Historic U.S. 68 cuts a path through the center of Lebanon and serves as its Main Street. Stretching from Paducah to Maysville, U.S. 68 is the mother of all Kentucky’s historic highways, which were once major thoroughfares linking small towns across the state.
Lebanon is the epicenter of Historic U.S. 68, not only for its location but for its scenic beauty and dining, shopping and cultural experiences along the way. This historic trail was used by Andrew Jackson, Jane Todd Crawford and General Lafayette and was the route that General T.L. Crittenden's corps took to get to the 1862 Battle of Perryville.
The portion through Lebanon and Marion County includes, at one end, the Muldraugh Hill range, once named a Top 10 fall drive in a national poll, and, at the other end, undulating farmland with crops, swaying hayfields, old barns and grazing livestock that give it a postcard feel. (to the left in Myrtledene Bed & Breakfast Inn)
Starting from the west, U.S. 68 descends Muldraugh Hill and passes through beautiful farmland taking drivers right through Belltown and the historic Belltown Cemetery. Lebanon was home of Camp Crittenden, the fourth largest black Civil War soldier camp that mustered into U.S. service 2,043 soldiers from Kentucky alone from June of 1864 to April of 1865. Of those, 211 of them died at Camp Crittenden from 1864 to 1865 and many were buried in graves that are still marked at Belltown Cemetery. Just a few miles past Belltown, nearing downtown, is the site of Camp Crittenden.
The Lebanon National Cemetery is just a few hundred yards off U.S. 68 on the west end of town. It began as a burial ground for Union soldiers killed in the nearby Battle of Perryville.
Lebanon, the seat of Marion County, was incorporated Jan. 28, 1815, and, because of its superior style and beauty, elegant homes and flourishing businesses, it had the reputation of being Kentucky's Philadelphia and was a candidate to be the site of the state capitol.
Downtown Lebanon is rich with Civil War sites and historic buildings, great Kentucky cuisine with a local flair, antique stores, eclectic boutiques and southern hospitality at every stop.
In a two-mile stretch through town, travelers have their choice of 28 places to eat from delis to fast food to eclectic sit-down restaurants. There's even an old-fashioned soda fountain!
The Shuck Building on Main Street/U.S. 68 was headquarters of Gen. George H. “Rock of Chickamauga” Thomas who led Union forces from Lebanon to Mill Springs in January 1862 for the first major Civil War battle in Kentucky. A statue of Thomas is in the Lebanon Civil War Park just a block off Main Street/U.S. 68.
Also on Main Street/U.S. 68 is the residence at Holly Hill Inn, one of Lebanon's historic landmarks. Known for years as "Sunnyside," the front hall to the home, including its winding stairway, was added in the early 1850s. Some walls are 18 inches thick, the woodwork is hand carved and the floors are ash and poplar. It's the site where Confederate Gen. John Hunt Morgan's brother, Tom Morgan, laid in state after falling in the Battle of Lebanon July 5, 1863. He was later buried in the garden until the war was over.
Morgan's Raiders descended on Lebanon and, after Morgan's brother, Tom, was killed they burned much of the town in retribution. Even though 20 buildings were destroyed in the attack, Lebanon recovered and the downtown historic district is on the National Register of Historic Places. There is a marker next to the courthouse on Main Street/U.S. 68 that tells all about it.
Even the Marion County Public Library, with its comprehensive genealogy room, is located right on U.S. 68.
Across from the Library is a marker that tells about the nearby Rosenwald School, which was part of the Rosenwald School Initiative in the early 1900s. The building is a block off Main Street and is now a nursing home.
A mile further is Ryder Cemetery, burial ground of some Civil War soldiers, including Union Capt. Andrew Offutt and his monument, as well as other celebrities including Kentucky Gov. J. Proctor Knott, Poet Laureate of Kentucky Edwin Carlile Litsey, U.S. Rep. Frank L. Chelf and novelist Wallace Kelly.
Leaving downtown Lebanon headed east, travelers pass Kentucky Cooperage, one of the largest bourbon barrel-making factories in the world, and the quaint East Main Dairy Freeze.
Some of the most fascinating local attractions, including Maker's Mark Distillery and Historic Penn's Store are only minutes off the beaten path along this portion of U.S. 68.
In recent years, the Kentucky Department of Transportation has widened sections of U.S. 68 throughout Marion County and removed some of the sharper bends making this a comfortable and safe route right across the Heart of Kentucky.
Travelers can spend a day or week on Historic U.S. 68, re-discovering the interesting rural communities that give Kentucky its unique taste.
Historic U.S. 68 is also site of 400 Miles of Antiques, Collectibles & Stuff held the first week of June each year.