The year 1763 saw the end of the bloody Seven Years War between the powers of Great Britan and France. When the fighting ceased and the treaty was signed the map of North America had drastically changed. What had been referred to as 'New France', essentially all the explored land west of the Appalachians, was ceded to the British. This included modern day Kentucky. As a way to pay back its soldiers in North America, Britain initiated a program where veterans would be rewarded with land in this newly acquired western territory. This meant that explorers and surveyors would have to be dispatched to pinpoint the best locations for future settlements. As a result many now-famous historic figures, Daniel Boone most prominent among them, began to make their names known. One of these early explorers, though not as well known, was a veteran by the name of Colonel James Harrod.
Harrod had visited Kentucky as early as the late-1760's. It wasn't until 1774, though, that he was dispatched in an official capacity by the British Government to the region with the express intent of finding a place for future settlement. This was no small task. Kentucky at the time was a place as wild as could be found anywhere on the American continent. Its landscape was rugged, heavily forested, and already occupied by native tribes who were none too keen on seeing white settlers invading their lands. In the face of these major difficulties James Harrod dutifully left Pennsylvania in the spring of 1774, headed downstream along the Ohio River before turning south via the Kentucky River into the heart of this foreboding country. Traveling upstream past the location of present day Frankfort, Harrod and his band of 37 men then left the river overland to a place he had no doubt identified as location prime for settlement on one of his earlier travels. Near a small spring just east of the Salt River the expedition broke ground on what would become Kentucky's first permanent pioneer settlement, naming it Harrod's Town after the man who had led them there.
Harrod and his men didn't stay long that first summer in Kentucky. After building a collection of makeshift cabins upon their arrival in June, the following month they were recalled to Virginia to aid Daniel Boone in dealing with hostilities that had erupted with native tribes in the colony. The following spring, in March of 1775, Harrod returned to his settlement and set about turning it into a center of trade and commerce for the Kentucky frontier. Wisely, he also constructed defenses for his fledgling community on a hill nearby that was, somewhat unsurprisingly, dubbed Fort Harrod. It was a simple fortification consisting of wooden palisade walls and corner blockhouses. Simple, yes, but it was adequate enough protection to see the town thrive in those early years. Over the following decades Harrodsburg, as it came to be called, developed and grew. Though other nearby communities, such as Lexington, eventually surpassed Harrodsburg in size and economic importance the significance of the town as the 'Birthplace of Kentucky' was never forgotten. More than 150 years after its founding, in 1927, the State of Kentucky established Pioneer Memorial State Park (later to be renamed Old Fort Harrod State Park) within the city limits to commemorate its history.
The centerpiece of the 22-acre park is the reconstructed fort originally built by James Harrod. It's not the most faithful reproduction...the current fort is a bit larger and contains a few structures that weren't originally included in its construction...but it gives a wonderful glimpse into the pioneer life on the early frontier which it was built to protect. Also within the small park are a number of other memorials remembering the early years of the state. Adjacent to the fort is the Pioneer Cemetery, which is the oldest surviving cemetery in Kentucky, as well as the George Rogers Clark Memorial which was dedicated in 1934 to honor these early pioneers who opened this part of the country for settlement. Near the entrance to the park is perhaps the most unusual structure it contains, that being the Lincoln Marriage Temple. Dedicated in 1931 the large church-style building was constructed around what is reputed to be the tiny log cabin where Abraham Lincoln's parents, Tom and Nancy, were married. As cool as that may sound, in recent years historians have cast more than a little doubt on the validity of the old cabins origins. Apparently its doubtful this was the log cabin they were married in...regardless though its still a fascinating 200-year-old building. This album provides a quick walk-through of this interesting little park. I found the fort to be extremely well-done and informative. It's decorated within to display various aspects of early pioneer life and I was told in warmer seasons costumed interpreters bring even more realism to the scene. I also make quick stops at the other nearby memorials surrounding the fort. If you're in the vicinity this is definitely an interesting place to burn an hour or two. So...come on along with me as I enjoy a fascinating but brief glimpse into the pioneer history of Kentucky and, as always, enjoy!!!