Thursday, August 11, 2011

Lexington, Kentucky & Spring Hill State Park in Indiana

A small Winnebago, View, motor home to deliver to a new dealership in Lexington, Kentucky is our reason for being "on the road" this first week in August 2011. We did manage to beat the local raccoons to our sweet corn and enjoyed a couple of meals between picking up the unit and leaving! (Nothing can match the flavor of a freshly picked ear of sweet corn with butter and salt!!)

I-80 has very heavy traffic as we drive through the green Iowa countryside. We see small fishing and pleasure boats are in the Mississippi River enjoying the sunny, hot summer afternoon as we drive across the bridge into Illinois. Over the Illinois Ri
ver and an overnight stay at Bloomington. The top of the ferris wheel shows on the horizon behind the trees and the wind is blowing the midway noise our direction. Signs on the way for the tractor pull competitors all indicate that a county fair is in progress. Steak and Shake was within walking distance from the parking lot at Walmart. A new experience for us. The Portabello/Swiss Burger was super good. Fast service, but very noisy.

On the road early watching a beautiful sunrise! Colors spread across the par
tly cloudy sky as the large red ball slowly rises over the Eastern horizon. Thank-you, Lord! Through the pretty valley of the Vermillion River near Danville. Into Indiania. Still major road construction on I-465 around Indianapolis. South on I-65 to Louisville, KY. Leaving the flat farmland. Entering rolling hills, small farms, tall hardwood and pine trees, tiny corn and bean fields tucked in between the trees and dark brown wooden fenced pastures for the horses.

Over the Ohio River into Kentucky. East on I-64 through a tunnel, under metal and rock overpasses, curving through the tree covered Kentucky hills on a hot, muggy sunny day. Watching thunderheads form on the hori
zon. Dealer fill of gas. Arrived at dealer and got unhooked and unpacked just before it started to sprinkle. Back up the road to a Comfort Inn for the night. Oops, carrying in luggage in a downpour! Later the sun is shining as we drive to the Happy Dragon Chinese Buffet. A great meal, many options, tasty and fresh, good service, the chandeliers and filigree decorations create a quiet atmosphere.

When you look at the city map it is evident that Lexington streets are laid out like a wagon wheel. The streets go out from the center with two circles to join all of them. It is the Horse Capital of the World as proclaimed with a mural painted on the huge water tank. Streets are named for famous race horses. Stables and horse farms offer tours.
Lexington was founded in 1775, seventeen years before Kentucky became a state
. William McConnell and a group of frontier explorers were camped at a natural spring when word came from nearby Fort Boonesborough that the first battle of the American Revolution had been fought in Lexington, Massachusetts. In honor of the battle the group named their site "Lexington" By 1820, Lexington, Kentucky was one of the largest and wealthiest towns west of the Allegheny Mountains. So cultured was its lifestyle the city soon gained the nickname "Athens of the West."

The area gets it's nickname, Blue Grass Country, from the blue grass that grows over the limestone in the area. Makes excellent pasture for horses. The limestone was used to build dry-laid stone structures. The rock fences that have survived are one of the most identifiable and well-known features of this region. There is even a rock fence tour that you can take!

What is dry stone masonry? They are structures that are built without mortar. They rely on the skill of the craftsman, the forces of gravity, frictional resista
nce and have a slight flexibility that allows them to conform to foundation settlement without damage. Because the sides slope slightly inward, ground movement locks the structure more tightly together eliminating the need for a stiff concrete footing.

We drove south to Boone Station. Daniel Boone was one of the first white people to explore the area. When the settlement of Boonesborough became too crowded he and his family established Boone's Station in December 1779. At one time there were 15 to 20 families living in this area. By 1781, his claim proved to be invalid, but they continued to live there until 1791. All the families had moved away and it ceased to exist. A local farmer purchased 500 acres, built a large stone mansion which survived until the 1800's. Now some of the land has been given to the state. There is a picnic area and a walking trail.

Ft. Boonesborough, built to protect the area from the Confederate Army crossin
g the Kentucky River, was just down the road, but not open until later as was several of the other museums in the area so we drove east to Frankfort. Found the Kentucky Military History Museum, but it was closed. An interesting brick building in the older part of the town that is built along the banks of the Kentucky River. Entered the address for Rebecca Ruth Candy, but Gertrude (our Garmin) came up with no matches. Missed seeing how the original bourbon chocolates were made. Did drive a scenic route through the city to the Interstate.

