Hello everyone, I hope you’re having a great week wherever you are. I apologize for my weekly newsletter not coming out last week, there was some sort of technical glitch which hopefully has been sorted out. Be sure you go to my Blog page (HERE) so you can catch up on what you missed. I’ve had a wonderful first week here in Kentucky full of friendly people, horse racing, history and bourbon. Indian summer has come with a vengeance and it has been hot and sunny all week, but it is supposed to cool down here by the weekend - something which I am really looking forward to. Enough summer already, bring on the fall. It is great to be in a new state with new focus and new things to think about, and it would have been hard to imagine a better way to spend my first week in the Bluegrass State than the week I’ve just had.
When I signed off last week, I did head back down to take some nice photos looking back at Ohio. Then I made my way over to Newport where I enjoyed dinner at O’Bryon’s Bar and Grill on Washington Ave. It was $5 burger night and while the food was good, the service was even better. I went up the road for a quick beer at the super cute Crazy Fox bar before calling it a night.
The next day I was up and off east down the Ohio River. The first thing I noticed was the change of terrain. After a long summer in flat Ohio, it was nice to find some rolling hills in Northern Kentucky. There was a lot of industry along the river, but also some beautiful scenery as well. The road was relatively quiet and I had it all to myself most of the day.
I popped into tiny Augusta, where I met a wonderful lady named Ms. Dorothy at the Welcome Center there. She was so sweet, I wrote a post about her which you can read HERE. We had a nice chat and then she sent me on my way to visit the beautiful old houses around town. Augusta was once home of Rosemary Clooney, as well as the birthplace of Heather Rene French, who would grow up to be crowned Miss America in 2000 (apparently when she won they had a spontaneous beer bust and weenie roast in the street). It was also the location of Kentucky’s first jail, and the first Methodist University in the world. I had a nice wander around, and as it started to rain, I ducked into the old country store on Main Street. I had some wonderful homemade blackberry cobbler and chatted with Annie, from Dayton, who was serving it up. When I finished my cobbler and conversation, the rain had let up, so I got back in my van and headed on down to lovely Maysville.
Maysville had a wonderful, compact, historic downtown center. It was very well kept and friendly and I enjoyed having a long wander around town, taking photos as the daylight was fading. They had a beautiful old theater there called the Russel, and a beautiful old Opera House as well. I also loved how many of the local election signs were more polite than elsewhere - they all said “Please Elect” at the top above the candidate’s name. The next morning, I went to check out the Kentucky Gateway Museum which had some great regional history, and a fun collection of “haunted” building photos on display for Halloween, many of which I have been to. The centerpiece of the museum, though, was Kathleen Savage Browning’s miniature collection, one of the finest miniature collections in the world. I was blown away at the intricate detail on some of the pieces in this collection. I don’t know what it is about miniatures, but I’ve always been fascinated by them, and these made me smile from ear to ear.
Heading out from Maysville, I made my way south into Fleming County which has three beautiful covered bridges, more than any other county in the state. I set out to photograph them and enjoyed winding down the back roads to find them. I do have a thing for old covered bridges, and these were some good ones.
Along the way, I was listening to local radio, as I usually am if I don’t have a good podcast to listen to. It’s coming up on election time, and political ads have overtaken the airwaves and they are as nasty here as elsewhere in the country. One caught my ear though, which I thought was worth sharing with you. The candidate talked about his dear old grandmother who kept a bible on her bedside table and a rifle under her bed. “One was to protect her in this world, and the other in the next”. Wow, Kentucky, just wow.
My next stop was Winchester where I stopped to grab a bottle of their pride and joy: Ale-8-One soda. While I know we are seeing a resurgence in “craft sodas”, it has always blown my mind how many old sodas just gave up the ghost over the years. Ale-8-One has held on though, and since 1926 has been producing their signature citrus-ginger soda in Winchester, Kentucky. I had never had one before, and found it different and delicious. With a little sugar and caffeine in my system, I headed on into Lexington.
I got in just after dark, so didn’t do much exploring that day. I stopped for a little bourbon at a few different bars and ended up at a place called Ole Hookers Bait and Tackle. Ole Hookers is a classic old dive bar in downtown Lexington, and that night there was an eclectic group of people there for sure. I had a great time chatting to a bunch of different people, most of whom, it seemed, were from Lexington. I didn’t want to leave because I didn’t know what was coming next, but eventually made my way out and was on my way.
