Lexington’s Southern Boundary in 1935

View from yard on Goodrich Ave. in Lexington, KY, ca. 1935 (KDL)

As a history buff, some of the best moments are when you see an image that takes a familiar place back in time. I found this picture in the Kentuckiana Digital Archive a while back. It’s a picture that was used to advertise a house that was for sale on Goodrich Avenue in Lexington. It’s dated June of 1935. And my home happens to be on Goodrich.

Several years ago I saw an old map of Lexington that showed Goodrich Avenue as the southernmost street in Lexington. Goodrich is in a little neighborhood called WGPL, just north of Southland Avenue off Nicholasville Road.

In this map, Southland Avenue didn’t exist, and beyond Goodrich, Nicholasville Pike turned into a country road that meandered its way south to Jessamine County. The picture above gives us a glimpse of what that must have been like.

What you see here is the backyard of the home, facing south, with the area that would become Southland stretching out beyond. As I understand it, Southland was developed in the ’50s. This area would roughly be about where the Southland Collins Bowling alley is today. Wolf Run, which begins in this area and is now underground, flows around the property line, and farmland stretches out to the south.

Pretty awesome little glimpse of the past.

Pappy Foreman’s Old Hickory Bar-B-Q is the Favorite of Locals in Owensboro

Old Hickory Bar-B-Q – Owensboro, Ky.

For a lot of people like me, barbecue is an intensely personal thing. I think its because of how we as a country eat barbecue – it’s an intensely American food that dates back to the Native Americans, and is usually the food that accompanies our biggest celebrations. Whether it be church picnics or family reunions, barbecue is commonly an important part of the celebration.

I was born in Kansas City and spent my first 11 years there. In Kansas City, barbecue is a form of art. My father was a barbecue junkie, and had very specific tastes when it came to who had the best ribs, baked beans, potato salad, etc.

At age 11, we moved to Alabama and my dad was shocked at how different the barbecue was. He hated it. Instead of the savory sweet Kansas City flavor, Alabama has a vinegary mustard style sauce that has a completely different flavor. Over the years, I’ve grown to love all styles of barbecue – you just have to recognize that every region has its own style, and that there is no REAL barbecue1.

Which brings me to Owensboro.

Owensboro is Kentucky’s unofficial barbecue capital. What makes Owensboro different is the primary meat: Mutton. No where else can you find barbecued mutton, and no where else can you find a better version of barbecued mutton’s most delicious offspring – burgoo. Burgoo is an old tradition in Kentucky – a stew made from all manner of ingredients brought together by a community and cooked to be eaten by everyone. Commercial barbecue began in Owensboro in 1890, when Henry Green, an African American, opened the first stand.

My wife has family in Owensboro, and while Moonlite Inn is the tourist destination for visitors, I’ve been told that Old Hickory is the favorite of the locals. It’s always been my favorite too.
Old Hickory’s burgoo is the best I’ve ever had, and the the chopped meats are awesome. You owe it to yourself to give it a try next time you’re in Owensboro. Old Hickory’s history goes back six generations to when Pappy Foreman, an Owensboro blacksmith, put down his tools and started cooking mutton back in 1918.

1 – The moderator of this site tends to agree with the author of this post; I enjoy most types of bar-b-q. I think that is because I didn’t grow up in a bar-b-q eating household. As a result, I just learned to like the dish as I experienced it. The reference to no real bar-b-q is not intended to be inflammatory (though some bar-b-q can be). Even so, pretend like the comment was so intended and defend your favorite bar-b-q in the comments.

“The Most Haunted Nightclub in America” is Bobby Mackey’s Music World

Bobby Mackey’s Music World – Wilder, Ky.

For those of you who have frequently read this blog, you are no doubt aware that Kentucky is a unique place. What you might not know is just how unique Kentucky is. This uniqueness dates back to even prehistoric times when even the Native Americans recognized that there was something a little bit different about this place. Native American groups didn’t really live in what is now Kentucky – it was a highly fought-over hunting ground. When settlers first arrived, they were warned by the natives that Kentucky was a “dark and bloody ground.”

