Some small towns in Kentucky are smaller that others. With our many travels I’ve come to notice that the small towns that are the county seats tend to be larger than the rest. I’ve also noticed that these towns typically have that traditional “courthouse square” layout.
Cynthiana, KY breaks the mold on both of those typical characteristics.
Cynthiana is the county seat of Harrison County. It has an incredibly beautiful courthouse, but one who visits will not notice a small town courthouse square. Cynthiana’s downtown sprawls out beyond a square. Still laid out in the square format, you’ll find streets running parallel and perpendicular in all four directions . Cynthiana’s downtown is larger than other county seat towns. It just might be the largest small town I have seen, and while I know small towns are not just their historic downtown areas, when I think about the size, that’s what comes to mind.
Cynthiana is doing an amazing job of revitalizing their historic downtown area. There are bookstores, boutiques, coffee shops, restaurants, and more filling the store fronts of this historic district. It is a large small town keeping its quaint small town feel. You truly must visit to experience it for yourself.
Creating Harrison County
As I discussed in a Kentucky History Trivia post, Kentucky began with nine counties and over time worked its way up to one hundred twenty! Needless to say, every county after the first nine were created from the first nine. So, in 1793, just one year after the birth of Kentucky, when Harrison County was formed, it took its land from portions of Bourbon and Scott Counties.
Colonel Benjamin Harrison
The county was named after Colonel Benjamin Harrison, who is said to have settled in the area in 1776. Harrison became a Colonel during the Revolutionary War, serving in Pennsylvania. He later made his way down the Ohio River to Bourbon County, Kentucky arriving at Ruddle’s Station, a pioneer settlement.
He quickly became involved in politics and was one of several early settlers that pushed for state independence from Virginia. He represented Bourbon County in the early Kentucky Conventions of 1787 and 1788, he was appointed to choose the location of Bourbon County’s Courthouse, he attended the 1792 Constitutional Convention in Danville, signed Kentucky’s Constitution, and was elected to the Kentucky Legislature in 1793.
Being so involved with the early creation of our state, it is no wonder the county was named after him! Just be careful and do not confuse him with the many other Benjamin Harrisons of the time. To learn more about Kentucky’s Colonel Benjamin Harrison, click here.
Robert Harrison donated his land to establish the town in 1793. According to the Kentucky DAR website, Robert, a blacksmith, donated “one hundred and fifty acres of land lying opposite the mouth of Gray’s Run for the site of a new town.” Shortly after donating his land to the town, Robert moved his young family to Ohio and later to Indiana, where he died between 1825-1828.
While Benjamin and Robert shared the same last name and were in the same area at the same time, my research shows no relationship between the two men.
Civil War History
The first thing that caught my attention was the architecture! Everywhere you turn there is a beautiful building to admire. Many historic churches still stand and the downtown area cannot be missed. It is listed as a historic district in the National Register of Historic Places.
We started our visit with a coffee from the Main Cup. I had seen a post on Facebook that listed many businesses in town that were providing Fall-themed drinks, dishes, and desserts. My daughter is a huge fan of coffee and fall. The Main Cup had a Fall-themed coffee so we headed straight there to check it out! We ordered two different seasonal drinks and both were amazing. I only wish I remember what they were called!
After our drinks, we headed down the downtown streets and wandered in and out of many shops, bookstores, and boutiques. We fell in love with each place we visited; The Next Chapter Bookstore, Inspired Designs Boutique, and Molly B’s just to name a few. From there, we walked a few blocks to Leono’s Pizza for a late lunch after receiving a recommendation from a boutique shop owner.
Wrapping up lunch, we jumped in the car for the second leg of our adventure. I had done my research before heading for Cynthiana and I knew there was a nature preserve near-by where we could hike along the banks of the Licking River. Setting my Waze app on my phone for Quiet Trails State Nature Preserve, we pulled out of the historic district and into the rolling hills of Harrison County.
Now, I’ll be honest, we drove for what seemed like FOREVER! We quickly went from an urban area to the rural hills of Kentucky and while the views were beautiful, we lost our cell signals and didn’t see another car in sight for way too long.
We finally arrived at the area marked as the nature preserve, but the road and the views didn’t change. We drove for awhile longer along the narrow, winding road hoping to find the hiking trails and the Licking River. As you see by my photos above, there was no sign of a river anywhere! We also never came across marked trails of any kind. We clearly were not in the correct section of the 165-acre preserve and we were running out of time.
With no signal, no signs, little time, and a daughter who now needed a restroom break, I carefully turned the car around in the middle of the narrow road. I felt confident there would be on issues with oncoming traffic! We retraced our steps and headed for the nearest restroom and finally for home.
The Historic District of Downtown Cynthiana is worth the trip if you enjoy quaint boutiques in historic buildings. There is a sweets shop there that I am eager to visit on another visit. I don’t recommend combining the nature preserve with it. I would opt for one or the other. I’m sure the nature preserve is great, if you find the hiking trails! I recommend more research of the exact location before you go. The views were beautiful, and the colors breathtaking, so I would recommend the visit in the Fall.
I truly loved this trip. I believe Cynthiana just might be my favorite small town of all those we have visited, so you know that says a lot!
Publishing this in February, I know you are probably not going to get out and explore right now. Mark your calendar for Spring when the sun warms the air and the flowers begin to bloom. More than likely by then, you’ll be ready for walks along the historic streets of Cynthiana!