“They say when you are missing someone that they are probably feeling the same, but I don’t think it’s possible for you to miss me as much as I’m missing you right now.”
– Edna St. Vincent Millay
In late February, I set out to explore the knobs of Kentucky and wander the back roads. Feeling at ease with being back in my home state but missing it dearly, I set aside some mellow tunes, cranked the window down and pitted myself against the cold with the heaters blaring. It was a melancholy and overcast afternoon which lent itself well to what I discovered.
I began in Lexington waiting for the Valley View Ferry that never came due to high waters and instead admired the remains of the Richmond, Nicholasville, Irvine & Beattyville Railroad bridge over the Kentucky River. The Riney-B, as it was referred to, was a railroad that existed between Versailles to Irvine, Kentucky. It was acquired by another railroad in 1899 and extended to Beattyville and Airedale. Another acquisition extended the line west to Frankfort, giving a total mileage of around 110 miles.
With no ferry, I set my compass south and came across an old general store at Gravel Switch along the Louisville & Nashville Lebanon Branch. Gravel Switch was named after a railroad spur that split from the railroad down to the North Rolling Fork River where cars hauled gravel for building railroad beds. The spur was in operation from 1866 until 1872.
Shaheen’s Store, located at the double bend of Kentucky Route 243, was built by George Shaheen, an immigrant from Syria to Lebanon. Shaheen purchased a town lot on the south side of the railroad tracks for a store in January 1907 and paid $150 to J.Q. and Amelia Musson.Ref The front half of the store was constructed circa 1908 and the building operated as a general store. Shaheen’s wife, Amelia, ran a millinery shop on the third floor. A hand-operated elevator was used to connect the three levels and basement.
I followed the Big South Fork as it wound itself through the knobs, curving sharply at every bend and spreading itself out in every valley. It was desolate and there were few homes and businesses in this part of the state. The number of abandoned buildings was staggering, and it seemed that nearly every other building that I passed by was foreclosed or clearly forgotten about.
The skies were darkening and the sun was waning, so I set my compass north and headed back towards Lexington. Along the journey, I came across the abandoned Fisher-Byington House in Danville, which was nearly hidden amongst trailer homes and looming hardwoods just south of downtown. The antebellum was constructed by Robert Russel, Jr. circa 1845, and named after two of its more prominent residents.
I’ll be back for you Kentucky.