Host Doug Flynn explores the historic, the trendy, and the tasty in downtown Taylorsville. The John James Audubon State Park in Henderson adds 649 acres of wetlands. Explore the works of renowned artist Joe Downing at the Downing Museum & Arboretum in Bowling Green. Danville’s Constitution Square is the place to be for Kentucky’s 225th anniversary of statehood.
If you like to hunt for antiques and one of a kind gifts, Taylorsville’s downtown is a treasure hunter’s delight.
This Spencer County town is home to a variety of shops on its historic Main Street. David M. Young, owner of the Tea Cup, said historic Main Street includes several businesses that have been around for years. “Luckily, they welcomed us. It was great as soon as we opened here, we fit right in.” The shop is known for Chicago-style cinnamon rolls (with butter, whipped cream and chocolate syrup) and its lunch specials.
The Red Scooter is owned by Beverly Bentley Ingram, who is also the Main Street program manager and a city commissioner. She sells antiques and gifts at the store, which has been operating for 21 years. “A new Main Street group came in several years back, and that’s why we have the benches and the street lights. We redid the sidewalks and made the welcome signs outside. We made Taylorsville more inviting,” she said.
Bennett Hardware & Paint has been in operation for a hundred years. Dee A. Oliver, owner of the store, said customers can expect hospitality and help to find what they need among the many items the store carries. “We have so many items in here. There’s some things that people would never think a hardware store would have,” she said.
One of the newer businesses in town is the Sassy Bunny, owned by Courtney D. Humes. The store carries locally made candles and soaps and gifts, as well as items that can be embroidered and monogrammed.
Humes also makes jewelry. “For about four years now I’ve been making bullet jewelry,” she said. “It’s where we take the headstamp of a bullet and have it cut off and we can use it on different items, such as earrings.”
Humes, a self-described city girl, has grown to love the small town atmosphere in Taylorsville. “I go in to local places; people know me, they know my kids. It’s safe. I wouldn’t change it,” she said.
The official kickoff of Kentucky’s 225th anniversary of statehood will be in Danville. The state’s first constitution was signed on the site of what is now Constitution Square. On June 1, 1792, Kentucky became the 15th state in the Union.
Judge-Executive Harold McKinney and Jennifer Kirchner of the Danville-Boyle County Convention and Visitors Bureau described this year’s event. There will be music by a string band, a rifle salute, the singing of “Happy Birthday,” and the unveiling of the African American Business District exhibit. The day will also feature living history exhibits and tours.
“Boyle County and Danville are the cradle of the commonwealth. It was born here,” McKinney said.
Kirchner said people in Danville love their history. “We like to say if you love Kentucky, you’ll love Danville, because it all started here,” she said.
The county government took over ownership of the 3-acre park from the state about five years ago, McKinney said. The park has undergone renovations, focusing on historical preservation, economic development, and education. At the governor’s circle, there is a plaque for every governor. Gov. Steve Beshear was the first governor to attend the unveiling of his plaque, in 2016.
The June 1 anniversary events also coincide with the kickoff of the town’s Great American Brass Band Festival, June 1-4.
John James Audubon State Park recently acquired more than 640 acres, almost doubling the size of the park and adding prized wetlands.
“It gives us an opportunity to showcase a different type of ecosystem than you would find here at our usual park that’s been here for many years,” said Lisa Hoffman, program services supervisor at Audubon.
Zeb Weese, executive director of the Kentucky State Nature Preserves Commission, said the main part of the park is mature forest. About half of the 640-acre addition is wetlands.
As trails are developed, hikers will go through a river bottomland, Hoffman said. The standing water attracts waterfowl like geese and wood ducks. “There’s also an opportunity to see bald eagles nesting on this new property. There’s a great blue heron rookery that you can observe,” she said.
A new, wheelchair-accessible boardwalk has been installed, the first of more to come, Weese said. “This was the brainchild of Friends of Audubon, the local group that helps with the park. And they’re instrumental, in getting the work done,” said Weese. “And this is the only wheelchair accessible facility of this kind in any of our natural areas in the state.”
Weese said people of all ages will benefit from the boardwalks. “It is difficult for the average person to get out here if they don’t have something like this boardwalk. Because you’re wearing hip-waders, you’re slogging through the muck. You can’t even canoe or boat this most of the time because the water level changes so rapidly and the vegetation is so thick. So this does allow kids of all ages to get out here, older folks, just about anybody can get out here and see a vantage point that is not seen in most wetlands.”
