History of Lexington

Today, Lexington is the second largest city in Kentucky and is known as the “Horse Capital of the World.” But the history of Lexington, KY has a great story that dates back to 1775.

Lexington was originally founded as part of Virginia, as it would be another 17 years until Kentucky became a state. The first settlers of the area, including William McConnell, named their campsite after the first battle of the American Revolution in Lexington, Massachusetts. Thanks to efforts in the 1990s, you can now visit the 21.5-acre city park that protects Lexington’s birthplace.

By 1820, Lexington had the nickname of “Athens of the West” for its cultured lifestyle. It was one of the largest and wealthiest towns to the west of the Allegheny Mountains. Many influential Americans have ties with Lexington, including United States President Abraham Lincoln and Confederate President Jefferson Davis, Confederate General John Hunt Morgan, and Henry Clay, Speaker of the House, U.S. Senator, and Secretary of the State.

President Lincoln and his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, often visited Lexington as the First Lady was born here. You can visit the Mary Todd Lincoln House from March 15 through November 30 each year.

In 1814, John Wesley Hunt, one of the first millionaires in the area, built his home in Lexington, known as the Hunt-Morgan House. Hunt’s descendant, John Hunt Morgan, was the leader of “Morgan’s Raiders,” taking on the Union troops. Morgan’s nephew, Thomas Hunt Morgan, a geneticist, also brought his fame to Lexington by being the first Kentuckian to win a Nobel Prize.

In 1830, the Lexington and Ohio Railroad was established though never completed, and eventually, the project collapsed due to the Panic of 1837. Though, in 1835, the Frankfort and Lexington Railroad began operations, followed by the Covington and Lexington Railroad in 1849. The Opera House, which you can also visit today, opened in 1887.

It wasn’t until 1934, that Lexington built a United States Post Office and Court House as part of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky. The courthouse was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1999.

By 1955, the Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation was formed. Our city has worked hard to preserve our history and ensure future generations can learn more about our past. For a list of Lexington’s historic homes and places, please consult Visit Lex’s online list, and to help plan a visit to our area attractions, visit our activities page.