Founded in 1854 by an abolitionist minister, Berea, Kentucky, was born with a rebellious streak, and it stuck. Berea College began as a coed and interracial institution at a time when those were hardly common in the South. Today it has close to 1,700 students, all of whom work 10 hours a week to contribute to the cost of their education and to serve their community. Berea students do not pay tuition but are chosen based on academic ability and financial need. The school continues to place a premium on diversity.
Both the town and the college preach and practice sustainability, thanks in part to the long-established Berea College Farm. The town’s location in scenic Madison County makes it a magnet for painters, potters, weavers, outdoor enthusiasts—individualistic groups who tend to be both curious about and protective of the incredible Appalachian beauty all around them. Artists and hikers alike take inspiration from nearby natural wonders like the Berea Pinnacles, Anglin Falls, and the Daniel Boone National Forest, whose colors and vistas have sparked everything from morning treks to paintings and textiles.
Long a hub for Appalachian artisans, the town hosts over 800 of them in the Kentucky Artisan Center at Berea alone. That’s not to mention all the shops, galleries, and studios clustered along North Broadway and College Square. You can’t swing a handmade rolling pin without hitting a pottery wheel in this gorgeous mountain community. Talk about a Christmas shopper’s dream.
Check into the Historic Boone Tavern Hotel & Restaurant of Berea College, designed by an architectural firm but built by students, who also made the bricks for the hotel in the early 1900s. Boone Tavern has its own elegant restaurant, or you can try other local eateries like Berea Coffee & Tea, Smokin’ Jax BBQ Shack, or Papa Leno’s.
Like many other Appalachian towns, Berea loves a festival and hosts many of them throughout the year. Besides the biggie—the annual Spoonbread Festival held earlier in the fall—here are a few Berea, Kentucky, events to mark on your calendar:
November 16, 2019, Berea Makers Market Holiday 2019
December 7, 2019, 34th Annual Twilight Christmas Parade with loads of shopping in College Square and the Artisan Village
December 26, 2019-January 1, 2020, Christmas Country Dance School
July 10-26, 2020, Festival of Learnshops, where you can release your own creativity, working alongside Berea artisans
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