Friday, August 27, 2010

643. I did come back

I haven't posted for two and a half weeks. Seems I left y'all down in the Kentucky Bend of the Mississippi River with a promise of stories about the return trip. My apologies. Interestingly, my readership hasn't suffered from the lack of posting - still the same seven faithful readers.

At this point I'm not going to give you a paragraph or two for each road and highway used to make the trip back home. Suffice it to say, at least while in Kentucky, they were mostly two lane state routes through stretches of largely unpopulated territory - what seemed to be some of western Kentucky's coal country - areas previously undiscovered in my trekking about the backroads of Kentucky.

From the Bend, I returned to Fulton County proper travelling to the county seat Hickman, and from there to Clinton, the county seat of Hickman County immediately north. Along the way, just west of the intersection of KY239 and KY123, I spied an old school building called Oakton or Oakdale or something. I wish I had taken the time to learn more about it while I was in the area but didn't. I've sent off an email to a Hickman County historian in the hopes of learning more.

I passed through Clinton to KY307, which runs in a nearly straight north-south line for almost 34 miles from Fulton to its intersection with US62 in northeastern Carlisle County, one of the longest straigh lines of pavement anywhere in the Commonwealth. I drove about 13 of those miles to that point, taking US62 eastward through a few miles of Ballard County and into western Kentucky's metropolis, Paducah, the seat of McCracken County. Here I visited the parents of a friend of mine, spending two hours gossiping about the County Judge and County Clerk's races, one of which includes the write-in candidacy of a Republican woman who is apparently running at te behest of the County Judge. The incumbent County Clerk, a Democrat, is otherwise running unopposed. From there I headed back to my motel room in beautiful Calvert City to prepare the next day's trip back toward the Left Bank of the Ohio River near Milepost 606.

Early the next morning, before leaving Calvert City, I drove to the northern dead-end of KY95 in Marshall County where the road becomes a boatramp into the Tennessee River. The picture here is looking eastward (or upriver). It was an inspiring sight - that's Livingston County across the river to the left.

I crossed back over the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers following the new US62 eastward up through Caldwell County and into Hopkins County and its intersection with KY109 northward. I'll have to admit I've never really been much off the main roads in Hopkins County. Back in 1995 I spent a lot of timing driving State Representative Jim Wayne around in his Primary race for State Auditor. One of those trips was to some kind of BBQ event sponsored by State Representative Eddie Ballard of Hopkins County. I'm not sure I could find it today, but until this recent venture, that was my only detour from the regularly scheduled roadways. I left Madisonville, the county seat, eastward on the four-lane Anton Road - KY 70. At the fork in the road just before the community of Anton and a crossing of the CSX Railroad, I went to the left as is my wont and ended up on KY85. For seven long and lonely miles, KY 85 traverses acres and acres (and acres and acres) of corn and soybeans. There were no mailboxes and no electric lines along this elevated section of highway along the bottomlands of eastern Hopkins County. The road eventually crosses the Pond River and into McLean County, just north of the Muhlenberg line. After a few miles, KY85 comes to an end and thus I turned northward onto KY181 and into the village of Sacramento.

Sacramento is a town I've been meaning to visit for some time. For several years now I've been trying to get my friend Preston Bates to join me on a May trip here for the annual reenactment of the Battle of Sacramento, a Civil War event cited by the locals as the first war victory attributed to Nathan Bedford Forrest, a lieutenant general of the Confederate States Army and hero to many in the Old South. Forrest was a self-educated military genius who prior to his service to the Lost Cause was an alderman and slave owner and trader in Memphis, Tennessee. For many, this alone should discredit him. But, let me offer a speech he delivered to his troops upon the end of the war which saw his side capitulate and surrender to the overwhelming forces of United States Army General Ulysses Grant. If more of today's self-proclaimed adherants to the Old South would heed the words of their military hero, General Forrest, a multitude of racial problems might just go away. Here is a part of what he said to his troops at his headquarters in Gainesville, Alabama on May 9, 1865:

