Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Heading east and south in direction and 250 years back in time

Friday, June 24.

Tim Horton's, Ashland, KY
Paramount Theater, Ashland
We left home for eastern Kentucky at a reasonable hour, for a change.  Barry suggested that instead of staying over one night in eastern Tennessee, that we stay in eastern Kentucky, then move on to Eastern Tennessee.  That proved to do the trick.  Our entire trip was more relaxed, and we found more time to "shunpike" than we would have otherwise.

Our first highlight was in Ashland.  Tim Horton's!  Didn't know there were any of those in Kentucky.  SOOO good.  Next highlight was also in Ashland -- the Paramount Theater.  Many country music greats got their starts or spent their early careers here.

Coal is life in eastern Kentucky.  One sees coal trucks all over, and most of the small valleys have train tracks to get the coal out.  Much of it is done by truck, but rail is still the most important way.  Love coal or hate it, without it, eastern Kentucky would have nothing.

Welcome to Paintsville
We headed south from Ashland along US Route 23, officially designated in Kentucky as the "Country Music Highway."  Many of the greats of country music were born, lived, or died near this highway.  Now, I'm not really a great fan of country music, but it IS part of American history, and some of it I really DO like, so this was OK by me.  Barry on the other hand, can tell me details about each of the singers I'd never have known otherwise.  This time, it was HE who was the history teacher.
Country Music Museum

Near the end of the afternoon, we arrived in Paintsville.  We were in the motel in plenty of time to visit the Country Highway Museum, have a great Chinese buffet, and walk around town for awhile, just taking our time.

Saturday, June 25.

Today was a really interesting day.  Because we had plenty of time, we didn't have to stick to the highways and do 80 in a 55 mile zone like everyone else.

Loretta Lynn's homeplace
East Kentucky Road Sign
We took off on a local road, found the community of Van Lear, and followed the signs to Loretta Lynn's birthplace.  We went up a side road, then off to another smaller side road. Then we saw the hand-painted sign, "Butcher Holler", off to what was barely more than a paved path through the woods.  Driving a couple of miles up the road, we came to the old home place.  It's not the original (that is at Lynn's theme park in Hurricane Mills, TN), but it's a good reproduction.  Hard to believe that the small one-lane road we were on was not even there when Lynn was born there in 1932 (not 1934, as most of her literature says).  Her younger sister, Crystal Gayle, was born in Paintsville, the only one in the family born in a hospital.
Webb's Store, Van Lear, KY

Dewey Lake
On leaving Butcher Hollow, we drove by the Webb Grocery, run by Loretta's younger brother, Herman.

Jenny Wiley Park marina
We then took a back road, to get to Ky-3, which a fellow at the Van Lear post office said was the route the coal companies use nowadays to get the coal out of the hills.  We kept going without taking the now-four-lane Ky-3, and ended up at Dewey Lake.  It's a man-made lake on John's Creek, and the location of the Jenny Wiley State Resort Park.  There's a music theater there, a huge marina, and the water is blue-green, unlike most of the water in Kentucky.

Then, by back roads from Dewey Lake to Prestonsburg, which we expected to be bigger than it was.  But it was back to the Country Music Highway, headed for Pikeville.

Betsey Layne, KY
On the way, we passed through Betsy Layne, KY, birthplace of Dwight Yoakam.  Not much here but a wide place in the road with a liquor store!  But when we got to Pikeville, I understood why the city wanted permission to remove a mountaintop to provide more flat land.  The only flat land left apparently was the Wal-Mart, Lowe's, McDonald's shopping center.

Then it was overland to Virginia.  The Country Music Highway in Kentucky is now a four-lane divided highway, where the speed limit is 55, and it didn't take us much time at all to get to the Virginia border, the city of Wise, VA, then on to Tennessee at Kingsport.

Entering Tennessee
Kingsport is a place of great historical significance to Kentucky.  Settlers from southwestern Virginia would gather at a 4-mile-long island in the Holston River, called the Long Island of the Holston.  From here they would go down the Holston then up to Cumberland Gap, where the Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky borders meet.  This route in Virginia is called the "Old Wilderness Road," roughly the route followed by US-58 today.

