Welcome to Kentucky Monthly’s latest series: “24 Hours in …” For each installment, a writer will spend 24 hours in a Kentucky town, and then give you the scoop on what to do, where to eat, what to see and where to stay. You’ll discover that you don’t have to travel far to have an awesome mini-vacation in our great Commonwealth.
The city of Maysville, with a population of around 9,000, has a not-too-big, not-too-small feel. It is a perfect example of a Kentucky town—darling to look at and full of places to go and things to do that you won’t find anywhere else.
Sure, you can just drop in, and you might get a taste of this city on the banks of the Ohio River in Mason County. But if you want a trip tailored just for you, call Suzie Pratt at the Maysville-Mason County Convention and Visitors Bureau. She and her staff will find out what you want to see and do, and they will line up your entire visit. If you are not interested in minute-by-minute formal plans, she can at least advise you on places you won’t want to miss.
With larger-city amenities like a waterpark, a multiscreen movie theater and every fast food and chain restaurant you can think of, Maysville has the ordinary. But since you can probably get that at home, why not try the not-so ordinary on your visit?
The adventuresome might want check out the indoor motocross facility, the zip-line experience or a farm tour, where visitors can shear a sheep or milk a goat. But Maysville’s best attraction is … well … itself. Originally called Limestone and claiming Daniel Boone and Simon Kenton as its founding fathers, Maysville has an interesting history. Luckily, previous generations thought ahead and preserved it all for us. You can see, feel and even taste pieces of Maysville that are more than 100 years old. So whether you want to dip in your toe and experience a little, or dive in all the way, there is something for you.
Maysville offers chain motels along the AA Highway, as well as a boutique hotel, The French Quarter Inn, and a few bed and breakfasts downtown. Depending on your budget, you have plenty of choices.
To Start Your Day …
Many people like something sweet for breakfast, and luckily, the legendary Magee’s Bakery is nearby—not close, mind you, but not far. This perfect slice of Americana is about 7 miles from downtown Maysville, across some beautiful countryside. The family-owned bakery, located on their farm, has been serving from-scratch cakes, cookies and all-things-sweet for more than 50 years. The bakery’s claim to fame is its transparent pie. A simple and sinfully sweet mixture baked in a piecrust, it is sometimes called custard pie and also referred to as chess pie, but in Maysville, it is known as transparent pie. It is also called transparent pie in Hollywood, California. Rumor has it that Magee’s regularly ships these treats out to native son George Clooney. But when he’s in town visiting his parents in nearby Augusta, George stops in and gets them himself.
Steeped in History
Years before Kentucky was a state, Maysville was a port city for river traffic, but the threat of Indian attacks forced residents to move inland a few miles. That area, named Washington in honor of George Washington, was incorporated in 1786. Kenton had a blockhouse trading post called Kenton’s Station, and Boone had established a trading post and tavern nearby. Now known as Historic Washington, the area actually is part of Maysville and is a fabulous locale to spend your morning.
The historic Paxton House serves as Historic Washington’s visitors center, where you can get more information or arrange for a tour complete with a costumed tour guide. The area is open mid-April into December, but accepts special requests in the winter.
While there, you can experience history in many eras. Several authentic log homes, which still sit on the original fieldstone street, are open to the public. One log structure depicts Kenton’s store, complete with items he probably had for trade, such as tools, weapons, food and even a real bear skin.
Another historical building you won’t want to miss is Mefford Station. It could be called the first houseboat, as this home was made from a flatboat. George Mefford floated down the Ohio River from Pennsylvania around 1787, and when he arrived at Limestone, he dismantled his boat and constructed his home from the boat’s materials. It was a single room with an attic, but he later added another room and a porch. He and his wife, Melinda, went on to raise 13 children there.
Fast-forward to antebellum days to explore some homes from the 1800s. Although there were slaves in Kentucky, tensions between slave owners and abolitionists ran high. Historic Washington was a stop on the Underground Railroad, just a few miles from the Ohio River and freedom.