Civil war, such as you have just passed through naturally engenders feelings of animosity, hatred, and revenge. It is our duty to divest ourselves of all such feelings; and as far as it is in our power to do so, to cultivate friendly feelings towards those with whom we have so long contended, and heretofore so widely, but honestly, differed. Neighborhood feuds, personal animosities, and private differences should be blotted out; and, when you return home, a manly, straightforward course of conduct will secure the respect of your enemies. Whatever your responsibilities may be to Government, to society, or to individuals meet them like men. The attempt made to establish a separate and independent Confederation has failed; but the consciousness of having done your duty faithfully, and to the end, will, in some measure, repay for the hardships you have undergone. In bidding you farewell, rest assured that you carry with you my best wishes for your future welfare and happiness. Without, in any way, referring to the merits of the Cause in which we have been engaged, your courage and determination, as exhibited on many hard-fought fields, has elicited the respect and admiration of friend and foe. And I now cheerfully and gratefully acknowledge my indebtedness to the officers and men of my command whose zeal, fidelity and unflinching bravery have been the great source of my past success in arms. I have never, on the field of battle, sent you where I was unwilling to go myself; nor would I now advise you to a course which I felt myself unwilling to pursue. You have been good soldiers, you can be good citizens. Obey the laws, preserve your honor, and the Government to which you have surrendered can afford to be, and will be, magnanimous.

This year's reenactment was held the weekend of May 21 (although the actual Battle was in late December). Preston and I had both just concluded our work in different Democratic primaries and neither of us was up to the trip. Perhaps next year. But, I digress.

I left Sacramento northward to the county seat at Calhoun where I picked up KY81. Coming down off the Veterans Memorial Bridge over the Green River into downtown Calhoun deposits you at a stop sign on Main Street just south of Second. The east side of Main north of Second is occupied by the McLean County Court House. Main Street runs on for about a mile north of town out to the Calhoun Cemetery where a fork in the road leads KY81 off to the right. As a side note, the fork to the left, KY815, leads to a town called West Louisville. I wonder if they cruise along Broadway in West Louisville on Derby Day? I wonder if they even celebrate Derby Day? Again, I digress.

A few miles north of Calhoun, I turned east onto KY140 which leads to one of my ancestral communities, Utica, in southern Daviess County. I've written about Utica before and my great-grandfather Robert Lewis' forefathers being from there. At KY140's intersection with US431, I turned northward through what appears to be another mining region in Browns Valley and into Owensboro, the Daviess County seat.

The Kentucky part of my trip home ends, at least for now, in Daviess County. I worked my way through downtown and eastward out of town along E. 4th Street, co-numbered as US60 and US231. There is a great deal of highway construction going on as the east side extension of the Wendell H. Ford By-Pass around the city is being reconstructed to connect to the recently rebuilt US60/231, which leads to the fairly new (opened in October 2002) and strikingly beautiful William Natcher Bridge, carrying US231 out of Kentucky and into southern Indiana. US231 is being completely reconstructed in Indiana as a four-lane divided highway - almost an interstate - all the way up to I-64 north of the town of Dale. Gone will be the days of travelling the narrow but terribly straight US231 which presently passes through the communities of Rockport, Chrisney, Gentryville (with its connection to all-things-Lincoln), and Dale on its route from Owensboro to I-64.

As with other journeys which eventually reach I-64 in this very Catholic area of Indiana, I tend to head straight on eastward into Louisville, about a 70 mile journey from this point. This trip was no exception. I'm sorry it has taken all these weeks to get you back home, but here we are.

Have a good weekend.

Monday, August 9, 2010

642. The Road Trip within the Road Trip

In the preview I mentioned several cities "and the ride back." This entry concerns those matters.

But first, let me say again how impressed I was with Attorney General Jack Conway's speech at Fancy Farm. Clearly he has the temperament needed to be a leader for Kentucky for many years to come. Suffice it to say, I back Jack.

So, shortly after Jack spoke, and well into his opponent's rant on a variety of matters, I took matters into my own hands - literally my steering wheel - and set off on my Road Trip within the Road Trip to Fancy Farm.

