If you live in Kentucky, you live with visual reminders of the legacy of Abraham Lincoln every day. He is our ubiquitous icon: statues, murals, and signs dot the state attesting to his connection to the Commonwealth.
The president’s grandfather, Captain Abraham Lincoln, settled here with his wife and sons after the Revolutionary War. Thomas Lincoln, the president’s father, allegedly proposed to Nancy on the site in front of a fireplace; the original cabin still stands. The park has a few original structures as well as replica buildings. The original home owned by Moredecai Lincoln, the president’s uncle, still stands here as well.
Below is a shot I took of one of the historic buildings. Not that great, but shows you a little of what it looks like. Beyond this area and below it is a small creek, which is probably a feature that attracted settlement in the area.
This is not a big place–its main attraction is really a golf course to the south of the historic sites. There is also a picnic area slightly to the north of the historic area, along with a playground. This was the view a few summers ago across the road from the picnic/playground area: a vineyard!
Looking east from playground area north of main part of Lincoln Homestead Park
I noticed the park on a map a few summers back and visited. It is not far from where I live (within an hour), but it is definitely off the beaten path. The physical address for the park is Springfield, Kentucky, a few miles to the southeast.
As it turns out, the park is just west of where Bourbon Springs would be if it existed–slightly south of Willisburg.
Bourbon Springs would be about where the marker for Route 555 appears on this map (above the road marked Route 438).
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Here’s another mystery promo I’m participating in. Over thirty authors! Stock up on some fun, free mystery reading during these dark cold days of winter (at least up here in the Northern Hemisphere; if you’re in the Southern Hemisphere, great for outdoor leisure reading!)
One of my best memories of recent years was traveling to Lebanon, Kentucky on a snowy day to visit a cooperage, a place where they make barrels. It was all in the name of research for one of my books (Toast and Char), where the hero owns a cooperage.
The main independent cooperage in Kentucky is Kentucky Cooperage, operated by Independent Stave Company in Lebanon, Kentucky. I had heard about the cooperage from visits to Bourbon Trail distilleries and had checked out their website. But since I was writing about a guy who was part owner of a cooperage, I knew I needed to go and see the place for myself.
From the Independent Stave website
I watched a few videos online, but it wasn’t enough to satisfy my nerdly brain. So one snowy winter day I headed south—and, not coincidentally, directly through the area where Bourbon Springs would be if it really existed. I do take a few geographic liberties in describing a few things—Bourbon Springs is fictional, after all—but I saw the sights I anticipated—rolling hills of the outer Bluegrass region mixed with the pointed Knobs to the south and west.
The tour at Kentucky Cooperage started in an employee breakroom—really. Part of the room had a little sitting area where the visitors were shown the same video that’s available online. After watching that, we got a headset with speaker in it; we were going into very loud places. We started in the area where the barrels were assembled or raised, and saw a cooper do this. We then went to the area where the barrels were charred, five at a time. That day they were making barrels for Maker’s Mark. The guide told us that they run one brand every day and that’s all they’ll run. After that, we were taken to inspection, where a field of new barrels, stacked two-high spread out through the warehouse. A cooper came and gave a demonstration of how to remove a defective stave (quite the mysterious puzzle to me). They seal any extra cracks or gaps with dried cattails! At the Kentucky Bourbon Festival in Bardstown in September 2015, I saw coopers from Kentucky Cooperage repairing barrels with cedar plugs in addition to cattails.
Then it was over. The tour was only about fifteen minutes long but interesting.
And what was the best part?
All that wood—they steam it and, of course, set it on fire to char it (and, yes those barrels really burn). The scent was wonderful, like the most perfect fire you could possibly build in your own hearth. It was a deep, spicy, even food-like aroma that clung to me, through my hair and my clothes. It wasn’t the same kind of scent one gets after being around a campfire. It was more akin to the kind of smell one has after cooking a really big dinner, like Thanksgiving, after roasting a very large piece of meat. It was that good.
Having time on my hands and knowing that a distillery was nearby, I hastened to Limestone Branch Distillery across town—the tour, like at the cooperage, was free. The distillery was new and small, but a veritable temple to bourbon. The place is owned by a couple of Beams and, as they are very proud to say, they are the only distiller-owner Beams at present. Limestone Branch was only opened in 2012.
Not only are the owners direct Beam descendants, they are direct Dant descendants, another legendary bourbon making family. The tour took as long to talk about history (there were two glass cases crammed with the coolest memorabilia—lovely old bottles! A copper yeast jug!) as it did to show us the operational distillery itself. These people revere their past, and it shows. As a history nerd, I was in heaven.
