The Love of a Place: Richard Taylor’s Elkhorn

Elkhorn: Evolution of a Kentucky Landscape by Richard Taylor

As readers of this blog know, I am passionate about Kentucky and Kentucky history. Although not a native to the Commonwealth, I have lived here for most of my life and have developed a deep love of place. Kentucky, however, is an expansive place with different locales and environments. From the urban cores of Lexington and Louisville to the Appalachian hills to the wide fields of western Kentucky, Kentucky’s topography is not homogenous. Yet, I still love this place.

A new book published by the University Press of Kentucky, Elkhorn: Evolution of a Kentucky Landscape, explores the rich history of a creek that cuts through central Kentucky.

The author, Richard Taylor, explains in his introduction, his passion for this place. For forty or so years, Taylor had developed a passion for a narrow slice of Kentucky and he wanted to share his passion with his readers. Taylor introduced me to what he described as “a new name for an old concept – the love of place”: topophilia.

Topo” means “place” in Greek and “philia” is “love of.”

Taylor’s topophilia for the microregion he has inhabited for the past forty years is infectious and his telling of its history most informative.

Through the course of ten chapters, Taylor examines the prehistoric past, the Native Americans who once hunted here, the arrival of the white settlers and their attempts at taming the waters of the Elkhorn Creek. The tenth chapter is reserved as a miscellanea for other anecdotes and stories that might not best fit into other chapters.

Among the anecdotes I found most interesting were those related to “ghost bridges.” Of course, the Switzer Bridge is well known and remains intact following a 1997 restoration following a devastating flood. Not all bridges that crossed the Elkhorn, however, have been so luck. At one time, over four hundred covered bridges crossed Kentucky creeks and rivers. According to Robert Laughlin, author of Kentucky’s Covered Bridges, only a dozen covered bridges remain. But “ghost bridges” can be found across Kentucky and several are noted along the Elkhorn. Stone abutments evidence old paths which would have carried travelers and commerce alike.

The character, however, who serves almost as Taylor’s protagonist is one the author admits “is hardly a household name.” Judge Harry Innes.

I know of no monument to him other than his tombstone in the Frankfort cemetery, not even a street name in a capital dedicated to commemorating its notable dead. Ask the name of the first federal judge west of the mountains and only a handful of local historian can name him. Ask who presided over the first treason trial of Aaron Burr and most will draw a blank. Yet Harry Innes was an important player in the formation of Kentucky, active in eight of the ten conventions that resulted in Kentucky’s separation from the mother state of Virginia at its beginning 225 years ago as the fifteenth addition to the Union.

Judge Harry Innes.
Portrait by Matthew Harris Jouett

Yes, Judge Harry Innes was a significant force in Kentucky’s history. Taylor paints an excellent portrait of the man, one self described himself “first a Kentuckian, and secondly, an American.” As I seek here to review Taylor’s work and not share its secrets, suffice it to say that Innes is a challenging character as well.

In recent history, we have learned that this is true of many of our revered founders and historical figures. Taylor notes the benefits of “historical hindsight” and observes that “history does not paint in black and white but in hues and shadows.”

Similar to how the artist Paul Sawyier painted his beautiful watercolors of the same watershed with hues and shadows, so, too, does Taylor with his words. If you love the Elkhorn or have a general topophilia for our Commonwealth, Elkhorn: Evolution of a Kentucky Landscape is worthy of your time.

Disclaimer: The author was provided with a courtesy copy of the book by the publisher for the purposes of writing a review. Additionally, links in this post to are affiliate links.

Keep the University Press of Kentucky

The University Press of Kentucky just celebrated its 75th birthday, but it is celebrating it’s birthday on a list of 70 state agencies whose budgets are being slashed by Governor Bevin.

Some agencies may hobble along without the state funding, but it would seem even those that have alternative revenue streams (like book sales) would likely close if the governor’s proposal is made law.

Tom Eblen’s column draws attention to what this closure would mean – to the Press and to the Commonwealth – if the Press’ $672,000 budget allocation were gone.

The 50 books or so published each year by the University Press are a diverse collection that tell America’s history and Kentucky’s history. They explore the oft-untold culture of Appalachia in an honest way.

