State Street lessons could help city, UK save other neighborhoods

April 12, 2014

StateStreetCrowds celebrate March 28 in the State Street area. Photo by Jonathan Palmer


How much longer must national acclaim on the basketball court be accompanied by national embarrassment in neighborhoods around the University of Kentucky campus?

Thanks to good preparation and policing, the mayhem on State Street after UK’s NCAA tournament games this year wasn’t as bad as in 2012. But it was still unacceptably violent and destructive.

This year’s toll is an embarrassment to both UK and Lexington: more than 60 injuries requiring treatment; more than 50 arrests; more than 125 fires, including a couple dozen couches.

“It’s a miracle that more people and property didn’t get hurt,” said Diane Lawless, who has represented that area on the Urban County Council since 2009. “This isn’t a spontaneous celebration. Goodwill says they come in and buy every piece of upholstered furniture they have. This is a planned riot, period.”

UK sports celebrations started getting out of hand in 1996, when some of the 10,000 fans gathered at Woodland and Euclid avenues to celebrate the national basketball championship smashed car windows and overturned a TV news van, which caught fire. There were fewer problems after the 1998 championship.

Things got ugly in 2007, when crowds in the student rental neighborhood around State Street celebrated UK’s football victories over Louisville and LSU by adopting West Virginia University’s noxious tradition of couch burning.

Five years later, when Kentucky beat Kansas for the NCAA championship, State Street went wild. There were dozens of injuries from fires and flying beer bottles, damaged vehicles and nearly 100 arrests.

It is worth noting that the vast majority of students and others who celebrate after UK games don’t hurt people or damage property. The crowd that partied this year along South Limestone didn’t become destructive.

The problem is that State Street is a very different kind of neighborhood. Some students and outside trouble-makers see it as a place where they can become violent and destructive without consequences.

Both UK and the city helped create this problem. Demand for student housing in recent decades led investors to buy former single-family houses in older neighborhoods around campus. Those houses were demolished and replaced by cheaply built apartment complexes, or they were fitted with barn-like additions and crammed with students. Yards were graveled for parking lots.

Some neighborhoods fought back, using tools including historic overlays to limit the damage. But State, Crescent, Elizabeth and other streets north of Waller Avenue and west of Limestone were overwhelmed. Homeowners and families that were stabilizing influences in those neighborhood fled. City officials took more than a decade to limit further damage to the neighborhoods by student-rental landlords.

UK officials made the problems worse in 1997 by banning alcohol from fraternity and sorority houses. With students essentially prohibited from drinking on campus, they rented “party houses” in adjacent neighborhoods. Social media made it easier for students to find those parties and evade police efforts to shut them down.

Police have refined their tactics, both to try to prevent destructive behavior and violence and to document lawbreaking for prosecution. From all accounts, they handled this year’s State Street mayhem as well as could be expected.

City code enforcement officers have tried to crack down on violations in student-rental neighborhoods, but sanctions remain minimal. The city also is working on better data collection and sharing methods to make it easier to spot troubling trends in neighborhoods before they become problems.

Because existing student-rental properties were grandfathered in when city restrictions were tightened, it’s hard to reverse much of the damage, said Derek Paulsen, the city’s planning commissioner.

“I hate to say State Street is lost, but when it gets to that level, about the only thing you can do is call the police in,” Paulsen said. “From a planning perspective, the question may be, how do we transition that neighborhood out of what it is now to something more productive?”

UK officials have taken some positive steps, including construction of new on-campus residence halls. Last May, President Eli Capilouto appointed a work group of UK and city officials to look at student alcohol habits and policies and their effect on the campus and surrounding neighborhoods. The group completed its report in December, but UK has not yet released its findings and recommendations.

Because sports-related mayhem is largely fueled by alcohol, UK’s next steps will be crucial. But there is more the city could do as well. These safety and town-gown issues are hardly unique to Lexington; other places have dealt with them for years. Here are some things UK and the city should consider:

■ Accept the fact that college students drink. Make campus alcohol policies more lenient in ways that teach students who choose to drink and are of legal age to do it responsibly.

■ Extend the student code of conduct to off-campus behavior, as is done with UK athletes. That would require more information-sharing and coordination between UK and the city, but students might be less likely to engage in destructive behavior off-campus if they knew the consequences would be more serious. When expectations are high, most people will rise to meet them.

■ UK, city and neighborhood residents should put more emphasis on integrating students into the neighborhoods, from social events to beautification projects. If students feel as if they belong in a neighborhood, they will be less likely to destroy it.

■ City officials and police should more aggressively channel celebrations away from State Street to South Limestone or other commercial districts, which can be more effectively policed. Maybe State Street should be closed on big game nights to people who can’t prove they live there.

■ The city must get tough with problem landlords. That could include stricter rules on zoning, building permits and code requirements, with bigger penalties for violations. There also might be ways to hold landlords accountable for tenants’ destructive behavior.

“There are some good landlords out there,” Lawless said. “But there also are a lot of student landlords who couldn’t care less except for stuffing their pockets.”

■ UK and the city should buy some houses in campus neighborhoods that are near the tipping point of too many student rentals. Those houses could be rented or sold with restrictions to faculty, staff and city employees. That would help stabilize those neighborhoods, and it would provide affordable housing for lower-paid employees near their workplaces.

“We still have some very good, viable neighborhoods around the university,” Paulsen said. “We need to learn the lessons of State Street to keep them that way.”  

Making a second career from publicizing Kentucky’s ‘map dots’

March 16, 2014

mapdotCory Ramsey and his car’s license plate. Photos by Tom Eblen


Cory Ramsey was a governor’s scholar who went on to earn a broadcasting and political science degree from Western Kentucky University. Then he discovered there was more money to be made welding truck frames at a factory in Bowling Green.

But in 2009, when the economy was on the ropes and Ramsey was given a layoff he knew would last only two months, he had some time to explore another passion — Kentucky’s outdoors.

CoryRamsey grew up in Hickman, a small county seat that hugs the Mississippi River at the far western edge of Kentucky. He spent his youth fishing, hunting and hiking.

Those two months off made him think there might be a way to use his communications skills to turn his love for Kentucky’s outdoors into a business opportunity.

Since then, Ramsey has built his own little media enterprise while crisscrossing the state to visit all 120 counties and every state parks.

Ramsey writes about his adventures and offers hiking advice for the state tourism department’s Outdoor Adventure blog ( He posts videos on his own website ( And he does monthly outdoor video segments for WBKO-TV in Bowling Green and radio shows for little stations across the state.

“My emphasis is on exploration made easy,” he said recently when he passed through Lexington after spending a weekend hiking in Red River Gorge. “I tell people the best places to go for a fun day outdoors.”

His latest media venture explores another passion — Kentucky’s crossroads communities and small towns, which he calls “Map Dots.” Last August, he launched the Map Dot, Kentucky Facebook page to celebrate them.

“I wanted to prove that if you take a back road you’ll see things you never knew about,” said Ramsey, who visits and photographs each place he features on the page. “What makes it work is the personal touch.”

Ramsey said he hopes to eventually cover every “Map Dot” in Kentucky, “although that may take me a few years.”

Recent Map Dots he has visited include Glendale in Hardin County, Tomahawk in Martin County, Irvington in Breckinridge County, Danville in Boyle County, Rowletts in Hart County and Columbus Belmont State Park in Hickman County.

“My message is, I have seen so much more in Kentucky than horses and bourbon and Daniel Boone and Lincoln,” he said. “You’re brought up in Kentucky with state pride, but many folks are ignorant of so much the state has. They have never taken the time to explore even the next county over.”

The Map Dot, Kentucky Facebook page so far has gotten more than 5,500 “likes.” It has steady interaction from regular readers, most of them in Kentucky or originally from the state.

“I would like to be able to travel all the time,” Ramsey said, but added that he hasn’t yet figured out how to turn his media business into a career that pays much more than enough to cover the cost of his gas.

To do that, Ramsey will have to find more freelance opportunities, sell more Map Dot T-shirts and figure out new ways to generate revenue.

Until then, he plans to keep welding for Bowling Green Metalforming, a division of Magna International that makes Explorer frames for Ford’s Louisville assembly plant. That business is booming, which has meant a lot of overtime pay for Ramsey but less time for him to explore and share the wonders of Kentucky.

Like much of local black history, 1920s blues song a surprise

February 23, 2014

February is Black History Month, and this is the third year I have written one column a week during the month about Kentucky black history.

I’ve always found history interesting, but working on these pieces has been a special treat, because much of this information is new to both me and most Herald-Leader readers.

While I do some of the research myself, I get a lot of help from professional and amateur historians, both black and white. Like me, they have become fascinated with this rich vein of history that until recent years was rarely explored or publicized.

Special thanks this year to these sources for research, ideas and other information:

  • Yvonne Giles, an amateur historian who has become an authority on Lexington black history. Her extensive research on the Lexington Colored Fair was invaluable.
  • Maureen Peters, a Lexington architect, who pointed me to outstanding research that she and her friend, the architectural historian Rebecca McCarley, had done on brick mason and entrepreneur Henry Tandy and his son, architect Vertner Woodson Tandy.
  • Thomas Tolliver, a former Herald-Leader reporter who lives in the East End and is passionate about preserving its history.
  • Former State Sen. Georgia Powers of Louisville, who generously shared her own story and information about how the 1964 March on Frankfort was organized.
  • Former State Sen. Joe Graves of Lexington, another March on Frankfort organizer, who candidly discussed how the civil rights movement influenced his life and the white community.
  • The Kentucky Historical Society.

