A consortium of water utilities in the Bluegrass arrived at a solution to our longterm water needs. After weighing a number of options, the group agreed that the primary new source of water for Lexington will come from the Kentucky River near Frankfort. This location is DOWNSTREAM from the Town Branch of Elkhorn Creek Watershed (i.e. Downtown Lexington). That means that we will be using water than has been affected by our own polluted runoff. It has never been more important to clean up our historic urban creek than NOW. It will soon become the water we draw from our faucets. Kentucky American Water’s proposal before the PSC to built a new water treatment plant is following through on this regional strategic plan. It is imperative that we raise our standard of stewardship for Lexington’s urban watershed for the sake of our own drinking water.
Lexington, Kentucky was founded in the summer of1775 at the dawn of the American Revolution. A small band of frontiersmen gathered around a fire received word that a rabble of colonists had defeated British troops in a skirmish at Lexington, Massachusetts. To commemorate this exciting news, they decided to name the lush spring-fed wilderness in which they camped in the battle’s honor. Pioneers traveling south from the Ohio River or west through the Cumberland Gap traced their way to Lexington along buffalo trails over rolling savannah and by way of meandering forested waterways.
John Filson, biographer of Daniel Boone, shows us in a map from 1784 what pioneer Kentucky looked like.
In “Song of Myself” Walt Whitman imagines one of these early frontiersmen,
“A Kentuckian walking the vale of the Elkhorn in deer-skin leggings”
These pioneers chose to set down roots in Lexington along the banks of the Town Branch of Elkhorn Creek because of the rich fertile soil and multitude of artesian springs running the year round. Within a few short years a collection of log cabins clustered around a stockade gave way to a burgeoning town laid out along a generous creek-side commons. The valuable exports of bourbon, tobacco, and pedigreed cattle soon made Lexington the hub of a prosperous Bluegrass Region, and the capital of America’s first frontier. Within two generations of its founding Lexington had become a town of great wealth, sophistication, and refinement. By the time the Marquis de Lafayette came to visit his namesake county in 1825, Lexington had become known as the “Athens of the West” for its free public library, a university which boasted schools of medicine and law, and for architecture as refined as any in Philadelphia or Boston. And a young Lexington lawyer by the name of Henry Clay held our nation’s Congress in his thrall.
By 1830 Lexington had one of the first railroad charters in the nation.
Lexington also became fertile ground for religion, forming many of the first congregations west of the Appalachians. A pair of vibrant African-American congregations trace their common history back to 1790. The place names of Mt. Tabor, Mt. Horeb, Pisgah, and Zion hark back to this era of great awakening.
Other place names around Lexington honor the revolution and early republic. Fayette County was named in 1780 in honor of the Marquis de Lafayette and downtown streets bear names like Madison, Jefferson, and Constitution in honor of our nation’s founding.
By the time of the Civil War, despite Lexington’s wealth, its national ascendancy had long been eclipsed by more westward river cities along the Ohio and the Mississippi and its lack of navigable waters consigned it to a more modest agrarian splendor. But to this day Lexington has carefully protected its precious farmland with an urban growth boundary and with a nationally acclaimed program for farmland protection.
Lexington is even rediscovering its roots along the Town Branch of the Elkhorn Creek, setting up a public greenway that will follow this historic waterway from the city out to pioneers houses, springs, and Bluegrass countryside.
Bourbon has a long and rich history in the Bluegrass Region of Kentucky. The distilling of whiskey began about as early as settlers arrived here from the north and east. The reason this area was so conducive to the making of whiskey was on account of the numerous limestone springs in the area that could provide cool clear water all year long. The importance of good water to the area’s distilleries cannot be overstated. One of the unique ingredients of Kentucky bourbon is the water that comes up from its limestone springs. The water that comes out of the springs has been filtered of impurities and unwanted minerals, such as iron. In addition, the spring water is rich in calcium. The calcium in the water reacts favorably with the yeast during the production of whiskey.
Though there are no distilleries any longer in use in Fayette County, some of the earliest of our Bourbon History took place along the Town Branch of the Elkhorn Creek in Lexington.
Elijah Culpepper, came from Culpepper County, Virginia to Kentucky when it was still a county of Virginia. Legend has it that some time around 1776, Elijah Culpepper settled at what came to be known as the “Old Pepper Spring” near Lexington on the Frankfort Pike. There he is said to have built a log cabin distillery about 1780. The story goes that Elijah Culpepper, finding his name “too long and too troublesome to write,” dropped the “Cul” and became Elijah Pepper.