In recent years, there has been an uptick in interest in all things “paranormal.” This increase in interest has been beneficial for quite a few businesses and landmarks all over the country, as haunted places have become popular tourist destinations. Perhaps as a result of its “dark and bloody” history, Kentucky has more than its fair share of paranormal destinations, including Waverly Hills Sanatorium in Louisville (which will be the subject of its own post no doubt) and Bobby Mackey’s Music World in Wilder, the self proclaimed “Most Haunted Nightclub in America.” Bobby Mackey’s has been visited by a number of now-popular ghost hunter TV shows (Ghost Hunters, Ghost Adventures, etc.), and has been able to capitalize on its dark and disturbing legendary history.

The community of Wilder sits along the Licking River, just south of Newport. When you enter the club, the sign above greets you, to let you know that your experience in this club might be a little bit different. Inside the club, you’re greeted with the sights and sounds of any country/western bar. There’s a nice size stage, and even a mechanical bull. Off to the side of the bar is a gift shop that contains the normal stuff you might see at a destination bar – t-shirts, shot glasses … and ghost hunting materials.

The history of Bobby Mackey’s is mostly culled from legend, and further reading can be found at both Bobby Mackey’s website and in Jeffrey Scott Holland’s excellent book, Weird Kentucky: Your Travel Guide to Kentucky’s Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets.

Gateway to Hell

According to legend, Bobby Mackey’s contains a “gateway to hell” which was created due to occult activity on the site. According to local legend, the site was originally the site of a slaughterhouse, and the well on-site was used to dump blood and remains into the Licking River to the west. This dumping of blood attracted the local occult and Satanic groups, which began to use the site for rituals. The story of Pearl Bryan then enters into the legend. Pearl Bryan was a 22-year old pregnant woman whose decapitated body was found near Ft. Thomas, Kentucky in 1896. Two men were tried and convicted of her murder Campbell County, and eventually both were hanged. Her sad story is pretty complicated and perhaps too disturbing for these pages, but a full account can be found here. Their trial, however, revealed the presence of Satanic groups in the area, and it is alleged that her head (which was never found) was used in a ritual at the site of the well. This well remains and is pictured at left. Allegedly, Pearl is among those who haunts the site.

Stairway to No Where

Bobby Mackey’s more recent history is closely tied to the history of Newport. As recently as a few decades ago, Newport was a pretty rough place with a significant organized crime presence. The site has for the last hundred years or so been a nightclub under a number of different owners and names. The site’s bootlegging and speakeasy history is still visible in the basement with this “stairway to no where” which sits right next to the “gateway to hell.” This stairwell was used to secretly ferry people and supplies in and out of the club during prohibition years. The basement also contains a crude jail cell, and a concrete room that allegedly is soundproof, and was the site of some pretty nasty face to face questioning sessions.

Another alleged spirit in the club is Johanna, a dancer who committed suicide by poisoning herself backstage after her father murdered her lover, who was a singer at the club. Johanna’s rose-scented perfume can allegedly be detected in different spots all over the site.

My experiences at Bobby Mackey’s were relatively uneventful, but it was still a really amazing place to visit – if just for its vivid representations of the recent shady past of this area of northern Kentucky. If you’re a paranormal junky, it’s a must see.

Along the Elkhorn Vale … Wendell H. Ford

Bust of Wendell H. Ford – Owensboro, Ky.

Although it would have been fitting to place this bust of Wendell H. Ford anywhere in the Commonwealth, it appropriately sits on the courthouse lawn in Owensboro. Wendell H. Ford served as Kentucky’s Lieutenant Governor of Kentucky from 1967-71 alongside Gov. Louie Nunn, then as Governor from 1971-1974. From the Governor’s Mansion, Ford ran for and was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1974. Ford, a Democrat, served Kentucky in Washington from 1974 until 1999. His service was marked with stints as both minority and majority whip.

Ford was born in Daviess County in 1924. After serving in the Army, he went to school and entered the insurance business with his father. Ford then entered politics by serving as an executive assistant for Governor Bert T. Combs. Elected to the state senate in 1965, Ford was elected Lieutenant Governor two years later. Interestingly enough, Ford (a Democrat) served as second-in-command for Republican Louie Nunn at a time when the two office holders did not run as a slate. During his time as lieutenant governor, Ford essentially rebuilt the organization of the Democratic party in the Commonwealth.

The 1971 Democratic primary for governor was an eight-way race decisively won by Wendell Ford, impressive particularly given that former Governor Combs was among the challengers. The fall election was a four-way race with Ford winning again, beating an independent challenge by another former governor A. B. “Happy” Chandler.  By defeating two former, popular Democratic governors, Ford was able to cement his stronghold on his political party and end some of the sectionalism that had traditionally plagued state Democrats.

