Archive | Road Trips RSS feed for this section

A Road Trip to Kentucky Bend (AKA “Bubbleland” or “The Western Tippity-Tip of Kentucky”)

22 Aug

Kentucky Bend, Bubbleland, New Madrid Bend, Fulton County, Kentucky

When we set out to explore the great state of Kentucky, we promised ourselves we’d explore every inch, every shadow, every hidden corner of our home. Ladies and gentlemen, let it be said that we’ve stood on the western-most tippity-tip of Kentucky looking out over the grand Mississippi River, and we came away with two thoughts:

1. Man, this is a big corn field.
2. How in the world did we get here?

Let me start at the beginning.

To get to the most western point of Kentucky located in Fulton County, you have to really want to go there. Like really, really bad.

The Kentucky Bend (also called the New Madrid Bend, Bessie Bend, or Bubbleland by locals for its odd teardrop shape) is an exclave of the state. This means that it is a piece of land belonging to Kentucky, but separated from the rest of the state entirely. Surrounded by Tennessee and Missouri and without touching any other part of Kentucky, the Bend is only accessible by Tennessee State Route 22. The 17 residents of this far-southwestern peninsula claim Tiptonville, Tennessee as their mailing address because the town 8 miles south is the closest post office. To vote, they make the 40-mile trip south into Tennessee then north back into Kentucky to Hickman.

You’re not just going to stumble upon these 15,000 acres. Well, I suppose you could if you get really lost. Or if you make a wrong turn leaving Tennessee’s Northwest Correctional Complex. Or if you’re an escaped inmate. But other than that, if you’re going to Bubbleland, you’re going there on purpose.

my old kentucky road trip western kentucky map

I couldn’t tell you how we got there, except to say we took the Purchase Parkway to US-51 to KY-94 (which leads you through the adorable sleepy town of Hickman that is home to one of the most friendly ferry drivers around … he’ll take you across the Mighty Mississippi to Missouri and back for a couple of dollars if you ask real nice) to TN-78 and then through a round about of detours to TN-22 heading north. You’ll pass a few grave yards, tens of thousands of acres of corn and soybeans and sweet sorghum crops, a state jail, and some friendly locals. And to get back, you’ll retrace your steps and do it all again.

A Little History Lesson

Now, it wasn’t always an (almost) island unto itself. In 1812, this area of the Mississippi River was disrupted quite a bit by a series of earthquakes along the New Madrid fault line that occurred in 1811 and 1812. If you ask the locals, the Kentucky Bend was created “when the Mississippi flowed backwards,” and rerouted, cutting off this bit of land from the area that would become the Jackson Purchase in 1818. The Bend was claimed by Tennessee for a while (and was part of Obion County), but around 1848, our southern counterpart dropped its claim on the 17.56 square miles of mostly cropland, and it became part of the Bluegrass State.

So here’s the real question road-trippers: Is one giant corn field and a couple of houses worth the trip?

It’s always worth the trip. Like us, many of you are from central, northern, eastern, or various other hollers and hills across Kentucky. And many of you have never taken the Bluegrass Parkway down to Western Kentucky Parkway over to the Pennyrile Parkway and connected to the Purchase Parkway. On your way to Fulton County in far western Kentucky, you’re going to pass through a ton of map dots that are worth slowing down for. Half of the fun of this road trip for us was the trip itself. It’s the journey, you know? It’s the gettin’ there that is full of laughter and singalongs and memories. It’s always worth the trip.

Plus, you, too, will be able to say you’ve stood on the most western tippity-tip of Kentucky.

So grab an overnight bag and make the haul down to Bubbleland. Stop in Hickman on your way and take the ferry across the Mississippi River to stand on the banks of Missouri and look at your great state across the water. Introduce yourself to locals. They’re proud Kentuckians, too.

Just don’t forget to pack your map. Cell phone and GPS services are rare and unreliable.



A Road Trip to See the Moonbow at Cumberland Falls

21 Mar
Moonbow at Cumberland Falls in Kentucky

Moonbow at Cumberland Falls in Kentucky. Photo by Elliott Hess for My Old Kentucky Road Trip.

I’ve always wanted to see a moonbow. It was one of the things we put on our Road Trip Bucket List, and something I would recommend everyone see at some point in their travels through Kentucky.

It’s a phenomenon you can’t see anywhere else in the Western Hemisphere – the only other reported moonbow can be seen at Victoria Falls in Zambia in Africa. They’re rare because a lot of factors have to occur at the same time to produce the moonbow.

• There must be a bright, nearly full moon (usually 2 days before or 2 days after a full moon) and an almost cloudless night.
• Mist must be rising from the waterfall.
• Moonbows will appear white except on cold, crisp nights in the fall and winter when the atmosphere is drier and more clear. Then colors can be seen.
• Water temperature, fog and wind direction are also factors.

Lot’s of stuff to consider right? And there’s even more. Even if all of the above occurs, you still have to be in the right place at the right time to catch the moonbow. The time to view the moonbow depends on when the moon is high enough to shine over the mountain and into the river gorge. This can be as early as 7 p.m. in the winter and as late as 1 a.m. in the summer. It’s best to see the moonbow if you are standing along the upper outlook areas above the falls, looking down over the falls.

During Elliott and my recent trip to Cumberland Falls, we dedicated one of our nights to seeing this phenomenon. We were determined not to leave without it. It was the first weekend in March, still winter according to the crisp temperatures, and we lucked out because it was very clear and just a day after a full moon (OK maybe we didn’t luck out entirely, we sort of planned the dates of the trip around the elusive moonbow). Wrapped in layers and armed with a tripod, camera and lenses, Elliott and I arrived at the upper outlook at 8 p.m. and staked out the falls.

