Home of the world-famous Kentucky Fried Chicken, the Commonwealth of Kentucky (official name) is a Mideastern state in America and one of the only four in the nation to be constituted as a commonwealth, the other three are Massachusetts, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. Formerly a part of Virginia, Kentucky was recognized as a separate state in 1792.
Dubbed as the Bluegrass State after the grass that is found all over Kentucky, the state is known for its scenic diversity. On one hand, it boasts Mammoth Cave National Park, the longest cave in the world and the second oldest attraction in the country (Niagara Falls is the first). On the other is Breaks Interstate Park which is commonly regarded as the “Grand Canyon of the south.”
Cumberland Falls, also called the Great Falls, in southeastern Kentucky is the world’s only waterfall that consistently displays a Moonbow!
A state known for as many natural wonders as man-made ones (derby, Bourbon, moonshine, tobacco, bluegrass music), Kentucky is full of surprises. Let us unveil some of the hidden gems in Kentucky and realize its full potential.
1. Troublesome Creek, Clayhole
During the 1820s, Martin Fugate, a French orphan with a rare disorder known as hereditary methemoglobinemia, came to live by the banks of Troublesome Creek. In a mysterious twist of fate, Fugate met Elizabeth Smith, a carrier of the same disease, who later became his wife.
The couple had seven children, of which four were born with the same rarity. So, what’s the big deal, you ask? Not much except that the couple and the four kids had BLUE skin!
Diagnosed over a 100-years-later, the enzyme deficiency caused lack of oxygen in their body which resulted in the ambiguous discoloration.
Over the years, the Fugate family interbred several times and led to a distinctive community of “Blue” people.
According to a 1982 medical journal, some of the ‘Blue Fugates’ still reside on the hills surrounding Eastern Kentucky.
2. Waverly Hills Sanatorium, Louisville
Now used as a “haunted attraction” by the current owners, the Waverly Hills Sanatorium was founded in the 20th century to sustain patients who suffered from the outbreak of tuberculosis. While there wasn’t any medicinal cure that could treat the sick, the hospital facility thought it best to heal them with fresh air, quarantine, and a positive attitude.
Due to the unavailability of any remedy, people began dying almost every day which not only affected the fellow patients but also forced the officials to secretly transport bodies out of the facility through a tunnel, which is now known as the “body chute.”
Tuberculosis drug was finally discovered in the 1940s which eventually led the sanatorium to close for business in 1961.
At present, the compound is used for staging horror attractions and offering ghost tours of the Sanatorium.
3. The Cumberland Falls, Williamsburg
Located within the boundaries of Cumberland Falls State Resort Park, the Cumberland Falls is one of the most beautiful waterfalls to be found anywhere in the world. And, the credit for its beauty entirely goes to the regular occurrence of “moonbows” that appear over the waterfalls every full moon.
Moonbow, or a lunar rainbow, is just like a normal rainbow that appears in the sky due to reflection and dispersion of light in water droplets except that a Moonbow occurs under full moon, not sun.
An extremely rare phenomenon, these moonbows may seem like a ray of white light to the bare eye, but, watch closely or with a long exposure camera and you will see the colors reflect across the waterfall.
4. The Grave of Harry L. Collins, Louisville
Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville has a rich connection with the celebrated past of the Commonwealth of Kentucky for this is where many of the state’s local heroes rest. But, no one (not even Colonel Sanders) stands here as detailed and cool as Frito-Lay’s “Magic Man.”
Harry L. Collins was first introduced to magic in 1920 by a local attorney. While he served the Marines during WWII, his talents were noticed by fellow officials, and soon, he was invited to join the Special Services. Later, when Collins returned to his country, he was offered a job as a salesman with Frito-Lay.
Salesman by day and magician by night, Collins was so happy with his job that the magic word for every trick in his book was “Frito-Lay!”
By 1970, the company owners realized Collins’ true potential and declared “Mr. Magic” as their corporate entertainer. Rumor has it that Collins trained Vegas Veteran and globally-acclaimed magician, Lance Burton.
5. Dinosaur World, Cave City
Dinosaur World in Cave City, Kentucky is not only one of three similar amusement parks to exist in the United States, but, it is also titled the “best exit” by one of the most popular magazines in the world.
