Lexington, consolidated with Fayette County, is the second-largest city in Kentucky and the 61st largest in the United States. Known as the "Horse Capital of the World", it is located in the heart of Kentucky's Bluegrass region. In the 2013 US Census Estimate, the city's population was 308,428, anchoring a metropolitan area of 489,435 people and a combined statistical area of 708,677 people.
Lexington ranks tenth among US cities in college education rate, with 39.5% of residents having at least a bachelor's degree. It is the location of the Kentucky Horse Park, The Red Mile and Keeneland race courses, Rupp Arena, the world's largest basketball-specific arena, Transylvania University, the University of Kentucky and Bluegrass Community & Technical College.
Lexington was founded in June, 1775, in what was then Fincastle County, Virginia, 17 years before Kentucky became a state. A party of frontiersmen, led by William McConnell, camped on the Middle Fork of Elkhorn Creek (now known as Town Branch and rerouted under Vine Street) at the site of the present-day McConnell Springs. Upon hearing of the colonists' victory in the Battles of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775, they named their campsite Lexington. It was the first of what would be many American places to be named after the Massachusetts town. The risk of Indian attacks delayed permanent settlement, though, for four years. In 1779, Col. Robert Patterson and 25 companions came from Fort Harrod and erected a blockhouse. Cabins and a stockade followed, establishing a settlement known as Bryan Station. In 1780, Lexington was made the seat of Virginia's Fayette County. Colonists defended it against a British and Indian attack in 1782, during the last part of the American Revolutionary War.
The town was chartered on May 6, 1782, by an act of the Virginia General Assembly. The First African Baptist Church was founded by Peter Durrett, a Baptist preacher and slave held by Rev. Joseph Craig. Durrett helped guide "The Traveling Church", a group migration of several hundred pioneers led by the preacher Lewis Craig and Captain William Ellis from Virginia to Kentucky in 1781. It is the oldest black Baptist congregation in Kentucky and the third oldest in the United States.
By 1820, Lexington was one of the largest and wealthiest towns west of the Allegheny Mountains. So cultured was its lifestyle that the city gained the nickname "Athens of the West". One early prominent citizen, John Wesley Hunt, became the first millionaire west of the Alleghenies. The growing town was devastated by a cholera epidemic in 1833: 500 of 7,000 residents died within two months, including nearly one-third of the congregation of Christ Church Episcopal. London Ferrill, second preacher of First African Baptist, was one of three clergy who stayed in the city to serve the suffering. Additional cholera outbreaks occurred in 1848–49 and the early 1850s. Cholera was spread by people using contaminated water supplies, but its transmission was not understood in those years. Often the wealthier people would flee town for outlying areas to try to avoid the spread of disease.
Many of 19th-century America's most important people spent part of their lives in the city, including U.S. President Abraham Lincoln and Confederate President Jefferson Davis (who attended Transylvania University in 1823 and 1824); Confederate general John Hunt Morgan; U.S. Senator and Vice President John C. Breckinridge; and Speaker of the House, U.S. Senator, and Secretary of State Henry Clay, who had a plantation nearby. Lincoln's wife Mary Todd Lincoln was born and raised in Lexington, and the couple visited the city several times after their marriage in 1842.
In 1935, the Addiction Research Center (ARC) was created as a small research unit at the U.S. Public Health Service Hospital in Lexington, Kentucky. Founded as one of the first drug rehabilitation clinics in the nation, the ARC was affiliated with a Federal prison. Expanded as the first alcohol and drug rehabilitation hospital in the United States, it was known as "Narco" of Lexington. The hospital was later converted into a federal prison, the Federal Medical Center, Lexington.
In 1806, Lexington was best written to its spirit and quality by the poet, Josiah Espy in the following letter:
"Lexington is the largest and most wealthy town in Kentucky, or indeed west of the Allegheny Mountains; the main street of Lexington has all the appearance of Market Street in Philadelphia on a busy day ... I would suppose it contains about five hundred dwelling houses [it was closer to three hundred], many of them elegant and three stories high. About thirty brick buildings were then raising, and I have little doubt but that in a few years it will rival, not only in wealth, but in population, the most populous inland town of the United States . . . The country around Lexington for many miles in every direction, is equal in beauty and fertility to anything the imagination can paint and is already in a high state of cultivation."
Today, Lexington is widely referred to as "The Athens of the West" after the popularity of Espy's charming Poem dedicated to the city.