In the final days of the American Revolution, a group of settlers crossed the mountains of Virginia into the Bluegrass region of Kentucky and built a fort next to a spring and a cave. They farmed the east bank of the Chaplin River and, when troubles with local Indians arose, would flee into the cave to seek shelter from attack. Shortly after the War of 1812, a village was built along the river and named Perryville in honor of Commodore Oliver H. Perry. These buildings, now called "Merchants' Row," still stand.
One of the fiercest struggles of the Civil War took place at the 1862 Battle of Perryville, resulting in more than 7,500 casualties. In later years, the streets of Perryville were named after the commanding officers of the battle; Union names adorn the streets on the west side of the river, while those on the east side are named after their Confederate counterparts.
Today, Perryville, population 763, stands out for its combination of military and civilian historic resources. In 1961, Perryville and the surrounding area were included in a National Historic Landmark area. In 1973, the entire town of Perryville was listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
The restoration of Merchants' Row, one of the only surviving 19th-century mercantile districts in the Nation, compliments extensive efforts in preserving and interpreting Kentucky's largest Civil War battlefield. Future restoration efforts will include a 19th-century mill that will serve as a battlefield museum and the cave that sheltered the original Revolutionary-era settlement. Several historic structures being restored through a partnership with the Perryville Battlefield Preservation Association will provide additional commercial space as well as museum and interpretive space.
The Perryville Main Street/ Renaissance Program is working to make downtown a more pleasant area for residents and tourists through streetscape and beautification projects, economic development, and residential rehabilitation projects. Perryville is a Certified Local Government and has received Save America's Treasures and transportation enhancement funding for local preservation.
Research documenting the story of Sleettown, a self-sufficient post-Civil War African-American community, was recently completed with the support of the Kentucky African-American Heritage Commission, allowing interpretation of another part of Perryville's story.
Designated a Preserve America Community in November 2004.
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