An outdoor museum, Dinosaur World is home to over 100 life-like dinosaurs, each with a detailed explanation of their type and characteristic.
A giant T-rex that stands along I-65 welcomes you to the Dinosaur World where you can walk along the designated trail and learn all about dinos. You can also spot (artificial) dinosaur eggs and raptor claws among other creatures at the park.
There are a fossil digs and a playground for the kids to enjoy, and a souvenir shop sells themed toys, fossils, educational games, books, and a selection of eggs.
6. USS Sachem Ruins, Petersburg
USS Sachem, known by several other names in the history (Sightseer, The Celt, and USS Phenakite), had a successful run before finally being abandoned in Indiana in 1987. The ship served during both the World Wars, carried Thomas Edison around while he experimented, attended re-lighting of the Statue of Liberty by Ronald Reagan, and guest appeared in “Papa Don’t Preach” alongside Madonna.
First launched in 1902 as The Celt, the celebrity vessel was first intended to serve as a luxury ride, before being rechristened to USS Sachem by the Navy to fight against the Germans. After the war ended, Sachem was returned to its civilian owners, only to be re-acquired and renamed as Phenakite to serve against the Japanese in World War II.
Eventually, the ship saw one last ray of spotlight in Madonna’s music video before being navigated and stranded down the Ohio River.
7. Florence Y’all Water Tower, Florence
In an attempt to advertise their existence and services, Florence Mall erected a huge water tower adjacent to their building in 1974. The big, bold words on the water tower, “Florence Mall” raised a concern with the Bureau of Highway, who claimed that the water tower, as a means of advertisement, was too big and didn’t conform to the standards and limitations of highway advertising law.
While the Bureau suggested that the water tower problem is fixed and repainted, the town’s then Mayor, C.M. Ewing, along with his smart and efficient group of civil staff members, came up with an idea which wasn’t just cost-effective but also extremely corny.
They decided to replace the “M” with a “Y” and add an apostrophe after it so it read “Florence Y” all”. It took around $500 and a Southern American English touch to transform a controversial water tower into a landmark!
8. Wigwam Village #2, Cave City
Between 1936 and 1950s, a number of Wigwam motels were erected across the historic Route 66 to serve tourists between L.A. and Chicago. While most of them are lost in history, only a couple of them have managed to survive the test of time. Wigwam Village #2, constructed in 1937, with 15 teepee-style cottages formed around a recreation area, is one of the last standings.
The property has been listed in the National Register for Historic Places as on March 1988.
Each cottage or room is equipped with one large bedroom and an attached bathroom with shower facility and toilet. Furthermore, in 2008, all the cottages underwent a style upgrade and were fitted with air-conditioning, cable TV, and hickory furniture.
Care to spend a night at one of America’s historic motels?
9. The Monroe Moosnick Medical and Science Museum, Lexington
Exhibits at the Monroe Moosnick Medical and Science Museum may seem like just another set of historic medical items on display, but, they are much more than that. In fact, the instruments on show at the museum are some of the most spectacular and advanced medical tools of the 18th and 19th century.
The Museum, named after a late professor who served the Transylvania University for over five decades, is greatly used by the students of science for research and other educational purposes. A majority of the tools and paraphernalia kept here were brought in from London and Paris between early to mid-1800s.
One of the most striking pieces at the museum is the dissectible wax figure of a woman, a rare Medical Venus, crafted out of tissues and organs from over 200 cadavers.
10. Castle Post, Versailles
Formerly called the Martin Castle by the original wealthy couple who began construction on their middle American Fortress in 1969 but dropped it after their divorce in 1975, Castle Post was once thought to be built into a museum or a themed restaurant.
Thomas R. Post, who acquired the property in 2004 and renamed it, started progressive work on the long-abandoned castle. However, a fire struck the site and ruined most of the progress that had been made.
But, Post wasn’t one to back down. In fact, he doubled his strengths and added a ballroom, a garden, and a library.
Ultimately, in 2008, Castle Post was opened to the public as a luxury Bed and Breakfast.
11. Vent Haven Museum, Fort Mitchell
Established by William Shakespeare Berger, a businessman and a novice ventriloquist from Cincinnati, Vent Haven Museum was opened to the public in 1973 and houses Berger’s collection of over 900 ventriloquist figures that he acquired starting in 1878.
