Tag Archive | Kentucky

Circus Trip 2018: Henry Clay’s Ashland

Day 32, Thursday, August 16, 2018

Lexington, Kentucky

Lexington was home to another prominent historical figure of the early to mid-1800s; a contemporary of Mary Todd Lincoln’s father, and definitely where she picked up some of her interest in politics.

Henry Clay, Sr. was born in 1777, and was influential in a long career in U.S. politics, from 1803 to his death in June 1852.  Henry Clay served in the Kentucky House of Representatives, the United States House of Representatives, the U.S. Speaker of the House, a United States Senator, and Secretary of State during John Quincy Adams’ Presidency.  He became known as the Great Compromiser, for his role in diffusing a number of charged political disagreements during his career.

Despite his impressive political career, Clay’s ultimate goal eluded him.  He was a candidate for the Presidency three times: in 1824, 1832, and 1844.  In addition, he also sought the nomination in 1840 and 1848, but did not gain the support to be selected as the nominee.

Clay held a moderate view on slavery that was popular at the time; he believed slaves should be gradually emancipated, and he also promoted the idea of colonization, that is, returning freed slaves to Africa.  Clay inherited slaves as a young child and owned them his entire life, but historical documents of the time period show that he treated his slaves relatively well.  He was known to rarely split up families, and no evidence of him raping any of his female slaves or fathering children with them exists.  He freed his slaves upon his death in 1852.  Clay also consistently supported the recognition of Haiti as an independent nation; it was founded through a slave revolt.

At Clay’s estate in Lexington, Ashland, he was a farmer and innovator.  He imported the first Hereford cattle to the United States in 1817, and was an early enthusiast of horse racing.  He bred and refined race horses, and raced his own under buff and blue colors (the colors of the Whig party).  Eleven descendants of Clay’s horses have won the Kentucky Derby, which was first run in 1875.  He grew hemp, and manufactured hemp rope for the cotton industry.

Henry Clay also had a huge influence on an idol of mine – Abraham Lincoln. The first time Lincoln voted for a President, he voted for Henry Clay in 1832.  He campaigned for Clay in later elections, and heard Clay give a speech in 1847.  Abraham and Mary stopped in Lexington for three weeks in 1847 to visit her family on their way to Washington after Lincoln had been elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.  Although the historical record does not say if Lincoln and Clay met during his time in Lexington or had corresponded before or after, I would like to think that they did.  A book of Clay’s speeches was recently discovered, showing that Clay had given it to Lincoln with this inscription, ”To Abraham Lincoln with constant regard to friendship H. Clay 11 May 1847.”

Lincoln delivered a eulogy of Clay in Springfield after his death in 1852, and frequently quoted Henry Clay in his later speeches.  Clay’s son John sent Lincoln a snuff box owned by his father in 1864; Lincoln’s letter to John indicates that he treasured the gift.

The home at Ashland was built in stages, with the center section of the home originally completed in 1809.  By 1811, Clay planned extensions, and the side wings were completed in the next year or two.  The home was designed in the Federal style, with the wings designed by Benjamin Latrobe, architect of the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C.  Unfortunately, after Clay’s death in 1852, his widow Lucretia moved in with their son John, and the home was purchased by another son James.  The home was in such a state of disrepair that James felt that his only option was to raze and rebuild it.

James saved all of the pieces that he could from the original home, then had it rebuilt on the original foundation using the original architectural drawings.  After his death it was sold out of the family but returned when Clay’s granddaughter purchased it 16 years later.  They owned it until it was opened as a museum in 1950.  The home now contains features as originally designed, as well as Italianate, Victorian and Eastlake styles.

The tour is interesting, focusing on Henry Clay’s life and the features of the home.  You can visit the grounds, including an original ice house and the reconstructed formal garden, on your own.  And let me just say, you have no idea how many photos I took of that bumblebee trying to get one in focus!  I give myself a B-, but an A for effort (ha!)…

Unfortunately, no photos are permitted inside, but it is still well worth the visit!

