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Capital ideas: Cities claiming to be the best of the best

Courtesy York County CVB

Being the self-proclaimed Horse Capital of the World has many benefits for Lexington, Ky.

“It’s what makes you stand out from the pack. It opens all kinds of opportunities,” said Mary Quinn Ramer, vice president of tourism marketing for the Greater Lexington Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Yes, there is a lot more to do in Lexington than horses, but horses are our hook. It [the slogan] is an instant identifier.”

Many cities and towns around the country lay claim to being the “capital of the world” on such wide-ranging subjects as alfalfa, watermelons, antiques and wind surfing. Ramer said such claims can be an invaluable marketing tool, but “you have to be able to stand behind the claim if you make it.”

Here are destinations that are more than capable of backing up their claims as capitals.

Horse Capital of the World

Lexington, Ky.
“What makes us stand out and unique is this huge presence of horses in the area,” said Ramer. “Our claim stands on its own.”

Courtesy Lexington CVB

Ramer pointed to the 2,900-acre Kentucky Horse Park, which “is unlike any other in the world. It is a living, working horse farm dedicated to all breeds.”

Keeneland racecourse with its shaded, manicured grounds and stone-faced grandstand is a charming setting for spring and summer race meets.

“And then you take the fact there are 450 horse farms sprinkled throughout central Kentucky,” said Ramer. “There is a tremendous amount of land and space devoted to horses.

“Whether it’s a race at Keeneland, a tour of a private horse farm or the Tour of Breeds at the Kentucky Horse Park, we know it is something others can’t re-create. It is one of our selling points,” said Ramer.

Carousel Capital of the World
Binghamton, N.Y.
“The reason we lay claim as the Carousel Capital of the World is we have the largest collection of carousels anywhere in the world,” said Judi Hess, tourism manager for the Greater Binghamton Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We have six in the county. We are very proud of them.”

Courtesy Greater Binghamton CVB

The carousels, all of which are in working condition, were placed in the county between 1919 and 1934. The noted carousel company Allan Herschell of North Tonawanda, N.Y., manufactured all of the carousels — called merry-go-rounds locally — in the “country fair” style. Two still have their original Wurlitzer band organs.

“They were all donated through a charitable gift of the founder of the Endicott Johnson Shoe factory,” said Hess. “They were bought and donated with the understanding there would never be a charge. That legacy survives today.”

Hess said the carousels, which are all on the National Register of Historic Places, “are definitely a draw. We have a specific brochure dedicated to carousels. Our community does value them.”

The CVB has a promotion, Ride the Carousel Circuit, that gives a special button to anyone who rides all six carousels, which operate from Memorial Day to Labor Day in the towns of Binghamton, Johnson City, Endicott and Endwell.

Antebellum Homes Capitol of Tennessee
Maury County, Tenn.
“We have more antebellum homes in this county than any other county in the state,” said Brenda Pierce, executive director of the Maury County Convention and Visitors Bureau in Columbia, Tenn., which prominently displays “Antebellum Homes Capitol of Tennessee” on its promotional material. “It’s what you think of when you think of the antebellum South.”

Courtesy Maury County CVB

Pierce said there are more than 300 antebellum houses in the county, four of which — the James K. Polk Home, Rippavilla, Elm Springs and the Anthenaeum Rectory — are open to the public daily. Another, Ferguson Hall, is open by appointment.

The Federal-style Polk Home, built around 1817 by the father of the 11th president of the United States, was the first brick home in Columbia and is the only remaining private residence of the former president, who lived there for six years after graduating from college. It has more than 1,000 objects that belonged to the president and Mrs. Polk.

Rippavilla Plantation, built in the 1850s, played an active role during the Civil War for both Confederate and Union armies.

The unusual Moorish Gothic-style Anthenaeum, built around 1835 for Samuel Polk Walker, nephew of President Polk, became a private school for girls.