Elijah Pepper’s son, Oscar Pepper, operated several distilleries in Kentucky including the current Labrot and Graham’s Old Oscar Pepper Distillery and another in Versailles. He hired James C. Crow as his master distiller. James Crow is known for using his knowledge of biochemistry to introduce scientific principles into the distilling process. Together the two men brought fame to the Old Crow and Old Pepper brands. Their whiskey became a big hit with men such as Henry Clay, Andrew Jackson, John Calhoun, Ulysess S. Grant, William Henry Harrison, and Daniel Webster. Labrot and Graham’s Old Oscar Pepper Distillery is named for Oscar Pepper.
Commerce Lexington will be going to Austin, Texas this year to see what we can learn from a successful university town of comparable scale and geography. The following case study material was prepared in 2001. Certain figures are not in 2008 dollars and undoubtedly the city has grown.
• Founded in 1838
• Population: 1,126,700 people in the metropolitan area. 632,833 in Austin city limits (Lexington population = 260,512)
• Austin is the second fastest growing city in the United States
• The 21st largest city in the country
• Area: 2,705 square miles in metro areas. 232 square miles within the city limits
• Time Zone: Central Time
• Sales Tax: 8.25 percent
• Location: Austin is 236 miles from the Mexican border. Within 200 miles of San Antonio, Houston and Dallas
• Austin ranked as “Best Place for Business” (Forbes, May 2000) More than 1,330 tech companies.
• Fourth most visited city in Texas, with more than 16 million annual visitors.
• Austin is a clean-air city. Smoking is prohibited in buildings open to public.
• Live Music Capital of the World with more than 100 live music venues
• Austin has 11,800 acres of greenbelt used for recreation18 miles of well-surfaced scenic paths
7.5 miles of natural surface trails
• several more miles of connected trails are planned
Current population of Travis County: 812,280 (Lexington 260,000)
Travis County population in 1960: 212,136 (Lexington 132,000)
NOTE THAT AUSTIN HAS GROWN FOURFOLD IN THE TIME WE HAVE DOUBLED IN POPULATION
Median age: 29.5 years (Lexington 33 years)
Household income: $42,250 (Lexington $39,813)
Bachelor’s degree 33.9 (Lexington 35.6%)
MAYBE QUALITY OF LIFE FIGURES INTO AUSTIN’S SUCCESS. TRAILS AND GREENSPACE ARE A BIG PART OF AUSTIN’S IDENTITY. Continue reading
Lexington is situated in the centre of what the Kentuckians affirm to be the finest body of land in the world. I believe no country can show finer upland; and for a great distance from the town, plantation adjoins plantation, in all directions… There is a balance in conveniences and defects, appended to all earthly paradises. But when the first emigrants entered this country, in its surface so gently waving, with such easy undulation, so many clear limestone springs and branches, so thickly covered with cane, with pawpaw, and a hundred species of flowering trees and shrubs, among which fed innumerable herds of deer, and buffaloes, and other game, as well as wild turkeys and other wild fowl, and the delightful aspect of the country directly contrasted with the sterile region of North Carolina, which they had left, no wonder that it appeared to them a paradise…
Lexington is a singularly neat and pleasant town, on a little stream that meanders through it. It is not so large and flourishing as Cincinnati, but has an air of leisure and opulence, that distinguishes it from the busy bustle and occupation of that town. In the circles where I visited, literature was most commonly the topic of conversation. The window-seats presented the blank covers of the new and most interesting publications. The best modern works had been generally read. The university, which has become so famous, was, even then, taking a higher standing, than the other seminaries in the western country. There was generally an air of ease and politeness in the social intercourse of the inhabitants of this town, which evinced the cultivation of taste and good feeling. In effect, Lexington has taken the tone of a literary place, and may be fitly called the Athens of the West…
I shall have occasion elsewhere, to remark upon the moving or migratory character of the western people generally, and of this state in particular. Though they have generally good houses, they might almost as well, like the Tartars, dwell in tents. Everything shifts under your eye. The present occupants sell, pack up, depart. Strangers replace them. Before they have gained the confidence of their neighbours they hear of a better place, pack up, and follow their precursors.