By Rick Rand
From a historical perspective, it is not much of a stretch to say that some of the western hemisphere’s first farmers were Kentuckians.
That’s because the Red River Gorge in Eastern Kentucky is just one of a few hotspots in North and South America where archeologists say modern agriculture took its first steps. Early bands of pre-historic settlers found its soil and climate ideal to domesticate such wild plants as the sunflower, whose seeds added both flavor and nutrition to their food.
With September being the first-ever Kentucky Archeology Month, and October set aside as Archives Month here and across the country, fall is the ideal time to highlight stories like this that underscore the rich cultural history Kentucky is famous for.
While the finds at Red River Gorge are relatively new, Kentucky can also lay claim to one of the country’s first archaeological digs. In the northern part of the state, at what is now Big Bone Lick State Park, early settlers found the bones of such large prehistoric mammals as mastodons, which were drawn to the area because of the salt but got trapped in the marshy soil.
This discovery even drew the interest of President Thomas Jefferson, who had some of the bones delivered to the White House and kept some for his personal collection.
Some of our other contributions began even before the United States was formed. One of those will be recognized on Oct. 19, when the Kentucky Historical Society will dedicate a marker in Lincoln County to commemorate the sizeable role that the Cherokee played here.
That marker will highlight their part in the Treaty of Sycamore Shoals, which in 1775 authorized what at the time was the largest transfer of land on our country’s frontier. It covered most of Kentucky’s present-day boundaries and set the stage for our first settlements at Forts Harrod and Boonesborough.
In the two-plus centuries since then, Kentucky has continued to maintain a strong link to its past. In fact, only New York, Massachusetts and Ohio have more listings than Kentucky does on the National Register of Historic Places. We have 3,200 districts scattered across the state that contain more than 42,000 historic features.
Thirty sites across the state have also become National Historic Landmarks, including such iconic places as Churchill Downs, the Henry Clay Estate in Lexington, Shaker Village in Central Kentucky and the Old State Capitol in Frankfort.
There are numerous other ways we are preserving our past for tomorrow. According to the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet, there are nearly 300 repositories here that keep the papers, photographs and government records of previous generations.
The Kentucky Heritage Council, the Kentucky Commission on Military Affairs, the Kentucky Historical Society and others are doing the same type of preservation work on the state’s Revolutionary War and the Civil War battlefield sites. In fact, we were the first state to join the Civil War Heritage Trail, which now links more than 500 locations in 28 states. We’re home to about 10 percent of those sites.
In our communities, meanwhile, the state’s historic preservation tax credit, which the General Assembly authorized in 2005, continues to help us preserve our irreplaceable homes and businesses.
The Kentucky Heritage Council estimates that this credit, when coupled with its federal equivalent, has resulted in more than $250 million in public and private investment during the last eight years.
This year alone, the state credit is helping spur nearly $80 million worth of commercial and residential rehabilitation projects.
Overall, few states can match Kentucky’s commitment to protecting our history. One of Kentucky’s most famous sons, the author Robert Penn Warren, perhaps summed it up best about why this is so important: “History cannot give us a program for the future, but it can give us a fuller understanding of ourselves, and of our common humanity, so that we can better face the future.”
If you have any questions or concerns about this issue or any other affecting the state, please let me know. You can write to me at Room 366B, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601.
You can also leave a message for me or for any legislator at 800-372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305.
I hope to hear from you soon.