Circus Trip 2018: Mary Todd Lincoln House

Day 32, Thursday, August 16, 2018

Lexington, Kentucky

The Mary Todd Lincoln House itself was built between 1803 and 1806, and originally served as an inn.  If you don’t know Mary Todd Lincoln or why you should care about her family home, she was the wife of our 16th President Abraham Lincoln. Mary’s father, Robert Todd, purchased the 14 room mansion in 1832 and lived here until his death in 1849.

The Mary Todd Lincoln House

 

Mary Todd Lincoln – 1846 – from Wikipedia

Mary was born in 1818, and didn’t move here until 1832, and even then, spent much of her time living in a boarding school for girls about a mile away.  Even though she could have traveled back and forth to school from home, she felt that staying at the school was a better option; she described the school as being more of a home for her than the home with her father and stepmother.  In her late teens, Mary moved to Springfield to live with her sister.  That’s my long way of saying that Mary Todd Lincoln really didn’t spent much time living in the Mary Todd Lincoln House, even though it was the family home during a part of her childhood.

Unfortunately, legal disputes after Todd’s death meant that the home was auctioned.  In the days after it left the Todd family, it was used as a boarding house, a grocery store, and even a brothel.  By the 1950s, the home was in rough shape, and a grassroots campaign began to save the home.  It was opened as a museum in 1977, making it the first museum dedicated to a First Lady.

Due to the fact that it is dedicated to Mary Todd Lincoln’s life, it tells a different story of her than is frequently depicted.  They are honest about her struggles with grief and mental illness but they also share that Mary was a very intelligent woman who played an enormous role in shaping her husband’s political career.  Abraham Lincoln married up; Mary Todd came from the upper class – high society of the West.  She knew politics, was very ambitious, and was not a woman content to wait in the wings in what was a society controlled by men.  The docents let visitors know about Mary’s qualities and her genteel upbringing.  They share openly about her trouble with her stepmother, and the fact that her father was often absent.  It was Mary’s sisters who felt more like mothers to her.

The home has been restored to what it would have looked like when Mary Todd Lincoln lived here, and they have been able to acquire some of the original Todd furnishings and household goods that were in the home.

They also have artifacts from Mary’s later life, including an original advertisement announcing the last night of Our American Cousin from its run at Ford’s Theatre, the play that Mary and Abraham attended the night Lincoln was assassinated.  If you read the date, you see that it was advertising the last night as Friday, April 14, 1865, the very night Lincoln was shot.

An advertisement for Our American Cousin

The docents at the home really do a great job of telling the story of Mary as her own person, rather than an extension of her later President husband.  As I have said, they are honest and candid about her shortcomings.  However, they also explain that her own and President Lincoln’s opponents painted an unfair portrait of her in the media, and their later “tell all” books.  Sensationalism drives sales; this hasn’t changed since the 1800s, and what better way to make a buck?

They allow photos within the home (yay!) and allow enough time in each room for guests to see everything and ask questions.  They really encourage questions even!  This was my second visit to the Mary Todd Lincoln Home, and it is still one of the best home museums I have been to.  If you are in Lexington, do visit!

 

 

 

Circus Trip 2018: Abraham Lincoln Birthplace NHP

Day 31, Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Hodgenville, Kentucky

I have for so long wanted to visit the site where our sixteenth President, Abraham Lincoln was born.  I have seen where he was a young man, where he was a lawyer, where he was President, and where he died…  It was so humbling to stand at the place where this great man began his life!

Sign Posing!

Lincoln was born here at Sinking Spring Farm (named for the water source) on February 12, 1809; he lived here for the first two years of his life.  His parents, Thomas and Nancy Hanks Lincoln made their living as farmers, and contrary to the usual story, Lincoln didn’t grow up particularly poor, by the standards of the day.  He did move around a lot though, as the family had to leave Sinking Spring Farm after a dispute about the ownership of the land.  They moved to nearby Knob Creek Farm in 1811, when Lincoln was two years old.

The Lincoln family Bible

The birthplace memorial here was completed in 1911, a few years after the 100th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth.  A huge marble and granite Memorial Building was built between 1909 and 1911, in Greek and Roman architectural styles.  It has 56 steps up to the building, to represent the 56 years that Lincoln was alive. Sixteen windows on the building and sixteen rosettes on the ceiling represent the fact that he was our nation’s 16th President.  Inside, a symbolic birth cabin gives visitors an idea of what the cabin where Lincoln was born might have looked like.

