Recently, a friend inquired, as I was prattling on about Kentucky, if any of our towns had original names (this friend being English and laying claim to those names which originated across the pond – you know who you are). I paused, a tart retort pleading to be released, but as my brain frantically scanned the locations around me – Paris, Versailles, Athens – (even my own hometown was named for Stirling, Scotland!), I instead bit my tongue. The Commonwealth teems with interesting place names (Robert Rennick’s Kentucky Place Names work is invaluable and fascinating), and in south-central Kentucky, the county seat of Barren County, is a wonderful town by the name of Glasgow.
Barren County, organized in 1798 by the Kentucky legislature (the 37th county formed), might have been named for the meadowlands – “the barrens” – in the northern part of the county, but the county seat (chosen for its central location and a large spring), was named for the town of the same name in Scotland. The first courthouse in the town was completed in 1800, the post office established in 1803, and the town officially recognized by the state in 1809. Glasgow celebrates its Scottish links with the Glasgow Highland Games, held every year since 1986 and coming up later this month.
Work has taken me to and through Glasgow numerous times in the past few years, and the downtown square is one of my favorite spots. (I am the bane of traffic engineers, as I eschew the bypass and head for the main clogged arteries – there is just so much more to see!) Glasgow has a “Shelbyville” type of courthouse square (named for the square in Shelbyville, Tennessee), which is a grid of nine square blocks, with the center square reserved by the courthouse. As Glasgow grew, the combination of dwellings and commercial buildings clustered around the courthouse square changed to a purely commercial district. The Glasgow Square is one of the best example of this configuration in Kentucky, and could compete with other Shelbyville type squares across the country.
The Third National Bank Building, circa 1903, is located at the intersection of Green and Main Streets, and the building takes full advantage of the corner site. The two-story brick building has an angled corner entrance, with a tin shingled turret beginning on the second story, and lovely late-Italianate details like corbelled brackets at the top of the second floor, and a fabulous bracketed cornice.
The Plaza Theater, built in the Spanish Revival style in 1934, is certainly one of the most iconic buildings in downtown Glasgow. I love a classic movie theater, and this has it all! An exotic architectural style, an octagonal Art Deco ticket booth, tile work, the marque, and of course – that fabulous neon sign.
There are many more distinctive and important buildings in downtown Glasgow than these, of course – but the flavor of the square is a compact, highly intact commercial district representative of the growth and development of Glasgow from around 1869 to World War II. My memories of Glasgow, Scotland, date from college and are thus a bit hazy (I didn’t get a whole lot of sleep on that particular jaunt), but I think it is irrefutable that the Kentucky version has its own personality, charm, and unique sense of place.