Round Table Literary Park
Stretching along Kentucky’s southern border from the central part of the state to the western portion is the Pennyroyal Region. Named for an herb adorned with a petite lavender blossom, the area is home to Mammoth Cave, dark-fired tobacco and the city of Hopkinsville. Settled in 1796, the town—originally called Elizabeth—was incorporated in 1804, at which time the name was changed to pay tribute to Revolutionary War general and U.S. Representative Samuel Hopkins.
With plenty to experience in Hopkinsville, it’s a good idea to start the day with a hearty breakfast, and Roundie’s Restaurant can set you up. It’s hard to go wrong with a place the locals love, and that’s obviously the case with Roundie’s. Just about everybody who strolls through the door receives a warm greeting, not only by the hospitable wait staff, but also by fellow diners. On a weekday morning, the place was packed with folks, most of whom seemed to know one another and were friendly and welcoming to an out-of-town visitor who had locked her keys in her car and spent two hours hanging out there waiting for AAA to arrive. (So much for an early start …)
Offering classic selections such as eggs, bacon, sausage, grits, potatoes, cereals and an assortment of omelets, Roundie’s serves up quick, delicious fare at reasonable prices. Try the biscuits and gravy.
Hopkinsville is a haven for history buffs. One of the most fascinating and poignant attractions is the Trail of Tears Commemorative Park, which draws visitors from all 50 states as well as other countries. The first of Kentucky’s nine certified sites on the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail, the park honors the thousands of Cherokee and other tribe members who journeyed through the area as part of President Andrew Jackson’s forced relocation of Native Americans from the Southeast to Oklahoma. Hopkinsville was a ration stop on the Northern Route of the trail.
In 1838, Cherokee Chief Whitepath, who had traveled from his native Georgia, fell ill and died at the ration stop, as did Fly Smith, a Cherokee clan leader. Both were buried in a small family cemetery on what at the time was the Latham family farm, where John C. and Nancy Latham had been laid to rest in 1821. Striking statues of Whitepath and Smith, created by local sculptor Steve Shields, who used Cherokee tribe elders from North Carolina as models for the sculptures, stand near the cemetery.
In addition to the cemetery, the park features a log cabin from the same time period filled with Cherokee and intertribal memorabilia and a flag court from which flies the flag of each state along the Trail of Tears as well as the American flag. On Sept. 9 this year, the park will host its 30th annual Intertribal Pow Wow, an event brimming with Native American culture. There, you’ll find tribal dancing and drumming, arts and crafts, storytelling and flute playing, plus much more.
While the 12-acre park is open March through October, those visiting during the off-season can arrange to see it via appointment. Volunteer Kristina Adkins-Scott is a veritable font of information. Of Cherokee descent herself, she follows in the footsteps of her mother, who was a tour guide at the park for 20 years. Adkins-Scott encourages visitors not to view the site only as place of woe. “The Cherokee used lemons to make lemonade,” she says. “They saw [the Trail of Tears] as an opportunity to spread their culture.”
Pennyroyal Area Museum
Hopkinsville’s history lessons continue at the Pennyroyal Area Museum, housed in the stately Greek Revival old post office building downtown. Built in 1914, the structure served as the main post office until 1967 before opening as a museum in ’76.
It contains informative and enlightening exhibits on Edgar Cayce, possibly Hopkinsville’s most famous resident. Known as the “sleeping prophet,” he was an influential psychic of the early 20th century who gave thousands of “readings” on such varied topics as reincarnation, dreams, spirituality, philosophy, and physical health and well-being. In 1931, Cayce founded the Association for Research and Enlightenment, which continues to have a strong following today. According to the ARE website, the association was established “for the purpose of helping people to transform their lives for the better—body, mind and spirit.” Read more at edgarcayce.org.
The museum’s agriculture section offers an insightful look at the dark-fired tobacco of the region, its importance as a cash crop, and the Black Patch Tobacco Wars of the early 1900s. (For more on the Black Patch Tobacco Wars, see the October 2014 issue of Kentucky Monthly, page 40.)
Additionally, the museum presents exhibits on:
- Hopkinsville’s African-American history.
- The city’s military contributions from the Civil War to the present, including uniforms and weapons, and a “Wall of Honor” with photographs of local veterans.
- The Charles Jackson collection of circus memorabilia.
- The area’s Independent Order of Odd Fellows, 1848-2001.
- Residents of nearby Kelly, Kentucky’s encounter with “Little Green Men.”
- Local woodcarver George Floyd and his work “The Trail of Tears,” a touching tribute to Native Americans carved in 1994 from a single, 8-foot red oak log.
- Artifacts from the old post office.