The symbolic birth cabin was moved to the site when the Memorial Building was constructed, and had to be made smaller to fit inside the building, and to more accurately represent what Lincoln’s first home probably looked like.  At the time the Memorial Building was constructed, many people actually believed that this was the cabin where Lincoln was born.  Later technology allowed them to do dendochronology (tree ring analysis) in 2004 to determine that the cabin was not built until the 1840s, so it could not have been Lincoln’s birthplace.

When I first arrived, it had been pouring down rain, so I hurried into the Visitor’s Center and then hurried over to the Memorial Building.  When I went back outside, the sun had come back out!  I went down the 56 steps of the Memorial Building to check out Sinking Spring, the water feature which gave the farm its name.  Sinking Spring is an underground spring, with an outlet to the surface set down into a hole; this was certainly the first water Abraham Lincoln ever drank!

Knob Creek Farm is also part of the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park; it is located ten miles away from Sinking Spring Farm.  Unfortunately, due to budget cuts, this portion of the park was not staffed, so I didn’t get to see inside this cabin.  It was also not original to Lincoln or his family, but belonged to the family of one of the Lincolns’ neighbors.  The young boy who lived in this cabin is thought to have once saved young Abe Lincoln’s life when he fell into Knob Creek.  The cabin was moved here when the historical park was created.  It was peaceful and quiet and interesting to see another place where Lincoln spent time as a child; he lived here from the ages of two to seven.  Another land ownership dispute caused the family’s move to Indiana.

There were several signs posted indicating that Copperhead snakes make their home in the area.  I didn’t see any, but also didn’t go tromping off through the field to the creek!

After leaving Lincoln behind for the day, I made my way to Lexington, Kentucky, where I would be stopping for the night.  I saw a highway sign advertising Wildside Winery and decided to check it out!  They had good wines, and a nice selection of both dry and sweet wines.  I enjoyed talking with my server – it was his first day working at the winery – but he had lived in Brookings, Oregon for eight years, so we had the Pacific Northwest in common!  I purchased four bottles; one was their Wild Duet.  Sadly, they are all long gone now – but they were delicious!

That evening I camped at Boonesboro State Park in Lexington; the first of two nights I would spend there!

 

Circus Trip 2018: Mammoth Cave NP

Day 30, Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Mammoth Cave, Kentucky

I was excited to visit Mammoth Cave National Park!  I drove down from Louisville for the day and entered the Park on the Flint Ridge Road.  Note: the Park’s website warns visitors to disregard GPS directions, which can take you the wrong way.  My GPS took me this alternate way, but still managed to get me to where I needed to go, with a bonus of seeing a section of the park that I probably wouldn’t have seen otherwise!

The drawback was that I either somehow missed the entrance sign or there wasn’t one.  I saw a sign on the main road on the way out, but it wasn’t like the typical National Park entrance sign – it left a lot to be desired.  I guess that’s just a reason to go back!

This was the only sign I found!

The Flint Ridge Road takes you by the Mammoth Cave Baptist Church and Cemetery.  The original church was built in 1827; the current building is from 1927.  It is in rough shape, with a hole in the back door, no electricity or other conveniences, and a very old, rustic outhouse in back.  It was very remote, just a few miles from the main Visitor’s Center for the park. I got out and checked it out; the door to the church is not locked, so anyone can go inside.  It was so eerily quiet there, it made me a little nervous…

I wandered the cemetery and read some of the headstones as well.  Floyd Collins is buried in the cemetery.  He died in 1925 after a rock collapse trapped him in Sand Cave, a newly discovered cave nearby; attempts to rescue him made the national news and kept people waiting for word for over two weeks, but ultimately he had died of starvation by the time rescuers reached him.

Sadly the church was vandalized with orange spray paint in September, about a month after my visit.  The trail to go see the entrance to Sand Cave is here too, but I didn’t take the opportunity to hike it.  I’m kicking myself now!

When I got to the Visitor’s Center, I chose to do the Historic Tour.  It was interesting, and explored the long history of cave use.  Mammoth Cave is the largest cave system in the world with over 400 miles of explored cave passages.

