For former history teacher Randal House, the Perryville Battlefield has a special significance beyond its usual fame. Two members of his family faced off at the 1862 Battle of Perryville – the largest and bloodiest Civil War battle fought on Kentucky soil.
Civil War Heritage
House’s great-great grandfather Benjamin House, a Union soldier with the 21st Kentucky Infantry, and a relative on his grandmother’s side – Confederate Lieutenant Buddy Rogers, who served under Gen. John Hunt Morgan – fought against each other in that historic battle.
Today, three generations of House’s family join hundreds of re-enactors in the annual Perryville Battle Commemoration each October. Amid the smoke of cannons, thunder of horses’ hooves and cries of the wounded and dying, they authentically depict the divided loyalties that wrenched many families apart in the border state of Kentucky.
“It’s great to have the family involved in re-enacting, and when you can trace your ancestry back to actual characters that were in the war, it’s even more meaningful,” House says.
The Perryville Battlefield State Historic Site welcomes 100,000 visitors annually, including about 10,000 spectators for the re-enactment alone. Huge numbers also turned out in 2009 for several ghost walks at the site, put on by the battlefield and Spirit Hunters of Central Kentucky. And the Perryville Battlefield is just one of many Boyle County destinations where the spirit of history lives on.
Perryville’s Merchants’ Row features restaurants and shops whose quaint wooden structures showcase Civil War-era architecture. It is the only 19th-century mercantile district in the country that remains intact.
In Danville, Constitution Square State Historic Site features replicas of a 1780s-era jail and the log courthouse where the constitutional conventions leading to Kentucky’s statehood took place. Also on site are the first post office west of the Allegheny Mountains and a restored row house that is home to the Wilderness Trace Art League and the Boyle County Historical Society Museum. Numerous special events are held throughout the year at Constitution Square.
Overlooking the square, the McDowell House Museum Apothecary & Gardens is another must-see attraction for history buffs. Here, the world’s first successful abdominal surgery was performed in 1809 – without benefit of anesthesia. Guided tours are offered daily.
“We’re known for history,” says Adam Johnson, executive director of the Danville-Boyle County Convention & Visitors Bureau. “It’s our biggest draw.”
Pioneer Playhouse and More
Another historic Danville attraction that continues to pull big crowds is Pioneer Playhouse, the oldest outdoor theater in Kentucky. Opened in 1950, the Pioneer stage has been a stepping stone for the likes of John Travolta, Lee Majors and other stars. The playhouse puts on five different shows each season.
At more than 150 years old, Penn’s Store in Gravel Switch is the oldest store in America in continuous operation by the same family. The charming, rustic structure still does a bustling business and hosts music jams, poetry readings and other events.
Visitors to the Abraham Lincoln Museum at Forkland Community Center will find items of local interest, genealogical information and artifacts related to America’s 16th president, including four 1865 original Frank Lesley-illustrated newspapers from New York, which detail Lincoln’s assassination and funeral. Lincoln’s maternal grandmother Lucey Shipley Hanks lived in the Forkland area for 35 years.