Berger, the former president of the International Brotherhood of Ventriloquists, kept adding to the collection until his death in 1973.
Vent Haven Museum is the only institution in the world with the largest collection of its kind. Some of the figurines are extremely rare but all of them bear the signature style – a hat, a tux, a monocle, and a trigger-operated mouth.
The museum is open to the public from May to September each year and hosts a “conVENTion” each July for Ventriloquism enthusiasts.
12. Funtown Mountain, Cave City
Mammoth Cave National Park is the centerpiece of Kentucky, and, if there is one thing that the city residents and the business owners in the state know of, it is to capitalize on the location of the Caves.
As if the existence of the Caverns weren’t enough, roadside attractions such as the Dinosaur World have been established near the park to serve as a gateway. Among such attractions was ‘Guntown Mountain’, a Wild West-themed amusement park which served visitors from 1969 till 2013.
The park closed due to lack of visitors, but, was eventually bought by Will Russell two years later, who intended to reopen it as “Funtown.” To raise funds for the park’s reconstruction, Russell decided to host a traveling circus. However, the plans fell apart and the required money couldn’t be raised.
Despite the bad run, Russell opened Funtown Mountain for the public in 2015, and, as luck would have it, the newly opened amusement park didn’t even last a year.
All that is left now are the remains of its dwindling past, a few decommissioned rides, and a few abandoned structures atop the mountain which aren’t even accessible anymore.
13. Mantle Rock, Smithland
Situated within the Mantle Rock Nature Preserve is a huge natural sandstone formation in the shape of a bridge that is 30-foot-high and 188-feet-long. It’s also where hundreds of Cherokees, an indigenous tribe, camped for two weeks while they awaited crossing the Ohio River in 1839.
Managed by the Livingston County Nature Conservancy, the Rock is a part of the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail that commemorates the harsh winters of 1838-39 when around 4,000 Cherokee migrants, unable to bear the extreme weather conditions, succumbed to death. Several Cherokees visit the site each year to pay their respects to the dead ancestors.
The geological formation is covered in bluffs, fluorite deposits, honeycomb formations, and a spectacular biodiversity. Mantle Rock was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2004.
14. Pope Lick Trestle Bridge, Louisville
Pope Lick Monster, a half-man half-goat beast, is known to have claimed several lives on and around the Trestle Bridge in Louisville, Kentucky.
No one knows if the monster is for real, however, as far as the legends go, the goat-man is accused of using hypnosis or a sort of siren voice to tempt people onto the rickety train tracks which are still used by locomotives.
Another popular theory narrates that the monster drops down on the cars that pass by the trestles.
While these may just be stories, it is true that many foolish adventure seekers, in search of the “monster,” have fallen to their death jumping the eight-foot fence or climbing the trestles.
15. Colonel Sanders’ Grave, Louisville
Colonel Harland Sanders, perhaps one of the most iconic faces known to the world, had worked several jobs (fireman, streetcar conductor, insurance salesperson, gas station operator) before deciding on becoming a restaurateur.
After planning on setting up franchise restaurants, Sanders opened his first small-scale eatery in Salt Lake City, Utah and served his “secret” fried-chicken delicacy to visitors, a recipe he had mastered while serving the famished travelers passing by his gas station. And, before he knew it, his secret dish, along with his signature white goatee, black round glasses, long bow tie, and a grandfatherly charm had become a nationwide phenomenon.
By the time Sanders was taken by leukemia in 1980 at the age of 90, Colonel Sanders and his Kentucky Fried Chicken were a household name not only in the state or the nation but the entire world.
Colonel Sanders now rests at Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville, and his final resting place is marked by a bust of him wearing his emblematic suit, goatee, and tie which was created by Margaret, his daughter.
16. The Strange Procession Which Never Moves, Mayfield
One man’s representation of the loved ones’ he had lost during his lifetime was treacherously perceived by its’ visitors as an actual money pit worthy of attempted marauding, and even more disconcertingly dubbed as “The Strange Procession Which Never Moves.”
