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Hunting for History in Frankfort Written by Julia Koslowsky

History is hidden around every corner of Frankfort, Kentucky. From museums to government buildings to historic homes, every nook and cranny has a story (and probably a tour) that will keep you busy and interested in the origins and culture of the city. One of the best ways to spend a few days in Frankfort is to embark on an exciting history scavenger hunt to immerse yourself in Kentucky’s rich heritage while diving into Frankfort’s storied past. Discover war history, unique tours, interactive exhibits, and more. Check our favorite spots off your list, and get ready to explore all Frankfort has to offer.

MUSEUMS

Frankfort is home to many exciting museums that detail the city’s growth and past. The Capital City Museum is located in the heart of the downtown area and showcases over two hundred years of history, politics, architecture, and life in Frankfort. Walk through the themed rooms — one is devoted to fishing, another to a local gubernatorial assassination — and discover facts about the city you can only learn in Frankfort on a self-guided tour.

By purchasing one ticket at any of the three following museums, you gain access to the Kentucky Military History Museum, the Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History, and the Old State Capitol. All three are part of the Kentucky Historical Society and display different aspects of Frankfort’s and Kentucky’s histories. The Kentucky Military History Museum, housed in the Old State Arsenal, sheds light on the state’s war history, including the Civil War and the War of 1812. Take a guided tour of the arsenal to explore its specific role in Frankfort’s history as well as its collection of military artifacts. 

The Thomas D. Clark Center leads you through the Kentucky Hall of Governors, from the very first to the current governor, as well as through Kentucky over thousands of years into the modern day. Dive into Kentucky’s past through interactive exhibits and multimedia presentations. Learn about the state’s early settlements, its role in the frontier era, and its contributions to the nation’s growth in its freeform and open floor plan. 

The Old State Capitol served as Kentucky’s seat of government from 1830–1910. Its Greek Revival-style architecture is as beautiful outside as it is inside. Take a short, guided tour through the rooms where the Kentucky legislature used to meet or walk through the building yourself. See if you can spot the site of the nation’s only gubernatorial assassination outside the front of the building!

GOVERNMENT

A tour of Frankfort’s history isn’t complete without visiting the Kentucky State Capitol. Located in the middle of a residential area, the neoclassical State Capitol towers majestically over a beautiful brick promenade. Inside, the halls are filled with tributes to important figures in Kentucky’s history, including textile exhibits, statues of people like Abraham Lincoln, and a hall of watercolors to celebrate women of Kentucky. If the legislatures are in session, you can witness democracy in action by joining the public seats in the ornate and stately legislative rooms. 

The Governor’s Mansion — modeled after Marie Antoinette’s summer home, Petit Trianon — is located across the street from the State Capitol and has been home to over twenty-five Kentucky governors, including the current governor. While not currently open for tours, the mansion can still be admired from afar.

DOWNTOWN

While you’re near the downtown area, stop by the Frankfort Cemetery to look for some famous Kentucky names, the most famous of which is Daniel Boone. Boone helped blaze a trail through the Appalachian Mountains into Kentucky that became known as the Cumberland Gap. The first to be laid to rest in the cemetery, Boone and his wife Rebecca were moved from their original resting place in Missouri to Frankfort in 1845. Their monument overlooks downtown Frankfort, the State Capitol, and the winding Kentucky River. It is one of the best views in the entire city. Some folks in Missouri believe that Daniel Boone is still buried in their state, leading to some good old-fashioned rivalry for this frontier hero’s resting place.

The Grand Theatre in downtown Frankfort was built originally as a vaudeville house in 1911 and soon became a fully operational theater that showed silent movies and, later, “talkies.” The theater closed in 1966 and reopened in 2009 as a performing and visual arts theater.

TOURS

Several tours are available to lead you through a list of historic homes and sites important to the city. If you’re a fan of bourbon, you may have heard of Colonel E.H. Taylor, Jr., one of Kentucky bourbon’s founding fathers and an important figure at Buffalo Trace Distillery. On the Bourbon & History Walking Tour, a real-life Colonel Taylor (portrayed by local historian Russ Kennedy) is ready to walk you around downtown and through important buildings in Taylor’s life and in the life of Frankfort as a whole. Some of the homes you’ll pass include the Orlando Brown House, Liberty Hall, and The Elizabeth — a former Catholic church turned event venue.

If you prefer a self-guided option to visit the historical landmarks of downtown, grab a map at the Frankfort Visitor’s Center and follow your own path through the streets. For a sweeter take on local history, stop by Rebecca Ruth Candy to take a tour, visit their museum, and eat a bourbon ball or two!

With so much exciting and interactive history in one place, you’ll find that this scavenger hunt never ends! Next time you’re in Frankfort for a few days, take a break from the distillery tours to dive in and experience Frankfort. You’ll leave with a deeper appreciation for the city’s role in Kentucky’s rich history throughout the centuries.