North on I-65 in Indiana to Exit 19, then west on state highway #160 across Indiana countryside. No shoulder or ditch with the corn and bean fields and front yards at the edge of the road! Tree lined, curving around hills, up and down like a roller coaster ride! Through open acres with housing developments and small farms with Kentucky brown wooden fences around the pastures. Dark purple flowers that I later found out were Butterfly Bush similar to our orange flowered Butterfly plants. On the John Hunt Morgan Heritage Trail through Salem with a beautiful court house. This was the sight of Morgan's Raid in June 1863 during the Civil War. The furthermost north that the Confederate Army went in Indiana. They basically stole and destroyed supplies.

We discovered Spring Hill State Park on Highway 60 near Mitchell. A beautifu
l area with trails, fishing, caves, a stream for wading, picnic and camping areas. An Inn that has been featured in Midwest Living magazine. A pioneer village with a grist mill run by water power. A memorial to Virgil "Gus" Grissom.

We stopped at a picnic area to eat our lunch and were joined by two geese. They waddled up from the stream, stood and watched us, sat down and napped while we finished our lunch.

The center piece of the Pioneer Village is the grist mill that was originally constructed in 1817. We visited with the "miller" and learned some history and facts about the mill, which still works. They grind corn and sell the corn meal in 2 lb bags.

The mill is run by water that runs from a cave in the hills through a limestone viaduct built on limestone pillars (now
a pipe carries the water thru the viaduct because the kids were playing in it!) The water drops on top of a huge wheel that as it turns creates 7 rpms. Wooden gears made from hard maple convert that to 98 rpms to turn the huge grinding stone. The two quartz stones came from France weighing 3,000 lbs. They have grooves hand cut into the flat cutting surface. The one on the bottom has a square hole in the center and does not move. The one on top has a round hole and is turned by the wheel and gears. The stones do not actually touch. This allows the corn to be cut, not crushed. No heat is generated so no oil escapes making the corn meal flavorful, healthy and a long shelf life. The miller can control the distance apart.

The building is 3 stories high. Originally a storage area was on top floor for grain. It is considered a "rich" man's mill for being built out in the wilderness. The doors are thick and elaborately carved of walnut. In the late 1920's and 1930's the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) pl
ayed an integral part in the repairs and reconstruction of the mill and the rest of the pioneer village. Today the upper 2 levels are a museum giving the history of the area.

The mill is about 50 miles north of the Ohio River, which was the way to move goods on flat boats before trains and roads. At one time there were 2 ox trains sometimes with a dozen oxen to each wagon carrying corn meal south to the settlements along the Ohio and for shipment on boats down the river. A stage coach rout
e was set up to run through the area. Families moved there bringing men with the ability to make items necessary to the community. These buildings have been moved in and restored to show life at that time. Because they let their cows, horses and sheep roam free they built a limestone rock fence around their house. This was the origin of the phrase " house lot."