The Wendell Ford administration was marked by efforts of efficient government consolidation and certain higher taxes. Among them, the coal severance tax was imposed and both the corporate tax and the gasoline tax were raised. Offsetting these tax increases was the elimination of the sales tax on food items, something which Ford had previously sought the exemption of during the Combs administration. During his administration, Kentucky passed the Equal Rights Amendment and the University of Louisville was transferred from municipal to state control.  

Then, the Kentucky governor could not run for re-election to a consecutive term. Ford opted to run for the U.S. Senate in 1974 and was elected and re-elected until he retired in 1998. While in the U.S. Senate, Ford was involved in a number of issues and was decisively pro-Kentucky, pro-coal, and pro-tobacco. Among his accomplishments, the Wendell H. Ford Aviation Investment and Reform Act reduced aircraft noise and required airlines to better inform consumers. He supported the increase in the federal minimum wage, welfare reform, research of clean coal technology, and increased retirement benefits for coal miners. A final accomplishment which would have saved the government millions of dollars by using recycled paper and printing in volume through a centralized printing operation was never realized; although favorably reported out of committee, progress on the legislation was stymied by the Clinton removal trial following the President’s 1998 impeachment.
Ford’s seat was taken by Republican Hall-of-Famer Jim Bunning in 1998 and is now occupied by another western Kentuckian, Rand Paul. Today, Ford lives in Owensboro. His public papers are at the Owensboro Museum of Science and History along with a replica of his Senate office.

Natcher Bridge looms high up river from Owensboro

Natcher Bridge – near Owensboro, Ky.

The Natcher Bridge is enormous. Driving east out of Owensboro, the bridge looms before you even miles before you get close to it. It’s modern style is what I really think sets it apart. At the time of its construction, it was the longest cable stayed bridge over an inland waterway in the United States (4,505 feet long including approaches, yet only 67 feet wide). Opened in 2002, it was built to relieve traffic over the Glover Cary Bridge in downtown Owensboro several miles down river. The ultimate goal is for the bridge to be a part of a four lane highway system connecting Interstate 64 in southern Indiana and Interstate 65 at Bowling Green. The connector would utilize the existing Natcher Parkway would allow travelers to bypass Louisville.

Study for the project began in 1983. U.S. Rep. William Natcher and Senator Wendell Ford sought funding for the bridge. In 1988, Natcher secured the millions of dollars required for preliminary work, design and right-of-way acquisition. As with many projects of this size, there were significant construction delays and delays in federal funding. The bridge finally opened to traffic in 2002.

About Rep. Natcher: He represented Kentucky as a Democrat in Congress for 41 years. Natcher was a champion of the freeway system. He holds the record for most consecutive votes in Congress. When he was sick, a vote was delayed so that he could attend. He died in 1994, before construction of the bridge had begun, but even the proposed bridge bore his name before his death.

EV: Resting Place of Henry Clay (Lexington Cemetery, Part VII)

Tomb of Henry Clay – Lexington, Ky.

When most people think of the Lexington Cemetery, they probably immediately think of the Henry Clay monument. And for good reason. It dominates the skyline of this area of Lexington. Though, as a curious aside, it’s really tough to see the monument from the cemetery below. It takes up an entire section (Section M) of the cemetery and is surrounded by a dense group of cherry trees.

When Henry Clay died in June of 1852, the ensuing ten days of memorials and mourning were national news. The day after he was buried, a group met at the courthouse in Lexington to begin planning “a national monument of historic proportions.” They certainly achieved their goal.
The monument was completed in 1861, but because of the Civil War, Clay’s body was not laid to rest there until 1864, when both he and his wife’s bodies were placed there. The monument stands on a small hill, and Clay faces east, towards his home – Ashland.
Curiously, the monument has had a rather rough time over the years. In 1909, a storm knocked the head off the statute, necessitating a new statue to be built at the cost of $10,000. Then in 1910, the replacement statue was struck by lighting and lost its right hand and leg. The statue was once again repaired for another $10,000.
By the time the 1970s rolled around, the statue was a mess, as technically, there was no group responsible for its upkeep. The Cemetery had long ago deeded the land to the Henry Clay Monument Association, a group that no longer existed. To remedy this issue, the orphan monument was vested to the city by the Fayette Circuit Court. The monument saw a complete restoration at the hands of the city in 1976. The city transferred ownership to the Lexington Cemetery in 1999.