Native Americans used the cave for thousands of years and then stopped.  In the late 1700s, Americans in the area began to use the cave for saltpeter mining; saltpeter is used in the manufacture of gunpowder.  They couldn’t get it anymore from the British due to the Revolutionary War, so local suppliers could make a good profit!

After the war the need for saltpeter dried up so they opened the caves up for commercial tours.  They had used slaves to mine the saltpeter; the slaves learned how to navigate in the caves, which was helpful in their later work as tour guides.  The tour takes you by some of the old saltpeter mining equipment, which was left in the cave after the commercial viability of the venture dried up.

Mammoth Cave was also used for a brief period as a tuberculosis sanitarium – unfortunately it proved ineffective at helping people with tuberculosis.  Total darkness experiments in the cave were also short-lived.

Unfortunately for me, the “Historic” section of the cave isn’t really all that pretty.  This section of the cave has the largest rooms, but there aren’t a lot of beautiful “cave features” that you see in other caves. And you will certainly be disappointed in my photos; it is very dim inside and they don’t let you use flash…  I did enjoy seeing the “graffiti” from the early 1800s; I saw one signature from 1839!

On my next visit I want to do the “Domes and Dripstones Tour”; this tour shows visitors the stalactites and stalagmites, as well as a huge dripstone section called Frozen Niagara, named because it looks like Niagara Falls when it is frozen in the winter.  The Extended Historic Tour is also on my list, because you get to see the stone huts that remain from the period when Mammoth Cave was used as a tuberculosis sanitarium.  That would be cool!

I really enjoyed my visit, but would also love to do more hiking there.  Temperatures were in the 90s with high humidity the day that I visited so I opted not to hike.  It would be fun to stay and camp there too!  You can also float the river, or kayak there!

I stayed that night at the Glendale Campground in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, a convenient jumping off point for my explorations the next day!  This family owned campground was only $20, and my campsite was right near a pond where a Green Heron was fishing!

Mammoth Cave NP History

Mammoth Cave National Park is located in central Kentucky.  It is named for its huge size; it is the largest cave system known in the world, at over 400 miles of explored passageways.  Cave exploration continues today, and new passages are found and mapped each year, so it really is anyone’s guess who large the cave system really is.  The whole area has many caves, so it is likely that some of these other caves are really just part of this one giant cave system!  The park was created on July 1, 1941 by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, but the cave at that point had close to 150 years of exploration and commercial exploitation by then.

Mammoth Cave was first discovered by white settlers in 1797; the owners of the land discovered this and several other caves nearby.  It has been known to Native Americans for thousands of years; they were known to enter the cave to extract the gypsum deposits here.  Native Americans also buried some of their dead in the cave, the cool, dry conditions of certain areas in the cave were perfect for mummification; several Native American mummies were discovered in the cave during the 18th and 19th centuries, as well as the mummified remains of a man who was crushed by a boulder while mining in the cave.

Mammoth Cave first became a commercial venture during the War of 1812, when British supplies of saltpeter were unavailable; saltpeter is a component in the manufacture of gunpowder – pretty important when we were at war with the British!  Slaves were brought in to mine the saltpeter deposits, but after the war, the demand dried up.  Enterprising owners decided to try their hand at the tourist trade and Mammoth Cave was opened up to tours by the 1830s.  Slaves guided many of the tours, and even after the Civil War, African American guides played an important role in the tourism industry and the exploration of the cave.

In the early 1900s, interest began mounting for the creation of a National Park; however, like many of the parks in the East, the land here was already long settled with thriving communities.  The process of buying these settlers out of their land and seizing other parcels through eminent domain created lots of bitter feelings that lasted years after the park’s creation.  As a result, Mammoth Cave still has the remnants of these communities, including old churches and cemeteries.

The cave system is a limestone cave, with many different features; parts of the cave are very dry – so dry in fact that one of the commercial ventures that was attempted in the 1800s was a tuberculosis sanitarium (it was short lived).  Other sections are wet areas, and the Green River even runs through a portion of the cave.  The cave is home to several species of bats (which are struggling with white nose syndrome, a fungal infection), eyeless fish, and a cave specific species of eyeless shrimp.  I know you are wondering, and no, there have been no woolly mammoths discovered in mammoth cave; it really is named for its giant size.  Caves are so interesting!

