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Perryville, KY’s history

History :

During the final stages of the American Revolution, James Harbeson and a group of settlers crossed the blue mountains of Virginia and found their way into the Bluegrass region of Kentucky. Finding a suitable site alongside the Chaplin River, the settlers built a fort next to a spring and cave. This fort, dubbed Harbeson’s Station after its founder, was the precursor to modern-day Perryville. The settlers farmed the east bank of the Chaplin River. When troubles with local Indians arose, they would flee across the water and into the cave to seek shelter from attack. The cave, which can still be viewed today, formed the settlers’ first line of defense. One day James Harbeson failed to reach the mouth of the cave in time. Local legend holds that Harbeson disappeared. His head, however, was discovered about a mile from the fort, probably severed by hostile Indians. Dr. Jefferson J. Polk, physician to 19th century Perryville, relates in his autobiography that Harbeson’s wife then “took the head and managed to keep it in a complete state of preservation for many years.”

Prospering as a farming community for decades, shortly after the War of 1812 two men named Edward Bullock and William Hall organized plans to build a village along the river, mere yards from the spot of the original fort. Bullock and Hall decided to name the village Perryville in honor of Commodore Oliver H. Perry, hero of the naval battle on Lake Erie. The Indians had long been driven out by previous settlers, it would be another 50 years until the hardship of warfare again fell upon the town’s inhabitants.

Lattimer House :

In the late 1830s, Bullock and Hall’s dreams came to fruition. A line of buildings, built next to the green Chaplin River, formed the basis of the village of Perryville. Now called “Merchants’ Row,” these buildings still stand today and are occupied by merchants selling their wares. The vision of Edward Bullock and William Hall still remains strong for the modern-day inhabitants of Perryville.

The early nineteenth century brought a revised interest in classical education for the small town. Many institutions of higher learning, mainly consisting of all-women’s colleges, were established, including the Ewing Institute, the Elmwood Academy, and Harmonia College. At least one of Harmonia College’s graduates achieved national prominence–Carrie Nation, the national temperance leader, boarded at the Karrick-Parks house while living in Perryville. As Nation “cleaned out” a number of local spots, it is believed that Perryville became the first location in the United States to exercise Local Option laws.

Elmwood Inn :

The event that hurled the small village of Perryville into the national spotlight occurred on October 8, 1862. On this date the horrific Battle of Perryville took place; 16,000 Confederate troops ferociously battled 22,000 Union soldiers (out of 58,000 present) in what was to become one of the fiercest and most desperate struggles of the American Civil War. With more than 7,500 casualties, skirmishes were fought in town and cannonballs smashed through walls and roofs of homes, although the majority of the fighting occurred two miles north of town. Many of the town’s inhabitants assisted with the wounded and all homes, churches, and buildings became a place of refuge and heating for the many troops who were left behind after the two opposing armies withdrew. In later years the streets of town were named after the commanding officers of the battle—Union names adorn the streets on the west side of the river, while those on the east side are named after their Confederate counterparts.

In 1961, Perryville and the surrounding area was made part of a National Historic Landmark area. In 1973, the entire town of Perryville, because of the contribution the village has made toward American history, was put on the National Register of Historic Places.

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