“Blue moon of Kentucky, keep on shining.”
When the late, great Bill Monroe wrote those words, he probably had no idea he was creating a new country music genre – named after the titular state – “bluegrass.” He probably also didn’t know how long, far, and wide the words, music, and influence would spread throughout popular culture and the story of America. In fact, when country musicians hear the word “Kentucky,” banjos and mandolins sing over a thumping, jumping, upright bass to fill their collective musical heart and mind.
But the story of Kentucky is written in more than just notes on a page. Admitted into the Union in 1792 as the 15th state, this middle south American land was both a gateway between the early northern states and the south we know today – and a breadbasket of colonial America.
Its rich farmland with rolling hills of Kentucky bluegrass also gave way to an early boom in tobacco farming. The abundant pastureland was a perfect grazing ground for an early American thoroughbred industry, raising some of the best horses in North America today.
Its natural beauty is usually the headline, but there is much more to know about the Bluegrass State. Its national parks, historic sites, and monuments paint a vivid picture for those visiting Kentucky.
Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site: It’s easy to forget, but the Great Emancipator Abraham Lincoln was born in and lived his early years in Kentucky. Entering the world in the humblest of circumstances in 1809, one wonders how these early, hard-scrabble years on the frontier formed the man who would become the United States’ 16th president. Visitors to this national park near Hodgenville, KY, can glimpse into the early days of Lincoln’s life. A cabin representing the one-room log structure Abraham was born in stands on the site of his father’s farm, Sinking Spring, and welcomes travelers to soak in the rustic beauty and struggle of those early, formative years. Abundant hiking trails also surround the grounds for the more active visitors!
Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area: Spreading over 120,000 acres of the stunning Cumberland Plateau, this national park preserves and protects the mighty Big South Fork River, its tributaries, and an astonishingly diverse ecosystem. Encompassing a wide range of scenery from sandstone bluffs to cavernous gorges, this area and the national park that protects it are an outdoors person’s paradise. Camping, fishing, hiking, hunting, canoeing, kayaking, and horseback riding are popular activities in this lush and beautiful national park. A true gem of the midsouth national parks system, Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area is a can’t miss!
Mill Springs Battlefield National Monument: For the historically minded travelers, specifically those interested in the American Civil War, Kentucky has its fair share of sobering, hallowed grounds. At this national monument near Nancy, KY, one can walk the ground where the Union won a great early battle in the War Between the States. Then considered a border state, no less than Kentucky’s neutrality and strategic importance was on the line when Confederate and Union armies met in a series of skirmishes here in 1862. Eventually, the Union would prevail, marking a significant early victory for federal troops in the “western theater” of the war. Walk the grounds and stop at the visitors center to learn more about this important battle and the national monument that is now in its memory.