As a postscript, Kakie Urch, an assistant professor in the University of Kentucky’s School of Journalism and Telecommunications and a radio host on WRFL, sent me a 1920s blues song I had never heard of before: The Lexington Kentucky Blues, by Papa Charlie Jackson.

Click on the video below to hear Jackson singing about coming to Lexington to play at the Colored Fair, seeing the great racehorse Man O’ War, going to the races, spending time on Limestone Street and meeting J. Rice Porter, the Colored Fair’s president from 1926-28. It sounds as if he had a great time.

Like much of local black history before I started this project, the Lexington Kentucky Blues was new to me.



New film marks centennial of Kentucky Governor’s Mansion

January 11, 2014


Gov. Steve Beshear and his wife, Jane, are shown on a video monitor in circa 1914 formal attire Jan. 5 during filming of a re-creation of the gala ball that opened the then-new Governor’s Mansion 100 years ago this month.  Members of Lexington Vintage Dance performed ballroom dances from the period. Photo by Tom Eblen 


FRANKFORT — The Governor’s Mansion turns a century old this month, and preservationists have organized a bipartisan celebration to raise money to help keep “the people’s house” in good shape for another hundred years or more.

Events begin this week with the premiere of a film about the mansion’s role as both a temporary home for governors and a venue for public hospitality and economic development. The film is narrated by ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer, a Kentucky native.

A symposium about the mansion is planned Jan. 22. There will be a reception March 5 after festivities marking the 50th anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1964 march on Frankfort. And a Centennial Gala ball is planned June 7. For details and event tickets, go to:

The documentary, Kentucky Governor’s Mansion: A Century of Reflection, was produced by Lexington filmmaker Michael Breeding and paid for by Marion Forcht of Corbin and the Forcht Group. It premieres Jan. 15 at the Grand Theatre in Frankfort and Jan. 16 at the Kentucky Theatre in Lexington.

140105GovsMansion0022“I wanted the film to tell the inside story of what has gone on in that mansion over the years,” Breeding said. “There’s a lot of history and stories, and part of it is a restoration story.”

The film opens with a re-enactment of the ball Gov. James McCreary gave Jan. 20, 1914 to open the mansion. That scene was filmed last Sunday evening with a cast of amateur actors in period attire. They included Gov. Steve Beshear, his wife, Jane, and members of Lexington Vintage Dance.

The Beshears seemed to have as much fun as everyone else, dressing up in vintage clothing to “party” in front of cameras. “I guess it’s OK to be seen having makeup put on now that I don’t have to run for re-election,” the second-term governor joked.

The film includes interviews with the Beshears and 30 other former governors, their family members and mansion staff. The full interviews will be preserved at the Kentucky History Center.

I sat in on part of the interview with Steve Collins and Marla Collins Webb, children of Martha Layne Collins, Kentucky’s first and only female governor, 1983-87.

“We all worked together as a family,” Steve Collins said, noting that his father, dentist Bill Collins, handled his duties as Kentucky’s “first man” with good humor and hosted “varmint” dinners for outdoorsmen. “They even roasted a raccoon one time,” Collins recalled.

One memorable event was a lavish but secretive dinner Gov. Collins gave in 1986 for Toyota executives when she was trying to get the assembly plant for Georgetown. The secret got out to everyone in Frankfort when the event concluded with a fireworks show.

140112GovMansion-Stock0022McCreary, for whom McCreary County is named, was the first of 24 governors who have lived in the mansion. He also was the last to use a horse and buggy. The film recalls that his successor, Augustus O. Stanley, preferred a newfangled automobile. But the mansion’s location on a steep bluff east of the Capitol proved problematic.

One Sunday morning as the Stanleys were getting ready for church, a staff member brought the sedan to the mansion’s back door and left it running unattended. Within minutes, the car rolled backward over the cliff.

Stanley is said to have walked out, looked down at what was left of his car and stoically said, “There’s another $1,500 gone to hell.”

Mansion construction began in 1912 after the General Assembly appropriated $75,000 to replace the previous governor’s home, built in downtown Frankfort in 1798. Five years ago, the old mansion got a $1.5 million, privately financed renovation and is now used as a state guest house.

Architect brothers C.C. and E.A. Weber of Fort Thomas designed the new mansion in the Beaux-Arts style, mimicking the Petit Trianon villa at Versailles (France, not Kentucky). Clad in Bowling Green limestone, the 18,428-square-foot mansion came in $20,000 over budget, so landscaping was postponed for years to save money.

The mansion, decorated with a rotating collection of borrowed fine art, is one of only a few state governors’ homes regularly open for public tours. Because more than 12,000 people visit each year, the mansion gets a lot of wear and tear.

The first major renovation began in 1982 during Gov. John Y. Brown Jr.’s administration after a fire marshal declared the place unsafe. Phyllis George Brown raised private money for much of the work and elegant furnishings, as Glenna Fletcher did 25 years later when the mansion needed another updating.

Jane Beshear and David Buchta, state curator of historic properties, thought the centennial was a good opportunity to both celebrate the mansion and raise money for an endowment to help with upkeep. Their goal is to raise $1 million for the non-profit Kentucky Executive Mansions Foundation before the Beshears move out.

Mike Duncan and Terry McBrayer, Kentuckians who have held top jobs in the national Republican and Democratic parties, co-chair the Mansion Centennial Celebration Committee.

Among its fundraising efforts is the “county seats” project. Each county is being asked to give at least $1,000 toward 120 new ballroom dining chairs that are being made by student artisans at Berea College. So far, Buchta said, nearly half the state’s counties have agreed to contribute.

“This is so much more than the governor’s house,” said Ann Evans, the mansion’s executive director. “It has become an important tool for economic development, tourism and just making people feel welcome in Kentucky.”

Click on each image to see larger photo and read caption:


Berea College archive preserves the sounds of Appalachia

December 29, 2013


Renfro Valley radio show cast at the old barn stage in the early 1950s. Left to right are Ray Sosbyee, Linda Lou Martin, Claude Sweet and Glenn Pennington. Photo courtesy Berea College Special Collections and Archives.


BEREA — As soon as sound recording equipment became small enough to fit in a car trunk in the 1950s, academics began racing around the mountains, trying to preserve the music and stories of a disappearing Appalachian culture.

Now archivists at Berea College are in another race against time: to preserve those old recordings for the 21st century and beyond and make them more widely available through the Internet.

Over the past eight years, sound archivists John Bondurant and Harry Rice have digitized more than 3,000 hours of recordings. Bondurant figures they are about halfway through the archives’ current holdings.

Some of that material, as well as a more limited collection of digitized video and photos, can be seen and heard on the archives’

131120Eblen-Berea0001The collection includes an impressive array of traditional Appalachian music, oral-history interviews, ballads, folk tales, old radio programs and black and white religious music. Plus, there are recordings of events, speakers and performances at the college going back to at least the 1960s.

Many of the recordings came from a collection started by Loyal Jones, who from 1970-1993 headed the college’s Appalachia Center, which is now named for him. But, over the years, many more collections have been donated to the college, providing a rich tapestry of authentic, one-of-a-kind sound.

The Appalachian music archives includes collections of fiddle, banjo and dulcimer tunes, band performances and recordings of Berea’s annual Celebration of Traditional Music, which began in 1974. Several collections focus on religious music, from Old Regular Baptist hymns to gospel music radio performances and Sacred Harp singing in rural black churches.

The archives also include broadcasts of John Lair’s Renfro Valley Barn Dance and related radio programs, which were broadcast between the late 1930s and the late 1950s on Cincinnati’s WLW-AM, Louisville’s WHAS-AM and the CBS Network. Although less famous than the Grand Ole Opry on Nashville’s WSM-AM, the shows had a huge impact on the development of country music.

131120Eblen-Berea0002Much of the radio collection was donated to Berea in the 1980s, when WHAS changed ownership and moved studios after the breakup of the Bingham family’s Louisville media empire.

“They called here and offered us these, implying that if we didn’t take them they would be thrown out,” Bondurant said. That archives included 1,500 16-inch transcription disc from the 1930s through the 1950s that were meant for short-term rebroadcast or advertiser verification.

“Like most media, it was never intended to be saved,” Bondurant said, so the transcription discs have been a challenge to copy before they disintegrate. “For most of these old programs, these are the only copies that exist.”

Those discs included episodes of Circle Star Ranch, a children’s radio show from the 1940s that featured a cowboy singer and the predecessor of WHAS-TV’s famous kids’ show, T-Bar-V Ranch, which had a loyal following among Louisville baby boomers.

Bondurant works in a tiny studio with a reel-to-reel tape player and a specially a specially modified turntable with a variety of sizes of phonograph styluses. Both are hooked up to a computer with digital sound software.

“Some of these materials, you have one shot; we play it to copy it and it should never be played again,” he said. “I’m trying to get the cleanest signal so it sounds like the original document.”

Bondurant, an amateur guitar player, worked in music licensing for Broadcast Music Inc., better known as BMI, in Nashville before earning a master’s degree in library science at the University of Kentucky.

Bondurant said the digital technology he uses to copy archival recordings has improved dramatically since he joined Berea College in 2005. And, unlike other preservation methods, digital copying makes it safe and easy to share material with researchers and other interested listeners more widely.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that digital technology is changing so fast, it will be a constant challenge to keep material preserved and accessible.

“The digital life cycle is a lot shorter than the analog life cycle,” Bondurant said. “We can still play recordings that are century old easier than we can play some DAT (digital audio tape) recordings from the 1990s that have essentially erased themselves.”