EV: Confederate Memorials (Lexington Cemetery, Part VI)

Ladies Confederate Memorial – Lexington, Ky.
When the Civil War concluded, battlefield were littered with Kentucky soldiers who had lost their lives on both sides of the conflict. Some of the fallen were buried in the Lexington Cemetery. In total, 102 Confederate soldiers were buried in the Lexington Cemetery during the conflict. The Confederate plots, which are separated from the fallen Union by a small paved drive, were turned over to the Confederate Veterans Association in June of 1891 for the token payment of one dollar. In February of 1892, the CVA bought the adjacent 510 square feet for $50, and eventually the CVA purchased an additional two lots totaling 853 square feet.

The Confederate lot is highlighted by two sites on the National Historic Register.

First, the Confederate Soldier’s Monument (pictured at left). The Soldier’s monument was built with donations from four particularly wealthy residents of Lexington. Built in Carrara, Italy, and ordered from a catalog, the Soldier’s Monument was erected in 1893. It contains the names of 160 veterans.

The nearby Ladies’ Confederate Memorial (pictured at top) is much more striking in its appearance. It was erected in 1874. Instead of being about southern patriotism, the Ladies Memorial represents the grief of those lost in the war. The Ladies Memorial and Monument Association was founded by the wife of John C. Breckinridge. The monument features a marble cross adorned with a broken flag-staff. It was designed by George W. Ranck, a Lexington historian. Frank Leslie’s Weekly, a popular national magazine at the time, described the Ladies Memorial as “probably the most perfect thing of its kind in the South.”

I would agree. It’s truly unlike anything I have ever seen in a memorial.

EV – Buffalo Trace Distillery, Frankfort, Ky.

Buffalo Trace Distillery – Frankfort, Ky.

A few months ago, I was lucky enough to attend a wedding at the Buffalo Trace Distillery, (allegedly) the oldest operating distillery site in the country. Located in Frankfort, the site is on the National Historic Register as the George T. Stagg Distillery. Distilling began on this site sometime before 1773, on the site of an old trail (the Alanant-O-Wamiowee) where Buffalo reportedly crossed the Kentucky River. These Buffalo trails or “Buffalo Trace” were used by early pioneers.

Buffalo Trace bourbon, introduced in the late 1990s, is merely the most recent bourbon to be manufactured here. Many different distilleries have operated on the site over the years, and the oldest standing building on the site dates to 1792. The grounds are quite beautiful, and definitely worth a visit next time you’re in the Frankfort area.

EV: Lexington National Cemetery (Lexington Cemetery, pt. V)

As I mentioned in an earlier post, there are three national historic sites within the Lexington Cemetery. The largest of these is the Lexington National Cemetery. It is one of eight national cemeteries in the state.

During the Civil War, 965 Union soldiers were buried in the Lexington Cemetery. Confederates were buried in an adjoining lot. After the war, the Union lot was donated by the cemetery company to the federal government, which also purchased an adjoining 16,111 square feet in 1867. The whole area was designated a national cemetery and federal soldiers from several surrounding Kentucky counties were brought there to be buried. By 1932 the area was filled, and an additional adjacent lot was eventually purchased.

EV: The Big Four Bridge

The Big Four Bridge from Waterfront Park – Louisville, Ky.

The Big Four Bridge was for a long time an old abandoned rail bridge on the east end of downtown Louisville. The Big Four gets its name from the Big Four railroad – the nickname for the now defunct Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago and St. Louis Railroad. For years, the bridge sat in the middle of the river, with both the Indiana and Kentucky approaches having been removed in 1969 and sold for scrap after the railroad fell into disuse.

Construction began on the bridge in 1888. During the construction, an astounding 37 people died. Two accidents with pier caissons caused drownings, and a horrible accident occurred when the collapse of construction equipment killed 21 workers. The bridge was completed in 1895.

In recent years, there has been a move to convert the bridge into a pedestrian and bicycle bridge. This conversion has been in the works for years and has proceeded at a snail’s pace. What you see above is the completed entrance ramp on the Kentucky side, though no similar entrance exists on the Indiana side. The entrance was closed when I visited, but looked quite impressive from the ground.

(PJWB side-note): In the 1960s, architect Jasper Ward proposed a housing development on the Big Four. The Louisvillian-Manhattanite at Broken Sidewalk has closely followed the developments at the Big Four Bridge.