Kentucky’s 225th birthday bash set for Thursday

Published 8:06 am Wednesday, May 31, 2017

As bands and festival-goers begin arriving in town for the Brass Band Festival on June 1, Danville will already be at the center of Kentucky’s attention. That’s for a very good reason: The state turns 225 years old on the same day that the Brass Band Festival kicks off, and Boyle County’s own Constitution Square Park is where it all started.

“We were ‘historically bold’ and we continue to be,” said Jennifer Kirchner, the Convention and Visitors Bureau director who is helping to organize a birthday party event at the park.

The party is the state’s official “kick off” for a year of celebrations, and is expected to attract prestigious guests, as well as a bunch of Brass Band folks.

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Kentucky Commissioner of Travel Kristen Branscum, Danville Mayor Mike Perros and Boyle County Judge-Executive Harold McKinney will be among the officials attending.

The park will be “alive and festive all day” on June 1, Kirchner said, with re-enactors portraying people from 225 years ago beginning to wander the park at 10 a.m.

The party itself will begin at 11 a.m. and last about an hour. Doc Shiba’s Old-Time String Band will kick things off with a little appropriate music. The Friends of Fort Harrod will perform a rifle salute and Lydia Graham will sing “My Old Kentucky Home.” 

The Rev. Jim Stewart will participate in the event, because the Danville Presbyterian Church had members who were delegates participating in the formation of Kentucky’s Constitution, Kirchner said.

Next will come a toast to Kentucky, which will involve elected officials, and finally everyone will sing “Happy Birthday” to Kentucky.

Danville’s Wilderness Trail Distillery will be involved in the toast and “Happy Birthday” song, because of a unique tie the distillery has, not just to Kentucky’s bourbon history, but also the song “Happy Birthday.”

“The Happy Birthday song was written by the great nieces of Willis Grimes, who built the (historic) house where the distillery’s visitor’s center is located,” Kirchner said. “Surprise! … That’s an interesting tidbit pertaining to Danville history. So we figured since they’ve got the distillery now and there was a toast, and there’s a connection to the Happy Birthday song, so we’re going to have the distillery involved to kind of kick us off on those two things.” 

The party is planned to continue on after the formal festivities.

Re-enactors will be in the park, “depicting history from the late 1700s, early 1800s,” she said.

All the buildings at the park will be open for people to look at, and the new African-American Business District historical interpretation exhibit will be unveiled at Grayson’s Tavern in the downstairs area.

“The whole downstairs will be an interpretation of that time period,” when Second Street in Danville was a vibrant African-American community in the mid-20th century, Kirchner said.

“And then there’s a timeline of all the history from 1792 through today,” Kirchner said. “So while it focuses on the African-American history, it also incorporates the whole history of Danville.”

The celebration is also extending out beyond the park.

“The McDowell House will be open for tours that day,” Kirchner said. “Samuel McDowell was really the main person in writing the Constitution and in leading the state of Kentucky away from Virginia. And of course, his son is Ephraim McDowell, so we’re going to celebrate Samuel to Ephraim and all the McDowell history that we have here.”

Many downtown businesses will be participating in the party as well, providing window displays, featured menu items, possible discounts and more for visitors who come for the party and stay after to enjoy Danville’s Main Street area. Kirchner said the Heart of Danville is heading up that effort and more info on the business promotions will be available for attendees at the party.

Kirchner said the whole day makes for a great way to celebrate local history and enjoy yourself downtown.

“Not only is our history interesting and valuable, but you can still experience it in interesting ways today,” she said. “So you can come to the park and there will be re-enactors demonstrating what it was like in 1792, but we also want you to go and enjoy downtown and have a great meal. So we’re really blending the history with the present to celebrate the community from 1792 all the way through to today.”