Unlike most American cities laid out on a grid oriented to the four cardinal directions, Lexington’s historic streetscape is curiously askew from the compass directions. The city was established along the headwaters of the Middle Fork of the Elkhorn, also known as Town Fork or Town Branch. Lexington's very unique long and thin urban core undulates like a salamander as it follows the original course of this humble waterway that all but vanished from the modern cityscape until its recent reemergence in the public’s imagination. The pioneers who settled here in 1779 prized this site for the abundant artesian springs that fed the creek with cold clear water. The Town Branch provided Lexington with its first public parkland as a "Commons” along its banks. An arcade of locust trees lined the creek above dry-laid stone banks. Lexington’s first horse races were held here. The Commons boasted a swimming hole and was traversed by wooden bridges on which townspeople perched to fish.
Situated at a major crossroads of westward continental expansion, Lexington rapidly outgrew its village creek. In mere decades the little meandering creek was transformed into an industrial corridor with mills, stockyards, distilleries, and one of the nation’s first rail lines. The city remained firmly attached to the Town Branch corridor as a rail line along its banks replaced the creek as the city’s lifeline to the west. Like a ‘giving tree’ cut off at the stump, the Town Branch eventually gave up its daylight to the burgeoning city. Many of the most important buildings such as a railway station and public market house were built astride its banks. Only the gurgling of the waters underneath and an occasional flood gave away its hidden presence.
Over the last 15 years Lexington has rediscovered this hidden waterway and the potential it holds to reorient the city to its past and a more inviting future. A reconstructed Town Branch can provide water, shade, and a welcoming linear greenway to draw people out of buildings and cars and into a public "Commons” as bicyclists and pedestrians. The Town Branch can become a green thread that reconnects the city with its rich cultural history grounded in our world-famous landscape.