Colonel Henry G. Wooldridge commissioned the eighteen statues that stand amidst the Maplewood Cemetery in Mayfield, Kentucky in 1892. The idea was to represent all the lives, human or otherwise, that Wooldridge had ever lost. Construction on the monuments went on for seven years until the man behind the idea passed away in 1899.
Among the monuments are his sisters, a small statue that either represents a childhood sweetheart or a niece (depending on the version you hear), his mother, his brothers, his horse “Fop”, his hounds “Bob” and “Towhead”, a fox, and a deer. The most prominent statue among the lot is of the maker himself, a 6-foot-tall Wooldridge made of marble.
Surprisingly, Wooldridge is the only member of the group who is actually buried on the site.
17. Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History, Bardstown
If there is one thing that the Commonwealth of Kentucky is known for (other than KFC), it is the many bourbon distilleries that are scattered around the state, or, more appropriately, the “Bourbon Capital of the World.”
Unlike Colonel Sanders, Kentucky, especially Bardstown, has no problem sharing “their” secret. In fact, the town encourages you to know your whiskey as well as the state does. And, there is no other place like the Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History that can educate you on the fascinating history of America’s love for Whiskey.
Oscar Fretz, a Chicago resident and an ardent lover and collector of the beverage, had a selection of collectibles and memorabilia so big that he could establish a private museum. However, Mrs. Gretz was of a different school of thought. She demanded that the man gets rid of his prized possessions!
Disheartened, Oscar decided to transform a 200-year-old seminary to act as a museum which would safeguard his collections long after he was gone.
At present, the huge compilation of photos, artifacts, rare documents, hundreds of antique bottles are owned and managed by the Getz family.
18. Rabbit Hash, Burlington
No one knows for certain how this unincorporated community in Burlington, Kentucky came to be known as Rabbit Hash, however, several stories surround the town.
The community, well-known into the 1800s for its rabbit hash delicacy, was allegedly raided by a boat full of robbers in 1831. The area was completely savaged. The next boat that arrived here saw a single billboard with a sign “rabbit hash,” and so the town was coined.
Another, more believable version entails the flood of 1847 that resulted in a sudden increase in the number of rabbits in the area. The animals were hunted by the locals and used in a special stew known as “hash.”
Not much is known or recorded of the town’s past since most of them were destroyed over and over by the Ohio river floods, but, what remains is the Rabbit Hash General Store – Kentucky’s best-preserved country store.
19. Eastern Cemetery, Louisville
Eastern Cemetery is regarded as one of the oldest cemeteries in Louisville, Kentucky. It’s first using dates back to the 1840s and was originally by the Fourth Street Methodist Church aka the present-day Trinity Temple United Methodist Church.
The churchyard was one of the few graveyards at the time that allowed deceased from all walks of life to be buried there. In fact, it was the town’s and perhaps the state’s first crematorium.
Unfortunately, the Eastern Cemetery has a dark past. According to Philip J. DiBlasi, an archaeologist at the University of Louisville, several of the old graves were purchased by the cemetery from their owners and sold off as “empty.” In fact, four different maps, from four different years, have been found to be inconsistent with one another which leaves us with one thought – over burial.
The discovery of the fact and an allegation in 1989 on the mistreatment of the graves at the cemetery made headlines on the national news. Since then, the burial site has remained largely abandoned.
20. The Creation Museum, Petersburg
Spread over 75,000 square-foot expanses of land, the Creation Museum is exactly that – a museum that is dedicated to the creation of the world according to the very precise perception of the Book of Genesis, the Bible!
Operated by Answers in Genesis (AiG), the museum opened to the public in May 2007 and has a strict policy on hiring employees – everyone must sign a statement confirming their faith and trust in the principles set by AiG.
Spread over 160 exhibits are the museum’s portrayal of the universe as it has been for the last 6,000 years or so. The compound also houses an insects’ collection, an Allosaurus carcass, a planetarium, and a special effects theatre.
The AiG members have also created a few alternatives to the theories, facts, and findings that have been known to the mankind for over centuries, for example, the Big Bang Theory as well as the Theory of Evolution.
However, the works of the museum have often been challenged and questioned by scientists, researchers, and educators as they claim that the information presented by the museum is not only at odds with the actual discoveries but they may also create a negative impact on science students of the present and future.
Well, whether or not you believe in the science you know over the science that may have been, the museum is definitely worth a stop!
