The seat of Hardin County is a diverse and growing city, home to more than 30,000 people at the last count.
Elizabethtown has a lot of history, and was the site of a Civil War battle in 1862, lasting evidence of which survives as a cannonball embedded in a wall downtown.
Earlier, Abraham Lincoln’s parents, Thomas and Nancy, were married close by in 1806 and lived in a cabin in Elizabethtown, where Abraham’s older sister Sarah was born.
The historic downtown area is a treat, embroidered with inviting museums and restored landmarks like the Historic State Theater Complex and the Brown-Pusey House.
This was once a boarding house that welcomed important 19th-century personalities like General George Armstrong Custer.
1. Freeman Lake Park
The largest city park in Elizabethtown is on the verdant shores of a 170-acre lake, just east of the Dixie Highway.
On land there’s more than 90 acres of lawns and woods, ready for walks and bike rides along seven miles of trails.
You’ve got history too, in the form of a sequence of preserved buildings, such as a one-room schoolhouse and a cabin with ties to Abraham Lincoln’s father.
For a fishing trip, the lake supports good numbers of largemouth bass, bluegill, rainbow trout, channel catfish, Shellcracker and crappie. In summer you can also rent rowboats, pedal boats and kayaks by the hour.
2. Historic Downtown Elizabethtown
The city’s historic nucleus is a pocket-sized district at the intersection of Dixie Avenue And Mulberry Street.
There’s a lot crammed into this little area, with fine historic buildings, museums, cultural venues and all kinds of curiosities labeled with interpretive boards.
We’ll cover some landmarks later in this list, but you can also browse a twin row of shops along Dixie Avenue and Public Square for comics, homewares, unique gifts and clothes.
For food and drink you’ll find a bourbon bar, an ice cream parlor, a coffee shop, a craft brewery, a pub and a cluster of restaurants for pizza, tacos, burgers and bistro bites.
3. Hardin County History Museum
There’s a whole trove of interesting things to see in this local history museum housed in the old post office building downtown.
The Hardin County History Museum opened in 2003, and relates the story of the county from its foundation in 1792 up to the present day.
There’s a riveting exhibit dedicated to Abraham Lincoln, whose parents resided in Elizabethtown for a time in the early 19th century.
On show are artifacts from the Kentucky frontier, such as the family bible of Benjamin Hardin (1784-1852), as well as a slew of Civil War memorabilia.
Informative panels explain how Kentucky County, Virginia evolved into a full-fledged state, and there are fun scavenger hunts to keep children engaged.
4. Historic State Theater Complex
Right next door to the Hardin County History Museum it’s hard to miss the sleek lines of this Art Deco theater from 1942.
The State Theater was downtown Elizabethtown’s entertainment hub for 40 years before closing down after showing E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982).
The building lay empty for decades until a painstaking restoration was completed, and the venue reopened as a symbol for downtown’s regeneration in 2009.
Come for concerts, comedy shows, live theater, talks and, of course, classic movie screenings. The entire complex can be rented out for private functions, and has a banquet room attached.
5. Brown-Pusey House
This fine Georgian mansion in historic downtown Elizabethtown dates to 1825 and was built by one John Y. Hill ( 1799-1859), who would later serve in the Kentucky House of Representatives.
In its time as a boarding house run by “Aunt Beck” Hill, the Brown-Pusey House welcomed some important 19th-century figures, like the Swedish opera singer, Jenny Lind (1820-1887), who performed here in 1851, and General George Armstrong Custer (1839-1876), who boarded here for a time.
The house was donated to the city in 1823 by the physician, William A. Pusey (great-nephew of Aunt Beck), and contains a small museum, a genealogical library and function rooms. The garden, named for William’s wife, Sally Cuningham Pusey, is a delight and also open to the public.
6. The Cannonball
Opposite the Hardin County Court Building, at the corner of Dixie and Public Square is an arresting piece of local history, going back to a Civil War battle in 1862.
Elizabethtown was in Union hands until this engagement, when the Confederate Army took the city with the goal of disrupting northern supply lines via the Louisville & Nashville Railroad.
They set up an artillery battery atop Cemetery Hill and a cannonball became lodged in the Depp Building on this site.
That structure burned down in the 1880s, but the cannonball was kept, and later embedded in the brick wall of the building that replaced it. This is as close as possible to the original position, and is pointed out with an arrow.
7. Kentucky High School Basketball Hall of Fame
The Commonwealth has a nationwide reputation for youth basketball, and this is celebrated by the Kentucky High School Basketball Hall of Fame.
This institution was founded in 2011 and found a permanent home at a former presbyterian church downtown in 2017.
Open Wednesday through Saturday, the museum honors the inductees who have made a lasting contribution to the game in Kentucky, and is filled with hands-on exhibits.
