The first paths blazed through wilderness in central Kentucky (Danville Harrodsburg Perryville area) were “traces” – notches axed into trees to make the route. Often these traces followed trails cut by the hooves of buffalo or tramped down by the feet of Indians. In 1775, Daniel Boone blazed a trail to Kentucky and with 30 axe men cut a path by joining up buffalo trails and Indian tracks to form the first continuous route through the Cumberland Gap. Others followed part way along this pioneer route before blazing their own traces toward different destinations. In time these early traces became known by the names of the men originally responsible for them; Boone Trace, Skaggs Trace and Logan Trace, among others.
Colonel Benjamin Logan, a Virginian seeking fortune in Kentucky, was chiefly responsible for the trace that bore his name. Logan had come through the mountains with Daniel Boone but struck west from Buffalo Spring while Boone went north to found Boonesboro on the Kentucky River. Logan’s Trace led to the banks of a creek near a spring where he built a fort that he called St. Asaph’s, who was a Welsh saint traditionally honored on May 1, the day construction on the fort began.
St. Asaph’s soon became better known as Logan’s Fort or Logan’s Station. May 20,1777, brought a fierce Indian attack on the wilderness fort, but one which those inside successfully resisted. This resistance caused the tiny fort to be described as “standing fort,” and it is said the contraction of this into “Stanford” gave the town its present name. Stanford is the county seat of Lincoln County, one of the first three counties into which Kentucky was divided in 1780 while still part of Virginia. Lincoln County got its name from Benjamin Lincoln, a Revolutionary War general from Massachusetts.
In 1774, 20 miles to the north. Captain James Harrod and a rugged band of pioneer adventurers laid out a settlement now known as Harrodsburg. credited as the oldest permanent English settlement west of the Allegheny Mountains. Harrodsburg became a county seat in 1785 with the organization of Mercer County, named for another Revolutionary War general, Hugh Mercer, who was killed at the Battle of Princeton in 1777.
Lying in the middle of the Wilderness Trace counties is Boyle, the youngest of the three, having been organized in 1842 from parts of Mercer and Lincoln counties. Boyle County gets its name from John Boyle, a well-known Kentucky judge in the early 1800′s. Boyle is the smallest of the three counties in the area, but with more than 25,000 people it has a larger population than either Mercer or Lincoln. Its county seat, Danville, rivals Stanford and Harrodsburg in age, all three being among the oldest cities in Kentucky. Danville was plotted in 1784 by Walker Daniel, a young Virginia lawyer, and named for him.
Some of the wilderness traces became important roads. The earliest of these was the famous Wilderness Road, provided for by an act of the Kentucky legislature in 1795. Its first link was a “Wagon Road” built from Cumberland Gap to Crab Orchard in Lincoln County during the spring and summer of 1796. Construction on The Wilderness Road began while Isaac Shelby, a Lincoln County resident, served as the first governor of the new state of Kentucky. Shelby’s home at Traveler’s Rest was noted for its hospitality. Later the resort area at Crab Orchard Springs became noted for its hospitality. During the century from 1830 to 1930, Crab Orchard Springs offered mineral waters and a gala social season to its guests, who often numbered more than 400 each night.
Today automobile Route 150 follows generally where The Wilderness Road once led. Along Route 150, a few miles south of Stanford, stands the William Whitley House, built beside The Wilderness Road and known as the first brick house west of the Alleghenies. Stanford’s Main Street was once part of the Wilderness Road. The old road passed the first county court house built in Kentucky and what is said to be the first church built in the state. The Harvey Helm Library and Museum is now housed in part of this building.
From Stanford, Route 150 goes north to Danville where it turns west to follow the city’s Main Street. Bordering on Danville’s Main Street is Constitution Square State Shrine where Kentucky’s first state constitution was written in 1792. Constitution Square contains a replica of the building in which the first constitution was written; a replica of the first Presbyterian Church in Kentucky; and the actual building that housed the first post office west of the Alleghenies. Here also is Governors Circle, depicting on metal plaques the faces of past and present governors of Kentucky. Across the street from Constitution Square is the McDowell House and Apothecary Shop where Dr. Ephraim McDowell earned his title as “The Father of Abdominal Surgery.” His name has been adopted by Danville’s Ephraim McDowell Regional Medical Center.