We didn’t see anything.

We waited some more.

Still nothing.

After about an hour of waiting, Elliott decided he didn’t think we were close enough. You see, usually at the park, you can walk out onto the rocks near the top of the falls and get closer to the water. But because of recent heavy rainfall, the barriers had been moved back, further from the water. So with a little minor trespassing, Elliott squeezed through an opening in the barrier and VERY CAREFULLY (I was freaking out internally the whole time) walked closer to the falls. Sure enough, peering over the edge of the rock, you could see the colorful arch in the mist rising from the water at the base of the falls.

So I joined him in his minor trespassing because I just had to see for myself.

Now, I’m not going to condone trespassing or breaking the rules. In fact, I’m going to pull a “do as I say and not as I do” parental moment and tell you to stick behind the barriers for your own safety. I have to tell you that. I don’t care for being sued.

But I’ll also admit this: I’m glad I followed Elliott out on that rock. It was one of the most fascinating things I’ve ever seen and by far a highlight to one of my favorite road trips.

For a schedule of predicted moonbows, follow this link to the Cumberland Falls State Resort Park website, and then click on the Moonbow tab.

A Road Trip to Cumberland Falls State Park Near Corbin, Kentucky

21 Mar
Eagle Falls, Cumberland Falls, Kentucky

Eagle Falls near Cumberland Falls State Resort Park in Corbin, Kentucky. Keep reading for the full story of our adventure, and visit for more lovely photos of the falls (including a moonbow picture!) Photo by Elliott Hess for My Old Kentucky Road Trip

When I was in elementary school, I loved to play The Oregon Trail computer game. Recently, some of Cameron and my friends downloaded The Oregon Trail game onto my iPad to relive one of our favorite childhood games. News flash: It looks totally different now. I mean, obviously this is to be expected. I hardly think Apple would let the old version of the game on their shiny hi-res screens. But still, a part of me was shocked to see the well-animated, bright and colorful game that played back at me. We were used to this version:

Nice outfits right? Perhaps it was because I had just been playing The Oregon Trail that my mind went straight to the game when the boyfriend, Elliott, and I took off on a road trip to Cumberland Falls State Resort Park a few weeks ago. Or maybe it’s because a lot of rain and some unplanned hiking trips made me wish I had a few oxen and a covered wagon. All in all, we had an awesome time at the falls and a couple of days of cloudy, but beautiful weather (Professional Photographer Elliott says cloudy days are the best picture-taking days … especially of water.) And we even got to see the world-famous Cumberland Falls moonbow – a phenomenon not found anywhere else in the Western Hemisphere. But we’ll tell you more about that later.

Let me back up a little bit. Here’s how the trip went:

Elliott had planned out a few hiking adventures on our drive to Cumberland Falls. He wanted to see nearby waterfalls like Eagle Falls and promised me they were “just off the road.” Perhaps we had a bit of a different definition of “just off the road.” To start our day off, the lady working the front desk at DuPont Lodge where we stayed – very nice and very affordable, a bit older since the lodge and its surrounding 15 cabins were constructed in 1933, but great views from the room – told us about a new waterfall that park rangers had just found days before (it’d been raining a lot recently) that was along a 1 mile hiking trail behind the lodge.

DuPont Lodge, Cumberland Falls State Resort Park, Kentucky  DuPont Lodge, Cumberland Falls State Resort Park, Kentucky  DuPont Lodge, Cumberland Falls State Resort Park, Kentucky

Well, we didn’t find the waterfall, but we DID get to climb across a massive fallen tree that completely blocked the hiking path and then navigate our way back toward the lodge on our own trail. Good thing I packed my hiking boots.

After making the (poor judgement) call to skip breakfast because we were desperate to see a waterfall at this point, Elliott and I drove the short distance from the lodge down to a small turn off and parking lot at the trail head to get to Eagle Falls. Here’s where The Oregon Trail comes into play. You see, just a short distance down the trail, we suddenly lost the path to the overflowing banks of the Cumberland River. Elliott decided we’d forge it.

Cumberland Falls, Eagle Falls, Kentucky

So leaving our oxen and wagon behind (it was far too risky to take the animals along and Elliott didn’t want to get any scratches on his new covered wagon), and packing his camera, bag of camera gear and tripod (no room left for food), we crossed the river successfully.

The oregon trail game

But then we came across another river. Elliott wanted to forge this one, but I put my foot down.

Cumberland Falls, Eagle Falls, Kentucky

The best part about the 2.5 mile hike to Eagle Falls (which involved many, many inclines both up and down and even more stairs), was we walked along the opposite side of the river from the state park viewing area. This meant we got a truly unique view of Cumberland Falls. That’s a lot of water.

We made it to Eagle Falls without breaking any limbs, or contracting dysentery or cholera, and it was well-worth the hike.

Eagle Falls, Cumberland Falls, Kentucky

And then I pushed Elliott in ….

Eagle Falls, Cumberland Falls, Kentucky

OK, that part isn’t true. But I considered it for a half of a second. I blame hunger for clouding my judgement. If you want to orient yourself from the picture above, to Elliott’s right is Cumberland River, down river from the falls. Cumberland Falls is located over Elliott’s right shoulder, behind him about a mile.

Yes, it was a long hike. And yes, I was very hungry by the time we got back to our covered wagon and oxen Elliott’s car. But it was a lovely 2.5 mile walk to the falls and then the same distance back. It took us about an hour and a half to complete in it’s entirety (including some time we sat at the falls taking pictures), and on days in warmer weather when it hasn’t been raining a lot, I’m sure the hiking trails are clear and dry – no river forging necessary.

