History claims Ponce de Leon and his landing party first came ashore in La Florida on April 3, 1513. Nearby St. Augustine, in Northeast Florida, was founded in September 1565 by Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles of Spain. The town celebrated its 450th anniversary of its founding in 2015, making it the longest continually inhabited European-founded city in the United States.
Have you been to Lexington begs the answer, “Which one?” Lexington, Massachusetts is the oldest municipality with the name and Lexington, Kentucky is the largest city. There are cities named Lexington in Alabama, California (now a ghost town), Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. I’ve visited three, so far, all memorable for very different reasons.
When I first hear the name Lexington, my thoughts skip to the famous Battle at Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts. On April 19, 1775, they became the first military engagements of the American Revolutionary War,
On the night before the clash, Paul Revere and Samuel Prescott galloped on horseback to warn that the British were coming. The first shots were fired just as the sun was rising in Lexington. Eight militiamen died. The confrontation proceeded on to Concord, resulting in many casualties.
Patriot’s Day, originally April 19, is now observed on the third Monday in April. A reenactment of the horse ride and battle coincides with the historical event, so you must get to Lexington’s Battle Green before sunrise. The entire drama takes no more than 40 minutes, but the poignant scene stabbed me to the core, like a wound from the bayonets carried by the soldiers. We often forget the Revolutionary War, but this annual drama pays tribute to those early colonists and the freedoms they sought.
Another Lexington I’ve visited a few times is Lexington, Virginia, a small town in the Shenandoah Valley. Lexington is home to the Virginia Military Institute (VMI), Washington & Lee University (where my son graduated), and about seven thousand residents. While Confederate generals are no longer celebrated, I must say I fondly recall the serene Lee Chapel as the campus highlight. This National Historic Landmark is the burial site of Robert E. Lee. His horse, Traveller, is interred outside, and many people leave sugar cubes on the horse’s grave. The church’s basement contains a museum featuring the history of the school, highlighting the time when Lee was the college president.
Other attractions to see include the restored Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson house. Tours revolve around Jackson’s life before the Civil War, including his tenure as a VMI professor.
Lexington’s carefully preserved downtown is on the State and National Registers of Historic Places. Shops offer fine art, Virginia-made gifts, jewelry and more. Visitors enjoy a carriage ride through the downtown and remember Virginia is for Lovers.
Lexington, North Carolina, calls itself the Barbeque Capital of the World. No visit is complete without Lexington style barbeque, made from pork shoulders cooked over hardwood coals. This century-old method involves smoking the pork for hours and then chopping or slicing it, leaving bits of crispy, brown skin. The meat comes with a thin ketchup-and-vinegar sauce called “dip,” a distinctive red slaw, hush puppies, and sweet tea. While the meal is nothing fancy, you’ll find it finger-licking good in all of Lexington’s 15 BBQ restaurants.
Lexington. NC also offers a fascinating collection of artifacts, memorabilia, and furniture from North Carolina’s most famous living artist, Bob Timberlake. Visitors also enjoy the Richard Childress Racing Museum, one of NASCAR’s top race shops and museums. The championship cars driven by Dale Earnhardt Sr. prove to be the most popular. To round out your visit, stop by any of the 19 vineyards and tasting rooms that are earning NC winemakers rave reviews.
Lexington, Kentucky, is another famous city, this one known as the Horse Capital of the World, plus the birthplace of Bourbon and Bluegrass music.
While it ranks high on my bucket list, I have not been there—yet. Visitors tour Keeneland Race Course and Kentucky Horse Park in the early morning to see workouts, plus walk the pastures at Old Friends, a thoroughbred retirement farm. Don’t miss the 14 bourbon distilleries and their tasting rooms, Mary Todd Lincoln’s historic home, plus the famous Kentucky Castle in the middle of Horse Country.
You can’t go wrong in any of four of the cities named Lexington. How many have you seen?
Doug Baum, a former zookeeper, maintains a ranch of camels that he hauls to living-history events throughout the South. I first met him back in 2009, when I visited Corinth, Mississippi. He brought a few of his animals to help reenact or tell the story of the US Camel Corps and Old Douglas. Most folks nothing about this curious historical footnote.
How a 2,000-pound camel came to see action in the War Between the States begs a wisp of whimsy, but remains grounded on Mississippi’s hallowed battlefields.