Explore Georgetown & Scott County, Kentucky

By: Marty Rosen


If the Bluegrass Region is the heart of Kentucky, then Georgetown and Scott County are the treasures that makes it beat. When a team of explorers first mapped out the land in 1774, they were delighted at what they found. And this little unassuming part of the Commonwealth has been surprising visitors ever since.


Stroll the streets of a picturesque downtown and browse unique shops. Immerse yourself in the Kentucky Horse Park or at the Georgetown International Kite and Culture Festival. Ride a bike, paddle a canoe or drive some of the country’s most scenic back roads.


Ready to Explore?


Those early surveyors discovered one of the largest limestone springs in the country, a gusher of pure water that irrigated the surrounding land, furnished water for early settlers and inspired a preacher named Elijah Craig to build a water-fed mill – and invent the distilled amber liquid that came to be known as Bourbon. Royal Spring is still gushing, and still supplies Georgetown’s water.


It’s easy to discover Royal Spring on your own. Just wander a block or two from the center of town to a lovely park housing an 1874 log cabin, built by a former slave, that now serves as a mini-museum that speaks eloquently to the region’s pioneer past.


Better still, pick up maps and brochures at downtown shops (and other spots around the county) to orient yourself on a self-guided walking tour that traces the town’s past. You’ll start with its 18th century industrial roots, enjoy the grand scale of antebellum academic buildings on the campus of Georgetown College established in 1787 (be sure to visit the art galleries in the Anne Wright Wilson Fine Arts Building), then wrap up your journey through time by exploring glorious Victorian mansions, beautifully preserved churches and stately century-old public buildings.


And don’t fail to marvel at the Royal Spring Bridge, a piece of pioneer engineering that’s been carrying traffic since 1796.


History, Shopping & Art Aplenty


There are antique and boutique shops downtown to quicken the pulse of savvy shoppers. History buffs will want to take in exhibits of photographs and artifacts at the Georgetown & Scott County Museum. And lovers of contemporary art will find a burgeoning arts colony that populates area galleries with folk, equine and contemporary paintings, along with sculpture and glass art.


Local art lovers also operate the Scott County Arts and Cultural Center. Housed in a 100-year-old jail, its exhibits rotate on a monthly basis. Offerings in spring 2011 include works from South Africa, Haiti and regional African-American artists (February); the art of printing and binding (March); and musical instruments and folk art crafted by regional artists and artisans.


Horse Farms & Quilt Barns


Any visit to Georgetown and Scott County must include a scenic driving tour of the rolling countryside. This is horse country, through and through, a place lined with stone walls and green pastures adjacent to the sprawling Kentucky Horse Park – making Scott County a great base for horse lovers to enjoy the park’s many attractions and events. It’s also home to Old Friends, a retirement farm for thoroughbreds with several famous horses in residence.


But there’s another reason to drive the back roads of Scott County, through towns like Stamping Ground, Oxford and Sadieville. Those roadsides are also home to one of the best quilt shows in the country: the Barn Quilt Trail. Painted on four- and eight-foot panels, these colorful quilt squares adorn more than a hundred historic barns throughout the area, turning the entire county into one vibrant outdoor art gallery.


Modern Place, Timeless Grace


Although its rich past is alluring, Georgetown is also a thriving modern city. Toyota started building cars in a plant on the outskirts of town over 25 years ago, continuing an industrial tradition that dates back to the region’s earliest days. (The Toyota plant welcomes visitors to take a tour of the factory and witness up close how these icon cars are created.)


And it turns out that Kentucky and Japan share in common a calm, courtly sense of grace that finds its expression in Yuko-En on the Elkhorn. At this quiet garden enclave, you can hear the riffling waters of Elkhorn Creek, meditate among stands of bamboo and view elegant Japanese stone sculptures against the backdrop of the 1898 monastery building that towers above the historic grounds of Cardome Centre. It’s a juxtaposition of old and new that perfectly captures the heartbeat of the heart of the Bluegrass. 

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