The McDowell House Museum began its life as the home of Dr. Ephraim McDowell. While he lived on its premises, during the nation’s early days, Dr. McDowell pioneered the ovariotomy, a medical treatment unheard of in 19th-century clinics. On Christmas morning in 1809, he surgically removed a 22-pound tumor from the ovary of Jane Todd Crawford—the first procedure of its type ever successfully performed.
Today, Dr. McDowell’s house stands as a monument to his medical mind and the people that it saved. On tours through the museum—which is furnished in turn-of-the-century antiques and early medical equipment—guides explain the doctor's lifesaving procedures while strolling through the home’s restored Georgian interior. Guests can wander through Dr. McDowell’s medical office, search for old-fashioned remedies in his apothecary shop next door, and recuperate from their exertions in the formal gardens. The apothecary shop contains more than 200 pieces of antique medical equipment including a leech jar, early American mortars and pestles, and fossilized tongue depressors. The house and its grounds also overlook Constitution Square State Park, which contains the first post office west of the Alleghenies along with replicas of an early jailhouse and courthouse.
Located at Blue Grass Airport, the Aviation Museum of Kentucky pays tribute to the Commonwealth’s rich history of aviation with its impressive squadron of rare and restored aircraft, aviation memorabilia, interactive educational displays, and active aviation restoration shop. Inside the museum, a flock of steel birds suspended on wires hangs from the hangar’s expansive ceiling. A replica of Matthew Sellers’ 1908 quadraplane—the first aircraft built and flown in Kentucky—headlines the museum collection, extending its majestic wings to shake the hands of awestruck visitors. Other exceptional designs include a Skyhawk once flown by the Navy’s Blue Angels, an F-14 Tomcat jet-fighter as seen in the film Top Gun, and a high-bypass turbofan used to propel modern jumbo jets.
Guided tours and interactive exhibits delve into the science and history of flight, while the Kentucky Aviation Hall of Fame honors the lives of those who have soared among the clouds, whether in planes or wrapped around the waist of Michael Jordan. Young ones, meanwhile, can learn more about the variety of aviation careers and set their sights on following the tailwinds of famous pilots and designers.
Real-life attractions permeate the museum’s nine discovery zones, where youngsters enclose themselves in giant bubbles, groom life-sized horses in a stable, and use their hands and feet to play virtual pianos or pop virtual balloons projected onto the floor. Whereas older children can build their own adobe wall in the Homes Around the World area, kids aged 3 and younger can watch wild birds from an observation window or don woodland-creature costumes in the Wonder Woods.
Along with its hands-on exhibits, the nonprofit museum stimulates youngsters with a slew of outreach programs. It keeps the art studio stocked with supplies that kids can use to unleash their creativity and invites more than 100 artists younger than 18 to exhibit and sell their work in the annual Museum Go Round. The museum’s summer camps and weekend programs cover kid-friendly subjects that range from performing drama to breaking down the tax code clause by clause.
A loud whistle sounds off in the distance, signaling the arrival of a diesel locomotive. The train pulls past dozens of trees and into the station. It?s just another day at the Kentucky Railway Museum, where new and restored trains take visitors on nostalgic journeys through the New Haven countryside. The stationary exhibit hall?a replica of the original New Haven depot?houses a collection of railroad artifacts and memorabilia ranging from rail carts and dining cars to steam whistles and the discarded mustaches of malevolent railroad barons.
Though the creatures on display at Dinosaur World don’t need much space to roam, plenty of care has been taken to furnish them a comfortable habitat. They peer imposingly from the hillsides of Kentucky, crane their necks up through native trees, and stomp through prairie fields. Although a life-size mammoth or T. rex might be hard to miss, little visitors might still jump with delight at noticing a baby dino suddenly appear from behind a bush. Giant brachiosaurus necks arch high above treetops, while toothy meat-eaters and spiny stegosauruses roam the world below. The fiberglass, steel, and concrete models reach up to 80 feet in length, and are built according to the latest scientific discoveries about what dinosaurs looked like and what styles were trendy in the Mesozoic era.
The first Dinosaur World location was a former alligator farm in Florida and five years later another one was opened in Kentucky. As Swedish-born Christer Svensson began to fill it with statues, he consulted with experts around the world to not only create realistic reptiles but to surround them with fun, educational activities. Kids can sift through sand to find shark’s teeth, gastropod shells, and trilobites in a fossil dig, get to know some lizards a little better on the playground, or examine ancient eggs and raptor claws in the museum.
After spending millions of years out of sight, wiling away the time by boring a cave deep into the earth, the Hidden River powered the town above with hydroelectricity before pollution forced it to close off from human eyes again. 50 years later, a recovery project restored Hidden River Cave, and today its depths play host to tours of the generator's remains and the underground river still flowing more than 100 feet below the ground.
Hidden River is one of the largest privately operated caves in the Mammoth Cave area, and along with hands-on exploration, American Cave Museum & Hidden River Cave spreads knowledge and awareness with two stories of educational exhibits. There, visitors explore topics such as prehistoric explorers, the history of saltpeter mining, and how to discern stalactites from walruses stuck in the cavern's ceiling.