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Ten miles north of Lexington sits Georgetown, Kentucky. Affectionately referred to as “G-town,” this home rule-class city is the seat of Scott County and, with a population of more than 32,300, it’s also the 7th most populous city in the Bluegrass state. This area boasts part of renowned waterway Elkhorn Creek, one of the natural resources that has made this a well-populated part of the state for more than 15,000 years. The lush banks are thought to have been popular spots for hunting and fishing (and its reputation as one of the best smallmouth streams continues to this day).
The presence of several significant Adena mounds suggests Adena culture thrived in this area from around 800 B.C. to 800 A.D. European settlement in the region can be traced as far back as 1775 and, in 1792, Scott County became one of the first two counties created by the Kentucky Legislature. Named after Revolutionary War hero and governor General Charles Scott, the county features a total area of 285 square miles.
Originally named Lebanon when the Rev. Elijah Craig brought his congregation to the site, the city of Georgetown was renamed in 1790 in honor of President George Washington. Although the preacher’s moniker didn’t last, he did establish a school that was absorbed by Georgetown College’s predecessor. He also was responsible for founding a distillery that produced the state’s first bourbon whiskey. Rev. Craig used a local spring, which is still visible at Royal Spring Park on West Main Street, to help produce his new concoction back in 1789. The park itself features an authentic 1874 log cabin for anyone who wants to take a step back in time. The structure is a small museum, touting fascinating tidbits of local history and is free to the public.
In fact, the log cabin was built by a former slave. While Scott County’s political leanings during the Civil War were aligned with the South, Kentucky’s official stance was neutral. This confused atmosphere along with new opportunities lead many African-Americans to migrate west after the war. However, life on the Great Plains wasn’t easy and many returned to the area, forming communities such as Zion Hill, Watkinsville, and New Zion. In fact, New Zion cemetery is home to the remains of many locals who joined the first all-African American military units that were formed during times of peace.
Much history is well preserved in Kentucky and it’s here in Georgetown that many of these treasures are easily accessed. Head to Ward Hall to browse relics of the city’s past and tour a homestead once considered for the state capitol. Learn about the Cardome Centre and its 200-year prominence in helping shape the area’s historical, cultural, and social development. From the Latin for “dear home,” Cardome offers a unique experience, stunning architecture, and a place to get some peace and quiet. Time has been kind to Cardome, which is one reason why so many people book the area for community events. About 7 miles west of downtown Georgetown, you’ll find St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church. It is the oldest church in the Covington Diocese. Built in 1794 (then rebuilt in 1820), there is an associated cemetery located across the street.
Cardome, Elkhorn Creek, Royal Spring, and Ward Hall are four locations known lovingly around town as the Scott County GEMS. Formed with the intent to help draw attention to the rich cultural and historical significance of Scott County, the GEMS hope to share a rich legacy with tourists and residents alike. The Leadership Scott County Class of 2004 – 2005 created the project to showcase the county’s unique attractions for future generations. The remaining GEMS are Buffalo Springs, Giddings Hall, Georgetown Courthouse, Rock Fences, Sadieville Depot, and Weisenberger Mill. Located on Hamilton Street, the courthouse offers many services such as marriage licenses, property taxes, and motor vehicle issues. All bankruptcy issues are dealt with at the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky at 100 East Vine Street in Lexington.
In more recent history, Georgetown became Toyota Motor Manufacturing’s first wholly-owned manufacturing facility in the United States. In 1988, Toyota officially began building their signature vehicles there, and today, it’s the largest Toyota plant outside of Japan. Approximately 2,000 vehicles are built each day, and the plant opens up to tours regularly so visitors can see the process from stamping to final inspection. Covering more than 200 acres, the plant is also the largest in the U.S. in terms of acres under one building.
With Toyota coming to the Bluegrass state, it was decided that a sister city partnership would be a good way to showcase Japanese culture and possibly foster the opportunity for an increase in appreciation and understanding. Georgetown and Tahara, Japan, have been sister cities since 1990. This partnership inspired the creation of Georgetown’s Yuko-En Japanese Friendship Garden and the Annual Kite and Cultural Festival.