I started my exploration of Kentucky this week by driving east along the Ohio river from Covington to Maysville. Along the way I made a quick stop in the tiny town of Augusta, where I got the warmest welcome into a place I could possible imagine in an old red caboose at the very end of Main Street. The caboose was the site of the town’s Welcome Center, and the welcome came from Ms. Dorothy who has been welcoming visitors to Augusta for the last 16 years. I love stopping into local Visitors Centers wherever I go. I get travel ideas from younger people through Yelp and TripAdvisor, but I love the Visitors Centers because I can usually find someone there from an older generation, someone with stories to tell about wherever I am.
Driving into Augusta on a rainy afternoon, I popped into the old caboose on the corner of Riverside Drive and Main Street to see what I could find out about this cute little riverside town. There, I met Ms. Dorothy who told me how great it was to have me in her little slice of heaven. “As close to heaven as I could hope to find, until I get to the real heaven” she explained.
Ms. Dorothy had been a rural mail carrier in her home state of Ohio for almost 40 years, when one day she saw a job opening in the post office in Augusta. Without knowing a soul there, she packed up and moved. “Best decision I ever made” she told me. Ohio and Augusta were like night and day, she went on, with Ohio being the night and Augusta being the day (I happened to really like Ohio, but this still made me smile).
When she arrived in Augusta, she said she found everything she needed and rattled off the list of things the town had to offer from the churches and schools to the grocery and hardware stores and even a public pool. “Why would you ever need to leave?” she asked. I’m always fascinated by this mentality and wonder if I ever found a place that was the perfect match for me if I could actually stay there for the duration. Ms. Dorothy went on to tell me that the ferry that ran across the river was free for pedestrians, and that there isn’t much free in the world anymore. She’s right about that.
For a town with a population of just 1300 people, it seemed tiny Augusta had a lot to offer. Rosemary Clooney, Northeast Kentucky’s pride and joy, had lived there, and it was the birthplace of Heather Rene French who would grow up to be crowned Miss America in 2000.
The history of the city was on display along Riverside Drive where most of the houses were on the National Register of Historic Places. Augusta also has the oldest standing jail in Kentucky, built in 1811, and the oldest Methodist University in the world. Ms. Dorothy also showed me around the old caboose and pointed out some of the cool features including the cast iron sink. The caboose was filled with mementos which local citizens had donated through the years, and Ms. Dorothy had the stories behind all of them.
She asked me if I had ever met someone who got a job they hadn’t applied for. When I answered that I couldn’t think of anyone, she responded that I was, in fact, looking at one as we spoke. She told me that the town council had approached her after she retired from the post office, and asked if she would take the job at the Welcome Center. After ironing out a schedule which would allow her to go to church every Sunday, she accepted and she’s been there ever since.
I asked if Ms. Dorothy would mind if I took her picture to which she responded “go ahead, but your camera will never be the same”. It certainly won’t be. I enjoyed my visit to tiny Augusta, Kentucky. It was a nice place with a slow pace and some cute shops and restaurants. There were some beautiful homes, and yes, I even saw the oldest standing jail in Kentucky. But it was Ms. Dorothy who was the real find in Augusta. She was the hidden gem of the town, and its biggest fan. I’ve often said you can’t sell something very well if you don’t believe in it 100%, and it was clear to the people who hired her to this role that Dorothy believed in Augusta, Kentucky with all her heart. They couldn’t have found a better person to fill this position, and I couldn’t have found a better person to welcome me to Augusta, and Kentucky.