Just south of Lexington with the breathtaking backdrop of Bluegrass sits the small town of Lancaster, Kentucky. With just under 3,500 hanging their hats in the community, it is the county seat for Gerrard County. It is also said to be the inspirational setting for Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
What the town lacks in size, it makes up for in spirit. The Garrard County High School football team is one of the main small town attractions. They are known as the “Golden Lions”.
The known history of Lancaster dates back to 1797 when Captain William Buford gave his land to establish a town surrounding the site where Major Andrew Wallace had his settlement which was Wallace Crossroads. The surveyor’s name was Joseph Bledsoe Jr. so the town elected to adopt the name “Lancaster”, either from his hometown in Pennsylvania or perhaps because the town was actually designed similar to Lancaster.
In 1801, a post office was erected and established. It was called the “Lancaster Court House” up until 1811. The town was incorporated and in 1837 and was officially named Lancaster.
The Lancaster Grand Theatre was established in 1925. It is a bed and breakfast along with a theater. The two can be experienced together or separately. The music features Bluegrass mostly. The breakfast at the hotels is Southern, of course. Visitors come year round from near and far to get a taste of the food and music.
The Garrard County Historical Museum is a wonderful place to explore the past. The rich history is represented in relics from the past. Educational information is available as well.
The Nature Conservatory is a big deal in the town. The mission is to save the area from the destruction of man and the woes of the environment. Efforts are actually worldwide. Visitors can hike the trails and explore and can learn at the Conservatory as well.
Horses hold a large spot in the hearts of Lancaster folks. Heart and hooves come together for the local organization, “Hooves of Hope”. Individuals, especially youngsters, with a variety of diverse special needs can learn life coping skills through the horses who always seem happy to help. From physical conditions like Cerebral Palsy to teens troubled by depression or drugs, the organization reaches out to all.
Offering horseback riding and trails, the Always Dreaming Stables is lots of fun for any horse lover. They specialize is gaited horses who are suitable as trail and show companions for family pleasure. There are plenty of local trails to explore, a nearby campground and even mountains and water holes.
The Historical Society of Lancaster is proof of how seriously the town takes its heritage. In a town where even the public library dates back to 1810, the individuals in the group have many pieces of history and many historical buildings to relish.
One of the best things to do in Lancaster is to visit the Pleasant Retreat. It is the historic home of the sixteenth governor of Kentucky, William Owsley. The house is on a gorgeous property sporting a slight hill. Tours can be taken through the house and guests can stroll around on the grounds. The three-story house is built in true federal-style that dates back to the early 1800’s.
Lancaster is about three miles from the Dix River which is a tributary to the Kentucky River. The river begins at Rockcastle County and goes west of Mount Vernon. Then it meanders through the north of Standford to the east of Danville where it hits the Dix Dam.
Visitors and locals both enjoy the water for swimming, boating, floating and for fishing. It is beloved for its fly fishing. Canoes can be taken down the river as well as kayas. There are same day trips that are available. The water levels are Class 1 but can be mile Class 2 as well. The water is the perfect place to cool down in the hot, humid summer.
Agriculture is, and always has been, very important in the town of Lancaster. Crops of a large variety of kinds grow well in the fertile soil. Tourism farms can be found sprinkled throughout the area, offering visitors the chance to experience the land, purchase produce and artisan products and to join in the festivities such as hay rides and pumpkin picking.
Owsley lived in the home with his daughter, Amelia, and her husband until 1834. A U.S. Congressman named Simeon Anderson resided there after that. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. There are thirteen rooms to behold in the beautiful home and two stairways inside it as well. The conference room wallpaper was hand painted in the year 1818 in France.
The town supports K-12 public schools and the Lancaster Higher Education Center which is post-secondary education. The community is involved in actively planning what goes on with the town and everything else that concerns its citizens.
The Lancaster Chamber of Commerce also is very active in the community. They provide valuable resources and services such as the free seminars for training in various areas and sponsor town hall meetings with state government and local representatives. The Office of Economic Development is new to the town and is making great strides to attract new businesses to the community and to develop existing ones.
In 1800, there were only about one hundred people within Lancaster. Today it is a small town of 1.9 square miles (all land), with a quaint and friendly feel that also has opportunities afforded by the modern day. It is close to Richmond, Danville an Somerset so there is commuting to and from work.
The town is getting a facelift and the community members are rallying around to help and watch as the magic transforms. About fifty old and worn buildings are being restored or renovated. Lancaster will be showing off the changes in the near future.
For those who are looking to take a step back in time where the past comes alive, Lancaster is the perfect place to visit…or to lay roots down.