Discover the Music, Crafts, History of Southern and Eastern Kentucky
Runice, Jacky, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Byline: Jacky Runice Daily Herald Correspondent
In an age when our kids hear about the $750 facial (at Spa Radiance in San Francisco) and the "Paris Review" refers to the flashier Hilton sister and not the international literary quarterly, perhaps a vacation back to the authentic simple life is in order.
Called America's first and last frontier, the mountain region of southern and eastern Kentucky offers loads of American history, outdoor recreation amid spectacular scenery, distinctive music and crafts, and Southern hospitality at prices that might take you back in time, too.
Say the word "history" and count the seconds before the kids' eyes glaze over. Watch eyes widen at the many historical sites along Kentucky's highlands and waterways as our nation's history becomes real, profound and rife with heroes.
When Daniel Boone and his men reached the Kentucky River on April 1, 1775, they established Fort Boonesborough. You can take a quick tour of the reconstructed fort to get a feel for just how harsh life was for the settlers. Interpreters don 18th-century clothing and demonstrate the rigors of daily life from the sweaty job of making nails in the blacksmith shop to transforming cloth and wood into pioneer playthings (www.state.ky.us).
In a century where heroes are determined by CD sales or home runs, it would behoove parents to clue kids into people such as legendary frontiersman Daniel Boone. Boone, despite losing two sons and a brother in the effort, blazed a trail through the Cumberland Gap, allowing more than 300,000 men, women and children to find a better way of life. A stop at Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, the largest national historical park in the country, is a must (www.nps.gov/cuga/). Watch a 20-minute film about Boone and the Western Movement in the visitor center museum to get a feel for the park, and then take in guided hikes, Appalachian music and Saturday-evening campfire programs and dramatic views of three states from the 2,440-foot perch at the Pinnacle Overlook.
For a more modern take on heroes, check out the Lost Squadron Museum and Hangar in Middlesborough (or Middlesboro on some maps). There, you'll learn the saga of the World War II P-38 aircraft from its 1942 crash landing on Greenland's ice cap to its dramatic recovery 50 years later. A brief video explains the background of the P-38 "Glacier Girl" before viewing the actual aircraft that was once buried under 268 feet of ice. Admission is free (www.thelostsquadron.com).
Tired of mass-produced stuff? Along the I-75 and U.S. Route 25E corridor, one of Kentucky's newly designated National Scenic Byways, you'll find a revival of American folk crafts in artisan centers, craft co-ops and homes of individual crafters. It wouldn't do a 21st-century kid harm to learn about the American tradition of furniture, quilt and toy making by way of necessity. Essentially, before the likes of IKEA and Pottery Barn, if you wanted to sit, someone in the family had to learn to make a chair, and when winter came, handmade quilts and loom-woven blankets kept families toasty.
The abolitionist community of Berea, home of Berea College, the Kentucky Artisan Center at Berea and some of the best craft stores in the South, will give you a fine initiation in American folk crafts. Take a free loom house tour of Churchill Weavers, founded in 1922, one of our country's oldest hand-weaving studios (www.churchillweavers.com).
Students at Berea College produce traditional regional crafts available at the Log House Craft Gallery and the gift shop at the college-owned Boone Tavern Hotel. …