Kentucky, Day 1

by Alisa posted May 30, 2010 category Road Trip, The South

Traveling in Eastern Kentucky along Highway 174 on Saturday, I pulled over to the side of the road because a run-down fence caught my eye.  There was a lady standing on the porch of a double-wide across a narrow blacktop road, and as I walked up the small hill between it and the highway to take a photo, she called out, “Can I help you?” Turns out that hill was her property, and after a little bit of suspicious questioning in which I assured her I just thought the fence looked cool, she softened and told me the story: “That’s a spite fence.  It was put up over a land dispute.”

Turns out the old gravel road through Lawton, Kentucky used to run right through the crest of her hill, back when it was owned by a man she called Paw Paw, whose house had sat between her garages and had burned some years ago.  The property line was thought to be the gravel road but when the state paved Highway 174, the easement went right through the offended party’s property, so they ended up with the small strip on the road side of the fence.  It’s only 4 years old, but was made of the boards from an old house that was being torn down, and reminded me of how the Ewell’s fence is described in To Kill a Mockingbird (“what passed for a fence was bits of tree-limbs, broomsticks and tool shafts”).  It was not built with much structural integrity; “Every winter another piece falls down,” the lady said. “We have friends from Ohio who come visit and joke that they want to get the number of the fence-builder.  It’s a long-running joke and you’d think they would just sell us the property so we can keep it mowed, but instead they built that spite fence and there’s nothing we can do about it.”  She told me I could take as many photos as I wanted, and wouldn’t it be funny if I posted this story somewhere? I’m happy to oblige.

I ended up in Lawton because ghosttowns.com billed it as such; the surrounding community of double-wides and old houses (lousy with rebel flags) contradict the ghost town classification, but there is a strip of old & abandoned buildings along the new Highway 174.  The general store, c. 1883, has fading paint advertising itself as “one of Kentucky’s older and better stores.”

In the back, where screen doors seem to have stuck themselves permanently open, you can vaguely see the outline of the post office in the white building on the corner.  Behind the general store is a narrow paved road that winds up the hill over a muddy creek to a rocky cliff with three mine openings.  Originally a limestone mine, apparently, it served sometime in the 1900s as a commercial mushroom production facility.  According to this forum, someone has bought the mine as a long-term data storage facility, and the chain-link fence with a million padlocks and chains, along with the half-constructed cinder block buildings that surround it, prove someone has a plan and they want you to keep out.

But sometime before that happened, possibly the 70s, locals claim it was used for Satanic rituals (if you dare, go here for “top news man” Bill’s EXTREMELY creepy photos and horrendous spelling), the dumping of murdered bodies, drug deals, and probably some milder tomfoolery. A read through that forum after my visit could have convinced me of just about anything.

I had to take this photo of what looks like the main entrance with all the graffiti through the chain-link, but I squeezed my camera through a bent post for this one, which looks more gold rush old-timey and safer.

As I stood along the fence looking deep into where lots and lots of people had undoubtedly gone exploring, I felt a blast of cool air, like a wind had stirred up deep inside somewhere.  I was all alone, and tempted though I was to go inside just a little way, I was really glad to have the fence stopping me from a serious fright.  All the way down I imagined that less criminally-minded teenagers might have had some terrible campfire freak-outs back in the day.

After a lovely vacation nap in this pretty decent $59 Hotwire special of a hotel, I went to the Kentucky Horse Park at sunset.  The day was hazy and humid, so the sun was a penetrating red ball through the haze, and though it’s impossible for me to ever get a camera to capture accurately the colors and intensity of this kind of sunset, Lightroom helps.

I walked around the whole park as the light faded, and since there was some kind of competition going on, there were lights on the holding stables and people all around, driving around on golf carts, singing at the top of their lungs, like large groups of teenagers who share an expensive hobby are prone to do.

(this one has a little camera shake but I liked the added fuzziness)

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