Click on each image to see larger photo and read caption:


Harrodsburg home tour features variety of architecture

December 3, 2013


Janette and Carter Johnson’s circa 1896 home in Harrodsburg was a former funeral home. Janette Johnson loves to decorate for holidays.  Photos by Tom Eblen


HARRODSBURG — When Carter and Janette Johnson retired and sold their tourist hotel on the Polynesian island of Tonga, they decided to move half a world away and begin restoring old Kentucky homes.

Janette Johnson is from Australia, but her husband is from Laurel County. They first moved to Danville, fixed up an old house, sold it and went looking for another. They ended up in Harrodsburg, where they have restored three houses, doing most of the work themselves.

The largest of those places is the circa 1896 Queen Anne mansion at 538 Beaumont Ave., where they now live. For 54 years before the Johnsons bought it in 2002, the house was a funeral home.

“As soon as I walked in, I knew exactly what I wanted to do,” Janette Johnson said. “We worked on it 10 hours a day, six days a week for 17 months.”

The former embalming room is now a luxury kitchen; the casket storage area has a pool table and guest suite. The rest of the house has been restored to its original Victorian splendor, as it looked a century ago when former owners Frank and Louise Curry entertained Harrodsburg society with frequent teas, balls and candlelight dinners.

The house is one of seven historic buildings open Saturday during Harrodsburg’s 22nd annual Holiday Home Tour. The tour is an annual benefit for the Harrodsburg Historical Society and the James Harrod Trust.

Harrodsburg has only 8,500 residents. But as the oldest permanent English settlement west of the Allegheny Mountains, established in 1774, the seat of Mercer County has an amazing variety of architecture.

While the Johnsons’ home is finished, the 200-year-old home of Seth and Matthew Singleton at 222 E. Lexington St. is still a work in progress. When they bought it in June 2012, the building had housed the offices of a regional mental health agency for three decades.

Known as The Old Tavern, the much-altered timber-frame house was a tavern and inn for many years under many different names, including the Rough and Ready House, The Union House, Yates Tavern and the Wright House. In 1851, the inn advertised 15 “comfortable” guest rooms.

It also may have been Harrodsburg’s first drive-through business. According to the late historian George Chinn, a tavern patron once rode his horse through the front door and up to the bar, ordered his drink and rode back out.

Seth Singleton is a University of Kentucky law student and his partner, Matthew Singleton, works for a Lexington law firm. They moved to Harrodsburg because they are originally from Mercer and Boyle counties, and because real estate there is much cheaper than in Lexington.

“We knew it needed a lot of TLC,” Seth said of The Old Tavern, whose last major renovation in the 1880s included the addition of an Eastlake Victorian porch. “But it was just a lot of cosmetic work. The core of the house is pretty solid.”

The Singletons have furnished their home with family pieces and antiques from other Harrodsburg historic homes that they bought at estate sales.

Also on the tour are the homes of Kathy and Danny Mobley, 825 Southgate Dr., and Judy and Rod Helton, 497 Beaumont Ave.; Mt. Pleasant Presbyterian Church, 446 Mt. Pleasant Pike; and the Old Mud Meeting House on Dry Branch Road, three miles southwest of Harrodsburg. That circa 1800 building was the first Low Dutch Reformed Church in the West.

The tour also includes a gem in the rough that the James Harrod Trust is raising money to polish. Earlier this year, the Trust became the 31st owner of the Pawling House, which deed records show was built before 1828.

While the house needs a lot of work, it is in remarkably sound after years of neglect. The solid-brick walls are Flemish bond, and the original hardwood floors are in excellent shape. The house has beautiful original woodwork that may have been carved by the famous local artisan Matthew P. Lowery.

Thanks to holes that have yet to be repaired in some walls and ceilings, visitors can see more of the Pawling House than in typical on an old-house tour.

“It’s like an onion: You keep peeling back the layers,” said Amalie Preston, who works with the Trust. “With a new house in the suburbs, there is no mystery.


Harrodsburg Holiday Homes Tour

When: 1 p.m.—8 p.m. Dec. 7

Cost: $15, $11 for seniors and each person in groups of 20 or more. Buy tickets in advance or at a location on the self-guided tour.

More information: Harrodsburg Historical Society (859) 734-5985, Tourism Commission (800) 355-9192, or

Click on each image to see larger photo and read caption:

John Egerton chronicled the South, from civil rights to barbecue

November 23, 2013

For a young Southern journalist getting started in the 1980s, there was no better role model and mentor than John Egerton, who died unexpectedly last Thursday at his home in Nashville. He was 78.

I got to know John while I was covering Tennessee for The Associated Press. When I started traveling the upper South for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, he became a friend and valuable resource.

As a freelance journalist since 1971, John’s award-winning books and hundreds of magazine and newspaper articles chronicled in-depth so many things that fascinated me about Southern history, culture, politics and food.

I often called John for information and advice, which he modestly dispensed in a soft drawl. And I knew that if he was in town whenever I came to Nashville, he would take me to some memorable hole-in-the-wall for a delicious breakfast or lunch.

JohnEgerton-webJohn was born in Atlanta but his family soon moved to Cadiz, Ky.. He graduated from the University of Kentucky, which inducted him into its Journalism Hall of Fame and Hall of Distinguished Alumni. UK Libraries honored him last April with its Award for Intellectual Achievement.

I first knew John through two of his early books, A Mind to Stay Here (1970) and The Americanization of Dixie: The Southernization of America (1974). When we met he had just published Generations: An American Family (1983), the engrossing story of nine generations of Kentucky’s Ledford family.

The book that made Egerton famous was Southern Food, a combination cookbook, travel guide and social history that was named the 1987 book of the year by the International Association of Culinary Professionals.

John had spent more than a year eating his way across the South without adding much weight to his tall, lanky frame or, he said, raising his cholesterol. His book chronicled the evolution and role of food in Southern culture, including the substantial contribution of black culture.

I wrote one of the first articles about the book, for the Journal-Constitution. We met for the interview at Hap Townes, a long-gone Nashville “meat and three” where musicians, executives and factory workers sat elbow-to-elbow enjoying house specialties that included stewed raisins.

“If I had been braver, I would have called the book The Stomach of the South; I think W.J. Cash would have understood,” he told me, referring to the author of the 1941 classic, The Mind of the South.

John followed Southern Food with, Side Orders: Small Helpings of Southern Cookery and Culture (1990). He helped start the Southern Foodways Alliance, and he edited the first volume of Cornbread Nation 1: The Best of Southern Food Writing (2002). But John was always amused at his fame as a food writer, claiming his only culinary expertise was eating.

He published several other books: a history of Nashville, an exploration of Tennessee’s 19th century utopian communities and a collection of his magazine essays that explored the South’s complexity.

His masterpiece was the 700-page book Speak Now Against The Day: The Generation Before The Civil Rights Movement in the South (1994). It drew on his nearly three decades of reporting on Southern race relations, beginning in 1965 for the magazine Southern Education Report. It won the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award, and it deserved a Pulitzer Prize.

John’s soft voice, gentle humor and modest demeanor masked a moral compass that compelled him to speak out against things he believed were wrong.

When the Tennessee Valley Authority condemned his Trigg County farm and others in the 1960s to build the Land Between the Lakes outdoor recreation area, John became the lead plaintiff in a federal court battle. With Justice William O. Douglas dissenting, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear his appeal.

In 2006, John wrote a book of political satire, Ali Dubyiah and the Forty Thieves. He described it, only half seriously, as his only work of fiction.

John’s most popular writing celebrated what was good about the South, but his biggest contribution as a journalist and historian was his examination of what held the region back: race, class, poverty, inequity and corruption. He was a masterful storyteller who had the courage to not only report facts, but explain what those facts added up to.


A beautiful state, forever challenged to live up to its potential

September 28, 2013

Indian Fort Mountain, Berea. Photo by Tom Eblen

The view from Indian Fort Mountain near Berea. Photo by Tom Eblen


Every state is unique. So what makes Kentucky so special?

To begin to answer that question, you must go back to 1750, when the first land-hungry white Virginians crossed the Appalachian mountains to see what was on the other side. What they found created quite a buzz.

John Filson, who published the first book about Kentucky in 1784, boasted that it was “the new Eden … like the land of promise, flowing with milk and honey.” A frontier preacher is said to have explained heaven to his flock as “a Kentucky of a place.”

Of course, this was long before strip mining and strip malls.

Still, people continue to be awed by Kentucky’s beauty: lush mountains, rolling meadows, scenic rivers, vast limestone caves and manicured horse farms.

Kentucky’s fertile land has always made it an agriculture powerhouse. The Bluegrass region’s karst geology and calcium-rich soil is the foundation for two signature industries: strong-boned horses and pure water for bourbon whiskey.

Originally, Kentucky was considered the West. When the Civil War came, this citadel of slavery remained in the Union. Once the Union won, many Kentuckians sided with the Confederacy. Go figure.

But Kentucky has often been a paradox. For example, 95 percent of all bourbon whiskey (and, really, all that’s worth drinking) is made in Kentucky. Yet, you can’t legally buy it in more than one-third of the state’s 120 counties. Of course, that doesn’t mean a lot of it isn’t consumed there.

Kentuckians love to eat, too, from spicy Western Kentucky barbecue to the delicately flavored cucumber spread of Louisville known as benedictine. Ask people on the other side of the world what they know about Kentucky and they are likely to reply: “Ah, Kentucky Fried Chicken!”

Kentuckians tend to be friendly, independent, fun-loving, stubborn and resistant to change. The local cultures we have created vary widely from the Cumberland mountains to the Jackson Purchase. The common denominator seems to be a passion for basketball.