Mammoth Cave has several types of tours, from the Historic tour where you can see the original entrance to the cave and see the old evidence of saltpeter mining, to lantern tours and caving tours.  There is also camping and hiking on the surface as well!

Despite its easily accessible location, Mammoth Cave only receives about a half million visitors each year (approximately 533,000 in 2018).  I’m not sure why, but it was busy the day that I was there.  I will tell you about my visit in an upcoming post!

 

Circus Trip 2018: Churchill Downs

Day 29, Monday, August 13, 2018

Louisville, Kentucky

Most years, I sit in my living room on the first Saturday in May and watch the Kentucky Derby on TV.  Live from Churchill Downs, the field of colts and a few fillies attempt to become the winner of the Derby and have a chance at winning the Triple Crown, a title which has become the most prestigious in horse racing.  The Kentucky Derby is the first race of the Triple Crown, which also contains the Preakness and the Belmont, raced at other tracks around the country over a five week stretch.

I have always wanted to visit Churchill Downs, especially on Derby Day, to see the crazy hats and feel the excitement of race day!  I spent a few days in Louisville and had a chance to visit the racetrack, although there wasn’t any racing going on that day.  For $15, you can visit the track’s museum and get a tour of the track.  Considering that pre-sale event prices to the infield for the Kentucky Derby start at $65 and $85 on the day of the race, $15 is pretty good!  Of course, other racing days at Churchill Downs aren’t so expensive, so a typical day at the track can be pretty affordable if you aren’t betting and losing!  One day, I will be there on Derby Day!

Churchill Downs opened in 1875; after Colonel Meriwether Lewis Clark, Jr. (William Clark’s grandson) leased the land from his uncles John and Henry Churchill, a prominent Louisville family for many years.  Clark sold subscriptions to the racing club, and used the money to develop the track.  Racing has occurred here since that time, with a number of changes to the track over the years.  The first Kentucky Derby was held in 1875, which means that 2020’s Derby will be the 146th running!

The iconic twin spires on the grandstands weren’t placed until 1895, but have survived weather events since that time, including a tornado that damaged the stables.  The grandstands seat about 50,000, but it is standing room only on the infield on Derby Day and the crowds can grow to almost 170,000 people!

My tour ticket included an interesting movie on the history of the track.  They usher you into a large oval shaped room, and you sit on swivel stools to watch the film, which is projected on the wall above you all around the oval room.  You can swivel on your stool to get a better view of the scenes, and because it is above you, nobody’s head is in the way!  Then the docent took us out to the track – you get to see the grandstands, the saddling area, the track, the winner’s circle and the other views you see on television when you watch the Derby on TV.  They have plaques showing all of the names of the Kentucky Derby winners over the years, and marking the names of those who won the Triple Crown.  Of the 146 winners of the Derby, only thirteen of them have also won the Triple Crown.  Three of the Derby winners have been fillies.

The tour was a bit canned; they clearly have memorized a script and move the tour groups along pretty quickly, but it was really interesting to see the track!  The museum was cool too, with exhibits on the history of the track and the horses that have raced there.  They had a display of hats and the tradition of crazy hats at the Derby, a display of the horseshoes that race horses wear, and an exhibit on the history of African Americans in the Churchill Downs racing industry.  Thirteen of the fifteen horses in the first Kentucky Derby were ridden by African American jockeys, and fifteen of the first twenty-eight Derbies were won by black jockeys.  Of course, it took a long time for them to be recognized for these accomplishments.

One of the Derby’s three winning fillies

After the tour, I did enjoy the restaurant at the track.  They had a special where you could try a Mint Julep and keep the commemorative glass (which actually turned out to be a Kentucky Oaks stemless wine glass, rather than a traditional mint julep cup, but I liked that too).  I use it all the time!  I learned that I’m not a fan of Mint Juleps – I don’t think I’ll ever be a Bourbon girl…  I did learn that I love Louisville Hot Brown though!  It was a very messy sandwich, with Texas toast, turkey, bacon, tomato, cheeses and herbs all cooked together in a casserole dish, and it was so delicious!  The one at Churchill Downs was so full of gooey goodness I didn’t even know it was supposed to be a sandwich until I looked up the recipe.  I haven’t had it since, but maybe I should try to make it at home sometime!