A little full-disclosure from me: I occasionally review books published by the University Press and post those reviews on this website; I obtain courtesy copies of the books reviewed from the University Press but otherwise receive no compensation. Here’s a link to all the University Press books I’ve reviewed.

Because telling Kentucky’s story is fun. And that is something at which the University Press of Kentucky excels. I’m looking forward to Randolph Paul Runyon’s The Mentelles: Mary Todd Lincoln, Henry Clay, and the Immigrant Family Who Educated Antebellum Kentucky which is due out in May 2018. In it, the author “studies the understated pair” of Augustus Waldemar and Charlotte Victoire Mentelle who arrived in Lexington in 1798 where they began Mentelle’s School for Young Ladies, “an intellectually rigorous school that attracted students from around the region and greatly influence its most well-known pupil, Mary Todd Lincoln.”

Tom Kimmerer’s Venerable Trees presents a complex, scientific matter in simple, readable prose that educates and informs the arborist, the history buff, the preservationist, and those who love Kentucky’s natural beauty. It was published by the University Press of Kentucky in 2015.

The beautiful 596-tome that is the Kentucky African American Encyclopedia is a “foundational guide  to the black experience in the Commonwealth.”

And in A is for Appalachia!, children take an alphabetical exploration through the traditions and culture of Appalachia. I first read it to my children in 2014 and as recently as this month.

The poetry of George Ella Lyon, who regularly publishes with the University Press, makes walls talk as she did in Many-Storied House

Even a textbook on Appalachian linguistics, Talking Appalachian, remains forever in my mind because of Anne Shelby’s complaint that the computer’s spellcheck feature turns ‘homeplace’ into someplace.

And these are just some of the stories, books, and genres that the University Press of Kentucky brings to life each year. And now it’s at risk, so I’ve placed it on the Kaintuckeean’s #DemolitionWatch.

Kentucky must continue to invest in education and in its culture and in the University Press of Kentucky.

This Christmas, Remember The Christmas Truce

Oh, the snowflakes fell in silence
Over Belleau Wood that night
For a Christmas truce had been declared
By both sides of the fight. 

These lyrics from one of Garth Brooks’ songs inspired my intrigue in the Christmas Truce of World War I ever since the song was released nearly 20 years ago. And while I’m passionate about Kentucky history, I’m admittedly unversed on world history of the 20th century (an indictment on both what we teach in American schools and on my own collegiate course selection). So I took Garth at his word.

But stories of the Christmas Truce originated following the holiday in 1914 in the early years of The Great War, while the Battle of Belleau Wood didn’t occur until 1918. And the clincher is that the Battle of Belleau Wood happened in June. Garth was wrong.

The common notions regarding the Christmas Truce, which I’d been taught to believe, were wrong.

Which is why I was quite pleased to find myself seated next to Terri Crocker at the Kentucky Book Fair last month. She is the author of The Christmas Truce (University Press of Kentucky, 2015; $40.00). A New Yorker by birth, Crocker is a PhD candidate at the University of Kentucky where she also works as a paralegal. Her historical passion and investigative nature are what make The Christmas Truce such an excellent work.

Crocker works through the most common misconceptions about the Christmas Truce, chiefly that the soldiers hated the enemy or that the holiday detente was purposed solely as a mutiny against a purposeless war and feckless military brass. Instead, Crocker posits (utilizing the many contemporary reports and private letters of soldiers) that the Truce broke the monotony of a hellish, trench-based warfare against an enemy that differed not from their own.

Crocker, through meticulous research, dismantles the revisionist histories put forth in the 1960s by both historian and filmmaker alike to reveal a significant series of events which began independently at various points along the 20-mile Western Front.

The Truce also varied in how is was celebrated along that Front. In places, football (soccer) was played between British Expeditionary Forces and the Germans while in others the opportunity was taken to retrieve fallen comrades from the no-mans-land between the trenches. Christmas songs were sung, the Germans illuminated small Christmas trees, and food and drink were shared to varying degrees.

A constant, notes Crocker, was that “cease-fires ended with firing that had been prearranged,” but that out of “honour” one side informed the other of that prearranged time. Although the Truce was a welcome reprieve, it was known that the War was not over.

As we celebrate the centennial of the Great War, World War I, it is important to review and challenge the commonly accepted version of history. Especially when that accepted version is, in fact, inaccurate. Crocker does just that by setting aside the Truce’s mythological power and investigating the events as told by those who were present during this moment in history.