Unless we are from one of the state’s larger cities, Kentuckians tend to identify themselves by their native county. And we have more and smaller counties than almost any state.

But we still love our little towns. We have given many of them colorful names, such as Red Bird, Hi Hat, Cutshin, Mousie and Fancy Farm. Occasionally, imagination has failed us and we have copied the names of European cities, but we have insisted on pronouncing them differently.

During its first decades of statehood, Kentucky was often a national leader and innovator. But the state seems never to have fully recovered from the Civil War and the human slavery that caused it. For a century and a half, Kentucky’s progress has always seemed like three steps forward, two steps back.

Still, some of us think Kentucky is capable of being a national leader rather than a persistent laggard. Kentuckians are hard workers, blessed with a central location, abundant resources and a beautiful place to live — when we don’t insist on messing it up.

The name Kentucky is derived from languages of the American Indian tribes we took this land from, but nobody is sure what it really meant. Some say it meant “dark and bloody ground.” Others say, “the land of tomorrow.” While a lot has happened to support the first theory, I choose to believe the second.

Now, would somebody please pass the barbecue and freshen my bourbon? We have a lot of work to do after dinner.


New book showcases Kentucky’s antebellum decorative arts

September 15, 2013

Gigi Lacer

SIMPSONVILLE — When journalists Genevieve Lacer and Libby Howard began collecting Kentucky antiques more than a decade ago, they were surprised by how little information was readily available.

A few monographs had been written and some museum catalogs published. The Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts in Winston-Salem, N.C., had collected some scholarship. The Magazine Antiques had featured Kentucky pieces in special issues in 1947 and 1974.

But there were no comprehensive books about Kentucky-made furniture, silver and textiles, even though they were some of the finest produced anywhere in antebellum America.


Libby Turner Howard, left, and Genevieve Baird Lacer. Photo by Tom Eblen. Photos from their book by Bill Roughen.

What the friends soon discovered was that considerable scholarship had been done on early Kentucky decorative arts, but most of that knowledge resided in the heads and notebooks of a few dozen passionate collectors.

That prompted Lacer and Howard to write and publish Collecting Kentucky 1790-1860. The 360-page book is detailed and exacting, yet readable and beautifully designed, with 600 illustrations by Lexington photographer Bill Roughen. State historian James Klotter wrote the forward.

“The book gives you a visual entryway into things you’ll never see, because they’re in private homes,” Lacer said, and only a few pieces from historic house museums are included “because we literally ran out of room.”

The book’s 270 “subscribers,” who paid $275 early in the process to get leather-bound special editions, receive their books Sunday at a private reception. A $75 “collector’s” edition goes on sale Monday at bookstores and antique shops around the state (for more information, go to

Lacer, who lives in Shelby County, wrote an award-winning 2006 biography of Swiss artist Edward Troye, who painted America’s greatest racehorses in the mid-1800s. Howard, who lives in Henry County, is a former editor of Kentucky Homes and Gardens magazine.

In approaching their book project, Lacer and Howard wanted to document Kentucky antiques and explore their histories, relationships and craftsmen. They also wanted to explain the goals and objectives of serious collectors they knew about, all of whom live in Kentucky.

“These are people who have spent 30, 40, 50 years refining a viewpoint about their collections,” Howard said. “They all have a focus. We became fascinated with how, visually, they are telling the story of antebellum Kentucky as they understand it.”

Book Jacket w-flaps_cmyk.inddTen major collections are profiled in separate chapters. Objects from 40 more private collections are gathered by object type in an 83-page “archive” at the back. Between each chapter is a small essay that tells an interesting story about an object, its maker or the time and place in which this work was created.

Only one collection is identified with its owners’ names, because it is the only major collection now in the public domain. Over three decades, Garrard County natives Bob and Norma Noe assembled one of the most impressive collections of early Kentucky antiques. They recently donated it to the Speed Art Museum in Louisville.

The Speed is now closed for a major renovation and expansion. But when it reopens in 2016, the Noe Collection will be the foundation of a new Center for Kentucky Art, the first permanent museum space devoted to Kentucky works.

Bob Noe encouraged Lacer and Howard to write Collecting Kentucky as both a primer and a reference book, and he said in an interview that he is pleased with the result.

“I think the book will do wonders to add context in an area too often neglected,” Noe said. “Kentuckians need to know more about our early culture.”

The six decades covered in this book were exciting times in Kentucky. After statehood in 1792, Kentucky transitioned from America’s frontier to being a prosperous and influential region of agriculture and trade.

Prosperity created demand for decorative art and utilitarian items that were both beautiful and functional. Because Kentucky had little colonial tradition, early decorative arts often featured motifs of patriotism, and native flora and fauna.

Craftsmen in all parts of Kentucky produced remarkable work. Some, such as silversmith Asa Blanchard and cabinetmaker Porter Clay (brother of Henry), created pieces as fine as anything then being made on the East Coast.

The book features many outstanding examples of chests, cupboards, desks, case clocks, tables and chairs made of native cherry and walnut with poplar inlay, as well as imported mahogany. The authors tried to pull together available research on the craftsmen who made these items, linking pieces to regional styles.

Early Kentucky silver, often made from melted coins, has long been prized. Lacer said one of the most fun experiences in compiling the book was when several collectors brought more than $1 million worth of silver to her home to be photographed. Roughen was able to create images comparing large groups of work that had never been brought together before.

The book includes a section about one of Kentucky’s most famous products of the era: the long rifle. Kentucky rifles were not only accurate and dependable weapons; they often were highly decorated works of art.

Lacer and Howard said they hope their book will spark more public interest and scholarship in early Kentucky decorative arts.

“We just scratched the surface,” Lacer said. “We left out big collections we know about, and I can only imagine the ones we don’t know about. This is a lot bigger idea in our state than I ever dreamt.”

Click on each image to see larger photo and read caption:

Kentucky poet Maurice Manning gains a national reputation

August 20, 2013


 Poet Maurice Manning lives in an 1850s farmhouse on 20 acres near Springfield, fulfilling a pledge he made when he was in graduate school in Alabama. Photos by Tom Eblen


SPRINGFIELD — Clouds were gathering for an early evening shower as Maurice Manning leashed his three big dogs and took off down one of the mowed paths that criss-cross almost 20 acres behind his 1850s farmhouse.

“One of my vows when I was in grad school in Alabama was that if I ever made any money from writing, I would buy land in Kentucky,” he said as we ambled through woods, past a stream and across meadows of wildflowers in full August bloom.

“Most farmers wouldn’t think much of what I’ve done with the place,” Manning said of his land, which was grazed and cultivated before nature started reclaiming it. Manning’s daily two-mile walks help his mind harvest a different kind of Kentucky crop.

Manning, 47, who pronounces his first name “Morris,” is attracting national attention as a poet. His first book, Lawrence Booth’s Book of Visions, won the prestigious Yale Series of Younger Poets Award in 2001. His fourth book, The Common Man, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in poetry in 2010.

Manning3Manning was a National Book Awards poetry judge last year and has been a Guggenheim fellow. His poems have appeared in The New Yorker, The Southern Review and The Virginia Quarterly Review. His fifth poetry collection,The Gone and the Going Away, was published in April to good reviews.

The Danville native, whose ancestors helped settle Clay and Rockcastle counties, had divided his time between the Washington County farm he and his wife, Amanda, bought in 2001 and Indiana, where he taught English at Indiana University and, before that, DePauw University.

“For a long time, I felt like I had one foot in Kentucky and one foot in Indiana,” said Manning, who earned his undergraduate degree from Earlham College, a Quaker school in Richmond, Ind.

So two years ago, Manning gave up the security of tenure at Indiana to become an English professor at Transylvania University. He also is a writer in residence, along with another distinguished Kentucky poet, Richard Taylor.

“I love teaching, and teaching at Transy is especially enjoyable because the classes are small and you can get into intense conversations with students,” he said. “I knew I wanted to teach Kentucky students for a variety of reasons. I just feel like I owe a debt to this state since everything I write about is Kentucky.”

The poems in Manning’s most recent book are like tiny short stories with colorful characters from “Fog Town Holler” in the Kentucky of his imagination. His carefully crafted verse is filled with wry humor, evocation of traditional ways of life and a reverence for nature.

“There’s something about the organized rhythm of a poetic line that is a real source of meditation,” said Manning, who plays guitar and is learning the banjo.

Manning has finished another book of poetry, as yet untitled, that includes “intense descriptions of the natural world,” he said. “The motive for that is recognizing how thoroughly we are destroying the natural world.”

Manning said he began writing poetry privately in junior high. He assumed that nobody else was still writing poetry, because all of the poets he studied in English class were dead. That changed when poet Denise Levertov visited a class he was taking at Earlham.

“It made everything seem less mysterious,” he said. “She wasn’t an aloof, obscure person.”

Later, Manning got to know James Still, the celebrated Eastern Kentucky writer and poet, when he was in his 80s. And he found ways to connect with dead poets whose work he admired. In 2009, Manning visited England and walked the landscape that inspired the Romantic poets William Wordsworth and Samuel Coleridge.

Another inspiration was fellow Kentuckian Robert Penn Warren, the only person to win Pulitzer Prizes for both poetry (twice) and fiction. On April 24, Manning was invited to the Library of Congress in Washington to read Warren’s poetry during a celebration of what would have been Warren’s 108th birthday.

Manning said Warren was one of the last prominent American poets who thought poetry was a place for philosophical meditation, for asking profound questions about life. That, he said, is where he hopes his own poetry is heading.

“One of the nice things about being a poet is there’s no money in it,” Manning said. “Believe it or not, that gives you a lot of freedom.”