The next morning I was up early to have a look around town before heading out to Keeneland, Lexington’s most famous horse-racing track. While I was trying to find parking up on “The Hill”, I ended up getting stuck deep in the mud with my tires spinning. Two trucks tried to help pull me out and failed, but I guess the third one was the charm. The young man that pulled me out was super friendly and awesome about it, and the onlooking tailgaters cheered him on as he pulled me out of the quagmire. I felt a little better when I saw a half dozen other people stuck there throughout the day. I felt better yet after a Bloody Mary at the track. One of the things I really loved about Keeneland was that they had a group of people on-hand to teach you how to bet on horse races. I admit I had no idea when I walked in, having only been to the races a few times before. The man who explained it to me was very thorough and patient, and with confidence I went to place my first bet. I lost. I lost on my second bet too, but broke even on my third. I was enjoying the atmosphere and everyone’s fancy outfits, and wasn’t too concerned about the two and three dollar bets I was making. I decided to put down $10 on the last race I was going to watch that day, though. I made a $6 bet on the favorite to come in in the top 3, and a $3 bet on another horse to come in in the top 2. With my last dollar, I picked the 30-1 horse to win. Would you believe that was the horse that won? It did, and I got a $71 payout from that $1 bet. I was pretty happy with that!
I headed back into town where I enjoyed some truly wonderful Indian food at Taj Restaurant. The people there were really friendly, and the food was excellent! I dropped into another classic Lexington dive-bar, the Chevy Chase Inn, to watch the end of the Kentucky University football game. I had a great time there and sat next to Josh and Judy who gave me some great local and regional recommendations on places to eat. “All I care about is food” Josh said “well, and my daughters, and whiskey and football and guns”. Very Kentucky, haha! They were super friendly and helpful and I enjoyed talking with them and there recommendations around town. The bar had the most amazing beer tap system which you really have to see to believe. Check out the video above to see for yourself.
Sunday I went to explore Ashland, the estate of one of Kentucky’s favorite sons: Henry Clay. Known as the “Great Compromiser”, he was a three-time speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, served as Secretary of State for John Quincy Adams and thrice ran for president himself. I enjoyed learning about him at Ashland, and seeing the beautifully kept home. From there, I went to the giant central public library in town to get some work done, and then caught the movie Blaze at the beautiful old Kentucky Theater. After the movie I went to meet one of my fraternity brothers and his wife for dinner, and enjoyed a nice long conversation with them. I had an nice Sunday night relaxed in my van watching some old episodes of Treme.
Monday I woke up with my head stuffed and my nose running. Allergies! Damn! I have anti-histamines, but didn’t want to take one until I was sure it was allergies. I blew my nose good and headed off painfully into the day. My first stop was Old Friends Farm, a retirement home for thoroughbreds. This place was great! Our guides were wonderful and very knowledgeable and we wandered around for an hour, feeding carrots to all of these absolutely stunning old racehorses. There were even two big winners there: Silver Charm and War Emblem who had both won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness in their day, but had both lost the Belmont Stakes and therefore the Triple Crown. Since horses can only run these races once, when they are three years old, that was their only shot. Also there at Old Friends were the horses that beat them in their respective Belmont races. There didn’t seem to be any bad blood though, and they all seemed ready to live out their golden years at Old Friends Farm. I loved my visit to this magical place and you should definitely check it out if you are around Lexington.
From there, I went to the Cane Ridge Meeting House, outside of Paris. Built in 1791, soon after Kentucky became a state, it is one of the oldest churches in the region. It’s also apparently the largest one-room log structure in the state. I was a little shocked when I pulled up to find a stone building there. As it turned out, the stone building was built in the thirties to protect it. The Meeting House was really cool to see, and I enjoyed sitting in the pews and thinking about all the people who had passed through this church over the years. The little museum on the property was great as well, and the lady who showed me around was wonderful.
I headed back into town with hopes to see them tape Woodsongs Old Time Radio Hour at the Lyric Theater. Unfortunately and unbeknownst to me, they weren’t doing it because it was Columbus Day. Instead, I went to grab a beer at the Green Lantern, another awesome Lexington dive, and then went on to Blue Stallion Brewing Company for a quick flight. The women working there were awesome, and the beers were pretty good as well. $15 for a flight was a little steep, and the bar itself was the highest I may have ever seen, but it was a good place and the people were friendly.