The Christmas Truce: Myth, Memory, and the First World War was published by the University Press of Kentucky in 2015.

Recognizing and Preserving Our “Venerable Trees”

I first learned of Tom Kimmerer and his work during the late summer and into the fall of 2014 with the news related to a Ball Homes’ development near Harrodsburg Road and Military Pike that threatened a nearly 500 year-old bur oak. The developer hired Kimmerer to create a preservation plan for this ‘venerable’ tree which stands on a bluff above the old South Elkhorn schoolhouse. For the tree preservation plan, Ball Homes earned an award from the Lexington-Fayette Environmental Commission.

Although the preservation of historic buildings has been at times fiercely discussed over the past half-century in Lexington (at times more passionately than at others), the fight over the preservation of historic trees has not drawn the same level of attention. But the preservation of the Old Schoolhouse Oak may be a game changer.

And the premier guidebook for the preservation of trees was recently published by the University Press of Kentucky. The author, not surprisingly, was Tom Kimmerer. Kimmerer’s Venerable Trees: History, Biology, and Conservation in the Bluegrass is a self-described “celebration of the long relationship between people and trees and a cautionary tale of what happens when we neglect that relationship.”

Tom Kimmerer and Ben Chandler at the 2015 Kentucky Book Fair. Author’s collection

In Venerable Trees, Kimmerer harkens to the early days of Lexington when settlers like Robert Patterson and Josiah Collins felled significant bur oaks and walnuts to construct first a blockhouse and later cabins like the one standing today on the campus of Transylvania University.

In one particular image, a detail of the Patterson Cabin shows the grain on an old oak log that “may be one of the original bur oak pieces used to build the cabin.” Through the page, the history of the building speaks volumes but so does the ancient history that occurred while that tree grew before being cut down for utility by mankind.

The image immediately conjured, for me, the fire, demolition, and removal of the Lady Sterling House in Nicholasville. An 1804 structure which burned in 2014, the burnt original timbers showed their age. Of that loss, I wrote:

But the log cabin which had withstood over 200 years of history and two other major fires seemed resilient. It might be able to be preserved.

The logs had been cut and hewn by hand. The trees from which those timbers came could have stood several hundred years before the trees were felled. If the log cabin couldn’t have been reclaimed, those logs could have perhaps been rebuilt on the same or another site. Or the logs could have been repurposed and reclaimed in other ways.

The timber of this building spoke to me, but I’ve largely neglected to consider the honorable tree in my passion for preservation. But our venerable trees should not be forgotten – they should be preserved.

Truly, Venerable Trees is not what I expected. I expected that the book on biology would read like a textbook and would appeal only to a narrow subset of the population whose passion involves counting tree rings. And without a doubt, this book will appeal to those individuals as well.

But Kimmerer does a fabulous job of presenting complex matters in simple, readable prose. The stories of particular trees both in the Inner Bluegrass Basin and in the Nashville Basin are told alongside an understanding of how different species of trees reproduce, how that reproduction is aided by the natural environment, and with an emphasis on the importance of these significant natural monuments. All with a good collection of both black-and-white and color photographs.

Venerable Trees is highly recommended for the arborist, the history buff, the preservationist, and those who love Kentucky’s natural beauty. For more about Tom Kimmerer and his work, visit his website.

A Review of The Kentucky African American Encyclopedia

Over 150 writers contributed to The Kentucky African American Encyclopedia which is being published this month by the University Press of Kentucky. Editors Gerald L. Smith, Karen Cotton McDaniel, and John A. Hardin have compiled what is being described as “a foundational guide to the black experience in the Commonwealth.”

The beautiful 596-page tome is not without its flaws. Although the entry on “slave trade” did note that Lexington and Louisville “became centers of the slave commerce,” there was no entry dedicated to the markets themselves. An informed entry on “Cheapside” would have been an excellent addition – the full dialogue on this subject seems to be missing which has spawned a political issue in and of itself. Another addition I would have preferred to have seen would have been a place index. Connecting the dots of multiple references within the text to a particular Kentucky town or county would have assisted local researchers, though the information is probably easily gleaned from a digital version of the text.