The distillery makes a lot of flavored products (they’ve partnered with Moon Pie to market flavored moonshines), which isn’t my thing. So when it came to tasting, there was a bunch of flavored stuff. I was the only woman in the small group; several of the men along were in the area for a national farm equipment show in Louisville.
So what did these burly fellows drink as their free sample shots?
Yeah, the “girly” stuff: the flavored moonshines—banana, caramel, chocolate, apple, whatever. I got nothing against that stuff, but I wanted some straight corn. No straight bourbon was offered.
Who was the first to ask for the straight ‘shine?
Only after that did the guys ask for the ‘shine. Insert eye-roll here.
The guide said the ‘shine should go down smooth and then I should feel a warmth in my chest. Well, I felt the burn on my lips and in my mouth—not as smooth as claimed, but still pretty darned smooth for ‘shine.
Before I left, one of the Beams came and talked to the group. I went out back and took a few pictures of the Knobs to the south. Very pretty country.
Looking south from Limestone Branch Distillery, winter 2015
Limestone Branch Distillery is on the Craft Trail Tour, so I got a passport and got my first stamp. On my way to getting my Julep Cup—someday (the prize for completing the Craft Trail Tour).
I really want to get back to Kentucky Cooperage for another tour very soon. The problem is the heat. Summertime is not the ideal season to visit. Add the steamy environs of a cooperage to that kind of weather, and I’m not sure I can handle a tour. Maybe I can sneak down there on some rainy day.
Note: This piece originally appeared (without images) in the back matter of Secret Sauce, the short story immediately following Secret Blend(Bourbon Springs Book 1).
In western Woodford County is a wonderful attraction: the Bluegrass Railroad Museum. Not only is this a “static” museum with the typical displays, it is a living, working, moving museum.
In short, you can take a train ride!
A “quilt piece” sign on the side of the museum; reflects the classic railroad crossing road sign
I’d been on the train ride a few years ago in the fall, but wanted another family outing, this time to see the spring colors. The weather did not disappoint, and after lunch in Versailles at Ricardo’s, we headed to the museum. Lunch at Ricardo’s was particularly appropriate because it used to be the Versailles train station.
The museum is located on the western end of town, near the baseball fields and a large recreation center. There’s plenty of free parking.
This time, I opted to get first-class tickets rather than coach. On our previous excursion, I tried to save a little bit of money by buying the cheaper tickets. That really was a mistake. The seats as I recall in coach were quite hard and there’s no heating or air conditioning in that part of the train. I can attest, therefore, that the first-class tickets (five dollars more per ticket), were worth it. We had comfortable seating throughout the trip.
Draped on the back of every seat in first classs
The engineer explained how the whistle would blow to signal our departure from the small station, and off we went, headed west towards the Kentucky River. The river was approximately 7 miles away.
We trundled along through the Bluegrass, spotting several thoroughbred horse farms. We even made a stop in tiny Milner, where we picked up some passengers who had missed the train (and therefore about a quarter of the whole journey).
Our trip on the tracks had us running parallel to US 62; it was easy to see the cars on the road from the train (the tracks are so close to the road in places that it’s hard to see the tracks on the above map). We passed through fairly deep limestone cuts, which became more common as we approached the steep and hilly ground around the river. During this portion of the excursion, I spotted a deer running through the woods.
You actually do not cross the river. Although there is a bridge, it was condemned for passenger trains in 1937; it was condemned for freight in 1985. The bridge, which dates from approximately the 1890s, was never renovated. According to one of the guides, in the 1980s when the bridge was towards the end of its working life, the railroad workers approaching the bridge feared it. They could feel the bridge swaying under them as they passed over the river, which is over 200 feet below. The guide told a story of how railroad workers would get off the train and cross it on a hand car, leaving one poor worker (who had no doubt lost a bet) to drive the train across the river and the deep gorge.
Once at the river, you can see four distinct things.
First and straight in front of you is the bridge, looking every bit as rickety as you can imagine.
You can only go out on the bridge if you belong to a bungee-jumping club.
Second and below you is US 62, the road which runs parallel to the train tracks and crosses the river.
Third, to the right and slightly north across the river is Wild Turkey Distillery, its rickhouses, visitors’ center, and distillery plant all within clear view. As one drives west on US 62 across the river, on the other bank just above the road is a billboard (only a shadow in the picture below). The billboard says: “See the house that Jimmy built.” Jimmy Russell is the Wild Turkey master distiller and has been for sixty years.
