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Jewels of the North
Breezy Blackpool
Witches and Hot Pot
A Lightning Tour

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The Island of Crete

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Ancient Rome
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Kentucky South Central I-75

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By Pat Mestern

Danville's situation is such that it could be part of Kentucky north, but its location as the geographical center of the state, makes it a perfect starting point for a tour of Kentucky's central/south I-75 corridor. The small city is situated 50 miles west of I-75, just far enough away to avoid the inevitable stripping and malling of America that happens along all major interstate routes. Danville's aggressive preservation of the past, linked with a progressive outlook for the future, is part of the reason that Time magazine chose the community as one of ten successful small towns in America. It deserves the honour.

Danville, site of Kentucky's first government is tucked into the heart of a countryside that is as charming as the town. The geographical area is known as Knob country for its physical appearance. Knobs are too small to be mountains and too large to be called hills, hence the moniker Kentucky Knobs. Knobs country is also known as Forklands. Rock hounds gravitate to the area in the search of geodes.

Danville's architecture is classic Americana. There are at least six heritage areas, all very well maintained. Constitution Square, the heart of the heritage main street area, exudes vitality. The Square, surrounded by significant structures including McDowell House & Apothecary, is home to the original log building that was used as the first post office west of the Allegheny Mountains. A growing number of galleries and studios, including Gallery On the Square, are opening in this area because visual artists are choosing Danville as home-base.

Many festivals and special events are held each year in Danville, including the Great American Brass Band Festival in June and Constitution Square Festival in mid-September.

Glass at Constitution Square Festival

Old Crow Inn is an excellent choice of accommodation while touring the area. The oldest stone home west of the Allegheny mountains, was first opened as an hostelry in 1934. Today Old Crow comprises a Bed & Breakfast, vineyard and winery, organic farm and The Elements Pottery & Crafts. Also on the property are a 200 year old flowing spring, 300 million year old fossils, unusual geological formations and a slave cemetery.

Each year hundreds of people travel to Danville to enjoy live theatre at Pioneer Playhouse, a c1950's style outdoor dinner theatre. Actors like John Travolta, Lee Majors and Jim Varney were given their start at this unique theatre attraction. The location has also been used for films, one starring Elizabeth Taylor.

Penns Store in Gravel Switch amidst the in Knobs has been in existence since 1845, and in the same family since 1850. This one-room legend is quintessential Americana. The uneven floor squeaks. The roof-line sags. During cold weather locals swap stories around a wood stove. The building appears in coffee-table books around the world and is probably the most photographed general store in North America. If you could choose only one place to visit while in the Danville area make it Penn's Store.

Penn's Store

Perryville, site of the largest battle waged in Kentucky during the Civil War, is significant because the battle forced the Confederate army to let go of their foothold in the state. For a number of years, the area was neglected but today Perryville's population of 800 is rooted progressively in both the past and present. Lands that comprised the battlefield are being acquired and visually returned to the 1862 period. The village is a "work in progress". 1840's shops on Merchants Row along the Chaplin River are in the process of restoration and will become living history museums and interesting one-of-a kind shops. Perryville has a future as the "Williamsburg" of Kentucky.

Elmwood Inn a c1842 Greek Revival house, is now a classy tea room, art gallery and gift shop. The Inn, overlooking the river, serves a proper afternoon tea with sweets and savories accompanied by one of their own blended teas. China cups, saucers and serving plates are antique.

The drive east from Danville to Berea takes you through some interesting cross-roads communities such as Paint Lick. Do take the time to stop for a look-around and don't forget your camera.

Berea Main Street

Berea, just east of I-75 is known as the folk arts and crafts capital of Kentucky. The community certainly lives up to its name. Berea's motto is "Come discover a place where it is common to make things to last a thousand years". They also market themselves as "a legendary village where things of rarest beauty are always made by hand." Visitors should head go to the Welcome Center that is located in a restored train station, for a comprehensive area map.

For years Berea has positioned itself as the most popular location for quality Appalachian crafts in North America. and with good reason. Dozens of artisans live and work in the community, contributing to its culture and reputation. Mitchell Tolle, Teresa Cole, John & Sue Martin, David Wright and Gwen Heffner are among those with area studios. Chestnut Street, Old Town and College Square have a high concentration of artisan's shops. Log House Crafts Gallery showcases the works of Berea college students and area master craftspeople. Churchill Weavers has been manufacturing luxurious hand-woven items since 1922.

