Summertime fun for grandparents/kids at Kentucky’s first fort!!
By Kathy Witt
Grandparents looking to create fun summertime memories with their grandchildren should head to the place where Kentucky was born: Old Fort Harrod State Park in Harrodsburg – Kentucky’s oldest town and site of the first permanent settlement west of the Allegheny Mountains.
Two hundred forty-five years ago, in March 1774, explorer Captain James Harrod and 32 brave men left Pennsylvania and set out for the western wilderness to claim lands and make a settlement. After a long and adventure-filled journey, Harrod and his men set up camp and laid out a town on June 16, 1774, naming it Harrodstown. In 1783, the burgeoning settlement was renamed Harrodsburg – nine years before Kentucky entered the Union as the 15th state.
Today a visit to the replica fort, built just south of the original structure, gives modern-day explorers a chance to return to Kentucky’s frontier past and step inside one-room cabins and blockhouses furnished with handmade furniture and the types of crude cooking tools and agricultural implements the pioneers would have fashioned with their own hands and used daily. Craftsmen in authentic period dress portray those early settlers who lived in the fort and demonstrate some of the chores they would have risen before dawn to tend to, like weaving, woodworking, blacksmithing, broom, candle and basket making.
Says David Coleman, park manager at Old Fort Harrod State Park: “If we can pull the visitor out of the 21st century and into the 1770s for a few minutes they are more likely to remember how it felt even though they may not remember what the interpreter said – but more how they felt about the experience.”
Part of that experience is feeding the sheep, found in the corral located in the center of the stockade walls; watching a blacksmith shape a horseshoe out of metal; and hearing the clacking of the loom as weaver turns yarn into cloth. But there are opportunities for the kids to romp and play as well, scaling the “unofficial” largest Osage Orange tree in the nation and hands-down best climbing tree in Kentucky, shimmying through the tunnel on a state-of-the-art and accessible fort-themed playground and tiptoeing about a creepy pioneer cemetery – the oldest west of the Alleghenies.
On Fridays during the summer, Old Fort Harrod hosts live entertainment during its noontime Picnic in the Park, with a special performer scheduled each week. Pack a lunch, grab a spot beneath the branches of the sprawling tree and enjoy the free fun. Other attractions at the park include the Mansion Museum (a tour is included with park admission) with its collection of Civil War relics, Indian artifacts, guns, music boxes and memorabilia relating to Abraham Lincoln, and the Lincoln Marriage Temple, which houses the cabin where Honest Abe’s parents wed on June 12, 1806.
Finally, a highlight for kids is getting to take a good long browse in the park’s gift shop. The shop is known for stocking lots of items little ones find irresistible and will want to take home as souvenirs of their visit.
Special summer events at Old Fort Harrod State Park.
Besides the weekly Picnic at the Park with free entertainment, Old Fort Harrod State Park hosts these special summer events:
Sunday, June 16: Harrodsburg’s 245th Birthday Celebration takes place with free entertainment and birthday cake. (Note that an even bigger blow-out is in the planning stages for Harrodsburg’s 250th birthday in 2024.)
Saturday and Sunday, June 22 and 23: It’s the annual Old Fort Harrod Settlement & Raid, featuring settlers, Natives and sutlers (civilian merchants) and pioneer demonstrations and re-enactments, including the infamous Shawnee Raid of 1777.
July 18-20 and 25-27: Hear Kentucky longrifles boom during the live outdoor action/adventure show, “James Harrod: The Battle for Kentucky.” Held at the park’s amphitheater, the original play is based on a real-life slide of Kentucky history.
August 16-18: Join the crowds that come each year for the Pioneer Days Festival, featuring games, inflatables, food eating contests, live music, a Car Show, 100 artist vendor booths and more.