A little history about Cumberland Falls:

Because I couldn’t just leave you with our entertaining tale, a little history on Cumberland Falls –

Geologists estimate that the rock over which the Cumberland River plunges is about 250 million years old. Dr. Thomas Walker during his 1750 exploration of Kentucky named the waterfall after the Duke of Cumberland, a son of King George II of England.

Ownership of Cumberland Falls included Samuel Garland, a Virginian who traded a portion of his supplies for the land around the falls. He intended to build a water mill, but instead built a cabin in which he resided for a while before returning to Virginia. The first official record of the falls ownership occurred in 1800 when the Commonwealth of Kentucky granted Matthew Walton and Adam Shepard Cumberland Falls and 200 acres. In 1850, Louis and Mary H. Renfro bought 400 acres “including the Great Falls of the Cumberland.” The couple built a cabin near the falls and later added a two-room lean-to for visitors who wished to fish and enjoy the beauty of the magnificent waterfall.

After a few more owners, the Kiwanis Club sponsored the building of a trail from Corbin, Kentucky to Cumberland Falls in 1927. This project involved 200 men and women working for nine weeks to complete the task. In November 1927 Kentucky native T. Coleman DuPont offered to buy the falls and the surrounding acreage and give it to the commonwealth for a state park.

However, not until March 10, 1930 did the Kentucky legislature vote to accept the now deceased Coleman’s offer of the falls area as a state park. Coleman’s widow proceeded to buy the property of 593 acres for $400,000. Under the direction of Dr. Willard Rouse Jillson who had served as the first commissioner of state parks, a committee adopted a motion to make Cumberland Falls part of the state parks system. The dedication of Cumberland Falls as a Kentucky State Park took place August 21, 1931.

The road from Corbin to the falls needed improvement, and in 1931 a new highway was completed. Between September 7, and Thanksgiving Day, 1931, over 50,000 visitors came to see Cumberland Falls. Improvements to the park including the construction of DuPont Lodge have been made over the years and continue to be made today. You can find a complete history here. 

What it’s going to cost you:

The park is free and open to the public every day until midnight. You can park and walk along a few paved trails that take you from the top of the falls to lower scenic overlooks at the base of the falls.

To stay at Dupont Lodge and it’s surrounding cabins, prices will vary from around $70 per night to a couple hundred per night for the cabins. For information about the park and to make reservations, visit the park website. 


It’s funny you’d ask because, well … we got a little lost. The gist of it is, you take Highway 27 in Kentucky to Highway 90 and follow signs to Cumberland Falls from there. We somehow missed Highway 90 and ended up taking Hwy 700 – which resembles a round on a Mario Kart track – which will intersect with 90 and get you back on track. My Garmin GPS did not have any luck finding the address to the park available on its website, but Elliott’s iPhone did find it.

A recommended detour:

After our hike to Eagle Falls, Elliott and I were ravenous. He talked me into stopping at a small restaurant on Highway 27 in Whitley City, about 15 miles back down Hwy 90 away from the falls and a few miles down Hwy 27. Milton’s Burger Hut had some of the most delicious food and friendly servers I’ve had in a while. Elliott took this visit very seriously. He ordered: meatloaf, mashed potatoes, green beans, a hamburger steak, fries, a buffalo chicken pizza, cauliflower nuggets and a 32 oz milkshake to top it all off. And our bill was still under $30. Seriously. I’d recommend it.

Cauliflower nuggets for your consideration – Milton’s Burger Hut, 740 N. Hwy. 27, Whitley City, KY

Milton's Burger Hut, Whitley City, Kentucky

Related: Our Cumberland Falls moonbow experience

There’s Only One: Check out these uniquely-Kentucky destinations

17 Nov

Kentucky was the 15th state to join the Union and the first on the western frontier. High Bridge located near Nicholasville is the highest railroad bridge over navigable water in the United States. Post-It Notes are manufactured exclusively in Cynthiana; the exact number made annually of these popular notes is a trade secret. The first American performance of a Beethoven symphony was in Lexington in 1817. Pikeville annually leads the nation in per capita consumption of Pepsi-Cola. Teacher Mary S. Wilson held the first observance of Mother’s Day in Henderson in 1887; it was made a national holiday in 1916. The song “Happy Birthday to You” was the creation of two Louisville sisters in 1893. More than $6 billion worth of gold is held in the underground vaults of Fort Knox; this is the largest amount of gold stored anywhere in the world. Cheeseburgers were first served in 1934 at Kaolin’s restaurant in Louisville. Middlesboro is the only city in the United States built within a meteor crater.

There’s no other place like Kentucky.

The spirit of that phrase has inspired the Kentucky Department of Travel to host a campaign and Twitter contest this fall. “There’s Only One Kentucky” highlights 26 uniquely-Kentucky destinations filled with history, fun and beauty.

There’s only one Mammoth Cave National Park. There’s only one National Corvette Museum. There’s only one Cumberland Falls. There’s only one Bourbon Country.

The contest asks you to tweet for 26 days about only-in-Kentucky attractions with the hashtag #OnlyOneKentucky. Each day you tweet, you’re entered to win that day’s prize. You can learn more about the contest rules and details here:

In the spirit of the contest, we’ve put together a short list of some of the “Only One” destinations we’ve visited. We’ve had a great time on our travels so far — we’d love to have you join us in enjoying the Bluegrass State!