McHagues Mill MillstonesBerea's heritage area is visually stunning with built architecture and 100 year old holly trees. Look up and you'll see a proliferation of wild mistletoe in host oak and maple trees.

From Berea it is an easy drive south on I-75 to London/Corbin. At London follow signage for Levi Jackson Wilderness Road State Park which is a favourite stop-over for Canadians taking their motor-homes south for the winter. Mountain Life Museum in the park was the site for filming "The Kentuckian". The museum has an original Conestoga wagon on display. Check out McHagues Mill with its collection of millstones said to be the largest in the U.S.A.

Colonial SandersCorbin, a little south of London, is the birthplace of Kentucky Fried Chicken. Harland Sanders Café is located on #25 Highway. With original exterior and signage, it is pure mid-century highway architecture. The building houses a small museum with c1940's kitchen, the Colonel's office, a model of c1950's motel room, Sanders artifacts and other KFC memorabilia. You can have a meal in the modern on-site KFC outlet. London's annual Chicken Festival, held the 3rd week in September, salutes the self-made Kentucky Colonial.

In 1775 Daniel Boone was commissioned by the Transylvania Company to cut a road through Cumberland Gap to Kentucky River. His route lay through some of the most rugged territory in Kentucky. Deep gorges, rock shelters, high bluffs and natural arches make up a large part of Big South Fork Natural River & Recreation Area, a spectacular 110,000 acre preserve close by Cumberland Falls. Coal was king in this complex geological area of southern Kentucky.

Stearns, Kentucky was a company town. Quite simply the company owned homes, school, store and church. Employees were paid in company scrip. Transportation was on company trains. The doctor and minister were employees of the company. In the case of Stearns, the Company was Stearn Coal. Life in a company town is well portrayed at McCreary County Museum. You can also shop in former company stores. Check out unique shops in former freight sheds and have a meal in the railway terminal. One of the most unusual things to see in Stearns is a huge petrified tree stump which was found more than thirty feet underground. It is now a permanent fixture in front of the County Museum.

Petrified Stump in Stearns

Don't miss the opportunity to take the six mile ride on Big South Fork Scenic Railway through coal mining country to Blue Heron Mining community. Blue Heron was a small isolated c1930's company town whose story is told through the taped voices of former residents at innovative stops in a creative outdoor museum. The biggest heritage structure in the community is the Mine-18 coal tipple. You might be lucky enough to hear your engineer and some friends play some really good Blue Grass music during your stopover at Blue Heron.

Big South Fork Natural River & Recreation Area has excellent hiking trails. New growth forest covers old mine entrances, coal tipples and roads. Historical and archeological sites are found throughout the area.

Cumberland Falls State Resort Park, 18 miles from Stearns and surrounded by Daniel Boone National Forest, is best known for its namesake Cumberland Falls. The Falls, often referred to as "Niagara of the South", are 68 feet high and 125 feet wide at normal flow. The boulder strewn river gorge is as impressive too. It is highly recommended you stay on well marked trails that lead to excellent viewing areas. The Falls are unique in North America for their Moonbow, most visible during clear evenings at full moon. On occasion it may also appear for several clear evenings before and after the full-of-the-moon.

Cumberland Falls

Cumberland Falls State Resort Park has excellent accommodations in lodges and cabins There are also great camping facilities.

If you are planning to do any hiking wear appropriate clothing and footwear. Expect the unexpected! As National Park Services says, visitors must be prepared to meet and accept nature on its own terms. This advice bodes well for all Kentucky parks and natural recreational areas. Should laws permit hunting, do not plan a trip into any recreational area during big game season. Kentucky is rich in archeological sites. Remember that they are fragile glimpses into the past. Do not remove artifacts or in any other way disturb sites. History cannot be reconstructed if pieces are lost, stolen or broken. All artifacts are protected by law.


  • Danville-Boyle County Convention & Visitor Bureau

  • For Pioneer Playhouse contact

  • Penns Store

  • TJ's Coffeehouse

  • Elmwood Inn Tea Room

  • Berea Welcome Center

  • London-Laurel County Tourist Commission

  • McCreary County Tourism Commission
    • P.O. Box 72
      Whitley City, KY 42653

  • Big South Fork Scenic Railway
    • P.O. Box 368
      21 Main Street
      Stearns, KY 42647

  • Cumberland Falls State Resort Park

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