A block away is the Woody Winfree Fire-Transportation Museum, located appropriately in the old Hopkinsville fire station. While the original 1905 building burned down in 1924, it was rebuilt and remained a fire station until 1964. The museum boasts an impressive collection representing the history of transportation—from buggies and wagons to a 1927 Chevrolet pumper fire truck. Also on display are a 1909 Model 10 Surrey and 1926 Model T Ford touring car. Like its sister museum down the street, the building retains some of its original features, including a 22-foot brass pole.
While downtown, check out the Hopkinsville Art Guild Gallery. The guild offers workshops and special events at the gallery space for members as well as non-members and features exhibitions that change quarterly, but probably the biggest draw for visitors is the wide and varied selection of art for sale. You’ll find paintings, pottery, jewelry, turned wooden bowls and more—all crafted by area artists and artisans.
Just three doors down from the Art Guild Gallery is Griffin’s Studio. Part home décor and gift boutique and part workshop and studio, this charming establishment was opened in 2013 by Hopkinsville native Griffin Moore, who earned a bachelor of fine arts degree at New York City’s Fashion Institute of Technology and a master of arts in teaching at Austin Peay State University before returning to her hometown. She taught high school art prior to opening Griffin’s Studio, where she conducts art workshops, teaches classes and hosts art parties for both children and adults. Much of the art for sale in the boutique was created by artists in the Hopkinsville vicinity and Moore herself.
Historic downtown Hopkinsville—with buildings dating back to the late 19th century—has plenty of other boutiques and antiques shops to browse, but if you’re starting to feel peckish, there are some pleasing lunch options there.
Ferrell’s Snappy Service has been a fixture on Main Street since David and Cecil Ferrell opened the hamburger joint in 1936 and is one of Hopkinsville’s best-known attractions. The menu is modest—with hamburgers, hot dogs, sandwiches, chips and chili making up the bulk of the lunchtime offerings. But what Ferrell’s lacks in options, it more than makes up for in tastiness. The specialty of the house is made simply, with only ketchup, mustard, pickles, onions and American cheese for toppings. The result is a delicious, juicy burger, and the price is right: burger, chips and a soda for under $5.
The restaurant is tiny, with one counter in front of the grill/kitchen plus a narrow adjacent room with counter space, but it works, since most of the business seems to be carryout. And Ferrell’s lives up to its “Snappy Service” name: Once you place your order, your burger will be served in a flash.
Another highly recommended downtown lunch spot is The Place, located on 6th Street near the Hopkinsville Art Guild Gallery and Griffin’s Studio.
Hopkinsville Brewing Company
“We make Hoptown Hoppy” is the clever slogan of the Hopkinsville Brewing Company, a nano-brewery in a historic downtown building. The first craft brewery in Hopkinsville and Christian County, HBC opened last Labor Day. Owners Steve and Kate Irving offer some lively brews that include pale sours, ales, porters and stouts in a casual, comfy setting.
The brewing operations, along with a bar and several tables, are on the first level, and upstairs is an eclectically decorated space sporting exposed brick and mismatched tables and chairs. Complimentary pretzels and nuts are available, and in the warm months, a patio provides space for outdoor sipping, while food trucks offer some tasty grub to accompany your brew. The brewery generally has eight beers on tap, with a specially themed small batch brewed each month. Try the rich, creamy chocolate stout or sample four selections with a flight.
Not far from downtown, one of the more intriguing points of interest in Hopkinsville is the Round Table Literary Park on the edge of Hopkinsville Community College’s campus. This unique, tree-filled park was established in 1974 by Frances G. Thomas, a humanities professor at the college from 1965-1996. Within it is an impressive 22,000-pound facsimile of King Arthur’s Round Table, complete with 24 stone seats, a likeness of King Arthur’s sword in the stone and a medieval wall. You’ll also find a replica of the ruins of a Greco-Roman amphitheater with a statue of Melpomene, the muse of tragedy, center stage, and a replica of the ruins of the Delphian Tholos, a small, round temple dedicated to the Greek goddess Athena.
MB Roland Distillery
Venturing southeast from Hopkinsville, in about 25 minutes you’ll reach the small community of St. Elmo and the MB Roland Distillery. Founded in 2009 on a former Amish dairy farm and billed as Kentucky’s first completely “grain to glass” distillery, MB Roland is owned and operated by Paul and Merry Beth Tomaszewski.
The distillery, a founding member of the Kentucky Bourbon Craft Trail, sources as many local ingredients as possible. Around 75 percent of the white corn used for MB Roland’s bourbon and moonshine is obtained from the area and milled onsite. The operation, which boasts a gift shop and is open for tours and tastings, distills products that range from Kentucky Pink Lemonade moonshine to a smooth, single barrel bourbon.