Manning2Maurice Manning has cut four miles of walking paths through his 20-acre farm. 


Using technology to find the hidden history beneath our feet

May 21, 2013


Ed and Kay Thomas watched as Scott Clark used a metal detector around an old bur oak near a circa 1810 farmhouse they are restoring in Bourbon County. Photos by Tom Eblen


PARIS — I always thought it would be fun to have a metal detector. I wasn’t so much interested in hunting for buried treasure as finding bits of history hidden a few inches beneath my feet.

Scott Clark, an Internet business consultant in Lexington, has similar interests. An avid metal detectorist since 1985, he has become quite skilled at it — and increasingly passionate about improving the ethics and image of his hobby.

Metal detecting doesn’t have the best of reputations, thanks to “treasure hunters” who look for relics on Civil War battlefields or pock-mark parks in search of lost valuables. Many historical archaeologists view detectorists about as favorably as a brain surgeon would a witch doctor.

130430Detectoring-TE0074But serious detectorists are trying to change that. Earlier this year, Clark was part of a group that worked with archaeologists to explore James Madison’s Montpelier estate in Virginia. Clark co-authored an article with Montpelier archaeologist Matthew Reeves on the blog of the Society for Historical Archaeology about how the two groups can work together and literally find common ground.

Clark has a blog at and often writes about best practices in the hobby. Those include always asking landowners’ permission before detecting, sharing finds with them and digging carefully so grounds are not damaged. He also avoids truly historic areas, such as battlefields.

Clark often donates his services to people who have lost valuables outside. Last month, he found a wedding band for a Versailles man after it slipped off his finger while he was mowing his yard.

Clark said he never accepts payment or rewards, but people often thank him by arranging access to interesting sites he can search. “The currency of the hobby is permission, which requires being trustworthy and transparent,” he said.

Clark detects to relax and for the love of history rather than profit. He said he has never sold anything he found — and even if he did, it wouldn’t begin to cover the thousands of dollars he has invested in detecting equipment.

Mostly, Clark finds old shoe buckles, keys, buttons, tools and coins. His most valuable find? A silver 1838 half-dime, worth a couple hundred dollars.

130430Detectoring-TE0408Clark said he likes to detect in places where people would have gathered a century or more ago — and lost things out of their pockets. That includes the grounds around old homes, schools, churches and stores.

Clark offered to show me how detecting works, then asked if I knew of a good hunting place. I immediately thought of Kay and Ed Thomas.

The Thomases live in a beautiful home in Bourbon County that her ancestors built in 1792. While restoring the place, the fun-loving couple delighted in finding interesting objects from the past. They are now restoring another place nearby — a circa-1810 brick farmhouse that her family bought in the 1940s.

As I suspected, the Thomases jumped at the chance to have Clark search their yards. Ed Thomas tagged along with Clark for the better part of three days while he carefully went over the ground with his detector, watching its dials and listening to its beeps, squawks and squeals.

To the untrained ear, the detector sounded like an arcade video game. But to Clark, the tones and gauges indicated the presence of objects in the ground — how big they were, what kind of metal they were made of and how deep they were, indicating how long they had been there.

Clark’s most interesting find on the Thomases’ property was a coin silver filigree bracelet with ivory cameos, which Kay Thomas thinks a long-dead relative bought on a European tour. He also found a few old coins, including an 1868 penny; spoon bowls of silver and pewter; a 1937 American Legion fob; old livestock tags and pieces of horse tack; and the remains of tools.

“Normally, I find three times this much stuff,” Clark said, clearly disappointed.

But the Thomases were thrilled — and not surprised that he didn’t find more.

“My relatives were frugal people!” Kay Thomas said. “If they had lost a gold ring, they would have been out here 24/7 until they found it.”

Ed Thomas also found something: a new hobby. For his birthday last Friday, his wife gave him a metal detector.

Click on thumbnails to enlarge photos and read captions:

Film about Harlan and Anna Hubbard screens Jan. 28 in Lexington

January 16, 2013

The new documentary, Wonder: The Lives of Anna and Harlan Hubbard, by Louisville filmmaker Morgan Atkinson and narrated by author Wendell Berry, will have its first Lexington showing at 7 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 28, at the State Theatre, inside the Kentucky Theatre, 214 East Main St.

After the showing, I will moderate a panel discussion about the film and the Hubbards with Atkinson, Meg Shaw and Bill Caddell. Shaw is head of the Lucille Little Fine Arts Library at the University of Kentucky, where the Harlan Hubbard Image Collection is archived. Caddell was a longtime friend of the Hubbards.

Doors open at 6:45 p.m. The showing is free and open to the public. It is sponsored by Idea Festival University, a project of the Kentucky Science and Technology Corp.

The Hubbards were a talented couple who spent nearly 40 years living apart from the modern world, first on a shanty boat, floating down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, and then in a cabin they built along the Ohio River in Trimble County.

I wrote about Atkinson’s film in November.  Click here to read my column. For more information about the film, go to: For more information about the Idea Festival, go to:

“What Henry David Thoreau did for two years on Walden Pond, the Hubbard’s did for forty years in Kentucky,” Atkinson said. “I hope the film will inspire people to be open to adventure in their own lives, whatever that may be.”




Expert helps me taste-test a 112-year-old bottle of family bourbon

January 2, 2013

Wild Turkey master distiller Jimmy Russell prepares to taste some Old Barbee, distilled in 1901 and bottled in 1914. Photo by Mollie Eblen


You don’t have to be a bourbon whiskey expert to know that age is good and more age is usually better. But how old is too old?

I have pondered that question for 25 years, ever since I was given a pint of Old Barbee. It was distilled in 1901 when my wife’s great-grandfather was president of the company that made it.

This bourbon was aged for 13 years in a charred, white-oak barrel to acquire its color and flavor, just as bourbon is made today. It was bottled at 100 proof in 1914, according to the tax stamp, but never opened.

I always wondered: Would this Old Barbee still taste good? Or, after almost a century in a bottle, would it be nasty — or even poisonous?

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to find out.

I took my grown daughters, Mollie and Shannon, to Anderson County to open and taste my Old Barbee with one of Kentucky’s bourbon experts: Jimmy Russell. The third-generation distiller has worked at Wild Turkey for 59 years and been the master distiller there since 1966.

Russell explained that bourbon does all of its maturing in the barrel. Once bottled, the process stops. As long as the amber liquid remains clear, he had told me, my Old Barbee should taste as good as the day it was bottled.

The cork stopper and celluloid wrapper had started to disintegrate in recent years, causing nearly half the bottle’s contents to evaporate — distillers call it “the angels’ share.” As Russell readied some snifters, I removed the cork carefully.

I had heard about Old Barbee since the late 1970s, when my wife, Becky, and I began dating. According to her family lore, it was a smooth bourbon with excellent flavor.

My wife’s great-grandfather Herman Volkerding was born in 1869 to a German family in Cincinnati. He moved to Louisville and worked for John T. Barbee & Co. By the early 1890s, he was the distillery’s president.

The company’s offices were on Louisville’s Main Street, then known as “Whiskey Row.” The distillery was in Woodford County, along Griers Creek near the Kentucky River, within two miles of where Wild Turkey is made.

John T. Barbee & Co. prospered, and Volkerding and his wife, Mary, lived in a West End mansion with their eight children. But he died in 1912 at age 42, and his partners sold the business to the Weller distillery.

When Prohibition came in 1919, the remaining stock of Old Barbee was sold as “medicinal whiskey,” which required a doctor’s prescription. The Woodford County distillery was abandoned and reclaimed by nature.

I have researched Old Barbee over the years, and that led me to the person who, in 1987, gave me the unopened bottle.

My daughters and I watched as Russell poured small samples into four snifters. He swirled his glass and held it up to the light.

“It’s got a great color, that good, bright, which means it should still be a good-tasting product,” he said. “When it stays that same color all those years you know it’s well-made, been aged well.”

Russell took several deep sniffs. “It’s got a great nose on it,” he said.

Then he took a sip, rolling it around his mouth for several moments as Herman Volkerding’s great-great-granddaughters and I held our breath.

“Typical old-fashioned bourbon,” Russell finally said with a smile. “It’s got the sour mash, it’s got the caramel, vanilla, the sweetness. And that age it’s got a lot of woody, oaky taste to it.

“The thing I really like about it is the finish. It’s got a great finish on it. To me, that’s one of the most important things is the finish. What kind of taste does it leave in your mouth?”

With Russell having pronounced Old Barbee good, my daughters and I took sips.

Then, as if drawn by a sixth sense for special bourbon, Eric Gregory, president of the Kentucky Distillers Association, and Rick Robinson, Wild Turkey’s distillery director, walked in, and I offered them a taste.

We all agreed that the oldest bourbon any of us had ever had was mighty good stuff.

When Becky’s family came to our house for Christmas, I put eight small glasses on an Old Barbee serving tray she had inherited and poured everyone a taste. Then we offered a toast to Herman Volkerding for a job well done.

Click here to watch a video of Jimmy Russell taste-testing Old Barbee.

Click on each thumbnail to see larger photo and read caption:

What Kentucky news stories will we remember from 2012?

December 31, 2012

 Kent Nickell photographed the tornado from his yard on Riverside Drive in West Liberty as it approached the city on March 2.


It hardly seems possible that 2012, the Commonwealth of Kentucky’s 220th year, has come to an end. As with most years, there was good news and bad news, joy and sorrow, beginnings and endings. What will we remember most?

Wildcat basketball fans will remember 2012 as the eighth year of nirvana for Kentucky’s secular religion. The University of Kentucky men’s team beat Kansas 67-59 to win its eighth NCAA crown and the first since 1998.