You can read about every hall member via a touchscreen, discover some of Kentucky history’s unlikeliest state champions and learn volumes of fun facts and figures.
One sobering exhibit lets you measure your vertical jump against Darrell Griffith, a Louisville Male High School alum who had a career as shooting guard with the Utah Jazz in the 1980s.
8. American Legion Park
When it comes to facilities it’s hard to top this public park, not far northeast of the historic downtown.
In the summer months this is the setting for the American Legion Water Park, which comes with a leisure pool, a lazy river, two long water slides, a play structure and a separate splash pad.
Another highlight is the nine-hole par 3 golf course, primed for families, less experienced golfers and players practicing their ironplay.
Added to that is the awesome Funtopia community playground, four tennis courts and a large pavilion that is rented out for private parties.
9. Swope’s Cars of Yesteryear Museum
Flanking Dixie Avenue in the north of Elizabethtown are car dealerships for a variety of car brands, all under the umbrella of the Swope Family of Dealerships, which was founded by two brothers in the 1950s.
As a gesture of thanks, Swope has opened an automobile museum here, with no admission charge. Inside is a dumbfounding assortment of classic cars, from the early 1900s to the 1960s.
For a few favorites there’s a 1910 Hupmobile Runabout, a 1919 Model T Ford Coupe, an elegant 1923 Packard Sport Touring, a 1931 Chevrolet Convertible Cabriolet, a 1939 Rolls Royce, a 1953 Jaguar XK 120, a cute 1961 Metropolitan and a menacing 1970 Cobra Torino SCJ.
10. Flywheel Brewing
A couple of blocks from the old center of Elizabethtown there’s a craft brewery, part of a wave of local businesses breathing new life into the historic downtown.
Flywheel Brewing has only been around for a few years, but is already a fixture, with a calendar full of events and regular food trucks on weekends when the taproom is open until midnight.
A few of the beers on tap at the time of writing were Malterior Motive (Malted Amber), Hey Porter, E=MC Hammered (Hefeweizen), Stranger than Fiction (IPA) and Irregardless (Kentucky Common), along with a lineup of guest taps.
11. The Elizabethtown Nature Park
After visiting Freeman Lake you can trace the namesake creek to this lovely, 104-acre expanse of rolling scenery on what used to be pasture.
The Elizabethtown Nature Park is all about passive recreation, and is intended for walks and bicycle rides, with a path that connects to the Freeman Lake Park trail system.
Most noteworthy is the Elizabethtown Veterans Tribute, honoring all veterans, living or deceased. This monument is 90 feet in diameter and features a star polygon walkway that guides you past five life-size bronze statues, each representing a branch of the military.
12. Buffalo Lake Trail System
Enclosing Buffalo Lake just east of downtown Elizabethtown is a wooded natural escape with trails for walking, jogging and mountain biking.
For an extended adventure you could easily pass hours making your way through this landscape, as the system adds up to an 8.5-mile loop.
Or you could take on some of the smaller color-coded sections, like the Pine & Holly Loop, the Haycraft Trail, the Cave Spring Trail and the Buffalo Lake Trail, which leads you around the shoreline.
The paths are well maintained, ushering you through cool woodland, across meadows and over little streams.
13. Lincoln Heritage House
Abraham Lincoln’s parents were brief residents in early Elizabethtown at the beginning of the 19th century, and Abraham’s older sister Sarah (1807-1828) was born here.
At Freeman Lake Park you can visit a site that harks right back to those years. Known as the Lincoln Heritage House, this double cabin was actually built for the pioneer Hardin Thomas, and he resided here with his family.
What is known is that Abraham’s father Thomas Lincoln (1778-1851), provided the carpentry and cabinet work for the larger portion of the cabin in 1805. There’s a Commonwealth of Kentucky historical marker in front, relating this story.
14. Sky’s the Limit Indoor Trampoline & Adventure Park
The ultimate attraction for restless children, Sky’s the Limit is a warehouse in which almost every surface is a trampoline.
At the center is a huge free jump area, and this is combined with a big choice of side attractions. To list a few there’s a climbing wall, foam pit, a multilevel indoor playground for smaller children, a battle beam, a dodgeball court, a zip-line and a reaction wall.
You can choose from a range of time allocations, ranging between 30 minutes and two hours, which is more than enough time to wear out the most energetic whippersnapper.
15. Elizabethtown Sports Park
At almost 160 acres, Elizabethtown has one of the largest public youth sports venues in the United States.
This is out towards the airport in the west of the city, and has been built to host local, regional and national sports events.
For a brief summary of the facilities, there are 12 multi-sport fields for soccer, field hockey and lacrosse, 12 turfed ball diamonds, an ADA-accessible baseball complex, a conference room and sports science services.
Visitors can make the most of free Wi-FI, four playgrounds for children, a three-mile walking/jogging trail and no fewer than six full-service concession stands.