Founded in July 1797, Elizabethtown, Kentucky, (population 22,524) is the county seat of Hardin County. Three settlers, Capt. Thomas Helm, Col. Andrew Hynes, and Col. Samuel Haycraft, built three forts in the area in 1779, creating a triangle between each of their settlements. As more settlers moved into the area, Hardin County was established in 1793. In 1793, Hynes had 30 acres of land subdivided into lots and streets to establish Elizabethtown. Named after his wife, Elizabethtown was officially established on July 4, 1797.
The arrival of the railroad in 1854 brought growth and prosperity to Elizabethtown. The city served as an important railroad stop and strategic point during the Civil War, including the use of the Elizabethtown City Cemetery by Confederate forces as the position of an artillery attack in 1862. Elizabethtown is more popularly known today because of the 2005 movie inspired and named after the city.
The Elizabethtown Chamber of Commerce sponsors a historic downtown costumed walking tour during the summer from May until September. The tour takes place every Thursday night with the assistance from volunteers. Each volunteer portrays a different character, allowing visitors a feel for events, people, and political history of Elizabethtown. The tour takes approximately one hour and covers a four-block radius in the downtown area.
The Hardin County History Museum opened in the fall of 2003 as a location to gather, preserve, and display objects honoring the area’s history. The museum uses permanent and rotating exhibits to display the heritage of Hardin County. This includes the role Elizabethtown played in the Civil War and the connections of Abraham Lincoln’s family to the area.
The Elizabethtown-Hardin County Heritage Council is a non-profit organization devoted to historic preservation and economic development of the downtown area. The council consists of a 16-member volunteer board of directors, including several local businesspeople, a representative from city council, and a representative from the Hardin County fiscal court. The council hosts the annual “Dinner with the Dearly Departed,” an event where individuals can dine in the Elizabethtown City Cemetery. The event includes a catered meal and living history, where individuals portray various personalities of people buried within the cemetery.
The Elizabethtown-Hardin County Heritage Council also established a low-interest loan pool program for downtown Elizabethtown. The Heritage Economic Loan Pool or HELP as it is referred to, will allow loans to encourage restructuring, revitalization and historic preservation in downtown Elizabethtown. Local banks contributed to the fund, which allows for loans up to $300,000 to allow individuals to purchase properties or make renovations to existing downtown buildings.
Designated a Preserve America Community in April 2004.