In 1792, Kentucky was incorporated as the 15th state. That November, the Justices of the Quarter Session, an administrative court, sent a team of men to survey a new town, named Shelbyville in honor of the new state's first governor. Two months later, 51 acres were partitioned by streets to service the newly surveyed lots.
During those early years, Shelbyville lay on one of the major routes through the Kentucky wilderness. At that time, hundred of thousands of eager pioneers ventured through the Cumberland Gap into Eastern Kentucky. Encumbered with as little as possible, they traveled west by horseback or covered wagon, first to the forts of central Kentucky and then to the falls of the Ohio, which today is Louisville.
As "historic luck would have it," Shelbyville lay between these two locations. It offered temporary shelter from the continual harassing Indian attacks which plagued the settlers.
In addition, Shelbyville's location made it an ideal resting place for weary travelers. It had an ample water supply, and its relatively safe location encouraged the development of numerous small forts nearby. One such fort was founded a few miles north of town by Daniel Boone's brother, Squire Boone.
It is amazing to me that, from 1888 until 1938 - owing to an extraordinary preparatory women's school, Science Hill - Shelbyville became quite a cultural center. It had an opera house and was on the Lyceum lecture circuit.
History shows that a William Butler bought a parcel of land in Shelbyville and paid for it in English pounds. The property changed hands several times and finally came to be owned by Julia Ann Hieronymus, a brilliant young educator. She married a Methodist minister; they made their home in Virginia at first. Then, the pastor, John Trevis, was transferred to the Falls of the Ohio, Louisville.
When the couple traveled from Virginia to Louisville, they passed through Shelbyville and "discovered" it as an ideal place for her to found a school for young women who made their homes in the Kentucky wilderness. Julia planned to teach her charges more than the social graces. She aimed to teach her students the sciences, something unheard of at that time.
Picture the determined Julia standing on the hilltop above her school, and you will understand how the institution became known as Science Hill School.
On the first day of its existence, 20 girls enrolled on March 25, 1825. The school was such an immediate success that the Rev. Trevis asked to be transferred from Louisville to Shelbyville so he could assist his wife with the management of the growing school.
When the school expanded and became a member of the Lyceum circuit, hundreds of the most famous and distinguished speakers, writers and educators of the day were brought to the school's Chapel.
Science Hill operated successfully for 114 years. It graduated its last class in 1939 because the Great Depression doomed it, five others in the vicinity and, indeed, hundreds like it nationwide, to fiscal failure.
While Science Hill School was in operation, it established a reputation of greatness for its contribution to education and to culture. It is generally accepted that the lives of those girls, who graduated from the prestigious school, have affected every state of America.
In 1939, when the school closed, most of the premises converted to a residential inn. Two descendants retained the westernmost portion, the original structure, as their home. They were born there in the 1880s and died there nearly 100 years later.
Today, Science Hill School is divided into three major sections: The Gallery, the Courtyard and the Dining Room. Each is a major tourist attraction, and each is an active business, still in operation for Shelbyville residents.
The Gallery features English-Georgian antiques, one of the largest collections in the United States, while the Courtyard features five shops which feature fashionable apparel, silver, linens and Christmas ornaments.
Still today, the Dining Room makes use of the original Science Hill School's kitchen and dining hall. The dining room is in keeping with old Southern decor and graciousness; the service is impeccable and the choice of cuisine varied and tasty. Drop-cornbread, homemade biscuits and country ham are all specialties. One single, tall waiter of color, in his white shirt and formal tail coat, easily serves each table with quiet wit and skill.
Sturdy masonry has protected the Science Hill School building and its 78 rooms from wars, depressions and natural disasters for nearly 200 years.
Quaint, charming, gracious, old-worldly, unrushed and definitely "historic" are adjectives which fit the town of Shelbyville like a Southern lady's pale hand fits her white glove.
If you find yourself in the vicinity, on I-64, a swing through "Historic Shelbyville" would be time well spent.
(Note: The Gallery is called Wakefield-Scearce. The extreme eastern portion of Science Hill School was leased in 1947 by Mark Wakefield and Mark Scearce and has operated as an antiques gallery specializing in merchandise of the highest quality.)