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Bluegrass Renaissance

The History and Culture of Central Kentucky, 1792-1852

edited by James C. Klotter and Daniel Rowland

Publication Year: 2012

Originally established in 1775 the town of Lexington, Kentucky grew quickly into a national cultural center amongst the rolling green hills of the Bluegrass Region. Nicknamed the "Athens of the West," Lexington and the surrounding area became a leader in higher education, visual arts, architecture, and music, and the center of the horse breeding and racing industries. The national impact of the Bluegrass was further confirmed by prominent Kentucky figures such as Henry Clay and John C. Breckinridge.

The Idea of the Athens of the West: Central Kentucky in American Culture, 1792-1852, chronicles Lexington's development as one of the most important educational and cultural centers in America during the first half of the nineteenth century. Editors Daniel Rowland and James C. Klotter gather leading scholars to examine the successes and failures of Central Kentuckians from statehood to the death of Henry Clay, in an investigation of the area's cultural and economic development and national influence. The Idea of the Athens of the West is an interdisciplinary study of the evolution of Lexington's status as antebellum Kentucky's cultural metropolis.

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky

Front Cover

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Title Page

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Copyright Page

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Contents Page

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pp. v-vi

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pp. 1-8

What causes a city to be termed great in a moment in time? Why is a town seen as a place of progress and modernization in a specific region? What features create an environment that produces leadership in a variety of fields? What forces give birth to advancements in one area...

Part 1: Overview and Comparisons

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pp. 9-10

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Chapter 1: Central Kentucky's "Athens of the West" Image in the Nation and in History

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pp. 11-35

In Kentucky, citizens and outside observers alike indicated that they had found a new Athens, one rising from the wilds of America’s First West, from a frontier society “baptized in blood,” from this new heaven on earth. The Massachusetts-born and Harvard-educated clergyman Timothy...

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Chapter 2: Putting Kentucky in Its Place

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pp. 36-52

What place does Kentucky hold in American history? A brief one, at least judging from the indexes of U.S. history textbooks. Typically, these surveys mention the settlement of Kentucky by pioneers like Daniel Boone and sometimes cite it being the home of Henry Clay or the birthplace...

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Chapter 3: Kentucky's "Athens of the West" Viewed in a "Distant Mirror"

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pp. 53-72

In 1853, en route from Baltimore to Texas, the landscape architect and antislavery journalist Frederick Law Olmsted took a brief detour to Lexington via a horse-drawn coach from Cincinnati. Olmsted had heard “glowing descriptions” of the town and wished especially to visit “a spot

Part 2: Facets of Life

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pp. 73-74

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Chapter 4: Slavery and Abolition in Kentucky: “‘Patter-rollers’ were everywhere”

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pp. 75-92

On June 15, 1902, the Owensboro Messenger published an interview with an African American named Daniel Daly, believed to be the oldest resident of Daviess County, Kentucky. Known as Uncle Dan to the community, Daly was described as a “very intelligent old fellow” with “a...

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Chapter 5: "Mrs. Boone, I presume?": In Search of the Idea of Womanhood in Kentucky’s Early Years

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pp. 93-130

Searching for evidences of women in the history of Kentucky is like pushing through the lush Kentucky cane, taller than a woman on horseback, in the beautiful Bluegrass. Reasonably, many resources exist— but most show evidences of men’s lives and thoughts. Where are the...

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Chapter 6: "A richer land never seen yet": Horse Country and the “Athens of the West”

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pp. 131-157

In the beginning was the soil. The soil made the land rich in minerals and abundant grass; the land, in turn, made the horse industry of Bluegrass Kentucky. The soil leeched calcium and phosphorus from layers of limestone rock lying below the surface; these minerals passed through...

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Chapter 7: Three Central Kentuckians, the "Bone" of Political Office, and the Kentucky Exodus, 1792–1852

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pp. 158-178

In many respects—arts, architecture, and education—the early republic was the time and central Kentucky the place to ponder the idea of the commonwealth as a likeness of classical Athens. But ancient Athenians did not stay at home. They expanded their influence and power, particularly...

Part 3: Science, Arts, and Education

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pp. 179-180

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Chapter 8: Jewels in the Crown: Civic Pride and Educational Institutions in the Bluegrass, 1792–1852

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pp. 181-203

At the start of the twenty-first century, American colleges and universities are hailed as a success story in large part because of their real and imagined role as economic engines that make a city or even an entire state prosperous.1 Two centuries ago, however, the story had a slightly different...

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Chapter 9: Horace Holley and the Struggle for Kentucky's Mind and Soul

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pp. 204-221

Among America’s rising stars at the beginning of the nineteenth century, few shone more brightly than the Reverend Horace Holley. Born in 1781 to a New England merchant and a Baptist preacher’s daughter, Holley graduated near the top of his class at Yale University. After abandoning...

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Chapter 10: Living Hills

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pp. 222-239

In November 1815, the European naturalist Constantine Samuel Rafinesque found himself shipwrecked off the coast of Connecticut, floating amid the debris of his luggage—“books, manuscripts, plates, drawings, maps, herbarium, collections, minerals, &c.”1—an accumulation of labor...

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Chapter 11: Lexington Limners: Portrait Painters in the “Athens of the West”

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pp. 240-263

At the same time Lexington was being “transformed from a rude frontier post into an attractive community of fine homes, landed estates, and diverse manufacturing and mercantile enterprises,” the lives and works of portrait artists became a part of the dynamic popular culture...

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Chapter 12: Public Music Making, Concert Life, and Composition in Kentucky during the Early National Period

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pp. 264-285

The time is 6:30 p.m. on November 12, 1817. The doors have just closed to the assembly room in Sanford Keen’s tavern located on the southeast corner of Main Street and Limestone, with the audience eagerly waiting to hear the newest virtuoso to grace the Kentucky stage. For the...

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Chapter 13: Benjamin Henry Latrobe and Neoclassical Lexington

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pp. 286-343

In assessing Kentucky’s position within the culture of early nineteenth-century America, it is useful to focus on the work of Benjamin Henry Latrobe, the country’s most avant-garde architect of the federal period. Latrobe (b. 1764 in England of an English father and an American mother...

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pp. 344-346

Dr. Thomas Clark, Kentucky’s historian laureate, was 101 in 2005 when he said in an interview: “A community without a sense of history is no community at all.”...


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pp. 347-350


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pp. 351-372

E-ISBN-13: 9780813136639
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813136073

Page Count: 400
Publication Year: 2012

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Lexington (Ky.) -- History -- 18th century.
  • Lexington (Ky.) -- History -- 19th century.
  • Lexington (Ky.) -- Social life and customs.
  • Lexington (Ky.) -- Intellectual life.
  • Lexington Region (Ky.) -- History -- 18th century.
  • Lexington Region (Ky.) -- History -- 19th century.
  • Lexington Region (Ky.) -- Social life and customs.
  • Lexington Region (Ky.) -- Intellectual life.
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