Hoffman said they bring in schoolchildren for field trips. “As school groups come in to Audubon State Park, I find that they don’t always get outdoors as much as you think kids would. And we try to show them some animals up close that would typically be in a woods, so they get to see them in a way they have not experienced before.”
After a few minutes on the trails, kids look at things in new ways. “Part of my job is to open up their experience and have them look at the small things that they might have just passed on by,” she said.
Weese said he’s seen otters, copper-bellied water snakes, snapping turtles, green tree frogs, salamanders, and dozens of herons. “This is becoming more and more popular for birders, not just in the Henderson area, but throughout Kentucky, to make a trip out here.”
The layout of the trails is still being worked out, but they will connect with the existing Audubon woodland trails and go all the way to the Ohio River. “It’s hard to imagine, but this is the first time the state park has actually connected to the Ohio River itself, with this addition here,” he said.
The effort to gain the wetlands began five years ago, when the previous landowner put the acreage up for auction. The purchase was funded by the Kentucky Heritage Land Conservation Fund.
“The Henderson area really has a lot of wetland habitat that we are working on conserving, and this is just one part of that puzzle. But this is the most accessible part, where people can come out and see what it’s all about,” Weese said.
The Downing Museum
The 115-acre Baker Arboretum overlooks Bowling Green and the Western Kentucky University campus. The Downing Museum opened at the arboretum in 2009, featuring the art of renowned abstract expressionist Joe Downing, as well as artists from Kentucky and around the world.
The arboretum was started in the early 1990s by Jerry Baker and landscape architect Mitchell Leichhardt. Martin Stone, PhD., director of the arboretum and the Leichhardt professor of horticulture at WKU, said that Baker was a fan of the arts.
“Mr. Baker, he considers horticulture one of the arts, and not so much of a science,” he said. “So then it was a natural fit that some of his favorite arts, horticulture and painting, should come together in one place here at the Baker Arboretum and the Downing Museum. So it’s a wonderfully beautiful place to be outdoors and indoors and see natural beauty and manmade beauty as well.”
Downing was born in Tompkinsville in 1927 and raised in Horse Cave. “He was involved in the Normandy invasion in World War II and fell in love with Europe, especially France and Paris,” said Jack LeSieur, director of the Downing Museum. “He went back to France later on after he completed his education, and became an artist.”
Downing exhibited internationally, and was one of the first Americans to exhibit at the Louvre in Paris. A WKU alumnus, he was friends with Baker and collaborated with him on the design of the Downing Museum. Downing died in 2007 in France, and the museum officially opened in 2009.
The Downing Museum is set up to teach visitors about the artist. “You’ll see how he was initially inspired to paint, and you can really see how his palette, and his technique, and his style changed throughout the years,” LeSieur said.
LeSieur believes the museum has the most comprehensive collection of Downing’s work in the world. “The work he is most famous for is abstract pieces, which were probably from about 1960 on. He really painted with a lot of color that he would see in nature around himself. He had a house in the south of France, so you can imagine the beautiful colors of the sky and the flowers.”
In 2013 a fire at the museum damaged the building and parts of the collection, LeSieur said. “Pretty much a lot of the work that was upstairs in the museum was completely damaged,” he said. The museum now has an artist in residence, Emily Lobb Hendricksen, who is working on restoring the damaged artworks.
Hendricksen said the damage was so extensive that it took more than cleaning to repair it. “I actually had to go back in and fill in entire sections that just had no paint at all,” she said. She prepared for the restoration with extensive research on Downing’s style.
The museum was designed with view of the arboretum in mind. The arboretum’s plant collections include conifers, Japanese maples and native redbuds and dogwoods. “When you’re in the museum it’s designed to feel like you’re outside in the garden,” he said. Large picture windows and walls of glass give views designed so that visitors can see a fountain or a special tree.
Many of the plants around the museum are meant to complement the stone and wood of the museum, as well as the paintings inside the museum, Stone said. “It’s truly an indoor-outdoor experience,” Stone said.
The museum is open 11 am-4 pm Tuesday through Friday, and noon-4 pm Saturday. The arboretum is open from 10 am-5 pm, April 1-Oct. 31, and 10 am-4 pm Nov. 1-March 31.