Augusta, KY

Augusta, KY Mural, Historic Downtown / Personal Photo

Augusta, KY. Where to start?!? As stated in my previous Rosemary Clooney post, we traveled to August for Rosemary, but what we found was a quaint, beautiful, little riverside town worthy of its own post.

As we entered into the historic district, we found the quaint strip of shops that is iconic of small town Kentucky. We were starving, so we stopped in to the first restaurant we saw. It had previously been an Irish Pub, but we later learned it was under new management. I wouldn’t recommend the restaurant myself, but I could see how in the evenings it could be a cool hangout spot, with its back room filled with pool tables and dart boards.

Iconic Historic District, Augusta, KY / Personal Photo

After lunch, we consulted our Google Maps, learned that the Clooney Home was just around the corner, and decided to walk to Rosemary’s home. We found her home easily, as it overlooks the Ohio River. We spent a minute or two sitting and watching the river go by. The “vibe” as my daughter would say, was that of relaxation and we could have sat all day.

After our tour of the Rosemary Clooney Home, we decided to stop in at the visitor’s center, which sat on the corner of Main Street and Riverside Drive. We were attracted to the visitor’s center because it’s in a train caboose. If you visit Augusta, you absolutely MUST stop by and visit with Ms. Dorothy! She is a true asset to the community!

Augusta, KY Visitors Center / Photo Credit: Augusta, KY Facebook Page

At the visitor’s center, Ms. Dorothy filled us in on all the history of the town, from the Native American burial grounds to the Underground Railroad, and more. We finally left the center and walked along the river front street to appreciate the architecture and history of the town.

Let’s Start at the Beginning

As is the case with many Revolutionary War soldiers, Captain Philip Buckner was awarded a land grant in Kentucky County from the State of Virginia for his services during the war. When Captain Buckner arrived on his land the 2nd time, he brought 40 families with him to begin a town. Upon arrival, Buckner set up a board of trustees, deeded his 600 acres to that board to create the town he called Augusta. (It is believed he named it after his home in Virginia.) Finally, in 1797, the Kentucky Legislature issued the town its official charter.

AUGUSTA SIGN / Personal Photo

Indian Burial Grounds

One of the early inhabitants of August was a man named John Payne (later he became a general). John Payne was working on building his new home in 1792, when he unearthed skeletal remains.

The bottom on which Augusta is situated, is a large burying ground of the ancients. A post hole cannot be dug without turning up human bones. They have been found in great numbers, and of all sizes, every where between the mouths of Bracken and Locust creeks, a distance of about a mile and a half from the cellar under my dwelling, sixty by seventy feet, one hundred and ten skeletons were taken. I numbered them by the skulls; and there might have been many more, whose skulls had crumbled into dust. My garden was a cemetery; it is full of bones and the richest ground I ever saw. The skeletons were of all sizes, from seven feet to the infant…Who were they? How came their bones there? Among the Indians there is no tradition that any town was located near here, or that any battle was ever fought near here. When I was in the army, I inquired of old Crane, a Wyandott, and of Anderson, a Delaware, both intelligent old chiefs, (the former died at camp Seneca in 1813) and they could give no information in reference to these remains of antiquity. They knew the localities at the mouths of Locust, Turtle and Bracken creeks, but they knew nothing of any town or village near there. In my garden, Indian arrow heads of flint have been found, and an earthen ware of clay…Some of the largest trees of the forest were growing over these remains when the land was cleared in 1792.

Historical Sketches of Kentucky by Lewis Collins (1847), Payne provided the account” – AUGUSTAKY.COM

Many more remains have since been found and various archeological digs have occurred throughout the years confirming that Augusta was built on an ancient Native American burial ground.

General John Payne’s Home

General John Payne’s home holds more historical significance than just having been built on burial grounds. His home, which still stands today on the corner of West Riverside Drive and Ferry Street, was also later part of the Underground Railroad. This home, along with White Hall (found at 212 Elizabeth Street), were used to house runaway slaves prior to the Civil War. The Ohio River separated the free north from the enslaved south. Runaway slaves were hidden in this home before crossing the river to freedom in Ohio.

While Kentucky was a slave state, Augusta had a large population of anti-slavery sympathizers. So, while runaway slaves were helped at the two mentioned homes, if a slave was captured they were held in Augusta’s jail until they could be returned to their “rightful owner.” (NOTE: Both homes are personally owned and cannot be toured.)

Augusta’s 1811 Jail

Augusta’s jail is the oldest jail in the state with its original foundation. Built in 1811, it held prisoners until 1978. The prisoner’s quarters on the first floor have been restored, and can be toured. You will be able to see the “original cells, artifacts, and 3 foot wide solid rock walls that extend 4 foot into the ground,” as you tour the dungeon and debtor’s portions of the jail. The second floor is under restoration and currently cannot be toured, this floor included the jailer’s living quarters. The day we visited, the jail was not open. I did stop by for pictures of course! With research for this piece, I learned that you must call the KY Tourism Department for an appointment. (606-756-2183)

Architecture & History Galore

As we continued our exploration of this cute little town, we walked the strip of rowhouses found along Riverside Dr.

On the corner of Main Street and Riverside Drive (across the street from the Caboose Visitor’s Center) is a restaurant called The Beehive. I truly wish we had known about this restaurant when we arrived, because we would have eaten there!

The Beehive Restaurant, Augusta KY / Personal Photo

This restaurant receives rave reviews and it has history to spare! Constructed in 1796, this building with its eye-catching architecture, has been a private residence, a general store, a pharmacy, and a ferry boat office. During the Civil War, it was set on fire, and during the Great Depression, it fell into disrepair. Luckily, the building (and its history) was saved in 1985 becoming The Beehive Augusta Tavern.

Next along the street, we came to a cute little shop housed in one of the rowhouses featuring home decor, clothing, and accessories. Totally worth a look if you go, unfortunately, I don’t remember the name.

The remainder of rowhouses looked to be personal residences or some form of Air B&B rentals, but the architecture is to be appreciated and worth the leisurely stroll, not to mention that it runs along the river! Picturesque is the perfect word to describe this strip of town. Take a look at some of what we saw, you just might agree!

Final Stop – The General Store

As we walked back to the car, we made one last stop into Augusta General Store & Gift Shop on Main Street. Here, we ordered a cold soda and hand-dipped ice cream. (They do serve food too!) With the soda-fountain-like bar, wooden floors, and big picture windows, I felt like we had stepped back in time to Walnut Grove in Little House on the Prairie! I could totally envision the Olsen’s running the store.

It was a fantastic way to wrap up the day, and our visit to this cute little town of Augusta!

I do hope that if you are ever out in Bracken County, you take the time to stop and enjoy all the history this town has to offer! Don’t forget to stop by and see Ms. Dorothy, you won’t regret it!

Until next time, Happy Travels!

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