Preservation Adventure: Lexington, KY

The National Trust is participating in the 2012 Pacifico Beer summer promotional contest, Make Adventure Happen. They are competing for a portion of a $100,000 prize based on the number of votes they receive.

To raise awareness for the contest, they’ve partnered with five preservation fans to highlight “Preservation Adventures” in cities and states across America.  I am not one of those five. I just had so much fun reading their entries, that I was inspired to create a Preservation Adventure for my adopted hometown, Lexington. That being said, feel free to click the link above to vote for the National Trust!

Lexington is located in central Kentucky in the heart of the Bluegrass.  It’s a city known for thoroughbred horse racing, bourbon, and basketball.  It was once known as the Athens of the West. It was a cultural, economic and political center boasting the first university (and millionaire) west of the Allegheny Mountains, the first library in Kentucky, major manufacturing facilities, Henry Clay (aka the “Great Compromiser” – a Senator and three time presidential hopeful) and ties with Abraham Lincoln (his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln was born and raised here).

Let’s get started!

Stay

Gratz Park Inn via 10 Best

Stay at the Gratz Park Inn. Lexington’s only historic boutique inn is located in the Gratz Park neighborhood, one of Lexington’s most beautiful downtown areas (and its first local historic district). It was built in 1906 by three physicians as a medical clinic and was adapted into a luxury inn in the 1980s.

Be sure to take a stroll around the park after you check in. The park was once a part of Transylvania University’s campus. It is surrounded by grande houses and buildings in several architectural styles, including the circa 1814 Federal style Hunt Morgan House (the Hunt-Morgan family produced the aforementioned millionaire as well as Kentucky’s first Nobel Prize winner), the Neo-Classical Carnegie Library (currently the Carnegie Center for Literacy which was built in 1906 with funds granted by Andrew Carnegie), and the humble Old Kitchen Building (now the home of preservation non-profit The Blue Grass Trust – pop in to say hi to the BGT staff and grab a free walking tour guide).

Eat

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Le Deauville via KY Land Sales

If you can bear to pull yourself away from Gratz Park, take a stroll down North Limestone toward downtown. You’ll pass several interesting architectural gems along the way including Mulberry & Lime. Now a home decor store and yoga studio, the house was designed by one of Lexington’s most prominent architects, Matthew Kennedy.

Stop along the way to munch French cuisine at Le Deauville, a steak at Columbia’s (where you can learn all about its history as gambling den), or grab a beer at Lexington Beerworks  (this stretch of historic storefronts and apartments is mid-revitalization!) or you can  carry on to the downtown core to sample any number of restaurants housed in historic buildings. Try Shakespeare and Company (the first US location for the Dubai chain), the Village Idiot (Lexington’s newest gastro-pub) or Table Three Ten. Or try an old favorite –  DeSha’s is the cornerstone of the Victorian Square Shoppes  (a block of 1880s store fronts that were internally restructured to form an indoor mall).

Drink

Cheapside Bar and Grill via Bluegrass Foodie

After you dine, walk down to Cheapside Park where you’ll find the Bluegrass Tavern. Enjoy a hand-muddled Old Fashioned outdoors and take in the view of Lexington’s one of a kind old courthouse – at first glance it would be easy to simply call it Romanesque, but take a closer look and you’ll notice exotic Tibetan Revival elements. From the side walk seating you can also enjoy a view of Lexington’s first skyscraper, which was designed by McKim, Meade, and White (and is the future home to a 21c Museum Hotel).

If you find your whistle is still not wet, there are several other great bars nearby that are taking advantage of historical spaces including Silks Lounge, Cheapside Bar and Grill, Henry Clay’s Public House and the Chase Tap Room.

Shop

Hop on a free trolley from one of many convenient downtown locations to check out nearby Woodland Triangle. Wooden Triangle is characterized by locally owned and operated shops – rare and used bookstores, clothing boutiques, a yarn store- there is truly something for everyone.  The Triangle (so-called because many of the shops are located on a triangular island formed by Woodland Ave, Kentucky Ave, High St, and Maxwell St) developed as a small commercial district serving the needs of one of Lexington’s early commuter neighborhoods.  It was a stop on Lexington’s original trolley route!

Hike

McConnell Springs via City Profile

Preservation isn’t just old buildings, it is also landscapes. Drive out to Raven Run Nature Sanctuary or McConnell Springs to enjoy the unspoiled natural beauty of Kentucky.

Walk, Run, Bike

The Legacy Trail connects downtown to the Kentucky Horse Park, a working horse farm with several museums dedicated to the horse.  It winds its way past several historic places, including Spindletop Hall, and through horse country with its distinctive black fences and rolling hills.

Art

Off the beaten track, the Loudon House was built in 1850 following the designs of New York architect Alexander Jackson Davis, it is now owned and operated by the Lexington Art League and is used as office, studio, and gallery space.  The in-house artists and exhibitions are always phenomenal. And the house itself is not to be missed – it is considered one of the finest examples of  Gothic Revival architecture in the state!

Entertainment

image via Keeneland

Spend the day at the races!   Located on beautiful rolling farmland just minutes from downtown, Keeneland Race Course has been operating since 1936 and has been recognized by the National Register of Historic Places and is a National Historic Landmark.  If it’s racing season, tail-gate with other Lexingtonians on the surrounding grounds before heading inside to place your bets and to watch the impossibly large and sleek thoroughbreds bound around the course. If its not racing season, stop by anyway! You can place a Simulcast bet or just take in the sites.

If thoroughbreds aren’t your thing, stick to downtown where you can take in a movie at the historic Kentucky Theatre, a Broadway musical, play or concert at the Lexington Opera House (built in 1886) or hear a band at Buster’s Billiards and Backroom (a former distillery warehouse) on Manchester Street.

 

This list is just the tip of the iceberg. Lexington has even more to offer. Preservationists and history lovers, come to Kentucky!  We’d love to have you visit.

5 comments

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