Visitors can tour Paxton Inn and view the secret stairway, which hid runaway slaves seeking freedom. The building, which dates back to about 1810, is also full of furniture and accessories from the period.
Also in Washington is the boyhood home of Confederate Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston. The house, built in 1797, is now a museum with period furnishings such as a trundle bed, a wooden cradle and, of course, chamber pots. The home also has a collection of medical equipment from the 1800s like those used by Johnston’s father, who was a doctor. The pieces are both fascinating and terrifying.
Just down the street is the Marshall Key House, built in 1807. Today it is called the Harriet Beecher Stowe, Slavery to Freedom Museum. In 1833, 22-year-old Harriet Beecher, who was not yet an author and not yet a Stowe, was a guest in the home. It was in Washington where she witnessed her first slave auction on the nearby courthouse grounds. The impact of that day stayed with her, and 20 years later, she wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a book even Abraham Lincoln credited with starting the Civil War. The house has been returned to its 1800s grandeur, full of unique items from that time.
Grabbing a Bite
After a morning of visiting the buildings and shops of Historic Washington, you may be ready for lunch, and Maysville has an assortment of eateries.
One of the most beloved might be Pasquale’s Restaurant. Mainly a casual pizza joint, it offers a fabulous array of pizzas, calzones, wings and hoagies. It’s evident the locals love it, since Pasquale’s draws a huge lunch crowd.
If you haven’t had enough history by now, stop by a Maysville landmark for lunch. Hutchinson’s Grocery has been around since circa 1850 and is known for its ham. The business recently was purchased by David Case, who grew up in the neighborhood and ran to Hutchinson’s to pick up groceries for his mom when he was a boy. Case, a caterer, bought the business when longtime owner Cissy Lester passed away unexpectedly.
“Once I bought the business and the ham recipe, I knew the ham had to stay in the building,” Case said. “There is so much history here; I just couldn’t let it go.”
Case has spruced up the kitchen and building but promises to stay loyal to the Hutchinson family ham recipe. Locals stop by for the lunch specials, but customers from all over the world know to come to Hutchinson’s when they need a ham.
Maysville’s No. 1 tourist destination, the Kentucky Gateway Museum Center, is a perfect way to spend a few hours of your afternoon. Its three distinct collections are under one roof. The Kathleen Savage Browning Miniatures Collection is an outstanding display of 1/12-scale scenes, rooms and depictions. There are hundreds of rooms to view and thousands of scenes to explore. Some would call the mesmerizing displays dollhouses, but that just doesn’t do them justice.
The Gateway Center also is home to the Genealogical & Historical Research Library for those climbing their family tree, and a wing full of exhibits that portray the history of Maysville.
While downtown, take a minute to absorb the phenomenal art of Robert Dafford, the famed muralist. Dafford left his mark on the once-ordinary Maysville floodwalls, painting scenes that depict four centuries of the city’s history.
Another piece of Maysville you can enjoy as you venture around the area is the abundance of wrought iron. The city was perhaps best known for the production of tobacco and hemp in its early days, but it also was the home of premier manufacturers of beautiful wrought iron. Although most of the wrought iron was shipped to other cities—most notably New Orleans—you can still see glimpses of it around town, adding a little ornamental flair to 100-plus-year-old buildings.
One of the newest tourist attractions in Maysville is also one of the oldest. The recently reincarnated Old Pogue Distillery is again producing bourbon, just as the family did 100 years ago. The fifth- and sixth-generation of Pogues, including H.E. Pogue IV and H.E. Pogue V, purchased their ancestors’ 1845 Greek Revival mansion that had been sold in the 1950s. They dug out the old recipes and got to work. Today, you can stop by for a tour of the distillery and a taste of its smooth bourbon.
A fun activity to fill your afternoon is to browse around the distinctive antique shops and art galleries that line Maysville’s downtown streets. You never know what you’ll find as you poke about. One of the popular shops is EAT Gallery, but visitors don’t eat there. The name is an acronym for Exquisite Art Treasures, and the gallery holds an amazing selection of gems, jewels and the work of local artists. The owners were able to use the sign that was on the building when it was a diner, ages ago.