Photo by Elliott Hess for My Old Kentucky Road Trip,

1. Lexington is known as the Horse Capitol of the World

OK, we’re a little bias here. We’re both born and raised Lexintonians, and we’ll be the first to tell you there’s no where else in the world like it. The rolling hills of Bluegrass and sweeping fields of thoroughbred horse farms are just the start of its beauty. While you’re there, take a walk through Gratz Park or visit downtown and Cheapside Park. There are tons of great things to do in Lexington.

 2. Take to the high seas Ohio River on the Belle

The Belle of Louisville is a historic steamer docked on the riverfront in downtown Louisville. Take day cruises, dinner cruises or special event cruises. A few years ago, our friends joined us for a special fireworks cruise on the Belle on the Fourth of July. It was a beautiful night of dancing and fireworks.

3. Take a tour of Bourbon Country

Earlier this year, we road tripped to the Maker’s Mark Distillery in Loretto, Kentucky. It was a fun an informative day full of good friends and great bourbon. But the Maker’s Mark distillery is just one stop on Kentucky’s Bourbon Trail. 95 percent of all bourbon is distilled, aged and bottled right here in Kentucky. That makes it a must-see.

4. Hang out with the buffalo in Land Between the Lakes

I’ll always hold a soft spot for Land Between the Lakes and the bodies of water that surround it (Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley). My grandparents live in one of the neighboring counties, and I spent countless summers growing up there with my brothers and sister. In fact, I just made a trip back to western Kentucky a few weeks ago and it is just as beautiful as I remember it. Enjoy the great food, all of the miniature golf, the lovely resorts along the lake — Lake Barkley State Resort Park, Kentucky Lake State Park, Prizer Point, just to name a few — and if you look close enough, you’ll even spot a few buffalo. How very uniquely Kentucky.

5. Whether to rock climb or to eat some delicious pizza, people come from around the world to see Red River Gorge

This canyon system on the Red River in east-central Kentucky is about 44 square miles of high sandstone cliffs, natural bridges, waterfalls and rock shelters. ‘The Red’ attracts rock climbers and bolder-ers from around the world to experience the tons of bolted routes in overhanging, pocketed sandstone. When you’re there, be sure to check out Natural Bridge State Park. This natural sandstone bridge spans 78 feet and is 65 feet high. And don’t you dare leave without stopping at Miguel’s Pizza in Slade, Kentucky. Some of the best pies I’ve ever tasted.

Photo by Elliott Hess for My Old Kentucky Road Trip,

This is just a few items off of the “There’s Only One Kentucky” list. To see them all, go here.

Our Fall Road Trip to Evans Orchard and Cider Mill (they have pumpkins, too)

24 Oct

We took an impromptu road trip this weekend to Evans Orchard and Cider Mill in Georgetown, Kentucky, and discovered that a pumpkin patch is no longer just a pumpkin patch.

My mother says we used to get our pumpkins every year from a man who set a bunch he’d picked from his field on his front porch next to a coffee can where you stuck your cash to pay for the pumpkins you took home.

There was no pay-by-the-pound, there was no trudging through fields of pumpkins still on the vines. There certainly was no corn maze, obstacle course, petting zoo, camel ride, apple orchard or live music.

Apparently, pumpkin patches have come a long way.

At Evans Orchard this weekend, we found all of the above and more. We picked our pumpkins, indulged in lunch from the Sweet Apple Cafe and sipped our apple cider while listening to a lovely rendition of “My Girl.” We bought six or seven mini pumpkins, coming to about $7 and then spent a collective $50 in the gift shop on fried apple pies, apple donuts, candy apples, pecan apple butter, peanut butter fudge and cartons of apple cider. What pumpkins?

We didn’t set foot in the dirt fields, but we could’ve if we wanted to pick our own pumpkin. We didn’t walk up and down the rows of apple trees with baskets in hand, but we could’ve if we wanted to pick our own apples. Just like we could’ve taken a hay ride, we could’ve walked in circles atop a very perturbed looking camel, and we could’ve participated in the pet costume contest — but we couldn’t even coax Bows into posing for a picture. There was so much to do we couldn’t take it all in.

But we left happy with pumpkins in hand and fried apple pies stuffed in our mouths. A pumpkin patch is no longer just a pumpkin patch … it’s way better.

Check out Bows in all of her googly-eyed glory. (No wonder she didn’t want to be in our pictures).


What it’s going to cost you:

Not a thing just to go and walk around. You’ll pay by the pound for big pumpkins and gourds, and $1-$2 for the small ornamental varieties. Visit the gift shop to spend even more cash on some delicious desserts and fun decorations. Kids activities including camel rides, the petting zoo and the corn maze are also going to cost you. Find a full list of activities and prices on Evans Orchard’s website. 

Hours and Directions:

Evans Orchard and Cider Mill is open Tuesday through Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. And it’s not just a pumpkin patch and apple orchard! In the spring time, you can pick strawberries and in the summer months you’ll find peaches and pears. The orchard grows We grow 15 acres of peaches, apples and pears, two more acres of small fruit, and more than 20 acres of farm-fresh vegetables.

From Lexington, you’ll travel eight miles north of the I-75 bridge (exit 115) on Newtown Pike (Highway 922). Take a right onto Stone Road and the orchard is the third drive on the left.

To see a map and find other directions, visit Evans Orchard’s website.

Plan Your Road Trip to the Trigg County Country Ham Festival

14 Oct

Post by Blair

I have an enthusiastic affinity for food festivals – barbecue, ice cream, chili, Moon Pies. You find it, I’m up for a weekend trip of arts and crafts booths, live music, and cooking and/or eating competitions of any form. I think my fondness for these most basic culinary celebrations was instilled in me at an early age when my family decided to make yearly pilgrimages to the Trigg County Country Ham Festival in Cadiz, Kentucky.

