Kentucky Tourism

Old Fort Harrod History

Established in 1927

In 1774 pioneer James Harrod led an expedition of 37 men down the Monongahela and Ohio Rivers to the mouth of the Kentucky River. After traveling up the river they guided their boats into a creek called Landing Run. They then traveled overland until they crossed the Salt River in what is present day Mercer County, to a large spring where on June 16, 1774 they established a camp that became the settlement called Harrodstown, the first pioneer settlement in Kentucky. Harrod and his men built cabins and stayed until July when they briefly retuned to Virginia. They returned to stay on March 8, 1775. Within months Harrodstown became a bustling community on the Kentucky frontier. As the community grew, the original fortifications became inadequate. The settlers constructed a new and larger fort on Old Fort Hill, on what is now the site of the park. With the protection of the fort, the community of Harrodstown steadily grew into the town of Harrodsburg, the county seat of Mercer County.

The memory of those early pioneers remained a vivid part of early Kentucky history. A desire to commemorate the bravery and sacrifices of these men, women, and children led to the creation of Old Fort Harrod State Park in 1927. Originally known as Pioneer Memorial State Park, the modern version of the fort was a third smaller and just south of the original structure. The reconstructed fort gives visitors a glimpse of life on the Kentucky frontier. The 22-acre park contains the fort, the Mansion Museum, a Greek Revival house built in 1813, the Lincoln Marriage Temple, a brick structure that houses the cabin where Abraham Lincoln’s parents, Thomas Lincoln and Nancy Hanks, were married, the Pioneer Cemetery, the oldest burial site for Kentucky’s first settlers, and the George Rogers Clark Memorial dedicated in 1934 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to commemorate those pioneers who opened up the western frontier for settlement.

The Mansion Museum contains pioneer books, documents, musical instruments, and tools. There is a room dedicated to the memory of Kentucky native son Abraham Lincoln and the Union cause in Kentucky and a room dedicated to native son Jefferson Davis and the Confederacy.

Old Fort Harrod State Park grounds have picnic areas and a craft and gift shop. The park also has the largest Osage-orange tree in the nation. For many years the James Harrod Amphitheatre hosted the “Legend of Daniel Boone.” This popular outdoor drama celebrated the adventures of Kentucky’s most famous pioneer.

Harrodsburg founder James Harrod was born about 1746 in Pennsylvania, the son of John and Sarah Moore Harrod. As with so many frontier boys James learned to hunt, fish, and trap. He became an excellent shot and knew how to explore the vast, trackless forests of the American frontier. After settling in Kentucky he became a prosperous farmer and in 1778 married a young widow, Ann Coburn McDonald. The couple had a daughter, Margaret. In the winter of 1792, Harrod made one of his many journeys away from home. He never returned. His disappearance remains a mystery. Indians may have killed him, or he may have decided to leave his wife and community for reasons that are not clear. Harrod’s legacy however lives on in the town that he founded.