Aside from producing some satisfying spirits, MB Roland hosts special events throughout the year. In the summer, music fills the air as Pickin’ on the Porch comes biweekly to the distillery. There’s also a spring vintage and craft fair, a bourbon “mashoree” festival and a New Year’s Eve bash. Additionally, MB Roland offers an event space that can be rented for special occasions.
From MB Roland, it’s an easy 15-minute drive to the Jefferson Davis Monument State Historic Site. Some visitors may be surprised to discover that the two most prominent figures of the Civil War—the President of the Confederacy and President of the United States—were born in our Commonwealth. The monument commemorates Jefferson Davis, who in 1808 was born in the small town of Fairview on the Christian/Todd county border. Interestingly, the following year in Hodgenville, roughly 100 miles northeast of Fairview, Abraham Lincoln was born.
At 351 feet, the monument is the world’s tallest concrete obelisk. During most of the year, visitors can ascend the monument via elevator for a spectacular view of the surrounding countryside. At the site’s museum, you can take in exhibits and view a film on Davis’ life. Did you know that prior to becoming President of the Confederacy, he was a Mexican War hero, congressman and senator representing Mississippi, and Secretary of War under President Franklin Pierce?
A low, stone wall surrounds the scenic 19-acre site, which is ideal for picnics and includes a playground. A gift shop adjoining the museum sells souvenirs, Civil War memorabilia and books, as well as Kentucky-made crafts.
Casey Jones Distillery
Hopkinsville gained another producer of spirits last May, when the Casey Jones Distillery opened just northwest of the city. Owned and operated by Arlon Casey “AJ” Jones and his wife, Peg Hays, the operation produces exclusively moonshine, a Jones family tradition. AJ’s grandfather, Alfred “Casey” Jones, was a renowned moonshine distiller and a master producer of stills in Golden Pond, at the time located between the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers. Today, Golden Pond is a part of the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area, but back in the day—especially during Prohibition—moonshine was a specialty of the small town.
Having scant formal education, Casey Jones, as he was known because of his prowess at fixing just about anything mechanical, designed and constructed stills with the quality of the spirits in mind. Staying true to his roots, AJ Jones built a replica of his grandfather’s still, a “wagon bed” still that, according to AJ, uses a condenser rather than a copper worm.
In addition to sticking with the family recipe and the same type of corn sourced from the same area as his grandfather used, AJ pays tribute to Casey with every bottle of moonshine in another way: Casey’s likeness appears on the label of each product. Those include grape, peach and apple moonshine, along with traditional moonshine, barrel cut and the operation’s latest product, Total Eclipse Moonshine, so named in honor of the upcoming solar eclipse.
The distillery offers tours and has a gift shop brimming with shirts, caps and other souvenirs, as well as the time-honored ’shine.
Following a day of sightseeing, shopping and spirit sampling, you may be in need of a relaxing and satisfying dinner. Da Vinci Little Italian Restaurant fulfills that need. Owner and Chef Pavel Skorpil shares his exquisite skill at preparing Northern Italian cuisine with his happy clientele. According to the restaurant’s website, Skorpil was taught “recipes and techniques that have been passed down for generation after generation in Northern Italy.”
The European-born Skorpil immigrated to the U.S. in 1999 and within 10 years had worked his way through various restaurant kitchens, perfecting his techniques. He opened Da Vinci in November 2009. It’s been a hit ever since, and it’s easy to see why. The warm Tuscan-inspired colors set a pleasant ambiance, and the dishes are magnifico! Try the Pasta Toscana.
It’s best to make a dinner reservation, as the restaurant fills quickly, and don’t forget to bring cash or a check: Da Vinci does not accept credit cards. For another dinner option, consider the highly touted, family-run Horseshoe Steak House.
Overnight accommodations in Hopkinsville consist primarily of chain hotels conveniently located to downtown and the sites visited here.
While these 24 hours in Hopkinsville were spent during the chill of wintertime, there are a slew of activities and places to visit in the city and its environs when the weather warms up. Among them are Pennyrile Forest State Resort Park, Tie Breaker Family Aquatic Center, Pennyroyal Scuba Blue Springs Resort and the annual Little Green Men Days Festival. For 2017, there is one event that literally eclipses all others in the area: a total solar eclipse on Aug. 21. Astronomers have determined a rural spot a few miles northwest of Hopkinsville to be the ideal location to view the eclipse in the entire country. So if you’re considering a summertime visit to Hopkinsville, keep eclipse viewing on your radar.