Fans will expect a repeat soon, if not immediately, but it won’t be with that team. After its brief residency in Lexington, the talented squad of underclassmen moved on to professional careers with the National Basketball Association.

Kentucky would have had an even better sports year if I’ll Have Another had had just one more.

After winning the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, the chestnut son of Flower Alley was scratched the day before the Belmont Stakes because of tendonitis. That disappointed horse racing fans who had hoped to see their first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.

The spring of sports excitement provided a measure of relief from tragedy. As March began, tornadoes raked the eastern half of Kentucky, killing 22 people. Among the hardest-hit areas were Morgan, Johnson and Lawrence counties.

West Liberty took a direct hit: dozens of homes, churches and businesses were demolished. That included the old and new Morgan County courthouses and another local landmark: the Freezer Fresh ice cream shop.

The people of West Liberty were down but hardly out. In the months since the twisters, the community has worked hard to rebuild and reimagine its future. Following the example of another tornado-ravaged town — Greensburg, Kan. — West Liberty leaders hope to use the disaster as an opportunity to rebuild using the latest energy-efficiency design and construction. Oh, and the Freezer Fresh is back in business.

Among 2012’s other highlights and lowlights:

Spring storms gave way to oppressive summer heat and drought that scorched Kentucky’s corn crop. Still, The Associated Press reported that state farm cash receipts were expected to surpass $5 billion for the first time.

Photo by Mark Cornelison

Dry weather prompted Mayor Jim Gray to ban amateur fireworks for the Fourth of July. Urban County Council members liked the peace and quiet so much they decided to ban them permanently.

Centre College in Danville hosted the 2012 vice presidential debate, repeating its much-praised performance as host to the 2000 event. Centre student leaders unsuccessfully tried to get the candidates to sign the campus “civility pledge,” but there was little civility to be had in this election year.

Petty partisanship by Democrats and Republicans resulted in state redistricting plans so skewed that the courts rejected them, at great expense to taxpayers. Despite the removal of some heavily Republican areas from the 6th Congressional District, four-term U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler lost his seat to Andy Barr, leaving Rep. John Yarmuth of Louisville as the Kentucky delegation’s lone Democrat.

The Kentucky General Assembly did manage to do something useful: It passed legislation to improve prescription monitoring and crack down on “pain management” clinics that have helped fuel the epidemic of prescription drug abuse.Gov. Steve Beshear removed the biggest thorn in his side by appointing state Senate President David Williams of Burkesville to a judgeship. Williams, whose tenure as Republican leader in the Senate created a lot of heartburn for Democrats, is now eligible for a sweeter pension when he retires.

Coal industry employment in Kentucky declined. Industry executives and their favored politicians whined about the Obama administration’s “war on coal.” But the main culprit was less coal use because of cheaper natural gas. Meanwhile, there were plenty of headlines about mine health, safety and environmental violations.

Richie Farmer, who became famous as one of the 1991-92 UK basketball team’s “Unforgettables,” probably would like to forget 2012. The year after losing his race for lieutenant governor as Williams’ running mate, Farmer went through a divorce and a scathing audit of his free-spending tenure as state agriculture commissioner.

In other official misbehavior: Knott County Judge-Executive Randy Thompson and Breathitt County Schools Superintendent Arch Turner went to prison for vote-buying, while the state Supreme Court removed Harlan Circuit Judge Russell from office because of a pattern of misconduct. The Breathitt schools were taken over by the state because of mismanagement.

Downtown Lexington’s economic renaissance continued, with the promise of more to come.

An imaginative redevelopment plan for Rupp Arena, Lexington Center and the sea of city-owned surface parking surrounding it was unveiled. Then planners began looking for ways to resurface long-buried Town Branch creek as a linear park to attract people and investment to downtown.

Louisville-based 21c bought the old First National Bank building so it can be converted into one of its acclaimed hotels and contemporary art museums.

The long-delayed CentrePointe project continued to evolve but remained a grassy field for downtown festivals. Lexington’s EOP Architects refined Studio Gang’s site plan into a nice design. But The Webb Companies still need to find tenants and more than $200 million in financing to make it happen.

On a sad note, the old Fayette County courthouse, which housed the Lexington History Museum, was closed because of lead paint hazard, underscoring the need to renovate that architectural gem in the center of the city.

Among notable transitions: Keeneland President Nick Nicholson retired and was succeeded by Bill Thomason. Lexington fire department veteran Keith Jackson became the force’s first black chief. UK football coach Joker Phillips was replaced by Mark Stoops, defensive coordinator at Florida State.

Eastern Kentucky University President Doug Whitlock and Georgetown College President Bill Crouch announced plans to retire in 2013. And the annual Ichthus Christian music festival in Wilmore, plagued by debts and perennial rain, called it quits after 42 years.

Among notable deaths: Gatewood Galbraith, Kentucky’s favorite never-elected politician; Monsignor Ralph Beiting, founder of the charitable Christian Appalachian Project; former UK first lady Gloria Singletary; equine photographer Tony Leonard; and Lois Gray, who helped her children, including Lexington’s mayor, build the family’s struggling construction company into a national powerhouse after her husband’s death.

Happy New Year.


Reflecting on a year with Kentucky’s interesting people, places

December 30, 2012

When people ask about my job, I say that writing three newspaper columns a week is a lot like being a restaurant chef: you want everything to be good, but it must be done on time.

A good columnist is part reporter, part editorial writer and part storyteller. Thanks to a constant stream of reader feedback, I know when I’m hitting the mark.

As I looked back over my 140 or so columns in 2012, some patterns emerged. For one thing, I wrote a lot about old houses. That was partly because I renovated and moved into an old house in a great urban neighborhood this year.

Readers could relate to my columns about that experience, especially my guilt at needing to get rid of a half-century of National Geographic magazines. Thanks to readers, those magazines are now being put to use by two schools and an artist.

While researching my “new” home, I was put in touch with a woman who grew up there between 1924 and 1943. She told me about the house, including her childhood “secret hiding place” behind the wall of an upstairs bedroom.

I wrote about Kentucky homes and buildings much older, grander and more interesting than mine: Helm Place; Spindletop Hall; Floral Hall; Lafayette Academy; the Ripy mansion in Lawrenceburg; Ward Hall in Georgetown; Bethlehem Farm near Paris; and, most interesting of all, mysterious Elmwood mansion in Richmond.

I also wrote about new architecture and development: the never-ending saga of CentrePointe; redevelopment plans for parking lots around Rupp Arena; ideas for turning long-buried Town Branch Creek into a linear downtown park; and Parkside, Holly Wiedemann’s impressive affordable housing development.

I indulged my passion for local history whenever it seemed relevant to current events.

I told the story behind George Yeaman, a once-obscure Owensboro congressman made famous in Steven Spielberg’s movie, Lincoln. I talked with archaeologist Nancy O’Malley about her dig at Fort Boonesborough.

I learned about native cane to satisfy my curiosity as to why so many Central Kentucky places are named for a plant that has all but disappeared. I marked Black History Month in February with a series of columns, ranging from Lexington’s central role in the slave trade to the pioneering practice of Dr. Mary Britton.

Being a columnist is a great excuse to get to know and write about some of Kentucky’s most interesting people.

Writer Wendell Berry gave me a preview of his Jefferson Lecture. Katerina Stoykova-Klemer told me about her journey from Bulgaria to Lexington, and from engineering to poetry and publishing. Jacqueline Roberts recalled her years singing with balladeer John Jacob Niles. And fourth- and fifth-generation horse doctors Ed and Luke Fallon discussed how equine medicine has changed.

Along the way, I told the stories of three World War II veterans, businessman Stuart Utgaard’s spectacular rise, fall and rebound and Glenn Acree, the chief judge of the Kentucky Court of Appeals who moonlights as a rock ‘n’ roll musician.

Some Business Monday columns profiled local institutions such as Chevy Chase Hardware, Michler’s Florist and Quillin Leather & Tack. Others looked at new, innovative startups such as CivicRush, Float Money and Bullhorn marketing.

Columnists are supposed to express opinions about current events and hot-button issues. So, like it or not, you heard what I think about big-money politics, gun control, climate change, corporate welfare, gay rights, health care reform and the “war on coal.”

Thanks to the Internet, local columnists can be read more widely than ever before. Luisa Sancen, a Mexican-born scientist living in Canada, sent me an email in January. She had been reading my column online for weeks to learn about Lexington because her engineer-husband had been offered a job here.

She asked me to tell her why they should move to Lexington. My response became a column, published in January. I told her that Lexington could be a beautiful and friendly place to live, a city big enough to be interesting but small enough that a committed individual could make a difference.

As 2012 comes to a close, I am happy to report that they did move to Lexington. They and their young daughter now live a few blocks from me. I finally met them earlier this month, and Sancen gave me perhaps the best reader comment I received all year: “So far, everything you said about Lexington is true!”

A short history of Kentucky bourbon, sip by sip

September 22, 2012

Aging bourbon at Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort. Photo by Tom Eblen


What is the best way to end a fine Kentucky day?

Try this: A front porch with a pleasant view. A comfortable rocking chair. A friend with interesting things to say. A glass with enough fine Kentucky bourbon whiskey to float an ice cube or three.

The first sip should burn, but not too much. Hints of caramel and charred oak bounce off the back of your tongue. It is an intoxicating mixture of corn, barley, rye or wheat, limestone-rich water and a lot of Kentucky history.

