Not that Kentucky isn't beautiful, because it is --gentle rolling hills, windy roads, picturesque horse farms-- it's just that the state is.. well.. very tranquil (some might say, boring).
We pulled into the state on June 4th. As is our practice, we try to find centrally located campgrounds that give us access to many local attractions. To date, we have put about 40,000 miles on my truck since leaving Delaware in October, 2017. About 10,000 of those are towing miles traveling from campground to campground. Which means we've logged about 30,000 miles of sightseeing (and errands) travel.
Just to show how many miles we traveled sightseeing while here, I created a map displaying the various trips we took after setting up at our two campgrounds. This map does not take into account any of the local trips made within each area.
So here is the daily (6/04-6/18) itinerary of our time in The Bluegrass State.
6/04 – After leaving Chattanooga, we drove a little over four hours to the small town of Mt. Vernon, Kentucky. This small town was settled in the late 1700's and named after the home of George Washington. Don't bother looking for it on a map because you'd need a microscope to find it.
Some folks say "the best thing about small towns, is the leaving".. and I'd have to say this is true about Mt. Vernon (no offense to the nice people of Mt. Vernon). Seems the only things to do around here are hay rides and barn dances (we did neither).
(because after driving this far, you certainly don't want none of that "fake" country music)
Our first campground was at the Renfro Valley KOA.
We stayed a week and found it to be adequate. Not especially nice, with the lots being gravel and the interior roads narrow, but it was quiet, had a nice pool, was reasonably priced, and the staff was very friendly.
6/05 - Our first day trip was to a waterfall in Richmond, KY. After traveling about 30 miles, we found our exit. The main road led us to a country road, which lead to a one lane road, then turned into a gravel road. As the roadway narrowed, our concerns grew. Then when the road dead-ended at a scary looking barn, with a hand made sign reading: "Richmond Falls - This way-->", we felt as if we had a decision to make:
We simultaneously came to the realization that seeing the falls really wasn't that important. So we turned the truck around.
Looking for a cup of coffee, Lorraine quickly consulted Google maps and found one in a nearby small town of Berea. It's one of those decisions that seem relatively inconsequential at first but turn out to have a large and lasting impact on our trip.
This town was a very pleasant surprise. It's known for its art community and home to the historic Berea College. A search for an afternoon cup of coffee, turned into a history lesson on interracial education in the south.
After stopping at the Berea Coffee and Tea Co., we decided to walk around and visit many small shops that dotted the street. One particular store caught our attention, it was the Berea College Visitor Center where they were selling student created pieces of art.
Wisely placed at the front of the store, was a college student weaving cloth on an old fashioned loom. After a pleasant chat about the mechanics of the machine, she told us how she was an art student at the university and attending tuition free. To our astonishment, we learned that Berea College has a goal of providing tuition free education for all qualified students [although they have students from all over the world, most are under privileged and from the Appalachian area].
As parents of two former college students and knowing the pain and suffering of eight long years of tuition payments, this sparked our interest. When offered a chance to tour the historic campus, we jumped at the opportunity.
Our tour guide was a sophomore named Kayla (also our daughter's name), she was in their nursing program (the same major as our daughter).
She spoke with genuine warmth and admiration for the university (and university life). An attitude I found refreshing yet puzzling, especially since my university experience was totally the opposite.
She told us about the founding of the college in 1855 by abolitionist minister John Greg Fee who wanted to provided a Christian college education to the financially underprivileged regardless of their gender or race. A radical idea at the time. With ten acres donated by another abolitionist, Cassius Marcellus Clay. The man, after which boxing great
Muhammad Ali was named. [Cassius Marcellus Clay was a wealthy land owner, U.S. minister to Russia, friend of Abraham Lincoln and founder of the Republican party in Kentucky. He also had a cannon set up in his office to protect himself against pro-slavery antagonists!] .
Berea opened as the first coeducational and racially integrated college of the South about six years before the start of our Civil War.
While one could write pages on the fascinating history of this college, I will suffice to say that its progressive idealism was not embraced by the surrounding slave-holding community.
Here are a few other interesting facts about the college:
It is a liberal arts school with an enrollment of approximately 2,400 undergraduate students.
It has a charming campus with it main campus building modeled after Independence Hall in Philadelphia.
Students are required to work ten hours per week giving back to their community, in campus related jobs.
It is a difficult college to get into (about a 30% acceptance rate), but it helps if you have a unique personal story displaying your ability to overcome life's adversities.
And again, TUITION IS FREE!
We also learned that once a year the college sponsors a "Hiking Day", where all classes are cancelled and the students are encouraged to hike to the top of the Pinnacles, a beautiful mountain range a short distance from the school.
Kayla spoke with such enthusiasm for her school that it made me wish I could turn back the clock and attend a college such as this!
6/06 – We decided to hike the Pinnacles. We headed on the Indian Fort Trail and hiked to the Indian Lookout and the Eagles Nest. We hiked about 15,000 steps!
6/07 – We had such an enjoyable time yesterday, we drove back to the Pinnacles and hiked the trail to the opposite end.