We went under the guise of visiting my grandparents who lived in the small rural community at the most western tip of the state. But really, my dad was going for the country ham and despite my mother’s eye rolls when Dad began enthusiastically packing up the family in the car each year, she secretly loved the weekend celebration too.

My early memories of Ham Festival vacations are fond ones – talking my parents in to buying me a bunny (which grew into a rabbit and made lots and lots of baby bunnies with my brother’s rabbit), nearly throwing up my corn dogs after too many rounds on the Tilt-A-Whirl, sitting on a straw bale with my grandfather listening to Bluegrass music and eating snow cones. There may even be photographic evidence in existence of me chasing around a baby pig in a ‘Sack the Pig’ contest that was one of the highlights of the festival until animal rights activists declared it inhumane and officially nixed it from the weekend lineup (the photos are well-hidden too, by the way).

Last year, my younger brother and I went back to the Ham Festival for the first time in many years. And it was … exactly how I remembered it. Cured country hams still hung in a tent near the courthouse on Main Street waiting to find out if they were grand-prize winners. Carnival rides and games still filled a nearby park, arts and crafts booths lined the streets alongside food vendors offering deep fried everythings (Snickers, Twinkies, pickles, etc). But perhaps the finest tradition of the Trigg County Country Ham Festival is its claim to fame: The World’s Largest Country Ham and Biscuit.

Yes, you read that correct. It’s the world’s largest. It’s Guiness Book-official. The huge biscuit debuted in 1985 during the 9th annual Ham Festival. It was 4,000 pounds. A crowd of over 15,000 people were on hand to view the biscuit and parade in its honor grand marshalled by University of Kentucky Basketball Coach Joe B. Hall.

The recipe has since been halved, and each year a 2,000-pound version (10.5 feet in diameter) is baked in a custom-built oven and removed by fork lift during the festival. The recipe includes 150 pounds of flour, 2 pounds of salt, 6 1/2 pounds of sugar, 39 pounds of shortening, 39 cups of water, 13 gallons of buttermilk. Add 16 large baked country hams and it is served to the masses.

The 35th annual Trigg County Country Ham Festival is this weekend (Oct. 14-16). To learn more about the history of the event as well as a schedule of events and directions to the festivities, check out the Ham Festival’s website.

I hope to run into you in line for the Tilt-A-Whirl! (I’ll be the one with a country ham biscuit in each hand).

Gunpowder, Cannons, and Horses, Oh My! The 149th Anniversary of the Battle of Perryville

4 Oct

When the first battles of the Civil War broke out in April of 1861, ladies and their gentlemen brought picnic lunches and sociability to the edges of the battlefield. However, as the casualties mounted on both sides, the spectators quickly realized the war was no Sunday afternoon frivolity. Luckily for us, the 149th Anniversary of the Battle of Perryville was, and yes, you can bring a picnic lunch.

No soldiers, horses, or spectators were harmed in the staging of this re-enactment.

Just a little history:

The Battle of Perryville, fought October 8, 1862, was one of the bloodiest of the Civil War, and the largest battle fought on Kentucky soil. Lasting approximately 6 hours, more than 1,400 men were killed, more than 5,500 wounded, and almost 1,200 men captured or missing. Kentucky played host to several other skirmishes thanks to its border-state status, including the Battle of Mill Springs, the Battles at Forts Donelson and Henry, General John Hunt Morgan’s infamous raids, the Battle of Munfordville, and the Battle of Paducah. As a border-state, Kentucky was a key to the strategies of the Union and the Confederacy. Lincoln was quoted:

“I hope to have God on my side, but I must have Kentucky.”

“I think to lose Kentucky is nearly the same as to lose the whole game. … We would as well consent to separation at once, including the surrender of the capital.”

The state’s position along the Ohio and Mississippi River made the successful occupation of Kentucky by either army, a tactical advantage, and in 1862, the Confederates launched their Kentucky Campaign, pushing North from Tennessee.

The Battle:

from the Schedule of Events:

Around 1:30 in the afternoon of October 8, 1862, members of the 33rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Leonard Harris’ Brigade, deployed skirmishers to the left of General McCook’s Union line, which was deploying on the fields. Soldiers from Company A and F were sent out some three hundred yards in front of the 33rd OVI to reconnoiter the area for any sign of the Rebel Army.  They soon found elements of Wharton’s 8th Texas Confederate Cavalry which were conducting a sweep around the main Confederate force’s right flank.

Wharton’s 800-man Cavalry force swept down on the skirmishers of the 33rd Ohio Infantry and drove the skirmish line back. Wharton’s men, who were also known as Terry’s Texas Rangers, withdrew from the area unaware of the full strength of the Federal Army.

The rolling terrain of the “Chaplin Hills” created “line of sight” problems for both armies. Wharton grossly misjudged the strength of the Union deployments and when Maney’s Confederate Brigade moved into position from the fields, they found a much stronger Federal position than was anticipated.

Maney’s veteran Confederates eventually pushed the Federal line back and with the help of Wharton’s Cavalry overran the Federal guns of Parsons’ Union Battery, which were positioned on the hill.

Maney’s men continued to advance through the cornfield which extended into the trees on the left. They crossed the Dixville Road and pushed further to the Union position on the far hill. A desperate hand-to-hand fight ensued and the Confederate advance stalled. Darkness soon followed and the Battle of Perryville ended.

Although the Confederates were victorious, the outnumbered southerners were forced to withdraw, giving up the field and eventually the state to the Union.  The massive Confederate offensive, which occurred during the summer and fall of 1862, was turned back.