Legend has it that bourbon was invented in Scott County in the late 1780s by Elijah Craig, a Baptist preacher. That may not be true, but it makes a great story: Nectar of the gods created by minister to teetotalers.

Bourbon has become a Kentucky icon, a signature state industry. What makes bourbon unique? First, it is the mixture of grains: at least 51 percent corn, malted barley, rye and/or wheat. It is aged in new, white oak barrels that have been charred by flame. The char is what gives bourbon its distinctive amber color and smoky flavor. That happens as clear whiskey is drawn in and out of the wood with the change of seasons.

Kentucky produces 95 percent of the world’s bourbon — and all that’s worth drinking. And don’t confuse bourbon with that charcoal-filtered whiskey that Jack Daniel and George Dickel make in Tennessee.

Bourbon has been big business in the Bluegrass since before Kentucky became a state in 1792. Settlers found the rich soil good for growing corn and the limestone water good for turning it into whiskey.

Why was it called bourbon? Again, there’s more legend than proof. But it probably had something to do with early Kentucky whiskey’s biggest export market: French New Orleans.

Bourbon making became a popular Kentucky enterprise. My great-great-great grandfather inherited a Jessamine County distillery from his father, according to an 1825 will. In the early 1900s, my wife’s great-grandfather was president of a Woodford County distillery that had its offices on “Whiskey Row” on Louisville’s Main Street.

Prohibition in 1919 was a kick in the gut to Kentucky’s bourbon industry. Only a few distilleries survived by making “medicinal” whiskey for people with enough connections to get a doctor’s prescription.

Bourbon distilling rebounded with Prohibition’s repeal in 1933, but as the industry consolidated, quality suffered. Sales plummeted in the 1960s and 1970s. Bill Samuels thinks it was because most bourbon then wasn’t very good.

About that time, Samuels was building his father’s Maker’s Mark distillery into an industry powerhouse by focusing on better quality and marketing. That sparked an industry turnaround.

Soon every Kentucky distillery was making high-quality bourbons — unique recipes that began attracting new fans around the world.

When friends used to ask me to recommend a good bourbon, I would offer a few suggestions. Now, I tell them that almost any Kentucky bourbon costing more than $20 a bottle will be good, so it’s just a matter of personal preference.

There is a lot of variety in bourbon, as there is in the way people drink it. Many bourbonistas turn up their nose at sweet mint juleps, and laugh out loud when someone mixes good bourbon with a carbonated soft drink.

Many purists like their bourbon on ice or “neat” — straight or with a few drops of water at room temperature. Some people keep their bourbon in the freezer to avoid diluting it with melting ice.

Bourbon is likely to remain trendy so long as creative distillers come up with tasty new recipes. But, please, let’s not get all snobbish like some of those wine and Scotch connoisseurs.

I once met a legendary distiller, a guy who helped developed some of Kentucky’s best-tasting bourbons. He even has a fine bourbon named for him. So I had to ask: how do you drink your bourbon?

He mixes it with Sprite.

Lessons to learn from Lexington’s ‘Athens of the West’ period.

September 2, 2012

Mayor Jim Gray often talks about Lexington aspiring to be a “great American city.” But two centuries ago, that is exactly what it was. Many visitors hailed Lexington as the most vibrant and cultured city in what was then Western America.

The reality and myths surrounding Lexington’s so-called Athens of the West era are explored in a new book of essays published by the University Press of KentuckyBluegrass Renaissance: The History and Culture of Central Kentucky, 1792-1852.

The book is already in stores, but it will be formally launched at a signing party Sunday, Sept. 16, at 4 p.m. at the Hunt Morgan House, 253 Market Street. The event is free and open to the public.

Bluegrass Renaissance grew out of a series of lectures in 2007 organized by the University of Kentucky’s Gaines Center for the Humanities and others. Book editors James Klotter, Kentucky’s state historian, and Daniel Rowland, a UK history professor and former Gaines Center director, compiled essays by 15 historians and writers, including my older daughter, Mollie, and me.

The book begins with essays by Klotter and Stephen Aron that place Lexington in the national context of the time and discuss the city’s quick transition from frontier outpost to cultured metropolis.

Gerald Smith and the late Shearer Davis Bowman write about slavery, the “peculiar institution” that built the region’s wealth and would eventually play a big role in both economic and moral bankruptcy.

Randolph Hollingsworth writes about the role women played in early Kentucky, while Maryjean Wall looks at the origins of the signature horse industry. Mark Wetherington and Matthew Clarke profile several influential characters, while John Thelin explores the role higher education played in development and civic pride.

Nikos Pappas writes about musical culture, and Estill Curtis Pennington explains how outstanding portrait painters helped bring artistic culture to Central Kentucky and left what little visual evidence we have of that era’s key players.

Patrick Snadon writes about how Lexington’s leading citizens embraced early America’s most accomplished architect, Benjamin Latrobe. He was commissioned to design six Lexington buildings. Only one survives: Pope Villa, one of the most avant-garde pieces of architecture built during America’s Federalist period.

Mollie and I wrote about Horace Holley, a minister lured to Lexington from Boston, and his role in transforming Transylvania University into one of early America’s most highly regarded universities. Transylvania played a central role in Kentucky’s early education accomplishments and Lexington’s “Athens of the West” reputation.

The book’s dates are somewhat arbitrary: 1792 is the year Kentucky became a state, while 1852 is when Henry Clay, Lexington’s most famous citizen, died. In reality, Lexington’s heyday didn’t begin until after 1800, and its economic, if not cultural, fortunes started waning around 1815. By the end of the 1830s, Lexington had begun a long slide into mediocrity and provincialism.

Lexington’s early prosperity was the result of rich soil, slave labor and the city’s prime location as a hub for early Westward migration and trade. But the city began to struggle after the invention of steamboats allowed two-way commerce on the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, which favored river cities such as Cincinnati and Louisville.

Slavery became a huge economic and social liability for Lexington beginning in the 1840s, limiting economic innovation and sparking increased social and racial strife. By clinging so long to slavery, a huge amount of Lexington’s economic capital was wiped out by the Civil War; racism and violence that followed stifled growth and new ideas.

Lexington had lost its economic edge and pioneer spirit. With a few notable exceptions, such as the creation and growth of the University of Kentucky, the city remained intellectually and economically stagnant for nearly a century.

In a short essay that ends the book, Gray makes the point that the past informs the present, and history provides valuable lessons for those who seek to shape the future.

Mollie and I certainly discovered that while researching and writing our chapter. The spectacular rise and fall of Holley at Transylvania in the 1820s reflected issues and attitudes that have shaped two centuries of Kentucky history.

Holley saw huge potential in Kentucky and its people, but was bedeviled by religious disputes, power struggles and petty politics. He finally gave up and left Kentucky, frustrated by an anti-intellectual governor who saw more political advantage in building roads than investing in education.

This book’s title is something of a misnomer: “renaissance” means “revival.” The Athens of the West era was actually Lexington’s “naissant” period. Achieving renaissance is our challenge, and we would be wise to learn lessons from the past.

Woodford adventure center expands programs, public profile

August 15, 2012

Mikhail Proctor assisted McKayla Gardner in a vaulting move on Diesel, a Thoroughbred/Clydesdale cross, in the indoor equestrian arena at Adventure Center of the Bluegrass in Woodford County. Photo by Tom Eblen


VERSAILLES — For an organization with a 575-acre campus that serves about 12,000 people a year with a wide variety of activities, Life Adventure Center of the Bluegrass is not very well known.

“We call ourselves the best-kept secret in Central Kentucky, and that is probably true,” said Byron Marlowe, one of the program directors. “I grew up in Nicholasville and had never heard of it before I came to work here.”

The non-profit center traces its roots to the Cleveland Home, a Versailles orphanage started in the late 1800s, and Life Adventure Camp, created in Estill County in 1975 to instill confidence and self-esteem in at-risk youth.

The center now has a broad mission statement: It “engages, educates, and empowers our community to build respect, responsibility, and self-esteem through teamwork, communication, and environmental stewardship using hands-on learning in a natural setting.”

The center has started several programs aligned with that mission, and it is trying to raise its public profile, Marlowe said. The center has a new Web site (, is about to hire a new executive director and is expanding its programs.

The center will host its first adventure race, the Bluegrass Challenge, on Aug. 25. Teams of two or three people will race by hiking, canoeing and mountain biking to complete a series of objectives between 9 a.m. and noon. The competition will have male, female, co-ed and family divisions. The entry fee is $50 a person.

“I designed this as the ultimate race I would like to race in,” said staff member Chris McEachron, an avid adventure racer. Each team will get a map and 14 checkpoints to reach and accomplish problem-solving tasks. “We could have 200 teams and none of them could have the same experience.”

For the third year, Life Adventure Center will host what it calls Kentucky’s largest corn maze — 16 miles of paths cut through a six-acre cornfield, where maze designers have used global-positioning satellite technology to create a giant mural visible from the air.

The maze will be open Sept. 14 through Oct. 21. Admission includes hayrides, concerts, a pumpkin patch for little kids, a ropes course and other activities. (More information:

The center rents its facilities to companies and other groups for retreats, plus conducts activity sessions for school groups, military families and married couples in a series of “Play Date With Your Mate” weekends.

The corn maze and adventure race will help raise money for the center, which benefits from an endowment that covers more than half of programming costs. Other costs are covered by participant fees, grants, rentals and donations.

That allows the organization to offer educational programs to the public at affordable prices, plus provide scholarships for young people who otherwise couldn’t afford these experiences, Marlowe said.