Barry at Hooter's, Johnson City, TN
Then off to Johnson City, TN, where we again arrived early enough to tour the town -- about 65,000 people, but most business is now outside town at the malls near the main highways.  Downtown is being restored, but almost no one goes there any more.  The highlight of Johnson City was stopping at Hooter's.  Neither Barry nor I had ever been in one, and we understand the food was good.  However, we were going out for steak that night, so all we had was a drink there.

Sunday, June 26.

Chuckey, TN
Two goals today -- visit Barry's niece in Chuckey, TN, then go through the Cumberland Gap.

We found Chuckey, and Lisa's house just fine, spent the morning with her while it stormed outside.  We were very fortunate that all the rain got out of Mother Nature's system before we headed out.

Davy Crockett's birthplace
Lisa took us to Davy Crocket's birthplace, a nice state park on the Nolichucky River, another route to the west.  And no, he wasn't born on a mountaintop in Tennessee -- that's just another Disney myth; somehow, "born in the Nolichucky River valley" doesn't sound right.  I somehow doubt that he "kilt him a bar when he was only three" now, as well.  But it's a nice place, and an historic place as well.

Cherokee Reservoir on Holston River behind Barry
When we left Chuckey, we headed west, then turned to the north, passing through Greenville, and a number of other towns along US Route 25E, headed home.

Cumberland Gap, TN/KY
Clinch Gap, TN
We spent a great deal of time and mileage driving near the Holston River many miles down from Kingsport -- at Cherokee Reservoir.  A bit after that, we began to climb Clinch Mountain, named along with the Clinch River, and went through Clinch Gap, an easier gap than Cumberland, apparently.  But it wasn't long before we actually saw Cumberland Gap.

Cumberland Gap from Tennessee
For many people, Cumberland Gap is a place they may have heard of from their US history classes (at least those who stayed awake).  But this was the gap through Cumberland Mountain which, other than possibly the Mohawk River in New York, funneled more people west than any other break in the Appalachian Mountains.  The Gap was known well before Daniel Boone's day, long before 1770, indeed, as far back as the 1680s (just read that in "The Wilderness Road" by Dr. Robert Kincaid).  But with the push west shortly before the Revolution, Cumberland Gap became THE place to cross. 

The Wilderness Road began in western Pennsylvania, followed the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia, then down the Holston and Clinch Rivers, turning north to cross the Cumberlands.  It then ran as far north as present-day Corbin, KY, where it split, one route going north to the Kentucky River (Daniel Boone and Boonesborough), the other heading northwest toward the Falls of the Ohio (present-day Louisville, KY).  I'm more interested in the northwest route because it passed through or near present-day Mt. Vernon, Stanford, Danville, Perryville, Springfield, Bardstown, and in general, our area.  In fact, our telephone book says "Wilderness Trace" on it.

Middlesboro, KY from Cumberland Gap

Fern Lake, and the meeting place of KY, TN and VA.

Cumberland Gap Tunnel, TN entrance

Town of Cumberland Gap, TN

Cumberland Gap and Harrogate, TN

Powell River Valley, US 58 in Virginia
Google Earth screen capture of the Cumberland Gap area
The Cumberland Gap and Wilderness Road saw over 300,000 settlers come into Kentucky between 1774 and 1810.  Many of those settlers stayed in Kentucky, but many also moved on to Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, and points west.  So the Gap was really our first great highway to the west.  As more people came, the trail became a rude road, and by 1810, wagons could pass through.  By the 1920s, US-25, running from Detroit MI to Jacksonville FL was paved for the most part, renamed the "Dixie Highway", and saw an enterprising guy nicknamed "The Colonel" in Corbin, KY, open a motel and small restaurant where he sold his "secret recipe" fried chicken.  Today, US Route 25E from Corbin to Interstate-81 near Knoxville, is four-lane, divided, and one of the best roads around.  The part through Cumberland Gap was known as "Massacre Hill" in the 1950s, with trucks and tourists not mixing well on the narrow road.  So in 1991, Tennessee and Kentucky began work on the Cumberland Tunnel.  This new road takes a four-lane highway 4000 feet through Cumberland Mountain, roughly half a mile west of the original road, which is now a hiking trail in the Cumberland Gap National Historic Park.

The beauty of the area, and the historical significance were, for me, the highlight of the trip.  Well, meeting Barry's niece was the highlight, too.  And so was Butcher Holler.  They all were wonderful experiences, all done in a nice, relaxing three-day weekend.