Berea: Folk Arts and Crafts Capital of Kentucky

Nestled up against the rugged Cumberland Plateau, Berea is a town with a deep soul and the artwork to prove it

The Folk Arts and Crafts Capital of Kentucky, Berea is ranked among the top art communities in the U. S. Nestled between the Bluegrass region and the foothills of the Cumberland Mountains, Berea offers visitors over 40 arts and crafts shops featuring everything from handmade dulcimers and homemade chocolate to jewelry stores, art galleries, quilt-makers, and even glassblowing studios. Sculptures of mythical beasts, vibrantly painted open hands, and historic architecture are a few of the delights as one wanders the town and college.

Berea Welcome Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The beating heart of the folk arts and crafts scene in Kentucky, Berea is also home to more than 8,400 acres of closed canopy forest and a well-maintained trail system. Designated as one of Kentucky’s Trail Towns which are billed as a “home base for outdoor expeditions,” Berea is full of festivals, trails, parks, and performances.

Kentucky Artisan Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The town is known for Berea College with its commitment to interracial co-education and service to the Appalachian Region. Berea is the “Folk Arts and Crafts Capital of Kentucky—Where Art’s Alive.” Berea is situated in southern Madison County near the edge of central Kentucky’s Blue Grass Region. The town is located 39 miles south of Lexington, 113 miles southeast of Louisville, and 132 miles north of Knoxville, Tennessee.

Boone Tavern Hotel © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Berea story began in 1853 when abolitionist John G. Fee with the help of local supporters and other missionaries established a church, a school, and a tiny village. The school’s constitution specified that it would be interracial and co-educational—radical concepts for the time. Fee called the settlement Berea after the Biblical town where the people “received the Word with all readiness of mind.”

Kentucky Artisan Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today the one-room school has evolved into a college that is world-renowned for its dedication to social justice, community service, and the preservation of Appalachian culture. The tiny village has grown into a town with a thriving population of weavers, instrument makers, furniture artisans, jewelry designers, glass workers, potters, painters, sculptors, and musicians.

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Boone Tavern Hotel

Both the town and the college take pride in their contemporary Appalachian identity. Known as the “Folk Arts and Crafts Capital of Kentucky,” Berea offers a public arts experience on multiple levels. You can enjoy the sculptures, architecture, galleries, and shops, or you can enter the studios of working artists and watch art being created. Best of all, you can join right in with events like Jammin’ on the Porch or the Festival of Learnshops.

Here are 15 of the best reasons to visit this historic Kentucky town.

Berea Welcome Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Berea Welcome Center in the historic L&N Train Depot

Set the scene for a perfect visit to Berea by starting in the charming welcome center located at 3 Artist Circle. Staffed by, arguably, the most well-informed people in the county, they can tell you everything you need to know from what events are happening to who has the best pizza in town. Make sure you give yourself time to look around the restored brick railroad station where the center is housed in.

Public art at Artisan Village © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Public art

Sculptures of mythical beasts, vibrantly painted hands, fountains, stained glass, and historic architecture are a few of the delights on the Berea Public Art Tour. Go to and hear the voices of artists and local historians telling the story behind the art. Plus you can experience live art by visiting one of several studio artists, who invite you to watch them at work, or by joining local musicians at a weekly jam festival.

Public art at Artisan Village © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Look for mythical beasts, fountains, and historic architecture on the Berea Public Art Tour. It’s a great way to get the lay of the land while experiencing the artistic process firsthand. The Student Craft Program at Berea College keeps Appalachian craftsmanship alive. Stop by the College Visitor Center and Shoppe to arrange a tour.

Log House Craft Gallery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Indian Fort Mountain Trail System

Owned by Berea College, the Indian Fort Mountain Trail System is located within one of the oldest managed private forests in the country. There are many trail options for hikers ranging from a short 2-3 mile outing to a longer 6-7 mile trek with plenty of vantage points highlighting the famous pinnacles. Open all year and in all seasons, the trails are particularly lovely in the spring when everything is blooming and when the fall colors are at their peak.