I had a goal in mind - the New Madrid Bend, that little hook of land rising northward out of far northwestern Tennessee but always (and properly) shown on maps as part of Kentucky - specifically a part of Fulton County, Kentucky.

For the following discussion, which will eventually get back to the New Madrid Bend, let's first remember that Kentucky was formed from part of Virginia and that Tennessee was formed from part of North Carolina, and that each of these earlier states were originally British colonies.

Back on February 10, 1763, a treaty signed in Paris, France settled what was known as the Seven Years War, a feud between Great Britain and France, which on our side of the big pond was known as the French and Indian War. On that date, a date which should be learned (or learnt, as I learned) by every student of Kentucky history, the treaty set the western boundary of the colonies of Great Britain in America, and specifically the colonies of Virginia and Carolina.

That treaty granted to Great Britain everything east of the Left Bank of the Mississippi River (which includes parts of the western boundary of present-day Kentucky).

The boundary on Kentucky's southern border was first established in 1663 with Virginia's boundary settlement with the colony of Carolina, later North Carolina. That boundary was set as the 36 degree 30 minute North Latitude mark - the great 36-30 line which divides many a culture, county, and state throughout our Republic. Several surveyors set out to mark the what they believed to be the 36-30 line.

While the bottom of Kentucky should be a straight line from a point in the Cumberland Gap at "the seven pines and two black oaks" and thence west to the "Western waters," effectively the Mississippi River, any map reader will see the line meanders very slightly northwardly as it crosses from west to east - the Duncan notch south of Franklin being an exception - all the way to the Tennessee River. At that point, the survey boundary is some sixteen miles north of the 36-30 line. One problem was that they started about six miles north of the 36-30 line over at the Cumberland Gap. The line west of the Tennessee River, established in 1818 with what is known as the "Jackson Purchase" and called the Munsell Line accurately places the boundary along the 36-30 line. The entire line was eventually settled by a court case in 1859.

But, there is the problem of the meandering Mississippi. In the far northwestern corner of Tennessee and southwestern corner of Kentucky, the Mississippi, as it makes its way southward wanders below the 36-30, then makes a u-turn northward back above the 36-30, then makes another to the west and continues its southerly flow below the 36-30. Thus a portion of land is both east of the Mississippi and north of the 36-30 but not connected to the rest of Kentucky. Still, according to the treaties establishing the borders in 1663 and 1763, along with the so-called "purchase" of 1818, and the court case of 1859, that land is rightfully part of Kentucky. And that's where I was headed after hearing Jack Conway's speech Saturday.

My seven faithful readers know I have a practice of travelling to a place on one set of roads and returning hence on another. Getting to and from the New Madrid Bend required some planning. I left Fancy Farm southbound - nearly due southbound - along KY339 for Fulton, an old trading town situated on both sides of the Kentucky-Tennessee state line, separated by State Line Road, which is KY116. Following KY116 west, I crossed the centerline line of the road, and thus into Tennessee by turning south on CR21 into Obion County, Tennessee toward Union City. At Union City, I turned westward along SR22 toward Tiptonville, the county seat of Lake County. SR21 wraps around the bottom of Reelfoot Lake, a very shallow lake formed by the great earthquake of February 7, 1812, an earthquake felt not only in Louisville and Saint Louis, but also New York and Boston.

There is a slight depression in the earth in this area and waters from the Mississippi, about twelve miles away, washed out of the riverbanks and in a counter direction from the river, and settled in the lowlands of what is now Reelfoot Lake. This is a beautiful body of water with homes and parks surrounding the water's edge - a simply beautiful lake. Unlike Kentucky's lakes, which are down in valleys and cannot usually be entirely seen because of the hills and dells separating the arms of the lake, Reelfoot's broad footprint is a long and wide and level piece of land. It is a place I hope to return to one day. I did, as is sometimes my wont, take off my shoes and socks and wandered down into the waters along one of the boatramps, shown in the picture.

