It’s not often in this column that I talk about a trip taken outside the state of Kentucky. This time, however, I will, because the trip my spouse and I took to Ohio recently on Veterans Day included a good portion of Kentucky geography on the itinerary, and the destination area reminded me a lot of our state, too.
Suzanne enjoys learning about Native-Americans and has a collection of arrowheads handed down from her deceased father, George Slade. He gathered the collection from his years living around the Shawhan community, in Bourbon County. Inspired, Suzanne suggested we take a day trip to the southern Ohio area and visit the Great Serpent Mound site The Great Serpent Mound of Southern Ohio near the small town of Peebles. Wikipedia characterizes it as a “1348-feet long, three-foot-high, prehistoric effigy mound on a plateau of the Serpent Mound crater along Ohio Brush Creek in Adams County, Ohio.”
The Serpent Mound is not a burial ground, though some in the area can be found. That means that, for Suzanne’s sake, it wouldn’t be a place to find arrowheads. We enjoyed reading about the mysteriousness of the tribute to a serpent-like god that has been studied by historians, though much they’ve learned is only guesswork. While there, we faced our fear of heights (mine is worse than hers!) and climbed, I’m guessing, a sturdy 25-feet high metal watchtower to get a better view of the long mound.
We had a relaxed, enjoyable time at the site; it gave us a lot to talk about later in terms of the place’s uniqueness, along with the memories made on that pleasant November day.
But there was a whole lot more to our over 200-mile round trip than merely the mound destination, starting with our departure from Versailles. I’ll chronicle the main items here, and for truth, the whole thing felt like a true “Kentucky by Heart” experience for us.
We left home at nine o’clock that morning and within a few minutes, drove past the Keeneland Racecourse and adjacently to it, Calumet, the iconic horse farm. Funny thing is, we see the beautiful places nearly every day since moving to Versailles three years ago but haven’t visited either since. We relish the uniqueness of the horse culture in our area, however, and these two sites are glittering symbols of such.
One of our favorite drives is Highway #27, and we happily maneuvered my 2017 Ford Escape onto the stretch from Lexington to Paris. It’s considered a safe highway, with two lanes on both sides, frequently with a good placing of green islands set between them. Besides the manicured pastures where Thoroughbreds graze contentedly, there are stately homes aplenty and more modest ones giving witness to a mixture of cultures and incomes working in unison to say: “We are so glad to live here!” A couple of decades ago, the highway was narrow and dangerous, and for years a somewhat contentious battle raged regarding what could be done to improve safety. Fortunately, a plan that would increase safety by expanding the width of the road area, yet carefully preserving the beauty of the area, was formulated and won approval from stakeholders. That’s a good thing; the stretch of highway rates as one of the most picturesque in the state.
Riding through Paris, we chatted about a grocery store no longer in business and we glanced at the numerous historic, ornately built houses that cry “old Kentucky.” Seeing the town always reminds me of the hundreds of times I passed through it while making the trip from Campbell County, my parent’s home, to Richmond to attend college, and later to my home in Winchester after graduating from EKU.
We continued toward Maysville on US-68 East and noticed some roadwork had changed the area around Millersburg. Soon, however, we came to the familiar big left turn—still US 68–that would take us directly to the town once named “Limestone,” now called Maysville. A few miles down, we passed Allison’s Ornamental Concrete and Gifts. It’s situated on a huge lot packed with stone creations used for decorative purposes. I indicated I would like to visit the place with Suzanne later. She likes art in our gardens, and I like to stick to the natural. Sometimes it’s a negotiating matter for us, tsk, tsk.
A few more miles up #68 brought us by Blue Licks State Park, a place we’ve dined at their restaurant buffet many times. The park always recalls childhood memories of a family trip we took on a Sunday afternoon back in the ‘60s, when I was fascinated by references to Daniel Boone at gravesites and thoroughly enjoyed going through what is now called the Pioneer Museum. Experiences such as those inspired my desire to write the Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes book series and share the Kentucky by Heart column weekly with my readers.
By now, we approached Maysville, where we’d cross the Simon Kenton Bridge to Aberdeen, Ohio, then another 45 minutes or so to Peebles and the Great Serpent Mound destination. We connected with US-52 and quickly turned onto Ohio 41 towards Peebles. What I noticed immediately on the winding, but the well-preserved highway was the resemblance to much of rural Kentucky. Crossing an invisible state border produced no dramatic changes in the natural scenery, and we saw modest, mostly framed houses, often with aging cars and pickup trucks parked next to them. It looked a lot like much of the Kentucky countryside I’ve always known.
We passed a wonderful gathering in the West Union town square paying tribute to our American veterans. We both remarked that it looked like a scene from The Hallmark Channel, and the crowd appeared to be a significant percentage of the town’s population of about 3200. We suspected that the town and county offered up more than its share of patriotic sacrifice from its young men and women, much like what is true of small Kentucky towns.
I’ve talked about being at the mound site, so let me finish by describing a couple of fun stops on the way back.
We made a point of visiting Miller’s Bakery, Furniture and Bulk Foods business neat West Union on Wheat Ridge Road. It’s an Amish enterprise appearing to be very successful, and I recall my now-deceased brother recommending similar businesses he visited on his travels. We stopped by the bakery first and were tempted by the heavenly smells of pastries and such, but we got out of there relatively easy by buying only a small chocolate cake, which we devoured with a few dips of vanilla ice cream when we got home. Across the parking lot at the sprawling complex, we became customers at their bulk foods store containing thousands of discounted grocery items, and we bought several bags for less than $20! We stayed away from checking out their furniture and small outbuildings, but only because we had no need of the items.
At Miller’s, there was a “home” feel about it, like back home in the Bluegrass State.
Hungry, we stopped on the return trip at deSha’s Restaurant in Maysville. We were treated to a fine meal with friendly service. Additionally, the manager stopped by our table and checked to see if we were veterans, meaning that we’d be served a complimentary meal. I joked that I wasn’t, though I once took an ROTC class at EKU. He grinned, and told us a story about his father, a marine, just like my dad. It was a pleasant way to end our trip, and in the last few weeks, the subject of our “Kentucky-fied” trip to Ohio has come up often. Hard to get away from the place we love, even on a trip to Ohio!
Steve Flairty is a teacher, public speaker and an author of six books: a biography of Kentucky Afield host Tim Farmer and five in the Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes series, including a kids’ version. Steve is a senior correspondent for Kentucky Monthly, a weekly KyForward and NKyTribune columnist and a member of the Kentucky Humanities Council Speakers Bureau. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his Facebook page, “Kentucky in Common: Word Sketches in Tribute.”