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Kentucky by Heart: Return to Harrodsburg brings back childhood memories of visit to Ft. Harrod

By Steve Flairty
KyForward Columnist

Last week, I spoke at the Mercer County Public Library in Harrodsburg about my Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes book series. In my talks, I always like to add some “local color” to the opening remarks for my audience.

It didn’t take much thought to come up with some personal observations drawn from my past to use for the Harrodsburg audience.

Mercer County Library art piece made mostly from tools from local barns (Photo provided)

As a student in the fifth grade at Grant’s Lick Elementary School, I recall an all-day class field trip we took to Ft. Harrod, right smack in downtown Harrodsburg. It was a two-hour trip one-way. The year was 1965, and I still remember sitting on a crowded bus in the Ft. Harrod parking lot. Someone had brought a transistor radio and I recall hearing Sonny and Cher’s massive hit that year, “I Got You Babe.” That song “had” me then, and it still does.

There are a couple of other remembrances about that day 55 years ago. One is of the distinct smell of old wood in the cabins and buildings of the fort. When I’ve visited Ft. Harrod in more recent times, the smell of old wood came back to me. Yes, our olfactory systems are programmed for great memories. On another of those recent trips, I served as a sub teacher for a field trip to Ft. Harrod with a class from Jessamine County Schools. It’s clear in my memory because on that day the sky wasn’t clear. There was a rainstorm and our two school buses were held up on the winding U.S. 68 Highway for about an hour after a large tree fell across the road. We (staff and about 75 kids) survived the discomfort, but the hour was spent suffering through some oppressive heat and humidity. We finally arrived at our destination, and though a slight rain drizzle continued, the tour of the fort proved fun and productive.

Ft. Harrod (Photo from Kentucky State Parks)

I’m enamored by a huge and unusual looking tree at the fort, the osage-orange. It’s a large, vine-like tree partially laying along the ground, thought to be possibly a couple of hundred years old, and not a native to Kentucky. Jud Smith, of the Trees in History series, calls the one at Ft. Harrod the “unofficial champion for the species,” noting that one in Virginia holds the official title, but is smaller and doesn’t have the split trunk as the one at Harrodsburg.

Harrodsburg has another special place in my “Kentucky by Heart” sensibilities. In the early 2000s, I was a columnist for a monthly news periodical called The Christian Voice. I shudder to think about how mediocre my writing was at the time, as I was just breaking into doing published pieces. The periodical didn’t continue for very long, but it helped give me valuable experience in putting together an opinion column, and I’m grateful..

A replica of an orange osage tree at Mercer County Library (Photo provided)

The townspeople can rightfully take pride in several “firsts” credited to Harrodsburg, according to a fact sheet presented by harrodsburgky.com. Here are just a few of the ones mentioned:

• Harrodsburg is the oldest permanent English settlement west of the Allegheny Mts.

• Bright Leaf Gold resort was the first all-inclusive golf resort in Kentucky.

• The first Supreme Court for the District of Kentucky met here in 1783.

• Harrodsburg was the site for Kentucky’s first religious service, school, practicing physician’s office, harvested corn and wheat, handmade plow, loom and woven material.

Getting back to last Thursday’s speaking engagement at the library, it will go down as a memorable book event for me. It started with the leader of a local writing group taking me to dinner at The Fudge Company, an eatery across from the town’s courthouse. Tony Sexton, head of Nomadic Ink, talked with me about the group and its humble beginnings back in 2006. Though not a large group, it’s staying power is admirable and they are now starting a similar group for young people around Harrodsburg.

Tony Sexton (Photo provided)

Nomadic Ink sponsored my event. On a night when the forecast was for snow, the crowd was small but very engaged as I talked about how I got into published writing and shared several stories from the Heroes series. Both before and afterward, I talked with those in the audience. I sold seven books, too. One of the guests who came was a happy surprise: Wendy Mayo, a former fourth-grade student of mine nearly three decades ago. All told, it was a fun, “fellowshipping” experience and all seemed to connect with the local color items I mentioned.

The Mercer County Public Library staff went out of their way to be hospitable. And let me give you a few words to describe their building: big and visually attractive… totally impressive! There is a nice nook on one end that has a fireplace and a definite living room feel. In the children’s area, a cutesy replication of the local osage orange tree provides an inviting reading place. The big feature, in my opinion, is a grate-like art piece adjoining one side of the main desk that is made from barn tools mostly from the local area. I’ve been to scores of libraries across the state and this particular statement of local heritage and artistic creativity placed together is in the top echelon.

Plans are already being made to do a one-year celebration of Harrodsburg’s 250th anniversary in the year 2024. The community sure has a lot for which to be proud, and I plan to make the trip and celebrate with them.

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Steve Flairty is a teacher, public speaker and an author of six books: a biography of Kentucky Afield host Tim Farmer and five in the Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes series, including a kids’ version. Steve’s “Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes #4,” was released in 2015. Steve is a senior correspondent for Kentucky Monthly, a weekly KyForward and NKyTribune columnist and a member of the Kentucky Humanities Council Speakers Bureau. Contact him at sflairty2001@yahoo.com or visit his Facebook page, “Kentucky in Common: Word Sketches in Tribute.” (Steve’s photo by Connie McDonald)

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