Canadas at Play: Postcards from Kentucky

 

Maysville, Kentucky

July 28, 1996: On the second day of our trip to Indiana, we made a brief stop at this small town on the Ohio River. Established in 1794, Maysville has many old and beautiful homes, as well as a downtown filled with stores and businesses. We stopped for a walk around Limestone Landing, a renovated walkway along the Ohio River.

 

 

Cumberland Gap and Lexington

August 6, 1999: On my way from Fort Wayne, Indiana, where Lisa and Essie stayed behind to attend a 50th wedding anniversary celebration for Lisa's parents on August 20, to North Carolina, where I had to begin teaching on August 18, I stopped in Kentucky and spent a couple of days soaking up the pioneer experience. Like Lisa, who likes to read letters and diaries written by pioneer women, I am fascinated by the American move west. I suppose I feel a connection to the pioneers because of their intimate relationship with the landscape and their ambition. At the same time, I am awed and humbled by their physical strength and tolerance of deprivation. As one of the first areas to be settled outside the colonies, Kentucky is one of the best places to relive this frontier experience. Although St. Louis, Missouri, eventually became known as the "Gateway to the West" because of the settlers who passed through there in the mid-1800s, the real gateway in my mind is the Cumberland Gap, a natural break in the Appalachian Mountains. Created because of a river that flowed here when Cumberland Mountain was formed millions of years ago, the gap was known to buffalo and Native Americans before white explorers found it in 1750. After an early expedition involving Thomas Walker and others, Daniel Boone began blazing the Wilderness Trail in 1775. This trail, which eventually became the Wilderness Road, was a route by which about 12,000 settlers traveled into Kentucy in less than a decade. By 1810, as many as 300,000 people passed through this original gateway to the West. I arrived at Cumberland Gap National Historical Park Friday evening and spent some time on a rock up on Pinacle Overlook. From the overlook I could see the relatively flat land in the East, the direction from which the settlers came, as well as the gap itself, through which they found relatively easy passage to the West. The experience became more meaningful for me that night and the following morning. I spent the night in a tent in the Wilderness Road campground, where I was surrounded by the same dense forest that surrounded the pioneers, saw the same glorious night sky that they saw--a black dome dotted with a thousand silver stars--slept on the same hard ground to the sounds of the same chirping insects--or their descendants--and awoke the next morning to the same sharp crescent moon. That morning, I hiked up a portion of the Wilderness Trail and marveled at the difficulty--not for a man hiking alone, but for all those families who were carrying their possessions along with them.

While in Kentucky, I also visited Ashland, the estate occupied from 1806 to 1852 by the great statesman Henry Clay, known for the compromises he helped to orchestrate between North and South before the Civil War and for his comment "I'd rather be right than president." Clay's original house at Ashland was torn down because it was not sound, but Clay's son James built a house with the same design on the original foundation. This house, which still stands, has a number of distinctive features, including a beautiful octagonal library, a bed and mirror made from ash trees growing on the grounds, and a wall covering called lincrusta, molded from sawdust and glue. Even more appealing to me are the grounds, which include a large wooded expanse and a peaceful landscape garden.

 

 

© Mark and Lisa Canada, 1999
canada@sassette.uncp.edu