Two blocks south of Constitution Square are the grounds of the Kentucky School for the Deaf, founded in 1823 as the first state-supported school in the United States for youngsters with hearing handicaps. Danville is also the home of Centre College, “the little giant among American schools,” founded in 1819 and now one of the most prestigious small liberal arts colleges in America. Among the imposing buildings on Centre’s campus is the Norton Center for the Arts, which is truly a regional art center. Not only Centre students but townspeople from miles around are able to enjoy the musical, dramatic and artistic attractions offered there.
On the east side of Danville, Route 150 passes the Pioneer Playhouse, perhaps the oldest summer theater in Kentucky, offering on its outdoor stage a series of Broadway plays. West of Danville, Route 150 leads to Perryville. Near Perryville is the Perryville Battlefield State Park, preserving the location of the biggest and bloodiest battle of the Civil War. Each October, on the weekend nearest the anniversary of the 1862 battle, Perryville acts as host for a re-enactment of the event.
From Danville, travelers can go to Harrodsburg on Route 127, once a trace, then an old military road, and recently called “The Bluegrass-Chicamauga Trail.” In Harrodsburg there is a replica of Old Fort Harrod, built beside Route 127 near the spot where the original fort stood. Within its timbered walls is evidence of the arduous life endured by Kentucky’s pioneer men and women. In 1934, President Franklin D. Roosevelt visited this site to dedicate a memorial to the pioneer spirit and the men who planned and led the expedition that seized the old Northwest Territory from the British during the Revolutionary War. Each summer in the 800-seat amphitheater at Old Fort Harrod State Park, “The Legend of Daniel Boone” is presented nightly except Sundays. Young actors from throughout the South portray the characters in this outdoor drama, which is based on people and events of Kentucky’s history.
Shakertown of Pleasant Hill, seven miles northeast of Harrodsburg, is another of Mercer County’s attractions. A religious sect called the Shakers lived at Pleasant Hill between 1808 and 1912. The buildings they occupied have been renovated and restored and are now open to the public. Distinctive Shaker meals are served in the village dining room and lodging is available in the restored Shaker buildings. Meals and lodging are also available during most of the year in Harrodsburg’s famed Beaumont Inn, which occupies the original site of Greenville Springs, a well-known spa and resort area that between 1806 and 1853 attracted visitors from Kentucky, from the deep South, and from abroad.
Business and Industry
Agriculture: Agriculture is the largest single economic activity in the Wilderness trace counties. Tobacco, beef cattle, grain and horses are significant contributors to the area’s wealth. County fairs festival days furnish opportunities for agricultural displays as well as for the display of art and craft products. The Mercer County Horse Show is considered on of the best in the South, annually attracting competitors from Kentucky and its neighboring states and from states as distant as Oklahoma and Florida.
Industry: Industry is becoming more apparent in the Wilderness Trace counties. All three counties have industrial parks with space available as sites for new industries. Lincoln County’s park contains 50 acres and eight industries are located either in the park or around Stanford. Mercer County has two hundred acres with land available for further expansion. The 11 manufacturing enterprises in and around Harrodsburg employ about 2,500 workers. Boyle County has the greatest concentration of industry, much of it located in the John Hill Bailey Industrial Park, 500 acres on the west side of Danville. The John Hill Bailey Children’s Learning Center, located at the edge of the park, was built by 18 Danville and Boyle County Businesses. The center employs 50 full-time workers and is licensed to care for 276 children. It provides an after-school program and 24-hour care. Boyle County industries employ over 4000 workers.
Parks and Recreation
Herrington Lake has become a mecca for those who enjoy fishing and water sports. The 3,600-acre lake was created in 1925 by the damming of Dix River. The Bright Leaf Resort area between Danville and Harrodsburg, the Old Bridge Country Club and the Danville Country Club offer opportunities for golf and tennis. These recreational facilities have combined with other attractions in Lincoln, Boyle and Mercer counties to make tourism an increasingly important endeavor.