With Confederate defeats in Maryland and Kentucky, Abraham Lincoln gained the military clout he needed to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. Although the war went on for 3 more years, Confederate forces were never again able to mount an offensive equal to their 1862 campaigns.

Going to the Re-enactment

If  you’re not a fan of loud, percussive noises, walking, or the milling about of large family groups, going to the re-enactment is not for you. If, however, you enjoy action, interaction, and history, you’re going to love it! This years re-enactment featured about 75 re-enactors from the 6th Ohio Volunteer Infantry reenacting company, based out of Cincinnati, OH. We chatted with one of the Union men, and he told us they participate in approximately 2 re-enactments/month during the summer (high-season for re-enactments) and visit plenty more.


Going to the re-enactment will cost you $10/per car, more for passenger vans and buses. There are a few add-ons at the State Historic Site as well, such as a Guided Battlefield Tour ($5/person) and the Ghosts of Perryville Tour ($10/person led by SHOCK, the Spirit Hunters of Central Kentucky). Unfortunately, we didn’t make it to the ghost tour this time around, though I doubt my nerves could have handled it.

Traffic & Parking

The programming information for the re-enactment warned us to beware traffic congestion and troubles parking, but we didn’t have any troubles at all. Perhaps it was the virtue of a Sunday afternoon, or that it wasn’t quite the sesquicentennial (more on that in a bit) but we made it to Perryville quickly and easily, and the uniformed gentlemen guided us straight to parking.

A Few More Notes

  • The battlefield is BIG. And not only is the battlefield big, but the entirety of the Perryville State Historic Site is big. The soldiers at the actual Battle of Perryville had trouble navigating the terrain, and you will too if you don’t wear good walking shoes. Heck, you might have trouble if you don’t wear good walking shoes, we had a bit of trouble walking sideways across the hills, and up the hills, and down the hills. But it really does make you appreciate just how easily an entire army might sneak up on you from atop a ridge.
  • We had a BEAUTIFUL day to go watch the re-enactment, warm in the sunshine, cool and breezy in the shade. But, as we all know, Kentucky weather is notoriously fickle and the battle will go off sun, rain, or snow. The reenactors this year had to spend the night in below 40-degree temperatures in their Civil War Camps and the Battle itself was fought during one of the worst droughts in Kentucky history, so be prepared.
  • On that note, you may also want to bring a chair. Some of the folks had picnic blankets and stadium chairs, and a great vantage point to watch from. Bear in mind however, you will be dragging that chair with you everywhere you roam across the park.
  • If you’re easily startled by loud noises, here’s your warning: there are guns and cannons, and they make loud, startling noises. When the cannon went off the first time, there wasn’t a single person in the crowd who didn’t yelp or jump. And when the cannon kept going off, people continued to be startled by it, along with their pets.
  • Which brings me to another note: yes, you can bring your friendly dog, but there are lots of horses and children running around, and loud noises like I said, so it might be wise to bring your dog only if he/she has a zen-like demeanor and wonderful social skills.


(yeah, I made up a word, so what?)

The best part about going to a Civil War Battle re-enactment is interacting with the reenactors- say that 5 times fast. We chatted with a few fellas from the Union company, one of whom was clearly brave, because he let Blair aim his rifle! The reenactors WANT you to come talk to them and ask lots of questions and they really know their stuff. They can tell you all about how the soldiers lived, trained, and fought; what their families were doing back home; and plenty of other great history and culture tidbits from the 1860s. You can check out the camps they set up (and yes, live in during the reenactments) and shop for re-creations of artifacts from the time period. I’m actually still upset we didn’t wear our hoop-skirts for the occasion…

The Sesquicentennial

No, I did not just make up another word, honest- go check out Webster‘s! If you didn’t know it already, we are in the midst of the Civil War Sesquicentennial, aka the 150th Anniversary of the American Civil War. Fort Sumter has already commemorated the event along with many other Civil War battle sites and history sites. Perryville will be honoring its sesquicentennial next year, and they let us know it will be a BIG EVENT. Re-enacting companies will be coming in from all over the country to lend a hand to the authenticity of the battle, and over 6,000 soldiers are expected! The dates are already set for next year’s festivities, and you can bet that traffic and parking may not be as easy to come by for next year’s event. However, if you do go, you will most definitely be treated to a unique and exciting experience, that though it may come from a dark period in our history, will surely put a smile on your face.

Wait! There’s More!

Check out these photos of our trip from My Old Kentucky Road Trip’s guest photographer, Elliott Hess:

We have more photos from the Battle of Perryville re-enactment over on our Flickr Photostream or you can visit for more information.

A Walk in the Park: Gratz Park History

15 Sep

2 blocks North of Main Street in downtown Lexington sits a beautiful bit of green-space between Transylvania University and West Second Street. Originally dedicated as Centennial Park in 1876, Gratz Park was renamed for Benjamin Gratz, a prominent hemp grower who made his home amongst the Federal and Greek revival homes surrounding the park. And trust us, if ever you win the lottery, you’ll want to buy one of these houses- beautiful architecture in Lexington’s first historic district, and only 2 blocks away from downtown (where all the fun is if you ask us).

Between the beautiful, historic homes, the mirrored facades of Transylvania University and the Carnegie Center for Literacy & Learning (more on these later), the views of the Lexington skyline, and the peace and quiet, Gratz Park might be my favorite place in Lexington (C).