21. Drake Vintage Music & Curios, Bowling Green
The charm of country music may have sobered down with time but one man has stood his ground since the 1940s and refuses to give up on his admiration and dedication to the country music culture.
Freeman Kitchens, a local from Warren County, Kentucky, has been collecting music records, artifacts, and photos of the 20th-century country music culture for a long time. The Founder and President of the Carter family fan club, Kitchens has been selling records and other related items out of his general store, Drake Vintage Music & Curios, ever since he began collecting them in the mid-40s.
Distinctively popular among the local community members, Kitchens and his fan club members have published some of the earliest types of grassroots documentation and music journalism about the country’s music culture over the period of time.
Stop by for a purchase or a chat with the proud owner and get a personal tour of America’s country music history.
22. Chained Rock, Pineville
The town of Pineville is nestled away in a narrow valley that is towered by a high cliff and an enormous rock. Looking like it’s just about to roll down and wipe the town off of Kentucky’s map forever, the Rock has prompted many of the town’s children and passing travelers to question the boulder’s existence.
To calm their worries, the elderlies in the town assured them that the rock was secured by a chain that would prevent it from tumbling down. It was a lie! At first, at least.
Truth be told, it wasn’t a loose boulder atop the cliff, it was just a part of the cliff that looked like a rock which could fall down. However, tired of all the lies that surrounded his town, Headley Card, a Pineville resident, suggested in the courthouse that he wished there was a real chain tied to the rock so nobody would have to lie anymore.
Others agreed, and the very next day the “Chained Rock Club” was formed. With help from the Boy Scouts, local Kiwanis, and Civilian Conservation Corps, a 100-feet-long and 1.5-ton heavy chain was dragged over to the cliff and anchored to it with a few 30-inch bolts.
And, the rest is history.
23. Grave of Daniel Boone, Frankfort
Be it for his alleged correlation with Davy Crockett or the controversy regarding his burial at two different graves, Daniel Boone has been a topic of interest for many years now.
Everyone knows and agrees that Boone died of natural causes in Defiance, Missouri, and was buried alongside his wife, Rebecca, in Marthasville. However, the story gets confusing after this point.
Boone gained his exposure as a folk hero while he explored around Kentucky (which was a part of Virginia at the time). After 25 years of his death, Frankfurt requested to have Boone’s remains exhumed so he could be put to rest to where he belonged. While the request was accepted by Marthasville, the latter claims that Frankfort dug up the wrong grave!
Due to lack of space next to Rebecca’s, Boone was reportedly buried at her feet, but, Boone’s family was so upset at Frankfurt that they didn’t bother disclosing the actual burial site.
A research performed by David Wolfe, the state’s forensic expert, claims that the remnants of the Frankfurt grave may be that of a black man.
Though the topic is still up for a debate, you are allowed to create your own version of the story.
24. Ark Encounter, Williamstown
Part theme park, part Biblical recreation, Ark Encounter in Williamstown, Kentucky offers its visitors with a chance to explore Noah’s Ark – at least, a replica of it which has been constructed using the exact measurements as in the Book of Genesis.
The 51-feet-high, 85-feet-wide, and 510-feet-long ark allows access to three decks that, together, form the nation’s largest timber edifice.
Aboard the ark is an animatronic representation of Noah and his family, several animals that are now considered non-existent, plaques describing how each animal has evolved into the species we see today, and other such representations. Some liberties with the names of the women figurines have been added. Personal residences, common living area, a kitchen, and a food storage area is also displayed among the exhibition.
There are plans to expand the park, however, for now, the theme park offers a zip-line, a café, and a petting zoo in addition to the Ark.
25. Lexington’s Biblical Miniature Golf, Lexington
“All Jesus all the time” – this is the theme of Lexington’s Biblical Miniature Golf which is operated by the city’s Ice Center and Sports Complex, and, allows visitors to play three courses of the game, each dedicated to the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the miracles, respectively.
As you compete with your friends or other players, Christian Rock music from the hidden speakers fills the air.
Former visitors have claimed that the best part of playing at the miniature golf course is when you putt through Jesus’ tomb. Though some call it a creepy experience, most people are here for the theme, if not for the game itself.
