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Danville: History Lives Here

Your day of Central Kentucky history begins on a tranquil Bluegrass morning, after a stay in the simple luxury of one of Danville’s historic bed-and-breakfasts. Perhaps you’ve stayed at Chaplin Hill, a plantation house dating to 1790, and you’re enjoying coffee in their lovely boxwood garden. Or perhaps you’ve rested, like generations before you, at Stonehouse Stables, a fully-restored eighteenth-century inn that’s also a thriving working farm.

Enjoy breakfast where you are, or make the short trip into downtown Danville for a fresh-from-the-oven morning treat, perhaps at Burke’s Bakery at 121 West Main Street, named by the New York Times as a highlight of Kentucky’s “Doughnut Trail.” Salt-rising bread, sweet-and-spicy gingerbread men, and so much more round out the offerings at this downtown sweet spot, and you can even pick up a stacked-high deli sandwich for a picnic lunch later.

After breakfast, the cool of the morning is a great time for a walking tour. Perhaps you’ll visit Danville’s Constitution Square Park, whose courthouse was the site of the constitutional conventions that led to Kentucky’s separation from Virginia in 1790 and its admission as the Union’s fifteenth state in 1792. A stately bronze statue of two friends embracing, adorned with the state motto “United We Stand, Divided We Fall” and surrounded by carefully preserved and restored frame buildings, marks this historic spot. A guided tour is available by downloading the Geotourist app and searching for local tours.

Or visit Perryville Battlefield, whose history as the site of an epic Civil War clash has been carefully preserved alongside a thousand acres of rolling grass and shaded woodlands. Birdwatchers will find this site of particular interest. In warm weather, bobolinks and Henslow’s sparrows can be seen. Migrating waterfowl gracefully skim the waters in autumn. And winter offers prime viewing time for the raptors that hunt in the open fields.

While in Perryville, you can also take a walking tour of historic downtown, seeing a wide variety of architectural styles and learning the history of homes in this National Historic Landmark area. Download a PDF at Grayson’s Tavern or arrange a guided tour online, or visit the Main Street Perryville office at 216 South Buell Street for a printed booklet.

Ready for a rest? Enjoy your picnic lunch or rub elbows with the locals at one of the area’s great lunch spots, many of which are themselves part of historic buildings. Then, if you’d like to sit a spell, why not take a driving tour? Again through Geotourist, follow the Civil War Driving Tour, which passes not only Perryville Battlefield but Bellevue Cemetery, Merchant’s Row, Old Centre and McDowell Park. Find out more about Central Kentucky’s storied African-American history on the “Forgotten Landmarks” tour. Or follow a leg of the Lincoln Heritage Scenic Highway, which includes sites associated with Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War but also branches out into local religious heritage and the story of Kentucky Bourbon.

Late afternoon is the perfect time for a pick-me-up. How about a delicately-scented cup of hot tea in the elegant surroundings of Danville’s Elmwood Inn Fine Teas shop and tea room at 135 North Second Street?

Or renew your spirits by touring Shaker Village, whose quiet and beautifully-constructed buildings were home to the Shakers’ dearly held beliefs in communal living, radical hospitality, pacifism, and equal rights for every person. Surrounded by 3,000 acres of rock walls and rolling pastures, and with a selection of Kentucky-inspired adventures such as bonfires, hayrides, bourbon tastings, and horseback riding, Shaker Village is truly the quintessential Kentucky tour experience.

If you’d like to continue your Shaker Village experience, stay for dinner at The Trustees’ Table, where traditional favorites and seasonal Kentucky dishes are prepared with seasonal, straight-from-the-garden ingredients. Or if you’re ready to return to the modern world, but with a traditional Bluegrass twist, visit downtown Danville restaurants including Harvey’s, Copper and Oak, Boogie Knight’s, or Tut’s. After dinner, stay downtown for live local bands and local bourbon.

And as you drift off to sleep after your day of historical exploration, remember: now that you’ve visited, you’re a part of our history, too.