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Discover Kentucky’s Origin

Learn Kentucky’s history by visiting where it all began — in Danville.

The Commonwealth of Kentucky was born in Danville in 1792. After a series of 10 constitutional conventions in Danville over eight years, the state’s first constitution was signed in 1792 at what is now Constitution Square, making Kentucky the 15th state. You can tour that historic site now, study monuments at Governors Circle tracing the history of each of Kentucky’s governors, and examine historic cabins and buildings located on the property.

Constitution Square

Before Constitution Square was organized into a state park in the 1970s (it’s now owned by the government of Boyle County), a portion of the property was the African American business district, which thrived for more than 100 years until the area was razed by Urban Renewal in 1973. A Kentucky Historical Marker notes how valued the district was to the African American community of Danville and nearby areas. It is one of several historic African American landmarks throughout Danville and Boyle County.

Download a map and details about this and other landmarks.

Danville’s recognition as the Birthplace of Kentucky was just the starting point for several historical occurrences over the years that earned the city recognition as “The City of Firsts.” Those firsts included having the first courthouse in Kentucky, the first U.S. Post office west of the Alleghenies (you can visit that post office, now located at Constitution Square), being the first capital of Kentucky, having the first college and first law school in the West, and the first state-supported school for the deaf, which is still in operation today. Visit all those “firsts” sites and others while you are here.

Another first in Danville occurred on Christmas morning 1809 when Dr. Ephraim McDowell performed the first ever successful surgery to remove an ovarian tumor, earning him recognition as “the father of ovariotomy.” The surgery took place in McDowell’s home, which is located across the street from Constitution Square. The house is now a museum and apothecary that is open for tours where you can hear the story of the famous surgery and learn more about the McDowell family and how medicine was practiced 200 years ago.

Doctors and medicine were both important in Danville and Boyle County following a brief but very deadly battle that occurred in nearby Perryville on Oct. 8, 1862, leading to thousands of casualties. It was one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War and the largest battle fought in Kentucky. Today it is a historic site you can visit to learn about the battle, to hike the 20 miles of trails on the property and to spot animals maybe since the grounds are also now a wildlife preserve. They even have a monarch butterfly waystation to help provide a habitat for the species.

On your way to or from the battlefield, discover more history on Historic Merchants Row in downtown Perryville, along the Chaplin River. Many of the buildings here – which house a variety of shops, restaurants, and boutiques – predate the Civil War. During a Historic Merchants Row Ghost Walk, you can learn some of that history throughout the year, where accounts of early settlers and soldiers who didn’t survive the battle are shared.

If you want to visit a historic site that has remained in constant operation since 1845, make a Saturday or Sunday afternoon visit to Penn’s Store in the southwestern portion of Boyle County. The Penn family has continuously owned and operated the store since 1850. You’ll certainly have a memorable visit and might even be there for a little front porch pickin’ and singin’.