Founding of Lexington along the Elkhorn Creek

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 History along the Town Branch of the Elkhorn Creek, Lexington, Kentucky

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.

Austin Texas: Demographics and Trail System

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)


Median age: 29.5 years (Lexington 33 years)

Household income: $42,250 (Lexington $39,813)

Bachelor’s degree 33.9 (Lexington 35.6%)


Lexington (1826)

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.

Timothy Flint

Golden Gate Bridge across Town Branch

Newtown Pike project to include Lexington version of Golden Gate Bridge
By Delano R. Massey
A gateway “signature” bridge over Town Branch will be included in the Newtown Pike extension project, Mayor Jim Newberry announced Monday.

Newberry said the bridge would be an “opportunity to enhance the beauty of our city” and “welcome our visitors with a strong statement about community pride and history.” The bridge, he said, would be the gateway into the city.

The bridge will be designed by Entran, an engineering firm that has been hired to do design work for the road project. Newberry said conceptual bridge designs would be presented later.

When pressed about the design of the bridge, Newberry said he learned a long time ago “to not play to your weaknesses.”

“The last guy you want designing that bridge is me,” Newberry said to a room full of laughter. Newberry said that’s why the city has tapped Entran to design the bridge. Generally speaking, Newberry said, the bridge should reflect something that comes to mind when people think about Lexington.

He likened it to the Golden Gate Bridge, which stretches across the San Francisco Bay in San Francisco, or the Zakim Bridge, which spans the Charles River in Boston. Of course, he said, those examples are “on a much, much, much larger scale than what I’m talking about here.”

“But on the smaller scale, there’s no reason why we can’t have something that will be a landmark for Lexington — particularly when you think about Newtown Pike being such a gateway to Lexington,” Newberry said. “There will be many, many, many people whose first impressions of Lexington will be a result of coming across that bridge. And we need to make sure that that first impression is a positive one.”

Newberry, flanked by U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler, Vice Mayor Jim Gray and councilman Tom Blues, also gave an update on the plans for the Newtown Pike extension, which “will take some of the traffic off busy downtown streets and provide more direct access to the interstates for south Lexington and the University of Kentucky campus.”

The extension project has been studied since the 1960s — as Chandler joked, “longer than I’ve been on earth.”

In February or March, families that live in the lower Davistown neighborhood will start moving into new temporary modular homes that will be erected in the park. The families will live in the temporary homes for up to two years while their old homes are torn down.

New, permanent housing will be built for them in the neighborhood.

The reconstruction of lower Davistown — one of the city’s most economically depressed areas — is part of the massive $87 million Newtown Pike extension project. Nearly half the project money, about $42 million, will be used to buy land in lower Davistown, rebuilding the area’s infrastructure and paying for a portion of new housing that will be built there.

Ultimately, the Newtown Pike extension will stretch from West Main Street, where Newtown Pike now ends, to Broadway and, with a second prong, to South Limestone at the main entrance to the University of Kentucky, along what is now Scott Street.

Engineers are working to complete the first phase of the boulevard, from Main Street to Versailles Road, by 2010, in time for the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. Assuming funding is available, the second phase is to begin by 2011 and will stretch from Versailles Road to Broadway. The third phase is to begin by 2012 and will stretch from Patterson Street to Limestone. The city hopes the entire project will be finished by 2014.

In addition to the bridge and road construction, the project entails construction of a revitalized neighborhood in the area, which is rare for a federal or state road project.

A Community Land Trust will be established to ensure that current and future generations will have access to safe, affordable housing.

The Rev. Martina Ockerman of Nathaniel Mission said a committee made up of residents and members of the mayor’s office, among others, has been meeting once a month for the last four years to get everyone on board. Early on, she said, there was a lot of “mistrust” and “confusion,” but the group eventually came to a consensus.

Because it’s such a huge undertaking, and one that involves so many layers, Ockerman said this project could become a national model for combining affordable housing with a large project.

“People are watching this,” she said.

Reach Delano Massey at (859) 231-1455 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 1455.