The Business of History: Boyle has a lot to sell with its rich history

February 02, 2004|HERB BROCK

Kay Berggren knows Boyle County history backwards and forwards - literally.

One of the many hats she wears as executive director of the Boyle County Convention and Visitors Bureau is that of a tour guide. On the tours she leads, she boards the bus, stands in the aisle and points out the various attractions, coming and going.

"If you're going to promote tourism in our area, you have to learn about each site, and that means you have to learn history," said Berggren. "And on a tour, you not only have to know the history of each particular site, you also have to know how to get there because you're telling the driver the directions as you're telling the tourists about the site.

"You may start a tour a different place each tour. One day the beginning of a tour may be the end of the tour the day before. You really have to know the history of each building backwards as forwards."


In Boyle County, going forward in the tourism business basically means going back in time. Or, as Berggren says, "History is our main tourism product, and that means promoting the past to ensure a tourism industry in the future."

Jayne McClew, communications director with the state Department of Travel, said what's happening in Boyle County is part of statewide and national trends. In Kentucky, the big tourism bucks still are associated with big lakes, big mountains and big events, but there is big money to be made on a little thing called history, she said.

"Cultural and heritage tourism is the buzz word in Kentucky and the nation as a whole," said McClew, noting that 65 percent of "adult travelers include cultural and heritage tourism on their vacation trips." Overall travel and tourism is Kentucky's third largest industry, she said.

Locally, said Berggren, "We don't have large state parks or major resorts or lakes or mountains. ... But we do have a wealth of history to sell plus major events that bring history to life or are staged at historic places, such as the Perryville Battlefield re-enactments, the Constitution Square Festival and the Great American Brass Band Festival."

Those events draw thousands of people - and their pocketbooks - to Boyle County, said Berggren, adding that tourism, generates millions of dollars annually for the county - in 2001, the figure was $29.5 million - and creates hundreds of job - the current number is 691 full-time positions.

Perryville Battlefield State Park periodically hosts major re-enactments of the pivotal October 1982 Civil War battle between 40,000 Union and Confederate troops, bringing thousands of re-enactors and their families to the area along with thousands of tourists. There are tourist attraction spinoffs of the battle as several historic homes and churches in Perryville and Danville and at Centre College were converted to hospitals to treat the thousands of soldiers injured in the battle.

The Constitution Square Festival, held for three days every September, draws thousands of people to the park and its many historic buildings, including the log courthouse where the state's first constitution was drafted during conventions from 1784-92, Grayson Tavern and Fisher's Row. An art gallery and museum are located in two of the restored buildings.

The square is a double tourist attraction. In the earlier part of the 20th century, it was the heart of what once was a thriving African-American commercial district along Second Street. A state historic marker to that effect was erected at the square a few years ago.

The band festival is the largest annual tourist attraction in the county, bringing more than 30,000 people from around the country and world every June to Centre College and the downtown and to Danville-Boyle County Airport to watch the Great American Balloon Race.

Numerous other history-related sites, events

But Berggren points out that the county offers numerous other history-related sites and events:

* McDowell House - located across from Constitution Square, this is the place where Dr. Ephraim McDowell performed the world's first ovariotomy in1809. While the square represents Danville's important role in Kentucky's political history, Berggren calls McDowell House the "jewel in the crown" of the county's tourist attractions because of its important role in international medical history.

* Junction City's Railroad Days - an annual celebration in August of the community's important role as a railroad hub in Kentucky.

* Forkland Heritage Festival and Revue - an annual celebration in October of a small rural community with a proud history.

* Merchants Row in Perryville - a block of 19th century buildings that now serve as gift shops and museums.

* Elmwood Inn in Perryville - once a private school and later one of many homes and other buildings in the county that served as a hospital for injured soliders from the Battle of Perryville, the inn now is the setting for traditional English teas.

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