Afterwards, we drove back to the town of Richmond to visit the sight of the first Civil War battle fought on Kentucky soil. It is known as the Battle for Richmond. On August 29, 1862 Confederate forces pushed into Kentucky trying to bring the state into the Confederacy. Armies for the North and South clashed at Richmond. After a two day battle, in a stunning victory the Confederates captured over 4,300 Union troops. Total casualties were 5,353 (206 killed, 844 wounded, and 4,303 captured or missing) on the Union side, 451 (78 killed, 372 wounded, and one missing) for the South.
I am not sure why the stats on the sign are different than what I found online.
6/08 – Went back to Berea to stroll the other streets we didn't have time to see on our last visit.
6/09 – One of the main reasons we came to Mt. Vernon was its proximity to Daniel Boone National Forest. About an hour's drive south east of us. We drove out to Cumberland Falls. It was an amazing hike with plenty of spectacular overlooks of the Cumberland River.
We had a lot of fun hiking many of the trails in the park.
Afterwards, we went searching for a place to eat and pulled off the highway at a town named Corbin. To our good fortune, the town was having a outdoor festival! We had a delightful time strolling the streets and talking to the locals.
Another unexpected surprise was finding out that Corbin was the birthplace of Harland Sanders! His first Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant was opened here.
We found out that Colonel Sanders (not a real army Colonel) was once involved in a shootout with a business rival.
Back in the 1920's while Harlan was the owner of a Shell gas station in Nashville, TN., he found the owner of a rival Standard Oil gas station defacing one of his signs. Harland confronted the culprit. Shots rang out. When the shooting stopped, the manager of the Shell station lay dead. The shooter got eighteen years in prison while Harland was not charged. If you would like to read more information about the whole affair, click here.
6/10 – We had plans to go to church this morning, but when it turned out that the lady in the RV next to us was having trouble lowering the supports on her travel trailer, we decided to give her a hand. It wasn't a difficult decision, really, because everybody helps everybody when you're RVing. We certainly have been on the receiving end of the kindness of strangers and were glad to be the ones able to offer assistance. Although we couldn't repair the damaged strut (she had to call a mobile RV technician), we were able to run her into town so she could buy a new RV battery and other supplies.
6/11 – Drove an about an hour and a half north to our next campground: Whispering Hills RV Park in Georgetown, KY.
The first campsite they assigned us had such a severe angle that we could not level our rig! The campground moved us to another site that was more level. After getting settled, we drove into Georgetown.
GEORGETOWN: This quaint, historic city also happens to be the seventh largest metropolis in the state. Its fortunes were revived when Toyota decided to build its first American manufacturing facility back in the 1980's.
The town was founded in 1782 by Baptist preacher Elijah Craig, who named it Lebanon. Its name was later changed to George Town in honor of George Washington, then changed again when it became Georgetown.
Reverend Craig's also is world renowned for something else.. He established the town's first distillery. And through the use of distilling corn grown by local farmers, then aging it in charred oak casks, he became the creator of Kentucky bourbon [although this story is debated by bourbon enthusiasts].
We did find an interesting Irish bar named Slainte Public House. This is the first bar to open in Georgetown since Prohibition!
They have a great selection of beers and friendly staff. We had a chance to spend an enjoyable evening chatting with the owners, Matt and Ashley Nunn.
They don't serve food but the food truck out front provided a diverse selection of delicious food. A great place to come and get your Irish on!
6/12 – Today we decided to visit a Kentucky horse farm. Not too far from our campground was the Old Friends Horse Farm. This unique horse farm provides a dignified retirement to Thoroughbreds whose racing and breeding careers have come to an end. Many famous race horses have been kept and cared for here, such as: War Emblem, Silver Charm and Sun King. These horses, well beyond their racing and studding life, would have been euthanized if not for the mission of Old Friends.
It's a shame that horses who have made so much money for their former owners can be so easily discarded. But it is nice to know that there are places like Old Friends to care for them in their final years.
After leaving the horse farm we decided to check out the one of the distilleries along the Bourbon Trail.
We chose the Buffalo Trace Distillery. The company claims it is the oldest continuously operating distillery in the United States. The company says the name "Buffalo Trace" refers an ancient buffalo crossing on the banks of the Kentucky River in Franklin County, Kentucky.
Although not a fan of Bourbon, it was interesting learning of the history of the company and the process used to create the liquor.
The tasting room where we were able to sample a variety of their products. It all pretty much tasted the same to me.
On the way home, we stopped into Frankfort, the Capital of the state.
We got there late in the evening and most of the businesses were already closed. There wasn't much of a nightlife that we could detect. The very heart of the city has a very nice revitalized area, that is closed to vehicle traffic.
But once you get outside of this two block area, the town becomes very tired and run down.
6/13 – We drove up to Cincinnati to tour the city.
I had visited the city once before but that was almost thirty years ago. The city has changed considerably since then. While there we had the opportunity to tour the Spring Grove Cemetery home to over 40 Civil War generals (including General Joseph Hooker) and numerous politicians (including Salmon P. Chase, Lincoln's Secretary of Treasury) and dignitaries, including William Proctor and James Gamble, founders of the Proctor & Gamble Company. This is also home to the SpongeBob Square Pants grave stones I wrote about in a previous blogpost.