While the first course (the Old Testament) was built in 1988, the other two were created later. The first seven holes at the first course are based on the seven days of creation; then there is one inspired from Noah’s Ark, the Garden of Eden, Mt. Sinai, and so on.
26. Black Mountain, Partridge
Standing atop several hollowed mined veins, Black Mountain in Partridge, Kentucky, at 4,145 feet above sea level, is the highest point in the Commonwealth. It is also extremely unstable and likely to collapse anytime.
Despite the fragile and perilous condition, the owners of the mountain summit have kept it open to the public, provided you agree to complete a waiver and send it to their office in Kingsport, Tennessee before you visit.
The mountain’s history, much like its surrounding state, is accredited to coal mines. On the foothills of Black Mountain lays the town of Lynch. With a population of over 10,000 residents at the time, it was one of the largest coal towns in the United States.
Many communication towers are to be found at the mountain summit. Additionally, there is a former observation tower and an FAA dome. The forest surrounding the peak is home to several black butterflies.
27. Shrine of Saints Magnus and Bonosa, Louisville
In a city that is most known for its chicken, whiskey, horse racing, and of course, Muhammad Ali, rests two 1800-year-old carcasses of Christian martyrs who actually were from prehistoric Rome. How did that happen?
In 1853, St. Martin of Tours, a Catholic parish church, served several German immigrants. Unfortunately, in 1855, on Election Day, a bunch of people tried to burn down the parish on grounds of speculation that weapons were being hidden there. The same year, in another part of the world, some Italians started to shut down monasteries. For the safety of these human carcasses, a few of them were sent to America.
In 1901, with permission from Pope Leo XIII, the two Christian Martyrs, namely Magnus and Bonosa, were packed into bags and mailed to Kentucky to be installed at St. Martin’s.
Though not much is known about the two martyrs except that they were honored enough by the Pope to have been sent for safekeeping in the United States, the ancient remains offer an intriguing glimpse into world history.
28. South Union Shaker Village, Auburn
South Union Colony was established in 1807 by the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing aka the “Shakers.” The community lived and flourished here for over a century before the Civil War got the best of them.
Shakers were simple and intelligent people. They lived by the principles of hard work, pacifism, racial and gender equality, and celibacy (something that affected them adversely). They were also highly skilled furniture makers. In fact, several technological innovations such as the clothespin, the flat broom, and the circular saw are accredited to them.
Nicknamed after their chaotic, loud way of praying, the Shakers found themselves sandwiched between the Unions and the Confederates during the American Civil War, and, they had to feed and serve both the armies in order to survive. The war ended but the town never recovered.
Now, only nine of the original 200 buildings remain along with a four-story exhibition of the Shakers and their 200-year-old history.
Book online: South Union Shaker Village Entry Ticket
29. Dixie Cup Water Tower, Lexington
It may not be the most remarkable tourist site in Kentucky, but, its mere size and structure deserve more attention than it is currently acclaimed with.
Standing tall amidst a property which was once the home of the Dixie Cup Plant, the Dixie Cup Water Tower was constructed after the company moved here in 1958. While the company has been acquired by Georgia-Pacific Corporation, the water tower remains as is.
One of the major reasons for the city to not want to move the tower is its use as a point of reference by the nearby airport.
The water tower isn’t open to the public, but, you can get close enough to take clear shots of this hard-to-miss landmark.
30. Harriet Beecher Stowe, Slavery to Freedom Museum, Maysville
Also known as the Marshall Key House, the Slavery to Freedom Museum was originally constructed as a house by Eli Metcalfe in 1807 and sold to Marshall Key, the nephew of America’s first supreme court judge, John Marshall, in 1815. In 1833, Harriet Beecher came to stay with her pupil, Elizabeth Marshall Key, at the house. During her stay, Harriet was invited to observe a slave auction that distressed Harriet so much that she wrote an anti-slavery book about it in 1852, Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
The book was the second best-seller of its time and sparked the beginning of American Civil War. Lincoln, during his meeting with Harriet, remarked her as the “little lady” who started the “big war.”
Restored in 1833, when Harriet visited and lived at the house as a guest, the Marshall Key House has been popularized as the Harriet Beecher Stow, Slaver to Freedom Museum since after the war, and houses many artifacts from the war as well as the period of slavery.