Louisville Hot Brown and a Mint Julep

After my visit to the track, I drove around Louisville to check out some of the historic homes, and then went back to my campground to relax at the pool.  It was a fun day!

The pool at the Louisville KOA

 

 

 

From Horses to Senators

The next day, I decided to head over to the Henry Clay house. I knew hardly anything about Henry Clay when I went, but he was another historical figure who had a house in Lexington (it’s actually a plantation mansion – it is huge), so I jumped on the opportunity.  Clay’s estate is available for tour, and the docents give a lot of very detailed information on who he was and what he did.  I learned that he was fascinating man, who certainly doesn’t get enough credit in the history books.

Henry Clay served the United States as a politician for most of his life, including in the Kentucky House of Representatives, the US House of Representatives, Speaker of the House (he was selected as Speaker on the first day of his first term of office – something that has never been done any other time), the US Senate, Secretary of State, and he ran for President 5 times!

He was a major contributor to the Missouri Compromise of 1850, was a supporter of the founding of a National Bank, developed the Hereford breed of cattle, operated a horse farm, had eleven children, fought in a duel, and created the Mint Julep. He died from tuberculosis in 1852 at the age of 75. Abraham Lincoln considered Clay to be one of his mentors and role models, even though the two only met on a couple of occasions (through Mary’s family, of course).

The Henry Clay House

I also visited the Kentucky Horse Park and the International Museum of the Horse while I was in Kentucky. The Kentucky Horse park is hard to describe. It’s kind of like a fairgrounds, but when the fair isn’t happening. All you horse-people who are reading this will certainly understand. There are some beautifully manicured grounds, horse arenas, jumping arenas, hot walkers, stables… and very few horses.

They do a Parade of Breeds twice a day in costume, in one of the side arenas, which is interesting, and you can see some famous retired racehorses and Standardbred pacers and trotters, but otherwise the park is kind of a dud. I wandered around for awhile trying to find something happening, but was pretty disappointed.

I also went over to the International Museum of the Horse, which had some appeal. It takes you through the history of the horse, from prehistoric times to modern day, and they have an exhibit on carriages and one on portraits of famous racehorses. But it just seemed like the exhibits were tired, and hadn’t been updated in a long time. I guess it is good to try a place out and say that you have been there, but I will find other things to do next time I’m in Kentucky.

The Man O’ War Statue at the Kentucky Horse Park

Feeling unsatisfied after my trip to the Kentucky Horse Park, I found a winery called Equus Run nearby and decided to try it out. Kentucky’s wine industry is in its fledgling stages – when I visited in 2008, I was told there were only 10 wineries in the state. The winery is located on the top of a hill, looking down over a beautiful valley. There was a pleasant patio where you could enjoy your wine. The server was friendly and informative about the wines, and I bought a bottle of their White Celebration blend. This was before the days of checked baggage fees, so I packed the bottle in my checked bag in all of my used socks, and it weathered the flight just fine. Interestingly enough, I waited awhile to drink it, and when I did, earlier this year, I found it to be too sweet for my taste. It seems that what I like has changed over time.

And just so you don’t think that I spent all of my time wandering around historic sites, I did spend some time at the pool at the hotel, and thoroughly enjoying the summer weather. I know, I know, all you sunblock, sun-shunning skeptics out there will probably be lining up to give me a lecture, but there is nothing like basking in the warmth of the sun, and feeling that warmth penetrate all the way through to your bones. When you live in the Northwest, a hot sun is a strictly seasonal phenonmenon, and you have to worship it when you get the chance. The George Hamilton look alike who was strutting around in his speedo was just the icing on the cake. He really thought he was hot, and kept trying to get my attention. It was really difficult to not laugh out loud – thanks but no thanks buddy! Well, look at that, I’ve gotten off topic again – so with that image of a 60-something, overly tanned guy with a slight beer belly stuffed into his speedo, I’ll leave you until next time.