmapped areas that greatly expanded the cave’s footprint, but also became very popular guides thanks to their in-depth knowledge of the cave.
- Where to Play: Hidden River Cave, Kentucky Down Under, Lost River Cave, National Corvette Museum, Beech Bend Park
- Where to Stay: The Kentucky Grand Hotel & Spa, Hyatt Place Bowling Green, Tru by Hilton, The Hotel SYNC