Elm Springs was built in 1838 by James Dick, a wealthy businessman of New Orleans, for his sister and is the international headquarters for the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

Ferguson Hall, on the grounds of the Tennessee Children’s Home in Spring Hill, has a colorful history that includes mysterious meetings and the murder of a Civil War general.

“For motorcoach groups, in addition to the public sites, we have several private homes that allow us to bring group tours,” said Pierce.

Ice Cream Capital of the World

Le Mars, Iowa
Le Mars received its official designation as the Ice Cream Capital of the World from the Iowa Legislature in 1994 based on the prodigious production of local, family-owned Wells’ Dairy, the manufacturer of a wide range of Blue Bunny ice cream products.

Courtesy Wells’ Dairy

“More ice cream is made by one company in one location than anywhere else in the world,” said Liz Croston, the corporate communications and public relations manager for Wells’ Dairy, which produces more than 120 million gallons of ice cream each year.

“The community as a whole has embraced it,” said Croston. “The chamber of commerce builds its marketing materials around that; its slogan is ‘Life is Sweet in Le Mars.’ The annual community festival, Ice Cream Days, is built around it.”

Blue Bunny makes more than 75 different flavors of ice cream, which is available in a variety of products. Groups can sample the ice cream at an old-fashioned parlor and get a history of ice cream and the company, founded in 1913 by Fred H. Wells Jr., at Blue Bunny’s Ice Cream Capital of the World Museum and Visitor Center.

The 10-year-old museum, located on the outskirts of town by a bypass, will move to a new location in a historic downtown building next year.

“We will be right in the heart of the downtown business district, which is a great move for us,” said Croston.

Factory Tour Capital of the World
York County, Pa.
“We are the self-proclaimed Factory Tour Capital of the World because we have 15 free factory tours,” said Alison Smolinski, public relations coordinator for the York County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Courtesy York County CVB

“They range from major companies known all over the world, such as Harley-Davidson and Snyder’s of Hanover, to smaller more mom-and-pop operations, such as Revonah Pretzels and Wolfgang Candies.”

Smolinski said York County’s central location and proximity to transportation routes such as rivers, railroads and interstate highways has made it a manufacturing center. Although the reason varies by company, Smolinski said many of the factories say they welcome tours because “it gives the employees a sense of pride. It makes them feel special that people want to see what they are doing.”

The experiences also vary among the tours. “At Martin’s Potato Chips, you are right on the floor, and you get to taste the warm chips right off the line,” said Smolinski. “It will change the way you think about snack food.”

At the more mechanized Snyder’s, visitors are above the machines for a bird’s-eye view. “Then there is someplace like Revonah — that’s Hanover spelled backward — Pretzels, this tiny mom-and-pop where they still are hand twisting the pretzels.”

Mushroom Capital of the World

Kennett Square, Pa.
With more than half of the nation’s mushrooms grown in southern Chester County, Kennett Square is proud to proclaim itself the Mushroom Capital of the World.

Courtesy Mushroom Cap

“We are very proud to be the Mushroom Capital of the World. We have it on our water tower, and we get a proclamation from the governor every year,” said Kathi Lafferty, owner of the Mushroom Cap in downtown Kennett Square, which sells fresh mushrooms and mushroom-related items and is a minimuseum about the mushroom industry.

When the Phillips Mushroom Museum closed a few years ago, Lafferty stepped in. “They offered me what was left of the museum,” she said. “We show a 10-minute video on the mushroom industry in Chester County. It is very informative.”

Lafferty said the video helps replace farm tours, which are not practical on a regular basis. However, she said tour buses can arrange in advance, through her, to tour a mushroom farm.

Farm tours are also offered during the annual Mushroom Festival, which will be held for the 25th time Sept. 11-12. In addition to a large parade, an antique car show and a soup and wine festival, the Mushroom Festival features all things mushroom, among them painted mushrooms, a mushroom-growing exhibit, and vendors selling a wide variety of mushroom items, such as grilled portabellas, mushroom ice cream, mushroom sculptures and mushroom jewelry.