Notwithstanding these small contentions, the volume is filled with the long-undertold parts of Kentucky’s rich history. Any lover of Kentucky history would be well-served by sitting down for an afternoon to peruse this book, then to keep it nearby for regular consultation.

To celebrate Kentucky’s bicentennial in 1992, the Kentucky Encyclopedia was born. Since, two regional encyclopedia’s (Louisville and Northern Kentucky) have continued to tell the stories of the individuals, places, organizations, and events that have shaped Kentucky’s storied past. Now, the stories involving Kentucky’s African-American past are being told in a single volume.

First African Baptist Church in Lexington.

The entry on Lexington’s First African Baptist Church tells the early challenges experienced by Peter Durrett, the slave who helped organize and pastor the church that was once the largest congregation in Kentucky. (At least two other historic black Lexington churches, Antioch (Colored) Christian and St. Paul AME lack entries.)

The entry on Margaret Garner, the escaped slave who was on the most “complex figures in the history of American slavery,” is heart wrenching.

The release of this book on August 28 itself holds significance. Seven years ago (2008), Barack Obama became the first African-American to accept the nomination of a major political party for President of the United States. Forty-five years earlier (52 years ago, 1963), Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his I Have a Dream speech in Washington, D.C.

While history may not hold the release of the Kentucky African-American Encyclopedia on the same level from the perspective of national import, it is still a significant step toward understanding the history of all Kentuckians.

Disclaimer: The author was provided a courtesy copy of this book. This review followed.

A Review of Kentucky Maverick: The Life and Adventures of Colonel George M. Chinn

Published posthumously by the late Professor Carlton Jackson of Western Kentucky University, this biography of Colonel George M. Chinn is a must-read for those who appreciate Kentucky history. Chinn was active in so many aspects of 20th century Kentucky and, though he is a figure often overlooked by many, is worthy of honor and recognition.
Colonel M. Chinn was described as a Renaissance man which is an accolade that always piques my interest. As put in the book, Chinn had “‘multiples lives,’ and … excelled in all of them: football player (baseball, too, when called upon), coach, tour guide, restauranteur (in his cave), government sergeant at arms, civil rights leader (except the time he rejected the collection of black newspapers, bodyguard, military man, weapons expert, librarian, author, director and deputy director, [Kentucky Historical Society, head of military museum in Frankfort, raconteur, and, overall ‘good old boy.'”
Yes, Colonel Chinn (a military rank, though he no doubt also was a member of the Honorable Order as well) was both a Renaissance man and a maverick. His story, as told by Jackson, is an informative tale of Kentucky’s history during the 20th century and an even more informative tale of how that history is told.

As director (and deputy director) of the Kentucky Historical Society, Chinn was regularly called upon to interpret and guide the telling of Kentucky’s story. One way he accomplished this was through the development of the historic marker program which has successfully (albeit with more than a handful or errors) told about Kentucky’s people and places in nearly 2,500 spots along the state’s highways. 
Mercer County historic marker of New Providence Church. Growing the historic marker program was a major focus of Col. Chinn’s directorate at KHS. 
But Chinn was quick to point out that most of the historic markers placed were in central Kentucky, which mirrored the “blue blood” makeup of the historic organizations including KHS. China sought to broaden the reach and scope of the organization by reaching out to those in the western and eastern reaches of the Commonwealth. Further, Chinn’s qualifications made him not a ‘professional historian’ which left him at odds with many, including the esteemed Dr. Thomas Clark.

Chinn’s service in World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War were all discussed leaving no doubt of the Colonel’s commitment to America. His understanding of weaponry – described by Jackson as a “primitive genius” – kept him active in the Marine Corps, despite a weight that far eclipsed the Corps’ standards. China developed the M-19 automatic grenade launcher during the Vietnam conflict and which weapon still was in service during the recent conflicts in Afghanistan.

China Gas Station and entrance to Chinn’s Cave in Brooklyn (Mercer Co.), Kentucky. UK Libraries.

And when not overseas or away from home, Chinn retired to his wife, Cotton, at their Mercer County home which overlooked the palisades. The home’s construction and design, as described in Kentucky Maverick, was unique. But Chinn’s time was spent below the home in his cave that opened up onto Highway 68. There he engaged in many entrepreneurial efforts – both legal and illegal. 

