Versailles, Kentucky

US-62, one of America’s Scenic Byways, runs between Midway and Versailles, Kentucky. With just eight miles between the two towns, you can and should visit both in one day. Make sure to enjoy all the beautiful horse farms along those eight miles! That’s exactly what I did on the day of my visit.

US-62 / Personal Photo

Its Beginnings

Pioneers and surveyors were in this area of Kentucky as early as 1774 when it still belonged to the state of Virginia. The area was once known as Falling Springs, for the large cave spring that runs directly under it from north to south. The spring was a wonderful natural resource, providing plenty of water for settlers.

In 1788, the Virginia Legislature established Woodford County, the last county to be established by them. It was named for William Woodford, an American Revolutionary War general who died after being captured by the British.

“The need for more counties had a pragmatic value in the early days of the commonwealth. People lived in isolated communities or on farms far removed from the county seats. With the huge counties of early settlement days, convenience to the seat of county government meant an arduous, and often dangerous journey that could take days. By splitting the counties into ever-smaller entities would alleviate these travel difficulties.”

Kentucky Secretary of State

County Seat

Versailles was named the county seat of Woodford when it was established in 1788. The first court met in 1789 at the home of Judge Caleb Wallace, a Presbyterian Minister from Virginia, who later served on the Kentucky Supreme Court and on the Kentucky Court of Appeals.

The court also met in two churches and in Shannon’s Meeting House until the first courthouse was built of buckeye logs by Jesse Graddy in 1790 at a cost of $22.50.

Woodford County Courthouse / Personal Photo

The second courthouse was a stone structure built by James Thompkins and Henry Thompkins in 1793 to 1794. The third courthouse was a brick structure designed by Phelix L Lundin and built by Matthew Jett in 1812 to 1813 had a cupola and the clock added by 1846. The courthouse burned in 1965. The fourth and present courthouse was constructed in 1968 to 1970 at a cost of $1,100,000. The County Courthouse Annex was constructed in 1997 to 1998.

An Established Town

The town of Versailles was officially founded on June 23, 1792, (just 22 days after Kentucky established statehood) by General Marquis Calmes, Col. Richard Young, John Lee, Case Johnson and John Watkins on 80 acres of land owned by Hezekiah Briscoe, who was just an infant at the time. His Huguenot guardian, General Marquis Calmes, chose the name Versailles to honor Marquis de Lafayette. Lafayette was a family friend of Calmes, and of course, a Revolutionary War hero.

The creation of the town was an act of the legislature, and a group of trustees was established including: John Watkins, Richard Young, Case Johnson, Marquis Calmes, Richard Fox, John Cooke, and Parmenas Briscoe. (Many of these original settlers were Huguenots who had fled from France and fought for their freedoms during the American Revolution and the War of 1812.) The trustees were to “lay out the streets, dispose of the lots, execute deeds, adopt rules and regulations, etc.” (Collins, Lewis; History of Kentucky). Richard Young and John Watkins were assigned the task of selling the lots, collecting the money, and paying the money with interest to Hezekiah Briscoe when he came of age.

Growth and History

We know that Kentucky’s limestone bedrock creates great water, bluegrass, and soil. All of these are found in the heart of the Bluegrass Region, exactly where Woodford County was established. With that, Versailles saw growth for numerous reasons; the arrival of the railroad, thoroughbred horses, farmland, bourbon distilleries, and being the county seat.

Bourbon Distilleries

Thoroughbred Horses

Versailles and the Civil War

Just as with Midway, Versailles found itself in the middle of the Civil War. At various times, Versailles was occupied by both Union and Confederate troops. Union troops were mostly African American, which severely upset the townspeople for Versailles was largely Confederate supporters. In addition, Versailles was the focus of one of John Hunt Morgan’s raids stealing 300 horses and mules.

MORGAN’S FIRST RAID / Photo Credit:: Brian K Hall

My Visit

From Midway, I traveled eight quick miles to the center of the Versailles Historic District. My first observation was its size. Versailles is definitely larger that Midway, as would be expected for the county seat. Even with its multiple blocks of historic buildings, the district is still quaint and incredibly beautiful. I arrived just as shops and boutiques were opening. I parked, walked the blocks that included churches, shops, the courthouse, the library, and more, snapping photos at every turn. The fall weather was perfect for the outing! I stopped in at an adorable coffee shop and grabbed a hot chocolate. (A little about me… I’m not a coffee drinker.)

From the coffee shop, I wandered into shops and purchased a few gifts. I wandered into the pharmacy on the street corner. It held a lunch counter too, with the cute swivel stools! I wondered to myself, could Versailles get more iconic? What do you think? Check out the pictures below!

Almost Headed Home

I finished wandering the historic district and headed back to my car, noticing I was running out of time and needed to return home for appointments. As I headed out of town, I noticed the Versailles water tower at the edge of the railroad tracks.

I pulled into the parking lot of the train depot and realized it held a restaurant! Recalling our trip to Trackside Restaurant in Paris, I told myself that I would return for lunch one day soon, with my daughter and mom, when I had plenty of time to enjoy it.

I stepped out of the car to snap a few photos of the scenery, including the water tower, and jumped right back in the car heading back down US-62 toward Midway.

This sounds like the end of my day, right? Nope!!! As I arrived on the edge of Midway, a historic building on the side of the road caught my eye. Of course, I had to stop! I mean, I’d only be a few minutes late to my appointments!

Want to know about this historic building? Stay tuned for my next post. I’ll tell you all about it then!

In the meantime, get out and see Versailles, Kentucky! You won’t regret it.

Happy Travels!

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