Probably the main reason Gratz Park is so cool, is just how much history you’ll find in a small, 1-block radius. Standing in the middle of the park you can see the oldest University west of the Allegheny Mountains, Lexington’s first public library, the John Hunt Morgan House, the birthplace of the Lexington Clinic, the headquarters for both the Union and Confederate armies during the Civil War, and the home of the founder of the Lexington Leader newspaper (later incorporated with the Lexington Herald to create the Lexington Herald-Leader).

The Three Ugly Sisters

Officially known as the Goodloe Houses, The 3 Ugly Sisters are one of the more popular Lexington history stories.  Originally built by the widow Mrs. William Cassius Goodloe for her 3 daughters around 1901, were the last homes built around Gratz Park. Now, I haven’t found any pictures of the Goodloe daughters while trolling about the internet, but I wonder how the popular nickname for the houses: “The Three Ugly Sisters” got started?

The Bodley-Bullock House

The Bodley-Bullock House is a sweet little mansion that sits right at the corner of Market Street and West 2nd. Originally built for former Lexington Mayor Thomas Pindell, it was soon sold to Thomas Bodley for whom the house is now named. During the Civil War, both the Union army and the Confederacy occupied Lexington, and where do you think they established their headquarters? Both factions requisitioned the Bodley-Bullock House for their use! Dr. Bullock, who’s claim to fame is as the founder of the Lexington Clinic, eventually bought the house in the early 20th century. The house is currently used by the Junior League of Lexington, is open with exhibits during GalleryHop, and one can often spy on weddings in the back garden during the warmer seasons.

The Carnegie Center for Literacy & Learning

Its pretty tough to miss the Carnegie Center when you go to Gratz Park- just look for the big, white building staring down Transylvania University from the other end of the park. Full disclosure: I have a very special place in my heart for the Carnegie Center both as a book nerd (the Center was Lexington’s first public library) and because I tutor there during the school year. Between 1883 and 1929, 2,509 libraries were funded and built by bleeding-heart industrialist and fellow book nerd Andrew Carnegie. Opened in 1905, the Carnegie Center has also served as a school, and now as Kentucky’s premier center for learning and the literary arts. The best part? Every time you visit the Carnegie Center you’re encouraged to take a book from the large selection donated  by like-minded book lovers!

The Fountain of Youth

Unfortunately, I don’t think you’ll find the secret to staying young by drinking from this fountain, in fact we discourage you from drinking from ANY public fountain… Donated by beloved Kentucky author James Lane Allen (NOT Ponce de Leon) in 1933, the fountain is a “gift to the children of Lexington” (or anyone who needs a reminder to stay young at heart).

The Hunt-Morgan House

Not quite on Gratz Park, but still on Gratz Park, the Hunt-Morgan house is one of the better known Lexington historic homes (along with Ashland, the Mary Todd Lincoln House, and the Pope Villa). Here’s the family story: John Wesley Hunt, the 1st millionaire west of the Alleghenies built the house in 1814, and in case you were wondering, $1 million in 1814 is worth almost $13 million today! He liked to do business with people like Henry Clay and John Jacob Astor. His grandson, John Hunt Morgan was the famous Confederate Civil War general known as the “Thunderbolt of the Confederacy” who led Morgan’s raid in 1863. But the best story about John Hunt Morgan was his leap over the garden’s brick wall on horseback to kiss his mother goodbye. Now John Wesley Hunt’s (remember he built the house) great-grandson was Dr. Thomas Hunt Morgan born in 1866. His pioneering work in genetics earned him a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1933. Whew! Try living up to that legacy!

Some Other Cool Places You’ll Find in and Around Gratz Park:

For more information on Gratz Park and ALL the buidlings/history you can find there, check out the Gratz Park Neighborhood Association webpage


A Road Trip Through Cheapside Park and Some Lexington, Kentucky History

8 Sep

In Lexington’s Cheapside Park, it isn’t uncommon to see people enjoying lunch at one of the cafes or restaurants that line the street, or lounging around on outdoor patios. In the evenings locals walk their dogs on the lawn of the old courthouse, and on summer nights, bands play on the Pavilion stage. It is most certainly a different picture than ones painted of the same plot of land in Lexington’s history.


More than a century separate these two photographs. The first was taken in July 2011, the second in November 1887.

During the era of slavery, the lawn of Lexington’s courthouse was one of the largest slave-trading localities in the state. According to historical documents, slaves were auctioned and sold in the courtyard that stands between today’s West Main West Short streets in front of the old courthouse building. The healthier and younger slaves considered to be more able-bodied for work were auctioned on one side of the lawn, while the slaves that were older or had health problems were auctioned on the other side. The latter was dubbed “the cheap side.” And while the history of the origin has faded and slaves have long been absent from the courthouse lawn, the name stuck.

The courthouse that stands next to Cheapside Park — that is no longer a working courthouse, but now a museum and office space —is the fourth on that site. The first was built in 1788; Lexington had one courthouse before the construction of the first on this block. The current Lexington Circuit and District courts are located a few blocks to the east of this site.

A block to the west  on the southwest corner of South Mill and West Main streets is where the settling of Lexington began. A blockhouse was built in 1779 and eventually was expanded into a fort that stood largely between South Mill and South Broadway streets on West Main. The northern edge of the fort stopped in the middle of what is now West Main Street. (*Note: East Main and West Main are divided by Limestone Street. The road to the east of Limestone — or toward the Main Branch of the Lexington Public Library and toward the new courthouses — is considered East Main; the road to the west of Limestone — or toward Broadway and Rupp Arena — is considered West Main. The same is true for Vine and Short streets.)

The intersection where the settling of Lexington began. (And no, that orange construction barrel isn’t the marker).