Reading Kentucky Maverick: The Life and Adventures of George M. Chinn contains many interesting stories that are beautifully woven together into an interesting read. Jackson gives the reader a better understanding of the history behind the Kentucky Historical Society and an appreciation for how politics can seep into everything.

And as we approach autumn and a new football season, I truly enjoyed the full accounting of the great game played in Cambridge when ‘underdog’ Centre from Danville defeated the mighty Harvard – C6, H0 – in the game of the century. But whether you anticipate the pigskin or not, the stories of this Renaissance man will intrigue any Kentuckian.

Disclaimer: The author was provided a courtesy copy of this book. This review followed.

Jefferson Davis Got His Citizenship Back, But Fortunately the Statue is Gone

Jefferson Davis. Library of Congress.

This post was originally written in 2015 and entitled “Jefferson Davis Gets His Citizenship Back”, but was updated in 2020 following the Historic Properties Advisory Commission voting 11-1 to remove the statue of Jefferson Davis from the rotunda of the Capitol. Changes are in bold

It is not often that I review a book that came to print more than thirty years ago, but events of late have brought Jefferson Davis to the forefront of our national psyche. In Kentucky, we are asking whether a statue of Jefferson Davis should or should not be removed from the rotunda of the state capitol. In South Carolina today (2015), the Rebel flag is likely to be permanently removed from the grounds of the state capitol in Columbia.

Back in Frankfort, Davis’ statue stands in a ring of four around a larger, central statue of Abraham Lincoln. The other three Kentuckians recognized in the statuary collection are Ephraim McDowell, Henry Clay, and Alben Barkley. That is, until Davis’ statue was removed. On June 12, 2020, the statue was removed following an emergency meeting of the advisory commission which oversees the rotunda. The recommendation and motion to remove the statue was made by the state curator, Carol Mitchell. Following discussion, the motion carried 11-1. The statue will ultimately be relocated to Jefferson Davis’ birthplace in Fairview, Kentucky, where it can be appropriately contextualized.

But it is the fifteen foot tall statue of Jefferson Davis that is drawing attention. The question and discussion is good: should Kentucky recognize and honor in her seat of government a man who was a traitor to the United States by leading a rebellion against the Union for the cause of enslavement of millions of Americans?

In considering the question, I wanted to better understand Jeff Davis. I turned to a book on my shelf that I had not before read: Jefferson Davis Gets His Citizenship Back. Written by Kentucky-native Robert Penn Warren, this 114-page short history of Jefferson Davis was first published in 1980.

Both Davis and Warren are natives of Todd County, Kentucky. In late 1978 and nearly nine decades after the former Confederate president’s death, Jefferson Davis’ U.S. citizenship was posthumously restored. Warren took the opportunity to recall Davis’ life and legacy which he intertwined with his own memories of Todd County.

It is in Todd County that the great obelisk to Jefferson Davis stands. The building of the obelisk in Fairview, Kentucky was begun in 1917 and suspended during the war effort (World War I). At the age of about twelve, Warren was driven by his family to see the construction site. His conflicted opinion of both Davis and the monument follow as he was unsure “about the mystery of the pain, vision, valor, human weakness, and error of the past being somehow transformed into, glorified into, the immobile thrust of concrete (not even the dignity of stone).”

By the time this construction had begun, the former Confederate president had been laid in the ground some twenty years earlier. In his life, Jefferson Davis served valiantly in the Mexican War leading a regiment of the Mississippi Rifles, most notably, at the Battle of Buena Vista. For his valor and success on the field of battle, President James K. Polk promoted Davis to the rank of brigadier general. But Davis “decorously [threw] back into [Polk’s] face with a lesson in constitutionality: no one but the governor of Mississippi could legally promote a colonel of the Mississippi Rifles.”

Davis’ commitment to states rights and to Mississippi were without doubt. The resurrection of such a commitment to the ideal with today’s Tea Party movement would have seemed odd to Robert Penn Warren, just as he observed the oddity of it 150 years ago:

How odd [the overemphasis on states’ rights] seems now – when the sky hums with traffic, and eight-lane highways stinking of high-test rip across hypothetical state lines, and half the citizens don’t know or care where they were born just so they can get somewhere fast.

Warren notes, too, that it was this commitment to state that, in part, might have cost the South the war. Just as the new colonies declaring their independence from England could not survive under the Articles of Confederation, the Confederacy was doomed because of its form. While Lincoln could order men to fight for the Union, Davis possessed far fewer powers when he served as President of the Confederate States.

