‘Historically bold’ recognizes value of tourism

Published 6:25 am Saturday, May 20, 2017

By STUART W. SANDERS

Guest columnist

As a Danville resident and the history advocate for the Kentucky Historical Society, I was thrilled that tourist spending increased 7.1 percent in Boyle County last year.

From a tourism standpoint, there is much to tout in Danville and Boyle County. The Great American Brass Band Festival and the Kentucky State BBQ Festival bring tens of thousands of visitors to our community. The Heart of Danville works tirelessly to preserve downtown and support businesses in our central business district. The Community Arts Center runs programs and hosts exhibits that bring many out-of-town visitors here. Travelers on the Bourbon Trail can now taste Kentucky’s bourbon heritage at Wilderness Trail Distillery. Pioneer Playhouse and the Norton Center at Centre College draw in additional visitors seeking arts experiences.

These festivals and sites are an integral part of the area’s tourism economy. When visitors generate $89,368,430 in total tourist spending locally and support 837 area jobs, these events and places deserve our support.

When looking at local tourism, the community’s new tag line, “Historically Bold,” reveals much about this success: It’s history.

History provides the foundation upon which much of our tourism success rests.

Simply driving U.S. 150 (including Main Street in Danville) across the county from east to west reveals how important history is to our local economy. It quickly becomes apparent that Danville-Boyle County is where history is made.

First, U.S. 150 in Danville is the starting point for the Lincoln Heritage Scenic Byway, a federally recognized, 71-mile corridor that promotes some of the most important cultural heritage sites in the region.

The byway starts at Constitution Square Park, which is an anchor site for local heritage tourism. As the “birthplace of Kentucky’s statehood,” Constitution Square commemorates Kentucky’s early constitutional conventions and recognizes the early beginnings of the commonwealth’s history. The site also houses Grayson’s Tavern and other historic structures that introduce visitors to Danville’s preserved cultural landscape. This year, Kentucky’s 225th anniversary, Constitution Square takes on a deeper level of significance.

Perhaps no place in the state is more uniquely suited to claim “historical boldness” as the Ephraim McDowell House museum, located next to Constitution Square. In 1809, Dr. Ephraim McDowell removed a 22-pound ovarian cyst from Jane Todd Crawford. With no anesthesia, Crawford sang hymns throughout the ordeal. She survived, and the operation made medical history, being the first successful ovariotomy. McDowell is now called the “father of abdominal surgery” and the Ephraim McDowell House interprets this pivotal moment in medical history.

A stone’s throw away from the Ephraim McDowell House is the Kentucky School for the Deaf and the Jacobs Hall Museum, which teaches visitors about the importance of this school. Founded in 1823—and older than most U.S. colleges and universities—KSD was the first school for deaf students west of the Allegheny Mountains. This school’s history makes it a valuable heritage tourism resource for the community.

Heading west on Main Street, three historic buildings along the route include Trinity Episcopal Church, the Boyle County Courthouse and the Presbyterian Church of Danville, all of which were field hospitals after the Battle of Perryville. Continuing on to Centre College, this school, which embraces its important ties to the state’s history, will celebrate its bicentennial in 2019, which will again bring a focus to downtown Danville.

Taking U.S. 150 to Perryville, you reach Merchants’ Row, a vitally important 19th-century commercial district. Including the Parks Store, Green Drug Store, the Karrick-Parks House and more, downtown Perryville is full of important stories from Kentucky’s past.

Just a few miles to the north is the Perryville Battlefield State Historic Site, one of the best-preserved Civil War battlefields in the nation. With more than 7,500 men killed and wounded at Perryville, it was an important turning point during the war. Tens of thousands of visitors tour the battlefield each year. In addition, thanks to preservation efforts, the site is now a valuable recreational resource for the county.

Many readers, of course, know this local history. These stories, however, are connected to our larger state and national history. This makes the area’s heritage tourism extremely important and compelling to the traveling public.

In looking at these sites — again, just following U.S. 150 — one should be amazed at the breadth and depth of this history. It is this heritage, these stories that interpret struggles and showcase boldness, that drive visitors to experience and love our community.

As we recognize the growth of local tourism, let us be bold in proclaiming the importance of history to Danville and Boyle County’s economic engine. That is the key to being Historically Bold.

Stuart W. Sanders is the Kentucky Historical Society’s history advocate and a Danville resident.