State of the Month: Kentucky
The first state west of the Appalachian Mountains, Kentucky joined the Union on June 1, 1792. Native Americans from the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Shawnee and Yuchi tribes had lived there for centuries, but explorers and frontiersmen began to settle here after Daniel Boone blazed a trail through the Cumberland Gap.
The Bluegrass State got its name for the fertile soil and abundant grasses of its pastures and valleys, but it’s also home to the Appalachian mountains and the roots music that shares the same name.
From the highest peak of Black Mountain, Kentucky dives down to host a tunnel of caves. In fact, with more than 400 miles of explored caves, it’s the world’s longest known cave system. Kentucky boasts the longest system of navigable waterways and streams in the U.S.A., too.
There’s another reason Kentuckians head underground. Rich in coal, Kentucky’s first mine opened in 1820. Ever since, the natural resource has been mined in the Bluegrass State. Today Kentucky is the third coal producer in America.
One of Kentucky’s most famous traditions is the Kentucky Derby. Known as “the fastest two minutes in sports” and raced at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday of May, the Kentucky Derby is the best known horse race in the world. Churchill Downs first opened in 1875, but after a new grandstand was built in 1895 – topped by two Twin Spires – the track has become synonymous with American horseracing, and plain ‘ole Americana in general. Just add a big hat and a mint julep, and you have a slice of American culture.
Kentucky gets bragging rights to another piece of iconic American culture: the official bat of Major League Baseball, Louisville Slugger, was first made here in 1884 and is still made there today.