Earlier this year, on a hot, hazy September afternoon, I walked a few blocks in downtown Hardinsburg, on my “way back” to Lexington. Rarely do I follow the logical, linear route that provides the quickest way home – and though the majority of my travels are far from leisurely, I would rather sample just a sliver of a place than none at all. Breckinridge County, formed in 1799, has long been a favorite county of mine, but most of my explorations have been along the Ohio River or agriculturally-focused.
The county seat of Hardinsburg was new to me, and large gaps in the streetscape point to either the ravages of a natural disaster (fire? tornado?), or the purposeful demolition of portions of the Main Street business district. Only after I returned home did I discover the existence of the Breckinridge County Historical Society museum, which may have provided the answers to some of my questions. Hardinsburg, like many Kentucky towns, traces its roots to a station – in this case, the 1780 station formed by Revolutionary War veteran Captain William Hardin. The courthouse is a modern (1960) replacement of the two previous courthouses, and most of the buildings along Main Street date from the 20th century.
The 1916 Sanborn map shows a densely-built downtown Hardinsburg, with a combination dwelling/jail (a very common practice – the jailer and his family lived in the front portion, and the jail was in the back), a hotel, and numerous brick and frame buildings.
The Methodist Church, built 1903-1904 on the corner of Main and Second Streets is still extant. The Gothic Revival church has a three-story corner tower with a flared belfry at the top, underneath a stepped conical roof. The interior suffered a fire in 1933, but the walls were left standing.
One-story commercial buildings point to continued re-development along Main Street in the 1930s and 1940s.
It was common all across Kentucky for downtown buildings to modernize their facades to keep up with changing trends, styles, and also compete with new development on the outskirts of town, especially in the period after World War II. The brick commercial building below may well be the combination general store/post office/Masonic Lodge shown at 62-63 Main Street on the 1916 map.
Despite my purposeful detour from the larger roads, I knew I still had two hours left in the car, so my stop in Hardinsburg was all too brief. Historic residential neighborhoods appear to ring Main Street on all four sides, but I didn’t allow myself to wander any further off course. But now I know how to get there – and the museum is open on Saturdays…