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Along Highway 60
Part 1: Catlettsburg to Middletown | Part 2: Louisville to Wickliffe
And the journey continues ...
Having come halfway across the state, we find ourselves in Louisville. And downtown on Main Street (aka U.S. 60), we find ourselves at Stevie Ray’s Blues Bar, with undisputed local queen of the blues Mary Ann Fisher holding court. Fisher was the first “girl singer” backing Ray Charles. Well into her 70s, she was still regularly jamming with the locals at Stevie Ray’s with a band of her own. (Fisher has passed away since our visit with her.)
Dave next heads out to explore a little military history at West Point, a small river town in Hardin County. It’s the site of Fort Duffield, General William Tecumseh Sherman’s supply base during the fall of 1861. Local historian Richard Briggs gives us a tour of the town and the fort.
What Sherman did to much of Georgia in 1864, nature did to Brandenburg on April 3, 1974. On that day the Meade County town was nearly razed by a tornado, which left 31 people dead and destroyed numerous businesses and historic structures—including the 100-year-old county courthouse. Jane Willis and her mother, Thelma, were at the offices of the Meade County Messenger that day, just down the street from where the twister touched down. Here, they recall the terror of that spring day and show how Brandenburg has rebuilt itself since.
Our next stop is actually off U.S. 60 a ways, but then part of the fun of a road trip is taking those unexpected detours. This one takes Dave and Sadie to Falls of Rough, where they tour a “ghost town,” including a sawmill that was a technical wonder in its day, a manor house, and a general store. The guide for the occasion is Hugh Ridenour, author of The Greens of Falls Rough, about the family that owned just about everything in town—and employed just about every person in town—for nearly a century.
In Hancock County, Hawesville residents Charlotte and Jim Carrico have landscaped the steep hill behind their house with a rock garden that’s truly a labor of love. Putting periods when he was laid off from work to good use, Jim created a giant heart shape of stones. A stone angel watches over visitors.
Two businesses are next in line. The Rolling Pin Pastry Shop in Owensboro has been in the same family since the 1940s. While digesting some of the Rolling Pin’s fare, Dave strolls around Owensboro to see such local sites as the largest sassafras tree in the country. Then it’s over to Henderson to visit the Martin Photography Studio, also founded more than 50 years ago. Joe Martin, who runs the business with his son Steve, apprenticed with a photographer who had collected glass plates dating back to the 1800s. Combined with the Martins’ own work over the last five decades, the collection forms a remarkable visual history of the region.
More remarkable visuals are showcased at our next stop, the Camp Breckinridge Museum and Arts Center in Morganfield. A former army base, Camp Breckinridge housed German prisoners during World War II. The POWs painted murals on the walls of the old NCO club, and those murals have now been restored and turned into the centerpiece of an art and military history museum. The prisoner who painted most of them, David Mayers, died at the camp. His daughter, who last saw her father when she was 5 years old, traveled to Kentucky to attend the museum dedication.
Ready for a little refreshment, Dave next calls at Thom’s Sweet Shoppe and Cafe in Marion, where owner Thom Hawthorne shows him how to make a real old-fashioned strawberry soda. Then it’s time for another slight detour. This time, Dave takes the ferry from Crittenden to Cave-In-Rock State Park in Illinois. The park is named for a waterside cave, where 18th-century “pirates” would lie in wait for unsuspecting river travelers, lure them into the cave, and rob or even kill them—or at least that’s the legend. One gang of those bandits, the Harpe brothers, ran loose in Western Kentucky for years before finally being captured.
Only a few hundred people live in Smithland today, but in the first half of the 19th century, it was a bustling port. Strategically located at the point where the Ohio River meets the Cumberland, Smithland boasted fancy hotels and hosted celebrities from the Marquis de Lafayette to Aaron Burr to Clara Barton. In 1880, former Union general Lew Wallace wrote Ben Hur while staying at one of the fanciest of the hotels, the Gower House. Doris Cothron shows Dave around on this visit.
Paducah, on the other hand, is still a busy city—but it hasn’t lost a certain small-town feel. Nearly every Saturday night, people gather by the river downtown to listen to music, take carriage rides, shop, admire antique cars, and generally have fun. The particular Saturday night of our visit just happened to coincide with the annual Paducah festival dedicated to one of Western Kentucky’s best-known delicacies: barbecue.
Another river—the Mississippi—is looming now, which means the journey is almost ended. Dave and Sadie wind things up with a visit to the Swan Lake Wildlife Management Area in Ballard County, where giant cypress trees make you wonder whether you’ve accidentally been transported to Louisiana.
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