Early Surveyors – The area around Midway, on the waters of Lee’s Branch and the South Elkhorn, was first surveyed in 1774, when it was still part of Fincastle County, Virginia. It was a risky undertaking, for the lead surveyor, Hancock Taylor, was killed by Indians soon after leaving this area, as was Willis Lee, for whom Lee’s Branch was named. They camped at a large spring now on Waterford Farm.
Founding of Midway – Col. John Francisco eventually purchased property here which figured into the coming of the railroad. The Lexington and Ohio Railroad was incorporated in 1830 at Lexington, the second oldest railroad west of the Alleghenies, and opened in 1832, with the cars pulled by horses. A steam locomotive was in use by 1833, built by Thomas Barlow, the year the company purchased a right of passage through the middle of Francisco’s farm, the site of Midway. But when construction began, Mr. Francisco became angry with the railroad for unreasonably damaging his property and, in 1835, the company purchased his 216 acre farm. Railroad executives decided to lay out a town called Middleway, soon renamed Midway, since it was both halfway between Lexington and Frankfort and halfway between a potential line from Georgetown and Versailles. Midway was the first town in Kentucky founded by a railroad. The first lot was sold in 1835. The business section developed along Railroad Street, and by 1900 hotels, saloons, a large distillery, dry goods and grocery stores, many trades, churches and schools appeared.
Midway College – The Kentucky Female Orphan School was chartered in 1847 to educate orphaned girls. Through the years, it has transformed from a high school and junior college and today is Midway College, Kentucky’s only four-year women’s college.
Georgetown, Midway, Versailles Railroad – Another railroad once passed north-south through Midway, the Georgetown, Midway and Versailles Railroad, which operated from 1889 to 1940. Vestiges of this ghost railroad include the northern entrance to town from Leestown Pike, which follows the old rail bed.
Barlow in Midway – Thomas Barlow was an inventor in Lexington best known for building three working miniature steam locomotives in 1826-1827, and in 1832 an early steam locomotive was first used, unsuccessfully, on the L & O. His son, Milton, lived here from 1859-1869, and continued promoting his father’s inventions, especially an orrery or planetarium. It is said Thomas Barlow lived in Midway with his son a few years before his death in 1865 but this has not been documented.
Weisenberger Mills – Only a few miles east of Midway is Weisenberger Mills, founded in 1865, and is the oldest continuously operated mill in Kentucky. It is on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Offutt-Cole tavern, three miles south of Midway, Kentucky’s first stagecoach stop, dates to the 1780s. This was the birthplace of Zeralda Cole James, mother of Frank and Jesse James.
Horse Farms – The Midway area has a long history of well-known horse farms beginning with Woodburn and Nantura, which were located on Old Frankfort Pike. The Alexander family established Woodburn in 1790, and with famous stallions, including Lexington and Asteroid, became what a historian has called “the most prestigious stock farm in America.” Nantura owned by the Harper family, between 1795 and 1905 became one of the leading thoroughbred racing stables, and the tombstones of Ten Broeck and Longfellow are said to be the first horses in the state. George Armstrong Custer visited these horse farms in November 1871 looking for horses for both his own breeding operation and for the army. This racing tradition has carried forward to today’s horse farms surrounding Midway, including Parrish Hill Farm (birthplace of Derby Winner Charismatic), Airdrie Stud, Waterford Farm and Three Chimneys, among others.
Films in Midway – Movies filmed here include scenes from Flim Flam Man and Simpatico.
Civil War – During John Hunt Morgan’s July 1862 First Kentucky Raid, his CSA cavalry stopped here and seized the telegraph to send false messages to confuse Union commanders in the area, one of the earliest uses of the telegraph for this purpose. Late in the Civil War, Sue Mundy and other Confederate guerrillas raided nearby Woodburn, taking many valuable horses. In another raid on Nantura guerrillas killed Adam Harper, Jr. for which Union General Burbridge ordered four CSA prisoners shot in reprisal. Their “Martyr’s Monument” and graves are in the Midway Cemetery.
Historic Districts – The Midway Historic District was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978 and includes most of the town. Woodford County has also zoned the business section on Main (Railroad) Street a Historic District.
Courtesy of Bill Penn midwaymuseumstore.com June 2007
Distilling Bourbon in Midway – Midway has a very rich history of distilling Bourbon for nearly a 100 year period from 1865 to 1959. The Distillery was located at the corner of Gratz Street and Dudley Street, nestled in the bend of the Lee's Branch of the North Elkhorn Creek. There were several owners over the years, with the Distillery operating under various business names. Buford, Guthrie & Co. 1865-67, A. Buford Distillery 1867-68, Keller Distillery 1868-77, 1878-89, S.J. Greenbaum Distillery 1890-1911, Belle of Anderson Distillery 1912-14, Midway Distilling Co. 1915-24, Destroyed by fire in 1924 and closed from then till 1933, rebuilt and operated as the Woodford County Distilling Company 1933-40, Park & Tilford Distillery 1941-53, Schenley Products Distillery 1954-59. Early in the 1960s, Schenley Products donated the property, building and equipment to the Midway Woman's College. Notable national brand names produced include, Belle of Bourbon, Belle of Lexington, Belle of Anderson, Glenarme, Arlington, Jessamine, and Woodford. Two buildings still remain, currently known as The Robin's Nest, previously a distilling building and The Midway Loft Apartments, previously an aging warehouse. A large Distillery warehouse fire occurred on August 4th, 1908, where over 47,000 barrels of bourbon where destroyed. The Lee's Branch was on fire for over one mile, and several Midway residents were scorched dipping tin cups into the Lee’s Branch for Bourbon and Water. Martin Street next to the Lee’s Branch was nicknamed “Tin Cup Alley”. The Midway Fire Department was recognized for saving the City and the Female Orphan's School. (Information courtesy of Steve & Julie Morgan 2017).