The original Fort Harrod was founded in 1775, a year after the town, originally Harrodstown, now Harrodsburg, was founded. The settlement was the first one west of the Allegheny Mountains.
Old Fort Harrod State Park features a full-scale replica of the original fort.
David Coleman, manager of Old Fort Harrod State Park, said the fort was not a military installation. “These were built by the residents that came out here for the sole purpose of protecting themselves from the natives, and from the British later on when the Revolutionary War started. So this was actually kind of like the first neighborhood watch structure that they built to protect themselves,” he said.
The militia boarded at the fort because it was the center of government, Coleman said.
How many residents actually lived here?
“At a normal time, probably no more than 20 at most would have permanent residence inside the fort,” Coleman said. “But most people, they were coming out here to collect land and claim land and start their own farm and whatnot. So when they got here, this was like their temporary housing, like a hotel, where they could stay until they got their own improvement started, where they could move out onto their own property.”
When there were outbreaks of violence with the native population, more people would take refuge in the fort. “The population could go from just a handful today to over 300 tomorrow,” Coleman said.
Today, besides its historical significance, the state park is also known for its magnificent Osage orange tree, also known as a hedgeapple. “That is the tallest and the largest Osage orange tree in the nation,” Coleman said. “It’s not the national champion because three quarters of it lays on the ground, which disqualifies it. But it does have a higher peak and its crown is larger than the national champion.”
The park offers historical interpretations for tourists at seven stations in the park. Coleman said the park employs seven interpreters, including gunsmith; a blacksmith; a doll maker, herbalist and head gardener; broom maker; a schoolmarm; a soap maker; and a spinner/weaver. “And then I come out here when we have school groups and add that eighth station just so we can have more kids in the fort doing more things. And I throw the tomahawk with them, and they seem to like that,” Coleman said.
This segment is part of Kentucky Life episode #2218, which originally aired on May 20, 2017. Watch the full episode.