Historic Washington, Kentucky (as seen through a bus window)

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Pre-1790 Cane Brake log cabin.

That title should give you a big clue.  Be prepared for some really crappy photos.  🙂

This was my first glimpse of Historic Washington.  I had never heard of it, but as we zipped through town on our Underground Railroad bus tour, I determined to return on my own.

Kentucky has a wealth of historic sites, but the tiny town of Washington is in a class all its own.  It features a historic Main Street that could have been lifted straight from the 18th century.

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, HABS [or HAER or HALS], Reproduction number [e.g., "HABS ILL, 16-CHIG, 33-2 "] Accessed January 2, 2015.

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, HABS [or HAER or HALS], Reproduction number [e.g., “HABS ILL, 16-CHIG, 33-2 “] Accessed January 2, 2015.

"Col. Daniel Boone" by James Otto Lewis. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

“Col. Daniel Boone” by James Otto Lewis. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

  • Founded in 1786.
  • One of the earliest American settlements west of the Appalachian Mountains.
  • First post office west of the Appalachian Mountains established here in 1789.
  • Daniel Boone was one of the first Trustees.
  • Simon Kenton also helped settle the area and lived here for 14 years.  You may not have heard of him, but this Kentucky explorer had an amazing life.

    Wood carving of Simon Kenton rescuing Daniel Boone at the Battle of Boonesborough.

    Wood carving of Simon Kenton rescuing Daniel Boone at the Battle of Boonesborough.

  • Many of the original settlers were veterans of the Revolutionary War.  At least 17 are buried there.
  • Chief Justice John Marshall’s brother Thomas was an early settler.  The Marshall home still stands.
  • In 1790 it was 2nd in size only to Lexington in what would become Kentucky (this area was still part of Virginia at the time).

Reputedly Washington was the first town named for George Washington. Washington in 1797 was the glowing center of education and fashion. Visitors from Lexington and surrounding settlements came here to shop.

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  • Zachary Taylor, the 12th President of the United States, spent some time in Washington as a military recruiter early in his career.

    "Uncle Tom's Cabin Cover" by Hammatt Billings. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

    “Uncle Tom’s Cabin Cover” by Hammatt Billings. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

  • Harriet Beecher Stowe is known to have witnessed a slave auction here in 1833 as a young woman.  Uncle Tom’s Cabin has numerous references to Washington.
  • Thornton Blackburn, an escaped slave whose legal case established Canada as a safe haven for escaping slaves, lived here earlier in his life.
  • Washington was the home of two Civil War generals–one Union and one Confederate.

Nearby Maysville on the Ohio River replaced Washington as the largest town in the 1840s and the town remains much as it was in the late 18th/early 19th century.

As we drove through town, we passed one log cabin after another on the Historic Main Street.  And there are NINE museums (at least!) in this tiny town:

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Mefford’s Fort

  1. 1787 Mefford’s Fort (Built using planks from the flatboat that carried the family down the Ohio River from Pittsburgh. Only known flatboat house still in existence.)

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    Cane Brake Bluegrass Artisan Center

  2. Pre-1790 Cane Brake Bluegrass Artisan Center (One of the original 119 log cabins.)
  3. Pre-1790 Simon Kenton Shrine (A replica frontier general store housed in one of the original 119 log cabins.  Original settler Kenton operated such a store during his 14 years here.)
  4. 1797 Albert Sidney Johnson/Bull Nelson House (Those were the Civil War generals.)

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    Marshall Key House

  5. 1800 Marshall Key House (Young Harriet Beecher Stowe was a guest.  Now houses the Harriet Beecher Stowe:  Slavery to Freedom Museum. )

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    Paxton Inn

  6. Pre-1810 Paxton Inn (A station on the Underground Railroad with a hidden stairway between the first and second floor where runaway slaves were hidden. )

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    Paxton House

  7. 1810 Paxton House (now the Visitor’s Center, where tours can be booked.)

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    Methodist Episcopal Church South

  8. 1848 Old Church Museum (This church–Methodist Episcopal South–split off from the original 1786 church because of differing views on slavery.)
  9. 1870 Presbyterian Church (Gothic Revival  with pressed tin coverings on the walls and ceiling.)

In addition to the museums, you can also visit the many specialty shops housed in period buildings. The shops are open year round, but it’s a good idea to call ahead as hours vary by shop and season.

There are no restaurants in Historic Washington at present, but there are plenty to choose from in nearby Maysville.

 

 

11 thoughts on “Historic Washington, Kentucky (as seen through a bus window)

  1. When I was a kid in high school, I hated history class. Now, it’s so easy to get lost in historical web sites and documents. Utterly fascinating. I would love to see inside that hidden staircase and learn more about the slaves who made their way to freedom through the Paxton Inn, as well as the individuals who risked their lives, fortunes and reputations to help them there.

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    1. I took a photo of one of the hidey-holes at another Underground Railroad site, but it’s very dark and hard to make out the details. I felt the same way about history classes, both in high school and college, even though initially I was very excited to take them. The way they were taught, though, was just the traditional male-centric version with a lot of emphasis on memorizing events and dates to regurgitate on a test. Later on, as an adult, I realized there was also such a thing as social history/social geography and that’s what fascinates me!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Meeting an oral historian and getting to hold in my white-gloved hands a suffragette-made quilt changed that boring jock-taught history class mentality for me. What a shame they make coaches teach such classes!

        Love that term “social geography.”

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