More on Kentucky: Ambling Down Country Roads in Bluegrass Country

Artisan Village © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Shopping

Known as an artistic epicenter, shopping for unique handmade goods doesn’t get any better than in this artsy town. Start at the Kentucky Artisan Center and watch a weekly demonstration or performance before walking through the gallery featuring the work of numerous Kentucky artists, craftsmen, and authors. Next, browse the Appalachian crafts at the Log House Craft Gallery. Finally, check out the Artisan Village where there are enough interesting shops to keep an art lover busy all day.

Log House Craft Gallery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Family-friendly biking

There are several well-established cycling trails that the whole family can enjoy including bike paths in Berea City Park, the 3-mile Mayde Beebe White Trail, and the 1-mile John B. Stephenson Memorial Trail. In addition, Berea is a stop on the TransAmerica Trail spanning more than 4,225 miles from coast to coast, 600 miles of which roll across some of the most beautiful parts of the Bluegrass State.

Boone Tavern Hotel © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Historic Boone Tavern Hotel & Restaurant

A visit to Berea is simply not complete without visiting the Historic Boone Tavern Hotel & Restaurant. It all began in the summer of 1908 when Nellie Frost, the wife of Berea College President William G. Frost, provided lodging and meals at her home for some 300 visitors to the College. As the final visitor departed, her husband was told in no uncertain terms that it was time to build a guest house.

Boone Tavern Hotel Restaurant © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The award-winning restaurant serves up both traditional favorites and exciting reinterpretations of Southern Cuisine. Fresh, flavorful homemade dishes that are as locally sourced as possible and classically decorated rooms make for a romantic weekend or much-deserved getaway. The graceful white columns and airy verandas nestle among the vibrant galleries, cafes, shops, and studios.

Kentucky Artisan Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Madison County Waterways

Kentucky has more miles of navigable water than anywhere else in the Lower 48 and the areas surrounding Berea in Madison County have plenty of it. The local outfitters can help you find the right fit no matter what your experience in the water might be, and many offer paddling trips for all levels.

Artisan Village © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Festivals, festivals, and more festivals

It’s hard to plan a visit here without being in town for one of the many festivals this vibrant community plans each year. The festival offerings range from arts and music to a Spoonbread Festival (September 17-19, 2022) to the annual Geocaching Weekend (3rd weekend in October).

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Kentucky Artisan Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Jammin’ on the Porch

It’s Thursday in Berea—time to get together and jam! It’s not just for music. Storytellers, poets, and everyone is invited to come and share. Father and daughter Donna and Lewis Lamb, musicians from nearby Paint Lick host the free festivities beginning at 7:00 pm. The jam happens all year round but the location does vary based on the weather. When the weather is fine Jammin’ on the Porch is held on the porch of the log cabin on the lawn in front of the L&N Depot/Welcome Center. When it is too cold to be outside they move indoors usually to one of the local churches. Call the Welcome Center at 800-598-5263 to find out where they will be during your visit. It’s an authentic evening of entertainment and fellowship. Anyone of any age or skill level is welcome and encouraged to participate.

Berea Farmers Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Berea Farmers Market

The Berea Farmers’ Market is a year-round market that offers fresh and local fruits, veggies, plants, honey, eggs, and more. With a growing community of small farmers aimed at providing fresh, local products it should come as no surprise that this “growers-only” market continues to, well, grow. Open on Saturdays year round expect to find prepared foods, canned goods, homemade jams, fresh-baked breads and cakes, and handmade artwork and crafts (not to mention seasonal fruits and veggies!).

Log Cabin Craft Gallery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

11. Get Hands-on with Art

Artisans here love to share their skills and offer different ways to learn about their respective crafts. Through a program called Hands-on Workshops (or HOW), students can take a range of classes from culinary to arts and crafts workshops. If you’re looking for some great holiday gift ideas what better way to show someone love than with a handmade gift? In the months leading up to the Christmas season, take a class from the expert artisans and master craftspeople in the “Make It, Take It, Give It!” workshop series.