Tuesday I headed back to Keeneland in the morning to watch the horses workout on the track. I’m really glad I did. In contrast to being there during the races, there was hardly anyone there on this weekday morning. Entrance was free and I could just sit in the grandstands with my coffee and watch these beautiful horses run the track. I went to the Track Kitchen for some breakfast, which wasn’t very good, but it was neat to be there. From there I went back downtown and took a tour of the girlhood home of Mary Todd Lincoln. This tour was fascinating and I learned a lot more than what little I knew about this former First Lady. She grew up in Lexington Society, was well educated, owned slaves and had several family members who fought for the Confederacy. She lost her husband and three of her four children, something which would take a severe toll on anyone. This was yet another great place to see in Lexington.
After lunch, I headed down the beautiful Old Frankfort Pike, past horse farms and old stone walls, on my way to Kentucky’s Capital City. Frankfort is a quiet, old gem on the Kentucky River and a sharp contrast to modern Lexington and Louisville. I got in and headed straight for the beautiful Capitol Building for a free tour. This building houses all three branches of the Kentucky State Government and is really excellent to see. There was a fascinating story about how a painter was commissioned to do four paintings in the rotunda, but died on the Titanic so they weren’t completed until almost a century later. The most striking feature, though, are two of the five statues in the Rotunda. In the center, of course, is Abraham Lincoln. Standing behind Lincoln and off to the side though, in something you will only find in their birth state, is fellow Kentucky native Jefferson Davis, the former and only President of the Confederacy. This really left me a lot to contemplate as I wandered the beautiful Capitol grounds. From there I stopped off at Rebecca Ruth Candy, another Kentucky institution, for one of their famous bourbon balls. I have to say, it was delicious.
After that, I wandered around downtown for a while. It didn’t take long as there isn’t much to it, but it is really charming and pleasant. I had a decent Mexican dinner at Mi Amigo restaurant, and enjoyed sitting outside on the patio. I got to listen in on some conversations about upcoming election strategy from a candidate for something or other. I also got a smile when a guy was bragging about his two new tattoos which he just got - “Sasquatch on a Segway and a slice of pizza holding a bottle of (something I couldn’t quite make out)”. These were in addition to one he had of a cheeseburger eating a cheeseburger. Excellent choices for permanent marks on your body dude!
I had a quiet and early night, and got up early to try and get some photos at sunrise of the Capitol. While there were cool clouds near the horizon, and some great blue sky in other places, the sky behind the building was just too cloudy. I headed to the gym and then on to the Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History. You may remember how much I enjoy these big state history museums (except for Ohio’s which was just terrible), and I was there all day long. My $8 admission also included a guided tour of the Old State Capitol building, which was really interesting, and the Kentucky Military History Museum. While I would prefer to just pay for these things a la carte, I did make it to all three - but it was a busy day. The main museum was excellent and I think did a really fair job of interpreting Kentucky history. It not only looked at the history of the state, but also at the history of the people who have lived here. It was very inclusive, including the histories of the Native Americans, women, immigrants and black people in a very balanced way. I was impressed at the job they have done and at the way the whole museum was presented. It isn’t massive, but it packs a lot in. It also seemed like there was a lot there for kids as well, and tackled some pretty challenging subjects for them too. Kentucky is a complicated place with a complicated history, and I’m really looking forward to getting more into it as I go.
That leaves me here, in the wonderful downtown public library, finishing up this week’s posts, editing some photos and making plans for the week ahead. Tomorrow I will see a little more of Frankfort, including the grave of Daniel Boone and a smaller museum on local bourbon history. Then I want to begin my Kentucky Bourbon Trail experience with a visit out to Buffalo Trace Distillery before heading on down to Louisville. I’ve got friends to catch up with there which should be a lot of fun, and lots to see and do. I’ve spent a bit of time in Louisville before, but never long enough to really see what was going on there, so I’m looking forward to it. I haven’t made many plans beyond that yet for my journey west, but I will make a plan for next week from there. I’m really looking forward to seeing and learning more about Kentucky this week, as I feel like I’ve only just scratched the surface. This week you should find out more about something you’ve always been interested in too, and maybe go see or do something associated with it. It’s a good time of year for exploring and you should get out and do it before winter closes in. Until next time then, thanks for reading. I'll see you next week - same time, same place!