Camp Nelson celebrates 160th anniversary – Harlan Enterprise
Camp Nelson celebrates 160th anniversary – Harlan Enterprise

Camp Nelson celebrates 160th anniversary

Published on Monday, July 8, 2024, 8:00 a.m.

Camp Nelson was originally built as a supply depot during the Civil War and was transformed into a center of freedom as the war progressed, as thousands of African Americans sought emancipation through draft into the war.

Camp Nelson National Monument commemorates the 160th Camp Nelson celebrates its 100th anniversary with a free public event on Saturday, July 13 and Sunday, July 14.

“We are excited about this event and are using the anniversary as an opportunity to engage with the public,” said Steve Phan, director of visitor services at Camp Nelson National Monument. “1864 is the pivotal year for Camp Nelson, when it was transformed from a supply depot into a center of freedom.”

“The recruitment of African-American soldiers at Camp Nelson was the spark that led to the end of slavery in Kentucky,” Phan said. “Historians and speakers from across the country are attending this event to trace the dramatic and evolutionary transformation of the camp.”

In 1864, the U.S. Army authorized the recruitment, enlistment, and training of African-American soldiers at eight centers in Kentucky. Camp Nelson became the largest recruiting center for the U.S. Colored Troops (USCT) in the state and the third largest in the country, and a haven for freedom seekers who had escaped slavery. The draft of black soldiers set in motion Camp Nelson’s dramatic evolution from supply depot to the “Birthplace of Freedom in Kentucky.”

The American Awakening Symposium: “Conflict, Courage, and Contradictions” marks the 160th anniversary of Camp Nelson in 1864. The special commemoration event will include historical presentations by scientists, NPS staff, and descendants, and will feature the Slave Dwelling Project as keynote speaker. There will also be guided tours, immersive living history demonstrations, and children’s activities. All programs are free and open to the public.

“We would like to thank the Camp Nelson Education & Preservation Foundation, which has stewarded the Camp Nelson site since the 1990s, long before there was a Camp Nelson National Monument,” said NPS Superintendent Ernie Price. “Having the local Camp Nelson Foundation as a partner takes us back to the origins of the park and its ongoing history.”

Camp Nelson National Monument is located 15 miles south of Lexington on Highway 27 and just north of Camp Nelson National Cemetery. The Camp Nelson National Monument Visitor Center is currently open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The grounds and trails are open from sunrise to sunset.

A schedule of events can be found on the park’s website at or the park’s Facebook page at

By Aurora