But Reelfoot was not my destination. To get there, I had to wander through Tiptonville, across the railroad tracks, and northward along a desolate roadway numbered as CR22 and called Kentucky Bend Road. Now I have always called my destination the New Madrid Bend, so-named for the Missouri city which is on the northern shore of the bend. But I learned in this trip that it is more regularly called the Kentucky Bend, and by the five people who live there, called simply the Bend. At the state line the quality, color, and texture of the road changes. In Kentucky the road is more just a lane, somewhat narrower, somewhat smoother, and certainly lighter in color than the red-clayed ashphalt which covers many Tennessee roadways.

I stopped briefly and spoke with a local, a man who name was Kimmel (I think). He is married to "a Whitson girl," the Whitsons being the predominant - read only - family left in the bottom land contained within the Bend. He pointed out the building, at left, which once served as the store, school, post office, and voting poll for the Bend, but which was abandoned long ago. Kimmel actually has a Tiptonville, Tennessee mailing address.

We talked about the history of the place along with a little politics. I was wearing my Yarmuth for Congress t-shirt which rendered a question from Kimmel, "who is Yarmuth?" I explained. I never determined Kimmel's politics although it would be easy enough to say that they were somewhere to the right of mine. I enjoyed the history lesson, a lesson filled with the stories of the now-deceased members of the Whitson, Everette, and other families buried in the only real landmark of the island, a very well maintained cemetery.

Upon leaving Kimmel and the Bend I began my journey back to the Left Bank of the Ohio River near Milepost 606, a journey of about 320 miles and an entry which will be recorded on another day.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

642 preview

I'll write more later.

Briefly, as I said, there was food involved.

Also, once the speeches began I was inclined to go play Bingo. Instead I listened to several at the beginning. And I was very, very impressed with Jack Conway's. He didn't sound defensive or mad or bothered, which he often does. He was enthusiastic, upbeat, optimistic, and clear. Clear in that he is the easily and unquestionably the leader Kentucky needs for the future - the long future. I cannot say enough how pleased I was.

After the speeches that I wanted to hear were heard, I took to the roads.

Later I'll talk about Fulton, Union City, Tiptonville, Island #10, the New Madrid Bend, and the ride back. And Reelfoot Lake, too.

For the moment, I'm headed to Mass at Saint Peter's Episcopal Church in Gilbertsville, a few blocks west of Kentucky Dam Village in Marshall County.

Have a good day.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

641. Day Two from the Purchase, briefly

First, a quick run-down of last night. The Bean Soup at the 15th Annual Marshall County Bean Soup Supper was really, really, good. This is an improvement on years past. The cornbread muffins were sweet-cakes, which isn't the type of cornbread I like to crumble up in my soup, but still it was all good, including a slice of yellow watermelon which came with the meal.

After the bean soup supper, there were parties along Executive Drive, home to the cabins facing Kentucky Lake. I spent time at two of them - first, a party site for Marty Meyer and other Democrats running for the State Senate along I-65. Four of them shared the spotlight. I got the chance to speak with two guys I read a lot - Joe Sonka and Jonathan Meador. I had met Sonka before - I even have one of his Barefoot and Progressive coffee cups on my desk back in Louisville. I had informative chats with both. Standing in the background and listening closely was anotheer writer, Ryan Clouse, although we never spoke.

At one point I walked with two friends down to Eddie Jacobs' cabin where the more-or-less official unofficial Democratic Party party was taking place. I ate - something you do every where, and had a couple of softdrinks. The crowd there kept getting bigger and bigger, and at some point I went back to the Meyer cabin. After a long conversation with State Treasurer Todd Hollenbach and his assistant Tom Scally, who was a dormmate of mine at UK back in the fall semester of 1978, I decided to call it a night. It was about 11 which was late for me, but I am sure everyone else was out til well into the morning.

Today's events include the Graves County breakfast in Mayfield, followed by the Fayette County brunch, also in Mayfield, followed by the K of C dinner (at lunchtime) in Fancy Farm, followed by the speeches, and assuredly more food.

The weather is hot and humid, surprise, surprise.

More later.