The Ohio River is the boundary separating Kentucky from Ohio. Along the Ohio side is one of the most amazing river walks we have ever come across. It stretches for four miles and was meticulously landscaped and seemed to offer something for everyone.
The Smale Riverfront Park has multiple splash pads, concert areas, restaurants, swings and large grassy areas for those wanting to picnic or play Frisbee. It also offers beautiful views of both the city and the river. We walked about two miles and passed many families, joggers, bikers and strollers. It is a real asset to the downtown area and a MUST SEE if you are ever in the area.
6/14- LEXINGTON: We took a day and drove into the city. Our first stop was the racetrack for which the street we formerly lived on, was named.
--KEENELAND RACE TRACK: Although no races were scheduled for the day we were here, we were allowed to stroll the grounds. We sent pictures of us in front of the Keeneland sign to all our former neighbors.
Around dinnertime we decided to drive into downtown Lexington. It looks like a pleasant city but does not have a lot to offer a tourist. After an unsuccessful attempt to locate an appealing downtown eateries, we decided to eat Thai food from a Georgetown restaurant (a choice we did not regret).
6/15 – Today we drove into Louisville to visit Churchill Downs home of the Kentucky Derby. On our way there we ran into a huge traffic jam. We ended up waiting over an hour and a half before things began moving again. This was my first time in such a standstill and enjoyed watching total strangers getting out of their cars and talking with each other as we waited.
Churchill Downs: Although we missed the first few races, we managed to watch the last five races.
At the end of the day we were down about twenty dollars but had a fun time "playing the ponies".
Afterwards, we drove back into Georgetown and enjoyed another evening at Slaintes Pub House. They had a great band playing that night named Trippin' Roots. It was a real treat to listen to them while sipping on a nice cold beer.
6/16 – Today, we did something rather unusual. We drove over 88 miles to go to Bagdad, KY, a tiny unincorporated farm community, to buy baseball caps for my brother and brother in law.
They enjoy unique baseball caps and I thought a baseball cap with the name of this town on it would make excellent Christmas gifts. Once we arrived, I went to the town's only restaurant/store/bait shop and fortunately, found they had TWO baseball caps remaining. We bought both.
On our way home, we ran across a town with a very unusual name: Stamping Grounds. So we pulled off the highway and into the town.
As one would expect in a town of 566 people, their downtown only consisted of half a dozen buildings.
We discovered that the town was established in 1790 and originally named Herndonsville for the local Herndon family. But in 1834 the name was changed to Stamping Ground in honor of the thousands of bison that used to migrate through this area actually causing ruts to form along their pathway.
We stopped to get a bite to eat at the town's only restaurant the Poor Mans' Cafe.
We began chatting with the people at the table next to us who told us two interesting facts about this tiny hamlet:
1) Murder.. Murder most foul!: The unsolved murder of the town's sheriff in 1899: On the night of September 18th, Charles Richard Duke sat down to eat a quiet dinner. Suddenly there was a commotion near his house. Someone, who clearly had too much to drink, was calling out his name. He left his home to confront the antagonist. He found Mr. Southworth and his twenty year old son. An argument ensued. Both men drew their weapons and shots rang out. When the smoke cleared, Mr. Southworth and Marshall Duke lay dead. After investigating the incident, it was found that Marshall Duke fired five shots, two struck and killed Mr. Southworth. But the bullet that killed the Marshall, did not come from Mr. Southworth's gun. In fact, his weapon was never fired! The son was arrested but later released because there was not enough evidence to hold him. All signs seem to point to a third shooter, but nobody was ever arrested and the crime remains unsolved.
2. A Famous Marriage: On the outskirts of Stamping Ground sits the former home of the local circuit judge James Madison Lindsay.
Back on December 28, 1841, the judge presided over the marriage of his niece Miss Zerelda Cole to a local itinerant preacher named Robert Sallee James.
Never heard of them? Well, they went on to have four children, including three sons. Two of which they named Franklin and Jesse. These boys went on to become the infamous western outlaws.
As the story goes, the boys passed through this area on a number of occasions to visit relatives. The town has placed a historical marker outside the privately owned home.
If anyone is interested, we also found the grave of Judge James Lindsay at the Lindsay Cemetery in Stamping Ground. He died at the age of 36:
6/17 - A lazy day. Hung out at the pool.
Did laundry. Relaxed and prepped the RV for tomorrow's departure.
Although we did a lot, and saw a lot while we were here, we didn't find any of the vibrancy or excitement that was found in cities just outside of her borders. From what we experienced, Kentucky seems to be stuck in the past. They seem to be in a prolonged period of economic stagnation, which is surprising considering the booming economy of her neighbor, Tennessee (with a 3% unemployment rate). I don't know why they are so different, perhaps it is because the people of this state just aren't happy with change. The charm of Kentucky is in her beautiful hillsides; definitely not in her big cities.