It is the conflict of the man Jefferson Davis – his weakness, his ideals, his weak role in an institution that was structurally defective, his military success in the Mexican War, his personal love and loss – that make Robert Penn Warren’s book a beautiful story. And it is through the lens of history, circa 1980, that Warren makes what I think may be a profound point: if Davis “were not now defenseless in death, he would no doubt reject the citizenship we so charitably thrust upon him.”

The monetization of America would have distressed Davis (just as it would both Lincoln or Grant) such that Warren questioned whether any of these men would accept a “nation that sometimes seems technologically and philosophically devoted to the depersonalization of men? In a way, in their irrefrangible personal identity, Lincoln and Grant were almost as old-fashioned as Jefferson Davis.”

But in discussing Davis’ views on Lincoln’s emancipation of the slaves, Warren didn’t delve deep enough for our more modern lens. Davis was a slaveholder, true, but he believed in a lesser and a superior race thinking that it was a moral duty of the superior race to care for those in the lesser class. This omission leaves a chasm in the person of Davis. This superior-inferior representation and description by Warren went too far in restoring Davis to a better light than is appropriate.

Notwithstanding that omission, Robert Penn Warren weaves a portrait of Jefferson Davis that is complicated and the book – Jefferson Davis Gets His Citizenship Back – is worthy of reading.

And fortunately, the statue of Jefferson Davis has now been removed from the Kentucky Capitol. 

Shortly before removal, the statue of Jefferson Davis (behind Linoln). Joe Gerth, C-J.

‘Madam Belle: Sex, Money, and Influence in a Southern Brothel’ Reviewed

Belle Brezing died in 1940 and her business had closed some twenty-three years earlier. Despite the passing of years, Ms. Brezing remains in the conscience of Lexington and a part of our communal lexicon.

Last year, Maryjean Wall’s Madam Belle: Sex, Money, and Influence in a Southern Brothel was published and the book is filled with colorful and illustrious characters just as were Brezing’s brothels. Wall tells the story of a business-savvy woman who had risen from the most difficult of circumstances.

Belle’s first sexual encounter was with Dionesio Mucci; both lived in the Western Suburb, but they were not contemporaries. Belle was only 12 years old, while Mucci was in his thirties. By the age of 15, Belle was both an orphan and a mother with “few prospects for the future.”

In 1879, at the age of 19, Belle entered the employ of Jennie Hill who operated a brothel in what had been the childhood home of Mary Todd Lincoln. Within two years, Belle opened her own “house of ill repute.” It would be the first of several she would own, each being more lavish than the one before.  She also shifted operations from the west end of Lexington to the city’s east end.

Clients included big names in horse racing, breeding, politics and business. Judge John Riley, a police judge, took interest in one of Belle’s prostitutes before marrying the girl. Her connections to the law aided her in keeping out of trouble and when trouble found Madam Belle, but a pardon from the governor came in handy after an 1883 indictment.

Wall’s ninth chapter – ‘Crackdown on Vice’ – begins with almost a vilification of James Ben Ali Haggin and his manager, Charles Berryman, for “advocating a new moral code for Lexington.” The beginning of the 20th century was a challenging one for Belle Brezing and the other madams of Lexington.

Belle’s final brothel, which remained her home during her twenty-three year retirement, was auctioned off after her death in 1940. In 1973, the house burned closing a tangible reminder of Belle’s influence in Lexington.

But her legacy remains clearly visible and Madam Belle provides a thoroughly researched and enjoyably readable account of this Lexington legend and the community in which she lived.

Published by the University Press of Kentucky, Madam Belle is available at all purveyors of fine books.

Disclaimer: The author was provided a courtesy copy of this book. This review/assessment followed.

A Is for Appalachia shares the heritage of Appalachia with children

A is for Appalachia: The Alphabet Book
of Appalachian Heritage

I grabbed a new book for story time with the kiddos last night that had been on the shelf for a few years but had not yet been read. Parents know the curse: kids want the same book over and over again. But daddy wanted a change.

It was getting a late start to story time, so we only made it through a few letters of the new book. It was an alphabetical book that explores the traditions and culture of Appalachia entitled A is for Appalachia: The Alphabet Book of Appalachian Heritage.

