Kentucky's Calling

Lebanon and Bowling Green offer plenty of reasons to plan a visit this fall to the Bluegrass State
By William J. Purpura

You know you know Kentucky.

There’s Louisville and Lexington; the Derby and Danville. Not to mention sluggers, Shakers, vast forests and folk heroes.

Corvette

In Title: Country roads in southern Kentucky become especially scenic during autumn.

Above: Car enthusiasts will want to see the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green. Kentucky Department of Travel photos

Below: Abraham Lincoln’s birthplace and boyhood home in Hodgenville should interest history fans. Kentucky Department of Travel photo

Cabin

The Bluegrass State offers all kinds of finds, especially to those who are willing to dig a bit deeper into the heart, history and industry of Kentucky. It’s a fun place to get your hands dirty in just such an excavation. Consider the treasures, big and small, to be found in and around Lebanon and Bowling Green.

Let’s get started by taking a look under the hood in the deep south of the commonwealth.

Little Red Corvette

There is only one true American-made sports car, and it’s the coveted Corvette, made at the sprawling GM plant off Interstate 65 in Bowling Green. Imagine going from 0 to 60 mph in three seconds, and blistering the quarter-mile strip at 125 mph–that’s what today’s Corvette is designed to do, and workers at the plant put out about 180 of these muscle machines each day. Each car is custom-ordered and assembled under the motto, “We’re not building an automobile, we’re building a dream.” One-hour guided tours of the plant are wildly popular among current, soon-to-be and wannabe ’Vette owners.

To get the whole story, though, Bowling Green visitors need to visit the National Corvette Museum on the other side of the highway. Opened in 1994 as an educational tribute to America’s sports car, the museum unveils the history and mystique behind the ’Vette, from the first car built in Flint, Mich., in 1953 to the life of Zora Arkus-Dunton, considered the godfather of the Corvette.

As the museum’s Marketing/Communications Manager Bobbie Jo Lee said, “It’s more than a museum. We’re the only museum dedicated to one automobile.”

One of the oddest things about this museum is its Corvette nursery, which is where people come to pick up their custom ’Vette orders. Entire families come to celebrate and film the big event, which includes physician-like technicians poring over the details of the car with the new owner.

If you don’t own a ’Vette before stepping into the museum, when you leave you’ll likely spend weeks trying to figure out how to get one.

Visit over Labor Day weekend (Sept. 3–6) and join in the celebration of the museum’s 15th anniversary and see the newly renovated facility, enjoy live entertainment and more. For more information call (270) 781-7973 or visit www.corvettemuseum.com.

All Aboard

A growing Bowling Green treasure is the restored L&N Railroad Depot, which opened Sept. 1, 2007, as the Historic Railpark and Train Museum. The museum and its rail cars uncover how the L&N became the 18th largest railroad in America, and deftly rekindles the glory days of rail travel, from The Rocket to The South Wind to the Orange Blossom Special.

One of the main players behind the museum is Dorian Walker, a transplanted L.A. filmmaker.

“Before the age of flight, executives took the trains,” Walker said. “There were many trains that you could take between New York and Chicago. They gave them great names. To cater to the wealthiest tycoons of the world, they put on the best cooks. They had their own barbers. In that era, service was everything. Fly today first-class and maybe you’ll get a bag of peanuts.”

Here, Railfest is celebrated each May, while December ushers in the annual Festival of Trains.

Down Under

Kentucky is known for its vast cave systems. One of its most famous is the Lost River Cave & Valley, which now sits on the National Register of Historic Places. This Bowling Green claim to fame once served as a popular nightclub and a hideout for Jesse James and John Hunt Morgan. The Lost River, at 400 feet deep, is said to be the shortest and deepest river in the world.

Visitors can hike down to the river and cave (the only one I’ve seen with a chandelier), or opt for the 20-minute-long boat tour.

The Land of Lincoln

Lebanon serves as a great home base for all kinds of central Kentucky discoveries. Lebanon Tourist & Convention Commission Executive Director Chris Hamilton recommends taking the 30-minute drive along U.S. Route 84 through the cattle and tobacco country to Hodgenville.

“It’s so beautiful it never gets old,” he said. “It’s like a painting.”

The sites in and around this area include the Lebanon National Cemetery, which is a kind of miniature Arlington National Cemetery. Soldiers from every American war are interred here, including one Revolutionary War soldier and the throngs of the fallen from the Civil War’s 1862 Battle of Perryville. According to Hamilton, one of the most moving times to visit is during the Veteran’s Day ceremony, held the Sunday prior to the holiday.

Lebanon is also known for its rich musical history.

“All the great Motown artists played Lebanon,” Hamilton said. “We had all the nightclubs–Club Cherry, Kitty Kat Club, Club 68. That’s what we were really known for.”

Those sometimes-lawless days of clubbing have since been replaced by more highbrow entertainment and January’s Bluegrass Festival.

Golfers will want to play the area’s many courses, especially the one at Rosewood Golf & Country Club, while history buffs will want to visit Abraham Lincoln’s birthplace in Hodgenville. The national park which memorializes Lincoln’s birthplace is a National Historic Site.

Another Lincoln treasure can be found at the Washington County Courthouse, the oldest courthouse west of the Alleghenies in continuous use. The courthouse possesses the document that proves Thomas Lincoln and Nancy Hanks were married on June 12, 1806. The document wasn’t discovered until 13 years after the assassination of Lincoln, who was often referred to as the bastard president. The courthouse is being restored and will soon contain a museum dedicated to Lincoln’s life.

William J. Purpura is editor of the Ohio edition of Home & Away.

Sept/Oct 2009 Issue

BEFORE YOU GO

For more information, contact the Bowling Green Area Convention & Visitors Bureau at (800) 326-7465, http://visitbgky.com; and the Lebanon Tourist & Convention Commission at (270) 692-0021, www.visitlebanonky.com.

To visit Kentucky first stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTiks® and TourBook® guides.

Order free information about Kentucky through the Reader Service Card, found online at http://midwest.ai-dsg.com


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