Our friend over at The Kaintuckeean informed us that the plaque marking the town’s original settlement is located on Vine Street, just east of the Hilton Hotel entrance. Here it is:

original settlement at Lexington, Kentucky

This plaque marks the location of the original Lexington Fort. Photo courtesy of


Across the street from this intersection stands the tallest building in Lexington. 


The 5/3 Bank building — or “Big Blue Building” as we wise locals call it — stands in stark contrast to how the block looked less than a century ago. The second photo was taken in April 1920.

Sometimes when Cameron and I set out on a road trip, we have a particular plan or goal in mind. That’s not to say that we actually stick to this plan, but we know where we are headed and what we want to see. This time around, we truly had no plan at all. So we just wandered.

When we met up in Lexington a few weeks ago, we left our cars parked along a curb downtown (expertly parallel parked, I might add — thanks for those driving lessons, Dad) and set out on foot. We walked through Transylvania University’s campus to Gratz Park and then continued down Limestone to Cheapside Park and Main Street.

It was one of those unbearably hot days of late summer — the air was so thick with heat that not even the coolest afternoon breezes brought any relief. But as we wandered along, stopping at all of those historical markers and learning a little more about the history of the town we grew up in, we stopped caring so much about that St. Bernard that seemed to be blowing hot puffs of breath in our faces, and we thought more about the origins of Kentucky’s second-largest city.

Not everything can be learned in one afternoon. And there are many, many things to do in Lexington that involve air conditioning and entertainment far better than Cameron’s lame banter (sorry, Cam). But if you haven’t done it before — and my guess is many of you haven’t — I’d invite you to get out and walk around the historic areas of Lexington … or of your own hometown.

It’s amazing the things you might learn.


• If you’re going to take a walking tour of Lexington, it’s best to do a little research ahead of time. There are many resources on the Internet that can help you find starting places for your self-guided tour as well as key points you won’t want to pass up. For Lexington, we recommend the Convention and Visitors Bureau Bicycle Tour of Historic Lexington. You don’t actually have to have a bike … we walked it. Also check out this Historic Downtown Walking Tour website for more information. If you are specifically interested in the African American Heritage Tour, check out this website.

• As always, make sure you have your camera.

• If you have a friend who has random trivia or historical knowledge (like Cameron does) take them along, it will provide information and entertainment along your journey.

• Take a water bottle — especially if you’re touring on one of those lovely late summer afternoons.

• Talk to the locals. We met a delightfully friendly and fun man who lived along one of downtown’s streets. He was walking his dog Winston Churchill and he had lots to tell us about Lexington.

• Read those historical markers. They were put there for a reason … they’re often filled with historical information.

• You’re not in a history class, it’s supposed to be fun. So make it fun! No one says learning has to be boring! (Now I’m REALLY starting to sound like Cameron).

What it’s going to cost you:

Not a dang thing. We had an afternoon of fun, laughter and learning for FREE. Well, unless you include the couple bottles of water we took with us. Oh, and the taco ingredients we bought after our journey … we worked up quite an appetite.

And if you’re looking for other fun and free things to do in Lexington, check out this list from the Convention and Visitors Bureau.

And …

For more of our photos of downtown Lexington, check out My Old Kentucky Road Trip’s Flickr page.

A (Road) Trip Home to Lexington, Kentucky

29 Jul

Photo by Elliott Hess for My Old Kentucky Road Trip,

We started this road trip because we’ve lived in Kentucky our whole lives and have barely scratched the surface of all there is to see and do. The same holds true for the city we grew up in. Cameron and I were born and raised in Lexington and while we personally consider ourselves experts on the town, that is probably not in the least bit true.

So this weekend we’re going to explore some of the more historical points of our home town. We won’t hit every spot, but we’re hoping to traipse around the old neighborhoods of downtown and discover where some of the earliest Lexington settlers called home.

Photo by Elliott Hess for My Old Kentucky Road Trip,

Until then, here are a few cool facts about Lexington to satisfy your growing appetite for our road trip recaps:

• Lexington was founded in June 1775 in what was then Virginia, 17 years before Kentucky became a state in 1792.

• The first American performance of a Beethoven symphony was in Lexington in 1817.

• The brass plate embedded in the sidewalk at the corner of Limestone and Main Street in downtown Lexington is a memorial marker honoring Smiley Pete. The animal was known as the town dog in Lexington. He died in 1957.

• The Jif plant in Lexington is the largest peanut butter producing facility in the world. And on warm summer days, you can smell the roasting peanuts several miles away from the factory.

• The great Man o’ War racehorse — who was born on Lexington’s Nursery Stud farm on March 29, 1917 — won all of his horse races except one, which he lost to a horse named Upset.

And don’t forget to keep up with our adventures both on and off the road by following us on Twitter! You can send us suggestions of places you’d like us to visit or offer us some good road tripping advice that you’ve learned on your own trips this summer.

If you’re still traveling, plan a trip to Lexington. Whether you’re interested in beautiful Thoroughbred horse farms (with barns bigger and more luxurious than your homes, no joke), history (you can visit the homes of Henry Clay, Mary Todd Lincoln, John Wesley Hunt, and Confederate President Jefferson Davis who attended Lexington’s Transylvania University), or outdoor adventures (visit the University of Kentucky’s Arboretum or McConnell Springs), there’s alway something going on in Lexington. Even when it isn’t UK basketball season.

Photo by Elliott Hess for My Old Kentucky Road Trip

This Weekend:

If you’re in Lexington this weekend, Gallery B is hosting a Paint-Out downtown on Saturday, July 30th from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Artists will be set up throughout the downtown area painting Lexington cityscapes. A reception will follow that night.  To learn more, visit Lexington’s Gallery B website.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.