Interesting items and facts we discovered:
  • A pole lathe that enabled round objects to be made like cups, candle holders and rolling pins. A long pole on the ceiling would serve as the return spring for the treadle that turned the wood. Pressing on the treadle pulls on the string attached to the piece of wood you are cutting.
  • At the tavern you could get a meal for 25 cents and a bed for the night for 12 1/2 cents. Women and children slept upstairs and men slept downstairs on the floor. State law did not allow any more than 5 people to a bed and it is said that all guest had to use the same bathwater!
  • Burned lime or "slack lime has been produced here since the 1830's. A large deposit of limestone is located in the area.
  • Early teachers announced where they would hold classes and charged from 75 cents to two dollars per child per quarter to attend classes. He would also announce the "penalties he would inflict for breeches of discipline." They might include: two lashes with a beech stick for being idle. Three lashes for whispering and six lashes for fighting!
  • Church was summer "camp" meetings after the crops were "laid by" (planted and cultivated) and the oats was harvested. Tents would be set up in a woods and the people would gather for all day singing and preaching. Later churches were established by the Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Church of the Brethern and Quakers. A new denomination, the Christian Church became strong in this area.
  • Early shoemakers were called cobblers or cordwainers. Cordwainers was derived from Cordova, Spain where fine leather for shoes & boots was produced. Cobbler was a more derogatory term at one time meaning clumsy workman. Men's and women's shoes were nearly identical in shape and design when made by early boot makers. Also because they were in a hurry to make them there were no left or right foot. Each shoe was identical. (one less thing for a child to have to learn!!) The development of 13 general shoe sizes rose with early measurements by barley corns (a grain of barley). Edward II in 1324 declared that 3 barley corns laid end to end measured 1 inch. Careful measurement than determined that the longest normal foot was 39 barley corns or 13 inches in length. Shoemakers traveled throughout the country and were welcomed in households. Besides making shoes for the family they were experts in sharpening edged tools, could cut hair or pull teeth, and were a great source of local news!
  • Courting candles were used when the young lady in a pioneer family had a young man that would call on her in the evenings. The holders were constructed so that the candle could be adjusted. If the father liked and trusted the young man, he set the candle as high as possible.If he would rather his daughter did not spend so much time with this particular man he would set it as low as possible. The young man had to leave when the candle went out!
History of the Mill:

The original mill was set up by a Canadian who had fought with the Americans in the War of 1812. Later he served as a guide for General William Henry Harrison becoming acquainted with the Indiana territory. He selected this site because it had continuous water supply from the cave. It also would not flood like a river. The limestone ledges for building supplies and the valley was protected by two steep hills. He built a cabin and a 15 foot square grist mill. His mill was so successful he even hired a miller.

Samuel Jackson was considered a "squatter" because he did not own the land. Two years later in 1816 President James Madison gave him a patent for 3 tracts of land. One is the village area now. This was awarded under an Act of Congress rewarding Canadians who had sworn Allegiance to the United States.

No one knows why, but 5 months later they left the area and went to Pennsylvania. They were doing well. More people were moving into the area. In a deed of conveyance Samuel Jackson "turned over his land, houses, outhouses, edifices and buildings; together with his woods, trees, fences, gardens and orchards" to two brothers, Cuthbert and Thomas Bullitt.

The Bullitt's home stood on the banks of the Ohio River and their farmland covered the area of what is now the city of Louisville, Kentucky. They replaced the small grist mill the one that is seen today.
Three stories with 3 1/2 foot thick walls. A 506 feet long flume supported by large stone piers (looks like an aqueduct) to carry the water from the cave. The stones were all hand cut.

Six years later they sold it and the village sight unseen to two brothers, William and Joseph Montgomery, wealthy merchants from Philadelphia for $20,000 at a time when the wage was 10 cents an hour! They built a tavern to serve the stage coach, a distillery, a cooper shop, a general store, a post office and added a saw mill that used a smaller water wheel. All of these buildings can be seen today with implements used at that time. After one of the brothers died in 1832 the mill and village was sold at a loss for $7,000. It is speculated that they sold because the mill walls were rumored to have had some cracks or because it was too far from Philadelphia to keep the younger brothers interest.

The railroad could not come to the mill because of the hilly terrain. People left the settlement to move near the railroad. Most of the corn meal was sold in the south and Indiana was Union during the Civil War so markets were closed. Dependable steam grist mills could be set up anywhere so people did not have to come to Spring Hill anymore. All of this led to the decline of the settlement.

Grissom Memorial

Gus Grissom was born in and attended school in Mitchell, Indiana. He was one of the original astronauts for Project Mercury, the second American to actually fly in space. The museum is just inside the park and there is a small fee to get into the park, but if you tell the attendant that you are only going to the museum they will let you in free. It contains memorabilia from his high school and college days, his space suit, the "Molly Brown" space craft, plus gives a very good history of the early space program. We remembered seeing take-offs and landings on TV, but did not know some of the background that is presented here.

Back to the Prairie

Comfort Inn in Terra Haute for the night. Great supper at Outback Steakhouse thanks to a gift card from our kids. A stop at Gander Mountain to find some fishing lures. On the road early for a drive on that long, gray ribbon of Interstate across Illinois to our Iowa Prairie!

Thanks for traveling with us,
Prairie Schooners


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