When I visited Life Adventure Center earlier this month, the Carroll County High School girls’ volleyball team was spending an afternoon of team-building on one of the camp’s most popular facilities: a treetop challenge course of cables, a climbing wall and zip lines. Last year, 90 groups with 2,000 people used the challenge course.

Another popular program is equestrian instruction, which includes horseback riding and vaulting for children and adults in indoor and outdoor riding arenas, plus dozens of acres of meadows.

Vaulting — basically gymnastics on horseback — is an old European sport that has gained popularity here since the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, said Kara Musgrave, the equestrian program director.

Other school groups come for environmental education classes, which include wildlife and wildflower areas and a teaching garden.

“Some of the inner-city kids have never been in the woods before,” Marlowe said. “This really captures their imagination.”

There are primitive campsites and cabins, 15 miles of hiking trails, an outdoor picnic pavilion and a new assembly building for year-round indoor activities. The building is one of the first in Woodford County to be designed and built according to high environmentally-friendly LEED standards, Marlowe said.

While the center wants to continue reaching out to all segments of the Central Kentucky community, character-building for children will remain a primary focus.

“A portion of what we do is for the kids who need it and can’t afford it, the at-risk groups,” Marlowe said. “But all kids are at risk for something. All kids have influences that could turn them in a bad direction.”

Click on each thumbnail to see complete photo and read caption:

Lifelong learning program for seniors now registering for fall classes

August 8, 2012

Many young people can’t wait to get out of school and get on with “real” life. But after several decades of careers and families, many older people can’t wait to get back into the classroom.

That’s because they have discovered that lifelong learning contributes to better mental and physical health and simply makes their lives more interesting.

You will find many of these people at Tates Creek Christian Church on Thursday, signing up for fall courses and activities at the University of Kentucky’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.

With 1,300 active participants, the institute is the largest component of the university’s educational-enrichment programs for Kentuckians 50 and older.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of UK Board of Trustees’ 1962 decision to create a Council on Aging to explore then-President Herman Donovan’s interest in serving senior citizens.

Two years later, UK created the most famous piece of that effort: the Donovan Fellowship program, which allows Kentuckians 65 and older to take university classes tuition-free. Time magazine profiled the Donovan Scholars in 1966, calling it the first program of its kind in the nation.

UK’s lifelong learning programs expanded over the years, and they have grown dramatically since 2007. That was when the Bernard Osher Foundation of San Francisco provided UK with significant funding to create the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, one of 117 such programs around the country.

The UK institute’s motto: Where curiosity never retires.

For a $25 annual fee, institute members get admission to seminars, day trips and other activities. They also can enroll in non-credit courses, most of which cost $15 each. The courses meet from six to eight weeks, mostly on weekdays and some Saturdays, at churches and libraries all over Lexington. Some courses also are offered in Morehead and Somerset.

The program is open to people 50 and older, “although we don’t card anybody,” said Susan Bottom, chairwoman of the program’s advisory board.

“I love to learn and I love people who are curious and interested and energetic,” said Bottom, 64, who moved to Lexington to be near her nieces and nephews after a career in military logistics.

“These are the most amazing people,” she said of the institute’s students and instructors. “They’re interested in everything, and they bring their life experiences and knowledge with them. Just to be with them is so much fun.”

People who join the program can attend the Thursday afternoon forum sessions, each with a different speaker. This fall’s speakers will share their expertise on everything from Chinese opera and the cities of Siberia to the role of the U.S. Merchant Marine during World War II.

This fall’s 39 course offerings range from computers to culture, plus history, literature, languages, performing and visual arts, and health and wellness. Subjects include digital photography, line dancing, painting, acting, advanced Spanish conversation and much more.

Instructors come from a variety of backgrounds, and their courses reflect their hobbies as well as their current or former vocations. For example, Tom Miller, a retired UK psychology professor, is teaching a class this fall in model railroading.

“We bring expertise but mostly our passion to the classroom, because we’re teaching our peers,” Bottom said. “It’s about staying young, staying connected, staying aware. It’s about the enjoyment of new things and new thoughts. No papers, no tests. Just learning.”

Bottom has taken courses in the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights and in Chinese culture, but now she spends most of her time teaching. Her degrees were in journalism and public affairs, but her passion is history.

This fall, Bottom is teaching a history course: Napoleon and Wellington on the Road to Waterloo. Among the students who already have registered for the course is Anne Purple, who has been active in UK senior education programs since she moved to Lexington in 1990. At age 89, Purple has four children, 12 grandchildren and eight great-grand children. But she still makes time to exercise her mind and body.

“If you don’t use it, you lose it,” Purple said. “I remember a history teacher in college say, ‘Don’t ever stop learning!’ There are just too many facets of life to not keep your mind active any way you can.”

If you go

Osher Lifelong Learning Institute’s fall open house and course registration

When: 1-3:30 p.m., Thursday

Where: Tates Creek Christian Church, 3150 Tates Creek Road

More information: (859) 257-2656 or

Five generations of family vets have cared for horse racing’s stars

July 30, 2012

Luke Fallon of Hagyard Equine and intern Jackie Snyder check a mare in foal at Castleton Lyons farm. Alicia MacDonald holds the horse. Photos by Tom Eblen


Dr. Luke Hagyard Fallon is a fifth-generation Lexington horse doctor. What led him to keep up the family tradition?

“Lack of originality,” he joked.

“We never learned any better,” added his father, Dr. Edward Hagyard Fallon.

But his mother’s explanation seems more logical.

“It’s in our bloodline,” Priscilla Fallon said.

That’s the way it works with successful horses, so why not with the people who care for them? Luke Fallon, one of 17 partners in Hagyard Equine Medical Institute, has a pedigree that’s hard to beat.

The institute, which calls itself the world’s oldest and largest equine veterinary practice, was founded by Fallon’s great-great-grandfather, Dr. Edward Thomas Hagyard. It is considered the third-oldest family business of any kind in Lexington, after Milward Funeral Directors and Hillenmeyer Nurseries.

E.T. Hagyard was a British-born doctor’s son who studied veterinary medicine in Scotland and Canada before being summoned to Kentucky from his Ontario home in 1875 to save a prize shorthorn bull in Winchester named the Eighth Duke of Geneva. Hagyard did such a good job treating the bull’s gastrointestinal distress that local cattle and horse breeders persuaded him to stay.

Hagyard opened a veterinary practice in Lexington in 1876 that has been operated by his descendants and their partners ever since. The family’s patients have been a who’s who of Thoroughbred racing history: Man o’ War, Domino, Whirlaway, Citation, Affirmed, Secretariat, Storm Cat and many more.

But Luke Fallon’s pedigree doesn’t stop there. His parents grew up on legendary Lexington horse farms their fathers managed.

Ed Fallon, 80, who retired from veterinary practice more than a decade ago after developing Hagyard Equine’s 108-acre campus on Iron Works Pike across from the Kentucky Horse Park, grew up on Beaumont Farm, then the 2,400-acre spread of Keeneland founder Hal Price Headley.

Priscilla Fallon’s father, Arthur Roberts, a well-known American Saddlebred trainer, managed Winganeek Farm. Her family also includes top Thoroughbred trainer John T. Ward Jr., a third-generation horseman and executive director of the state racing commission.

“All of that comes together to create a nice tradition in Central Kentucky that I’m privileged to be a part of,” Luke Fallon said.

Fallon, 42, joined the Hagyard practice in 1996 after graduating from Cornell University’s veterinary school exactly 40 years after his father. In the span of their two careers, equine medicine has changed dramatically.

Hagyard treats all breeds of horses “and the occasional llama,” Luke Fallon said. But when Ed Fallon started out, he treated a lot of work horses and trotters, whose numbers have declined dramatically.

Now, after decades with Thoroughbred breeding as the focus, the practice is working more with sport and pleasure horses, with five of the firm’s more than 60 veterinarians devoted to them.

A big part of Hagyard’s business now is preparing more than 700 horses a year from the Keeneland sales for international shipment— something all but unheard of a few decades ago.

Equine medicine has seen big scientific advances, too.

“When I got out of school, we did everything out of the back of our car,” Ed Fallon said. Surgeries were rare because almost all work was done in the field.

Hagyard vets did some of the first equine surgeries, such as taking bone chips out of racehorses’ ankles, the Fallons said. Medical advances have enabled pregnancies to be diagnosed earlier and mares to be bred more often.

Field work is still a backbone of the practice, with Hagyard’s 36 vehicles logging more than 1.6 million miles annually. But about 6,500 surgeries are performed each year at Hagyard’s high-tech clinic, which has MRI machines for spotting leg injuries and a hypobaric healing chamber big enough for a horse to stand in. The practice treats about 2,500 internal medicine cases and about 500 critical-care foals.

“We now have a lot more tools at our disposal,” Luke Fallon said. “And we’ve been blessed with good owners who have been very trusting and let us try new techniques.”

Although Central Kentucky’s horse industry faces many economic challenges, Fallon expects it to rebound and continue benefitting from advances in veterinary medicine.

But will there continue to be a Hagyard descendant treating those horses?

The odds might be good. Fallon has two sons and a daughter, ages 3, 5 and 8.

“They all love horses already,” he said.


 Fifth-generation equine veterinarian Luke Fallon, right, with father, Ed, and mother, Pricilla.

Luke Fallon and Jackie Snyder unload equipment for checkups at Castleton Lyons Farm.

Luke Fallon checks a 45-day-old horse fetus during an exam of a mare at Castleton Lyons Farm.

Dogs in Castleton Lyons farm manager Jamie Frost’s truck provide an audience as veterinarian Luke Fallon checks mares.

Veterinarian Luke Fallon checks on a mare and her ill foal at Hagyard Equine Medical Center.