Elizabethtown is a city in and the county seat of Hardin County, Kentucky, United States. The population was 28,531 at the 2010 census, making it the eleventh-largest city in the state. It is the principal city of and is included in the Elizabethtown, Kentucky Metropolitan Statistical Area, which is included in the Louisville–Jefferson County–Elizabethtown–Scottsburg, Kentucy-Indiana Combined Statistical Area.
Samuel Haycraft, Jr., in his History of Elizabethtown, wrote in 1869: "For who can tell what Elizabethtown will be with her delightful location, her enterprising and energetic population, her railroad facilities, her fine water, and her surroundings of intelligent and gentlemanly farmers, the best fruit country in the world, and her future manufactories that must spring up, and when it becomes a large city it will be well to look back upon her starting point."
Founded by in July 1797, Elizabethtown is the Hardin County seat. In 1779, three early settlers, Capt. Thomas Helm, Col. Andrew Hynes, and Col. Samuel Haycraft, built forts with blockhouses to use as stockades for defense against Native Americans, who inhabited the area and resented the settlers' encroachment on their territory. The forts, being one mile (1.6 km) apart, formed a triangle. At the time, there were no other settlements between the Ohio River and the Green River. Soon, other European Americans came and settled around these forts.
Established in 1793, the county was named for Colonel John Hardin, an Indian fighter who had been killed by Native Americans while on a peace mission with tribes in Ohio. In a few years, professional men and tradesmen came to live in the area. In 1793, Colonel Hynes had of land surveyed and laid off into lots and streets to establish Elizabethtown. Named in honor of his wife, Elizabethtown was legally established on July 4, 1797.
Thomas Lincoln helped Samuel Haycraft build a millrace at Haycraft's mill on Valley Creek. After Lincoln married Nancy Hanks in 1806, they lived in a log cabin built in Elizabethtown. Their daughter, Sarah, was born there in 1807. Soon after, they moved to the Sinking Spring Farm, where Abraham Lincoln was born in 1809. Thomas Lincoln took his family to Indiana in 1816. After his wife died in 1818, he returned to Elizabethtown and married Sarah Bush Johnston, widowed since 1816. She and her three children accompanied Thomas back to Indiana, where Sarah was stepmother to Thomas' two children.
On March 5, 1850 the Commonwealth of Kentucky granted a charter to the Louisville and Nashville Railroad Company authorizing it to raise funds and built a railroad from Louisville to the Tennessee state line in the direction of Nashville. John L. Helm, the grandson of Capt. Thomas Helm, became the president of the railroad in October 1854; he directed construction of the main stem of the rail line through Elizabethtown. The rail line was completed to Elizabethtown in 1858, with the first train arriving on June 15, 1858. The opening of the railroad brought economic growth to Elizabethtown, which became an important trade center along the railroad and a strategic point during the Civil War.
On December 27, 1862, Confederate General John Hunt Morgan and his 3,000-man cavalry attacked Elizabethtown. During the battle, more than 100 cannon balls were fired into the town. Although he successfully captured Elizabethtown, Morgan's chief goal was to disrupt the railroad and northern transportation. He proceeded north along the railroad, burning trestles and destroying sections of the track. After the battle, one cannon ball was found lodged in the side of a building on the public square. After the building burned in 1887 and was rebuilt, the cannon ball was replaced in the side wall, as close to its original site as possible, where it remains in the present day.
From 1871 to 1873 during the Reconstruction era, the Seventh Cavalry and a battalion of the Fourth Infantry, led by General George Armstrong Custer, were stationed in Elizabethtown. The military were assigned to suppress the local Ku Klux Klan under the Enforcement Acts, as their members had been attacking freedmen and other Republicans. They also broke up illegal distilleries, which began to flourish in the South after the Civil War. General Custer and his wife Elizabeth lived in a small cottage behind Aunt Beck Hill's boarding house, now known as the Brown-Pusey House.