Hart County, located in south central Kentucky, lies predominately within the central portion of the Pennyroyal region of the state. You’ll find gently rolling hillsides and steep “knobs” in the county’s rural countryside of karst terrain dotted with sinkholes and underground streams.
Nolin River forms the western boundary of the county, and the Green River winds through the center, flowing east to west in a series of loops and bends. Hart County contains five of Kentucky’s ten largest springs, including Gorin Mill Spring, the largest in the state.
Horse Cave, (population 2,250) is located on the southern edge of Hart County. The town is centered on a cave from which it derived its name and water supply. It was an oasis of water, cool air and shelter. There is no certain source for the name. Several have been suggested. The most plausible source is that the word “horse” was frequently used in the 18th and 19th centuries for something extraordinarily large: horse-laugh, horse chestnut, etc. The entrance to the cave, located on Main Street in downtown, is the largest natural opening in the entire cave area.
In 1850 Major Albert Anderson purchased all the land (535 acres) which is now Horse Cave. He marked off the streets and sold $40,000 worth of town lots and donated the land for the railroad and depot. The narrow, non-connecting streets are attributed to Anderson.
Horse Cave’s charming downtown commercial district has more than 50 buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Colorful awnings and Victorian gingerbread decorate the town. If you look closely, you can trace the pathway of the cave under your feet! Along the pathway of the cave is the award-winning Horse Cave Stories Cell Phone Tour that tells the story of a town that grew on top of a cave.
Hidden River Cave, the largest privately operated cave in Kentucky, is located right on Main Street in historic downtown Horse Cave. A tour of Hidden River Cave takes you through one of the state’s most scenic cave entrances to a subterranean river flowing 100 feet below ground. You can take a leisurely tour or get “down and dirty” on their “Wild Cave Tour.” Or you can zipline across or rappel down the largest cave entrance in the region.
Adjacent to the cave is the American Cave Museum, honored by The Nature Conservancy Magazine as “a little bit of Smithsonian in rural Kentucky”. You’ll enjoy their state-of –the-art exhibits of cave bats, blindfish and other cave animals; prehistoric and modern cave explorers; the history of cave country; and the “cave wars”.
Nestled on the banks of the Green River, Munfordville (population 1,581) is the county seat of Hart County. Originally known as “Big Buffalo Crossing,” it was named for Richard Jones Munford, who donated a portion of his peach orchard as the site for the town in 1801.
Green River borders the southern end of Munfordville and is accessible through Thelma Stovall Park, which offers a boat ramp, fishing, picnic areas, a canoe livery, walking and hiking trails, and primitive camping facilities.
In 1810, the Munford Inn began welcoming all travelers. The inn is one of 13 stops on The Old Munfordville Walking tour. Union and Confederate forces occupied Munfordville for the five-year duration of the Civil War as each side sought control of the vital railroad bridge.
Three separate battles raged here for control of the bridge, including the Battle and Siege of Munfordville, September 14-17, 1862, perhaps the moment of the Confederacy’s greatest potential in the West.
Visitors can pick up a copy of the Munfordville Stories Cell Tour at the Welcome Center & Gift Shop in the restored turn-of-the century Houk Drugstore building in downtown Munfordville or two doors down at the Hart County Historical Museum in the historic Chapline Building, that houses exhibits, artifacts and one of the area’s most comprehensive collections of archives and genealogical materials.
Just across the Green River is the Battle for the Bridge Historic Preserve. Two miles of interpretive trails begin at the historic Anthony Woodson House, which features an orientation area and museum exhibits.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Preserve is a stop on the Civil War Discovery Trail, the John Hunt Morgan In Kentucky Heritage Trail, and the US 31W-31E Heritage Corridor.
Bonnieville (population 255) is the county’s other incorporated city. Bonnieville was established as Bacon Creek Station in 1849. Bacon Creek Station changed its name to Bonnieville on March 18, 1880, originally was incorporated May 5, 1880. On December 12th, 1955 the City of Bonnieville was officially incorporated as a sixth class city. Bonnieville has a small area that is designated as official city limits, but the Bonnieville community stretches across a much larger area.
During the Civil War, a large number of Union troops were encamped there, and the L&N Railroad trestle was the site of several attacks by John Hunt Morgan. Following the war, some of its citizens decided the town needed a more sophisticated name, so in 1880 they petitioned the legislature to have the name changed to Bonnieville after the Scottish heroine “Bonnie Annie Laurie”. A railroad cross tie yard and watering station were early drivers of Bonnieville’s economy and Bonnieville continues to be a town in transition.
Bonnieville is currently in the midst of the Frenchman’s Knob Nature Preserve Project, sponsored by the Bacon Creek Historical Society with a grant from the Kentucky Heritage Land Conservation Fund. Frenchman’s Knob is the highest point in Hart County. In April of 1782, a Frenchmen Gilbert LeClerc for whom the Knob was named, led a small party to settle in the area. Both LeClerc and his traveling companion, William Smuthers were killed by an Indian raiding party, only LeClerc’s wife survived the attack. The Frenchman was buried on the summit of the Knob. Among the other treasures at this rich historic site is a one room schoolhouse, once used by the locals for church revivals and gospel singings, and a cemetery with graves dating back to December 25, 1861. The site is not currently open to the public and is under development and will be open to the public for hiking, bird watching and educational programs. The historic site includes Frenchman’s Knob Schoolhouse, used both as a school and Mt Hannah Church, the Frenchman’s Knob cemetery, and several springs. The one room School will be renovated and used for educational programs.
First-time visitors to Hart County are usually surprised to see a horse-drawn buggy hitched to a post in downtown or slowly moving along one of the back roads. It is a scene that locals now take for granted. Members of the old Order Amish faith began moving into the area during the late 1980s, many of them from Geauga County, Ohio.
Approximately 200 families now live throughout the county, with the largest population in the Logsdon Valley/Forestville communities. Several Amish businesses are scattered throughout the county, especially in the Cub Run area in western Hart County. Their businesses include greenhouses, bakeries, window and lawn furniture manufacturing, meat processing, sawmills, salvage grocery, and general merchandise stores. Several families also grow tomatoes and other vegetables to sell to large canneries and at roadside market stands.