Kentucky Artisan Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

12. US 25 Yard Sale

As the saying goes, one man’s junk is another man’s treasure. The “US 25 Yard Sale” runs across more than 500 miles of US 25 and US 25W through Kentucky, Tennessee, and North Carolina. It’s usually held in the summer and this is one unique event worth checking out.

Boone Travel Hotel Restaurant © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

13. Eateries

From newly renovated historic buildings to one-of-a-kind dining there is a brand new crop of fine eating coming to town. A few include Happy Jacks, Noodle Nirvana, Brandi’s Bakery, Native Bagel Company, Becky’s Breads, and Apollo’s Pizza. 

Kentucky Artisan Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

14. Live performances for all seasons

The community’s love of culture extends beyond the visual arts into the performing arts with two main venues for live theater: The Spotlight Playhouse and the Berea College Theater Laboratory. There is also the annual Celebration of Traditional Music (49th annual; October 13-16, 2022) hosted by the Loyal Jones Appalachian Center at Berea College.

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Oh! Kentucky Campground & RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

15. Oh! Kentucky Campground & RV Park

Traveling by RV? Then make your home at Oh! Kentucky Campground & RV Park. The park is easy-on, easy-off I-75 at Exit 76. Our pull-through site was in the 75-foot range and level with utilities centrally located. The park offers 71 sites (all pull-through) with 50 and 30-amp electric service, water, and sewer.

Worth Pondering…

I try to apply colors like words that shape poems, like notes that shape music.

—Joan Miro

10 Cool Buildings for a Cross-country Road Trip

Consider this list your reason for an epic cross-country road trip

As we travel around the United States, we observe fantastic buildings that adorn the country’s cities and towns. These incredible structures all have a story to tell and have been built to honor culture, challenge mankind’s abilities, and represent a time and place that is meaningful to its residents.

The Breakers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You learn a lot about a society from its buildings. Are they beautiful? Do they serve the people who live in them? Do they last? You could ask the same questions of civilization.

Vanderbilt Mansion © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

By those measures, the British Empire fares well. The English, like them or not, planted pretty buildings around the world. It may be the most unusual thing they did. Certainly, no one has done it since. Not only are these buildings interesting to look at, but they’re also full of fascinating history. Most cities (including Washington) haven’t constructed a graceful building in over 50 years. It makes me wonder about our civilization.

We’ve rounded up the most interesting structures in a variety of states. Let’s take a cross-country road trip as we explore nine of the coolest buildings in America.

Chapel of the Holy Cross © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona – Chapel of the Holy Cross

This cool chapel was designed by one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s students—Marguerite Brunswig Staude. The Chapel of the Holy Cross is 4 miles south of Sedona. It juts out from the colorful red cliffs and the large stained-glass windows overlook the Verde Valley.

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Georgia – Jekyll Island Club

The Club officially opened in 1888, quickly becoming a retreat for families that represented one-sixth of the world’s wealth including the Vanderbilts, Morgans, Pulitzers, and Rockefellers. Over time the Clubhouse with its elegant spire expanded to include the Annex and accommodations for the Member’s Guests, or “Strangers” as they were affectionately called, and a few Members even built their own Cottage.

Related: 8 U.S. Towns Stuck in Time

Boone Tavern Hotel © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kentucky – Boone Tavern Hotel

A historic Berea hotel, Boone Tavern was built in 1909 at the suggestion of Nellie Frost, the wife of the College president, William G. Frost. Boone Tavern Hotel—named for Appalachian hero Daniel Boone—has been hosting visitors of Berea ever since including the Dalai Lama, Henry Ford, President Calvin Coolidge, Eleanor Roosevelt, Maya Angelou, and Robert Frost.