Does it look a little familiar? This is the opposite view of the header on my website at the top of this page. I took that picture in September 2014 at the Wild Turkey visitors’ center, visible in this shot on the far right in the middle of the photo between land and sky; the visitors’ center looks like a black barn with a pitched roof. That water tower in the distance has the Wild Turkey logo on it with the phrase “Welcome Home”
Lastly, to the south and low along the river is a massive quarry (look at the picture of the bridge and the lower left).
Just out of sight to the north is a large electrical plant. A lot of the land to the north on our side of the river (Woodford County; Anderson County is on the western side of the river) is owned by the electrical company, Kentucky Utilities.
We could not actually see the river; we were too far up and there was already too much vegetation.
On the ride back, we were sleepy, some of us dozing, as the train trundled back to the station, almost rocking us to sleep as it swayed side to side on the tracks.
The entire excursion took approximately 2 1/2 hours, a wonderful family outing on a lovely Kentucky spring day.
The Bluegrass Railroad Museum is a non-profit organization and celebrated its 40th year in 2016.
Perryville Battlefield State Park; from high point of the picnic area, looking south toward the Knobs; picture taken by me July 2015
I was charmed and surprised that I lived so close to such an important historic site. I’m still surprised that more people aren’t aware of the site–of its beauty and importance.
I went to college just down the road from Perryville, at Centre College in Danville, about ten miles east. During my freshman year, I started driving out to Perryville on my own just for a break, for an escape. I remember the first time I did it. I had no map, only my memory of that field trip from my senior year of high school.
Something must have stuck in my brain because I didn’t get lost, despite the battlefield site being a few miles out of town and in the middle of the country. It was like something was guiding me.
I drove my car along exactly the same route my class had take around a year before, retracing that path precisely. I can still recall my pleasure in rediscovering the area, down to the large grey horse I encountered looking over a fence very close to the road on the right as I came up a hill. To this day I see that horse in my mind’s eye when I drive around the perimeter of the state park on that same road. I still remember the song I had on when I saw that horse (“Tombstone,” by Crowded House; weirdly appropriate considering where I was but not deliberately chosen on my playlist).
These days, Perryville is a favorite picnic spot for my family in warm weather. We live not quite an hour away. In addition to a museum on the park grounds, there is a large picnic area with a playground. There used to be another playground site, but that equipment was removed within the past two or so years; it was quite old (but was so retro fun; my family misses it). One February, the weather turned so fine that we got a trip in to Perryville one Saturday (and you can see a few photos from that trip below). We flew kites and had a great time in spring-like conditions.
But when we picnic and play at Perryville, I do so with the knowledge of what happened on the land underneath and around us. The main picnic area was where the Confederates began to push back the Union left. The picnic grounds were the site of a very bloody battle.
I learned quite a bit from my reading, including that one commander thought the battle would take place in Versailles, Kentucky (where I live) and of the amazing incompetence of both Union and Confederate commanders.
But the main thing I discovered–or, really, was reminded of–was Perryville’s importance in the Civil War. It doesn’t get a lot of love when it comes to popular historical knowledge (if I mention Bull Run, Appomattox, or Vicksburg, you’ve likely heard of at least one if not all of those places).
Yet Perryville (also called the Battle of Chaplin Hills) was a crucial battle from a military point of view as well as a political one.
For those with knowledge of the battle, please forgive me for summarizing and glossing over important points (and I hope I got things right); for those who don’t want too much detail, sorry for the history nerdiness that is about to ensue).
First, as a tactical engagement, the Confederates basically fought the Union to a draw.
The Rebels were actually outnumbered but the Union commander didn’t send reinforcements until very late in the day (after a horrific, bloody battle). The reason the battle stopped was because of the arrival of the reinforcements (at the moment the Union was close to being outflanked), coupled with the encroaching darkness. The road down which the Union reinforcements came is still there, known as the “Dixville Crossroads,” the spot of the climax of the battle; today, it’s just two roads meeting but I know my history and what happened in that lonely little spot on a fall evening in 1862; the crossroads are at Hays-Mays Road and Whites Road; see map below.
But in the long term, the battle was a loss for the Confederates because they retreated and left Kentucky. The whole point of their campaign was for the Confederacy to take the Commonwealth. That didn’t happen and the Rebels retreated to Tennessee. Kentucky remained securely within the Union (at least from a military and economic point of view; sentiment was a different matter, especially after the war).
