When it comes to keeping history alive, few states can match Kentucky.
The Kentucky Historical Society, for example, will celebrate its 180th birthday in 2016, the same year our country will mark the 50th anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act. That legislation kicked off the modern era of protecting and promoting the hundreds of thousands of artifacts and sites that, collectively, tell the story of who we are.
Since that law's passage, Kentucky has added more than 42,000 historic features, putting us fourth among the states. Leading that list are more than two dozen National Historic Landmarks, which range from such well-known locations as Shakertown and the Old State Capitol to Fort Boonesborough and Churchill Downs.
We also have an extensive network of archaeological sites that take an even broader look at our past. Nearly 12,000 were documented by the mid-1980s, but that number approached 24,000 by 2005, according to the Kentucky Heritage Council. The Red River Gorge area in Eastern Kentucky is especially prominent, since it is considered one of the original hotspots in North and South America where pre-historic settlers first began cultivating the land for food.
Each fall, Kentucky takes time to highlight various aspects of our history under a series of gubernatorial proclamations. September is set aside to promote archeology; October digs deep into the nearly 300 historical archives we have across the state; and November is known as American Indian Heritage Month.
The Kentucky Native American Heritage Commission, which is helping to coordinate this month's events, is one of several prominent organizations created to keep a permanent eye on our history.
Beyond those already mentioned, there is also the Kentucky African American Heritage Commission and one of its advisors, the Underground Railroad Advisory Council; the Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives; the Kentucky Military Heritage Commission; and the Kentucky Main Street Program, which was the first of its kind among the states.
This past summer, Kentucky Main Street announced that 22 of our downtowns have now achieved national accreditation, a prestigious designation that re-affirms our commitment to keeping the core of our communities alive. Last year alone, according to the program, 364 downtown buildings — nearly one a day — were rehabilitated across the state.
There has been a renewed effort in recent years to make it even easier for the public to access our history. The Civil War Heritage Trail is a good example, since it links locations that played a role in determining the war's outcome. One of those is Laurel County's Battle of Camp Wildcat, which may be relatively small and little-known but is believed by many to be the Union Army's first victory of the war.
In September, the Kentucky Historical Society (KHS) announced it had received a nearly $150,000 grant to help pay for a complete inventory of its museum collections and to put all of that information online. This will take several years to finish, but it's estimated this could total as many as 150,000 pieces.
This will build on KHS's already strong digital presence. Beyond its website, it also offers an ExploreKYHistory smartphone app that gives users what it calls "behind-the-historical-marker" information and photos grouped by theme into virtual "tours" from the more than 2,000 markers across the state. Since August, it has added 13 new tours.
In today's technological age, it should be no surprise that the state is collecting its own early steps in the online world. For those curious about how much our government's websites have changed, including the governor's and the General Assembly's, the Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives lets you peer back as far as the late 1990s.
Kentuckians have a lot of which to be proud when it comes to historical preservation, and those who have taken on this task deserve to be commended. Because of them, an irreplaceable part of our past will never be forgotten.
For those who may have questions or comments about this issue, please don't hesitate to write to me. My address is Room 329F, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort KY 40601; or you can email me at Wilson.Stone@lrc.ky.gov.
To leave a message for me or for any legislator, call toll-free at 800-372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305.
I hope to hear from you soon.