Cathedral of St. Helena © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Montana – Cathedral of St. Helena

The Cathedral of Saint Helena was modeled by architect A.O. Von Herbulis after Vienna’s neo-Gothic church, Votivkirche. Construction began in 1908 and the church held its first mass in 1914. The impressive spires rise 230 feet above the street and can be seen from all parts of Helena. The stained-glass windows were made in Bavaria and shipped to Helena.

Loretto Chapel © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New Mexico – Loretto Chapel

The visitor is drawn to Loretto Chapel to see the spiral staircase that leads to the choir loft. The chapel’s small-sized made access to the loft possible only by ladder. When none of the local carpenters could build a staircase that wouldn’t encroach on the limited floor space, the Sisters prayed to St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters.

Loretto Chapel © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Soon a mysterious stranger arrived, looking for work, and built an elegant spiral staircase. The staircase—with two 360-degree turns, no visible means of support, and without the benefit of nails—has been called the Miraculous Staircase.

Vanderbilt Mansion © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New York – Vanderbilt Mansion

By any standard, past or present, this property—with a magnificent view of the Hudson River and the Catskill Mountains—would be considered prime real estate. A series of fine homes have stood on the tract since about 1764, and in 1847 the estate was called “one of the finest specimens of the modern style of Landscape Gardening in America.”

Related: 7 of the Most Visited National Historic Sites (NHS) in America

Vanderbilt Mansion gardens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Such superlatives attracted the attention of Frederick Vanderbilt, the grandson of Cornelius “Commodore” Vanderbilt, who had built a fortune from shipping, ferries, and the New York Central Railroad. One of Frederick’s brothers, George Washington Vanderbilt, is perhaps best-known for his Biltmore Estate near Ashville, North Carolina. The Vanderbilts were known as the richest—and the most powerful—family in America in the late 1800s.

Mitchell Corn Palace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

South Dakota – The World’s Only Corn Palace

The World’s Only Corn Palace or the Mitchell Corn Palace is a quirky, but cool multi-purpose arena in Mitchell. It was built in the Moorish Revival style and is adorned with crop art made from corn and other grain that features a constantly-evolving design.

Mitchell Corn Palace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Corn Palace hosts concerts, sports events, exhibits, and other community events like the Corn Palace Stampede Rodeo in July and the Corn Palace Polka Festival in September.

Mission San Jose © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texas – Mission San Jose

If you visit Texas, expect to see a lot of missions. But if you want to see the coolest one, check out the “queen” of all the San Antonio missions—Mission San Jose. Once the heart of a vibrant Spanish community founded in the early 18th century, San Jose attracted people from all over the area. The church, which still stands, was built in 1768.

Related: Exploring What Is Old and Discovering What’s New along San Antonio Missions Trail

Castle in the Clouds © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New Hampshire – Castle in the Clouds

Built on a mountainside overlooking New Hampshire’s Lakes Region, the Moultonborough mansion originally named Lucknow has aptly been called Castle in the Clouds since it opened to the public in 1957. The beautiful Arts and Crafts–style home was built in 1913 as the luxury Ossipee Mountain retreat of Thomas Plant, a millionaire shoe-manufacturing mogul.

The Breakers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rhode Island – The Breakers

There doesn’t seem to be a shortage of mega-mansions in Newport. The coolest of the over-the-top palatial “summer cottages” is the Breakers. This home symbolizes the social and financial preeminence of the Vanderbilt family who built the mansion.

Related: Jacksonville: The Historic Small Town That Never Gets Old

The Breakers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Architects were tasked with designing an Italian Renaissance-style palace inspired by the 16th-century palazzos of Genoa and Turin. The manor was completed in 1895 and after the death of the last remaining Vanderbilt associated with the Breakers, it’s now in the hands of the Preservation Society and is the most visited attraction in Rhode Island.

Worth Pondering…

Traveling is almost like talking with men of other centuries.

—René Descartes