Friday, August 6, 2010

640. Live from Calvert City, briefly

Ok. I made it. Never got on an interstate or parkway. Went out to Shively to see my fav mechanic Michael J. who changed the oil and air filter for the long hot journey to west Kentucky. Stayed with Dixie Highway out to Fort Knox where I followed US60 west over to the other side of Hardinsburg. Took some backroads off KY261 to Fordsville, Rosine, Rockport, and then over to Beaver Dam. Followed US62 from Beaver Dam through Central City, Princeton, Eddyville, Kuttawa, to my destination at Calvert City. Averaged 32 MPG in the little Aveo, a little less than I was expecting. One more thought. US62 has a new bridge over the Tennessee River, just slightly downriver from the dam. Ergo, you cannot see the little beach off to the left like you could on the old road. So far that's my only letdown. I've been looking at that little beach since I was a little kid.

More later.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

639. Hot Weekend Plans

Other than the temperature, very little else will be hot.

Yesterday, for the first time since 1930, the temperature on August 4th exceeded 100 degrees. In 1930 the mercury climbed to 101. Yesterday, the official temperature reached 102 around 6 p.m. setting a new record. Later yesterday I cut my grass in anticipation of being away for a day or two. Hopefully I lost a few ounces as homage to the sun and the heat.

More homage to the heat and the sun will be paid this weekend in Fancy Farm where the temperature is always five degrees warmer than anything we experience in Louisville. I can't remember a comfortable day in recent history. Seems like it rained in 1999 or 2000. I remember there was lots of towing out of that back lot that year. But most of that is paved now, adding to the heat from the asphalt.

I usually park "up in town" which is to say about 1000 feet away toward the west and away from the school, where the famous political picnic is held, actually a typical Catholic Church summer picnic benefitting Saint Jerome Parish is western Graves County. Now, to be honest, I don't go to Fancy Farm to hear the speeches. You pretty much know what everyone is going to say. With Rand Paul aboard this year, that may not be the case. He tends to say and do things that most politicians wouldn't. And I'm sure my candidate for the United States Senate won't be quite as "tough" as he was last summer. If McConnell is present, I will listen to him even if I won't agree with anything he says. His speeches usually have plays on words which draw people into a wrong conclusion and when he has them wrapped there's the "pow" catching them off guard. He is pretty good at it, so a little theater amidst the heat is appreciated. The truth is it is all theater, as far as that stage behind the old school is concerned. All the world's a stage, et cetera, et cetera, as the Bard once wrote.

The real reason to go - and my seven faithful readers have read this before - is the food. Food, glorious food! The "main event" at Fancy Farm is the dinner prepared and served in the Knights of Columbus Hall, which is even further back in the field behind the speaker's stand. Served "country style" there is no finer dinner plate on earth on the first Saturday in August. Anything and everything you want, freshly cooked, with appropriate bits of ham, bacon, grease, salt, and pepper already cooked in southern style. Thanks be to God. The dinner at the K of C begins around 11 and the line grows long quickly and there is little respite from the heat until you get into the little hallway leading to the big hall where all the fixins are a-waiting.

But the K of C dinner is only one of several opportunities to eat, although it is decidedly the best one. Earlier in the day is a breakfast over in Mayfield with pancakes, ham, bacons, and fresh sliced tomatoes which makes the meal. This is a partisan affair for Democrats only although members from the Dark Side of the Aisle have a similar event across town.

The truth is the events start today and run through Saturday night. Tomorrow night are several different opportunities to eat, drink, and be merry, all taking place along the shores of Kentucky Lake, formed by the damming of the Tennessee River [see the dam at right]. I'll be at quite a few.

Enjoy the weekend.

The Archives at Milepost 606


Louisville, Kentucky, United States
Never married, liberal Democrat, born in 1960, opinionated but generally pleasant, member of the Episcopal Church. Graduate of Prestonia Elementary, Durrett High, and Spalding University; the first two now-closed Jefferson County Public Schools, the latter a very small liberal arts college in downtown Louisville affiliated with the Roman Catholic Sisters of Charity of Nazareth. My vocation and avocation is politics. My favorite pastime is driving the backroads of Kentucky and southern Indiana, visiting small towns, political hangouts, courthouses, churches, and cemeteries. You are welcome to ride with me sometime.