Need a little pick-me-up? Head for the Parc Café, a charming spot that feels like a Paris bistro. Lace curtains, real china, French-infused ambience— you might want to stay all day. The café offers made-to-order coffee and espresso, as well as sandwiches, salads, artisanal breads and to-die-for desserts.
Chef Barbara Goldman focuses on using ingredients from local farmers and combining them in unexpected ways. A recent sandwich offering was baked garlic dill salmon with pickled beets, goat cheese and pecan pesto served on a house baguette. Dessert that day was drunken pear upside-down cake with bourbon and rosemary caramel sauce.
“We have found that our customers have quite a sophisticated palate,” Goldman said, “so we work hard to bring exciting dishes to them.”
It should be time to think about your night on the town. Maysville is full of surprises, and one of them is the Washington Opera House. Most large cities don’t have their own opera house, but Maysville is an artsy town going back to its first docu-mented theatrical performance in 1797. After losing its opera house to fire—not once, but twice—in 1898, the city built the Beaux Arts-style theater that stands today. Owned by the Maysville Players drama troupe, it hosts about five theatrical productions each year.
Maysville has an assortment of bars where you can wet your whistle. O’Rourke’s Pub serves up bar food and libations. It’s a casual place, where you can play darts inside or corn hole out back in the summer.
If you are looking for a white-tablecloth kind of place for dinner, Maysville has that, too. Caproni’s on the River has been a Maysville staple for years. Locals, as well as travelers, count on the upscale menu options at reasonable prices. Caproni’s really is on the river—you must go through the floodwall to get there—and the views of the Ohio are absolutely perfect.
The original deSha’s, a sophisticated yet welcoming bar and restaurant, is between downtown and the AA Highway. The menu features everything from potato skins to a Kentucky Hot Brown, along with a fantastic selection of steaks and seafood.
Chandler’s on Market is in a 1820s building that was once a general store. The original exposed brick walls and tin ceiling give the restaurant a warm and homey feel, as does the welcome from owner Chan Warner. Warner is a longtime resident of Maysville with a background in barbecue.
“When I opened Chandler’s in 2006, at the urging of people who were buying my barbecue, I thought that is what kind of restaurant it would be,” he said. “But the customers kind of dictated the menu, and now I specialize in fresh seafood and hand-cut steaks. I’ve still got barbecue on the menu, but the menu has definitely evolved.”
Warner enjoys working with food but says his favorite part of the business is getting to know his customers. He can always be found in the dining room mingling with diners or next door at Chandler’s Bar, serving up drinks.
After sampling all the things to do, see and taste in Maysville, you might realize 24 hours just isn’t enough time.
If you go...
Maysville CVB, Suzie Pratt
The Cox Building | 2 East 3rd Street, Maysville | (606) 564-9419
Historic Washington Visitors Center
Old Main Street, Washington | (606) 759-7411 | washingtonky.com
8188 Orangeburg Road, Maysville | (606) 759-4882
786 U.S. Hwy. 68 Business, Maysville | (606) 564-4039
1201 East 2nd Street, Maysville | (606) 564-3797 | hutchisonscountryham.com
Kentucky Gateway Museum Center
215 Sutton Street, Maysville | (606) 564-5865 | kygmc.org
Old Pogue Distillery
716 West 2nd Street, Maysville | (513) 402-2028 | oldpogue.com
46 West 2nd Street, Maysville, (606) 564-5578
35 East 2nd Street, Maysville | (606) 564-9704
Washington Opera House
116 West 2nd Street, Maysville | (606) 564-3666 | maysvilleplayers.net
123 Market Street, Maysville, (606) 564-3933
Caproni’s Restaurant & Bar
320 Rosemary Clooney Street, Maysville | (606) 564-4321
1166 U.S. Hwy. 68, Maysville | (606) 564-9275
Chandler’s on Market
212 Market Street, Maysville | (606) 564-6385