Reading about Appalachia, Baskets, Coal, Corn, and Dulcimers begat questions from my six year old. 
Do we live in Appalachia? No, but we are awfully close.
Have I been to Appalachia? Sure let’s look at the map and explore when we’ve driven through on trips. And every time we’ve gone to visit Mawmaw, we’ve been in Appalachia?
Was church camp in Appalachia? I’m not sure, but it was sure was pretty like these pictures. Wasn’t it?

I could sense an appreciation for Appalachia developing as the pages turned.

A is for Appalachia! was written by Linda Hager Pack and illustrated by Pat Banks. It shares the great Appalachian heritage in a simple way for children, but the book is a delight to read for adults as well.

The book can be a simple alphabet recognition tool, but the few paragraphs under each letter are informative yet simple. And the illustrator included a helpful map of the southern Appalachian mountains identifies the states in which the verdant green Appalachians stand out as crossing the geo-political borders almost to in one illustration say that Appalachia is a united place bound by custom and heritage more than anything else.

And, best of all, my kids are looking forward to more about Appalachia tonight!

You can order A is for Appalachia: The Alphabet Book of Appalachian Heritage from

Book Review: Crawfish Bottom

Here, brothels were commonplace for generations. Here, alcohol flowed freely before, after and during prohibition. Here, crime was inherent and living conditions deplorable.

And it was all in the shadow of the old state Capitol.

Douglas Boyd explored the lost community of Crawfish Bottom in his book, Crawfish Bottom: Recovering a Lost Kentucky Community. It is now available in paperback from the University Press of Kentucky.

Since the Commonwealth’s earliest days, Frankfort has been our capital. Seated on the Kentucky River, the community had a history interwoven with the river. Lumber would be transported by water with the mountaineers accompanying it. Receiving their pay in Frankfort, these men might be interested in partaking of the local flavor.

And as the state capital was home to the state penitentiary, felons upon release might seek the pleasures they were unable to access from the cell block.

It was entirely natural, then, that a seedy area would develop in Frankfort. Its proximity to the river (adjacent to and partially in a flood plain, as evidenced by the regular flooding) created a natural fit for the area which was generally viewed as being to the west and north of the old state Capitol.

Professor Boyd examined this swampy land through the eyes and voice of her people utilizing and relying to a great degree on oral histories prepared in 1991 by a University of Kentucky master’s degree candidate. Through Boyd’s expert pen and insight, a history of the people who lived in the Craw is told.

For those who lived in this area, it represented a great deal more than the prostitution and crime that occurred here. It was a community with churches and schools and stores and commerce. Race was less divisive than elsewhere in the capital city as residents were “more unified … by their socioeconomic condition … than they were divided by their race. Blacks and whites lived together [and] everybody looked out after each other.”

And so “for the overwhelming majority of residents interviewed, … the Bottom was a safe place for them and their families to live.”

Boyd drew on the memory and nostalgia of displaced residents to approach the concept of urban renewal from their perspective. Nostalgia “is a feeling or expression of longing, in the present, for a more positively associated place or time imagined in the past, a phenomenon that introduces” outside distortion, yet is now accepted as being “critical to understanding embedded meaning in historical interpretation.”

Whether or not the methodology historical recordation is deemed appropriate, Boyd’s use of nostalgia draws readers to a deeper understanding of the daily lives of this locality.

And after all, as Charles Joyner wrote, “all history is local history somewhere … still, no history, properly understood, is of merely local significance.” Yes, the reach of the Craw extended beyond its mere fifty acres.

Long were attempts to rid Frankfort of Crawfish Bottom and the urban renewal effort finally struck a final blow to the entire neighborhood in the 1960s when space was made for the new state office tower and plaza. Ridding Frankfort of its “slums” was deemed a positive, despite whatever sense of community was lost.

The area is a microcosm for the efforts to alter the nation’s urban cores — efforts which began in earnest during the middle portion of the last century and continue today.

Boyd’s book received great accolades in hardcover and readership should increase now that it is accessible in paperback among those interested in virtually any of the social sciences.

Disclaimer: The University Press of Kentucky provided the author with a courtesy review copy of the book here reviewed. The link to the reviewed book is part of an affiliate agreement between the author and