There is a physical place where forces met and one force failed to overcome the other at a turning point in the battle. The place, along a rock fence and treeline in a lonely field in northwestern Boyle County, Kentucky, is called the “High Water Mark of the Confederacy in the Western Theatre.”
The Union had been pushed back to this hill all through the day, losing men and equipment (including cannon). The Rebels’ push started against the Union left, as I mentioned above, at the general area of the now-picnic grounds at the state park. If you expand the above map to show the park area (in green), the picnic area is along the upper park road that ends with the tiny loop and closer to the main road, Route 1920.
All that fighting. All day long. Over rolling territory. It ain’t flat (see below). It was a nasty, grinding battle.
Not flat. The view the Confederates had of the Union left early in the battle (on the ridge in distance; note the cannon on top of the ridge); the Confederates pushed the Union from this vicinity toward the left of this shot; the “High Water Mark” is to the south of this area, over several more hills/rises/ridges; I took this picture in late May 2015
Hill in the distance is the same with the cannon from above, but opposite view; Confederates pushed Union troops to this hill during the battle. This view, at about 900 feet above sea level, shows how unchanged the landscape is from the time of the battle; road in the middle is same road/route that existed at the time of the battle in 1862. Picture taken by me 2/20/2016
Another view; taken 2/20/2016
The ridge which marks the “High Water Mark of the Confederacy in the West.” This view is 180 degrees from the sweeping views in the last two photos above. I believe the ridge containing a rock wall which marks the point where the Union held its ground is to the middle right as indicated by the arrow; difficult to see through the trees in the foreground. If you look closely, you can see the land sloping away to the right. Arrow points to area I believe to be the “High Water Mark.” Picture taken 2/20/2016. Below is a 360-degree video I took from this same spot.
Secondly, the “success” at Perryville was crucial to Union propaganda and helped with the popular and political perception that the Union could prevail.
1862 saw several demoralzing Union defeats. What was supposed to be a simple little war was turning out to be ugly and brutal.
So, oddly, Perryville was a bright spot in a season of darkness for the Union.
Tactically and politically important. So why don’t more folks know about Perryville?
I’m not sure, but I do have some thoughts.
The battle was in the Western Theatre, not in the East. More ink and pixels have been spilled over action in the East. In other words, not as sexy (from the history-popular culture point of view, mind you).
Grant wasn’t involved. No big-name, successful generals have their names attached to the Battle of Perryville.
It is in Kentucky. Remote, sparsely populated Kentucky. Flyover country.
Yet this lack of knowledge–and thus interest–is perhaps what has saved Perryville.
There are no encroaching developments (subdivisions or resorts, for example) in this tiny corner of western Boyle County. Likewise, perhaps due to lack of knowledge and interest, tourists–while they do come for a reenactment or picnics–aren’t exactly burning up the roads to get to Perryville.
So Perryville has been left to its sleepy self without threat of overburdened roads, resources, or other encroachments.
There has been some talk to make Perryville a national park (there is only a state park there now). I’m not sure how I feel about the idea of a national park. National status would properly recognize Perryville’s importance–but would it also put it under threat of being overburdened, as I mentioned above? Would it fundamentally and forever alter what Perryville is?
The Trust raised enough money to buy the farm where the High Water Mark is located (and yes, I donated).
I think this is the same farm where I saw the horse on my first drive out to Perryville my freshman year of college.
Perryville makes an important appearance in the Bourbon Springs Series. Crucial scenes take place at the park in Book 8, Toast and Char. The heroine of that book is originally from Perryville, although in the book she is working and living in Bourbon Springs. I also have Perryville in mind for a setting in another book in a future series (and already know the couple that would be in that book). Also, in Angels’ Share (Book 3), when Lila takes Bo to the springs on her land she explains that one of the reasons the springs are historic is that there was a skirmish at the site in the days before the Battle of Perryville between troops looking for water. In fact, that is how the Battle of Perryville started: soldiers encountering each other along the nearly-depleted Doctor’s Creek, increasingly desperate for water.
I just realized that when Sharp Practice releases on March 28, 2017, that will be the tenth book I’ve published!
There’s lots more Bourbonland on the way–Single Barreland Sharp Practice are just the beginning. I’ve been writing a lot this winter–books as well as short stories and novellas. This series is tied together just like Bourbon Springs–and you’ll get to see Bourbon Springs characters from time to time.
Welcome back to the Land of Bourbon and Bluegrass… welcome to Bourbonland.
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