Go Back in Time at Museum of the Barrens
History Lives at Mountain HomePlace
Go Back in Time at Museum of the Barrens
If you’ve longed to return to simpler times, or wish you ever lived in them at all, immerse yourself in the scrupulously lifelike exhibits at the South Central Kentucky Cultural Center.
The Glasgow facility, also known as the Museum of the Barrens, is operated by the Barren County Historical Foundation in the three-story former Kentucky Pants Factory building, which was built in 1928 but closed in the mid-1980s. It was purchased and extensively renovated during the 1990s and opened in 2001.
About eight miles down State Highway 90 from many well-known Cave City attractions, it’s well worth the trip to the Cultural Center, which boasts more than 10,000 items chronicling the area of Kentucky known as The Barrens, comprised of Barren County and portions of present-day Allen, Hart, Metcalfe, and Monroe counties.
Barren County got its name from settlers who mistook the flat, sparsely vegetated land at the time as infertile ground. But Center Director Gayle Berry says that’s a misnomer, as Native Americans periodically set controlled fires to clear the land and actually foster new growth.
“This was a great hunting ground, and the creeks, brushes, and shrubs would entice the wildlife,” Berry says.
Exhibits run the spectrum of interests and eras, Berry says. Grandparents will feel transported to their childhood days at the one-room schoolhouse exhibit with child-sized writing tablets resting upon wooden desks and a collection of metal lunch pails. Children will especially enjoy the Native American exhibit with a taxidermied black bear standing atop a rock shelter, with samples of buffalo, mole, chipmunk, and deer hides to feel nearby.
And past the blacksmith shop and grist mill, visitors can enter a tiny reassembled cabin from the 1800s, smaller than a single modern-day bedroom, which once housed a family of 10 and their simple belongings.
On the second floor, there’s a sizeable military exhibit with photographs, uniforms, weapons, medals, and accessories from the Indian wars to present day.
The Center also houses a Victorian bedroom, an antique doll display, 1940s kitchen, a collection of erstwhile household appliances, an old-fashioned doctor’s office and bank, as well as an art gallery, genealogy room, and 80 years of newspaper archives.
The 30,000-square-foot facility continues to expand, and Berry says future exhibits will highlight funeral homes, churches, history of nearby caves, and entertainment of yesteryear.
Among the most popular areas is a general store exhibit, with shiny wood-planked floors, a wood-burning stove, and glass display cases and shelves filled with small cloth bags of tobacco, antique canned goods, ancient bottles of murky brown syrup, and colorful bolts of cloth.
“People are just in awe, and it’s like going back in time,” Berry says. “We even let people slam the screen door.”
South Central Kentucky Cultural Center
200 W. Water Street, Glasgow
Features a prehistoric through present-day look at area history. Hours (Central Time) are 9 a.m.–4 p.m. weekdays, 9 a.m.–2 p.m. Saturdays. Closed Sundays and major holidays. Free admission, but donations welcomed. Free parking. Handicapped-accessible.
While in town, be sure to visit:
George J’s on the Square: This drugstore-turned-restaurant features a mural of 1930s-era downtown Glasgow and serves up ice cream, plate lunches, salads, and more. Open weekdays 7 a.m.–5 p.m. (summer hours) and 7 a.m.–2:30 p.m. Saturdays; 144 E. Public Square, (270) 651-2161.
Four Seasons Country Inn: Billed as “luxury accommodations with true country charm,” this 21-room bed and breakfast is open year-round. Visit www.fourseasonscountryinn.com or call (877) 806-6340.
The newly renovated Plaza Theatre, www.glasgowplazatheatre.org, offers a variety of music and theatrical events at 115 E. Main Street, (270) 361-2101.
If you’re an antiques enthusiast, downtown Main Street in Glasgow features several shops, including the Cultural Center Art and Antiques Gallery at 207 W. Main Street with booths rented to area antiques vendors and artists. Hours are Monday–Saturday, 10 a.m.–5 p.m., (270) 651-9789.
Upcoming Glasgow Events
Barren County Fair: July 26-30 at Temple Hill Fairgrounds.
Quilt Show: August 19-27 at the Cultural Center, with work from the local quilter’s guild on display.
Global Fest: International culture event September 2, downtown square.
Arts, Craft and Gift Show: September 23, downtown square.
Shannon Leonard-Boone is a regular contributor to the Traveling Kentucky column.
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History Lives at Mountain HomePlace
According to Reva Rose, “Every time you lose a generation, you lose a part of your heritage.”
As director of Mountain HomePlace, a carefully re-created 1850s farmstead on 34-mile-long Paintsville Lake, she makes sure that doesn’t happen.
“So many children today have never been on a farm or seen a garden because their parents purchase everything at a store,” says Rose. “Some kids have never fed any animal but their dog. They don’t even know where milk comes from. Mountain HomePlace is here to help educate and keep Appalachian traditions alive.”
Owned by the city of Paintsville, this treasure of living history does both, teaching scads of school groups and tourists what life was like from 1850 to 1875 on a Scotch-Irish Kentucky mountain farmstead.
To dispel stereotyping and breathe life into mountain culture, the Paintsville Tourism Commission leased 34 acres from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the early 1990s to establish a working farm. When creating Paintsville Lake back in 1978, the Corps had moved a cabin, a school, and a church from the Flat Gap area to the property. Tourism added a double-crib barn and blacksmith shop, and the attraction opened in 1995.
Surrounded by hand-hewn, split-rail fencing, the visitor center houses a 100-seat theater, where Richard “John Boy Walton” Thomas, who grew up nearby, narrates an excellent introductory film, winner of a 2000 Corps partnership award.
Each 19th- and early 20th-century structure is a museum with period costumed guides on hand to explain and demonstrate old ways from April through mid-December. In the 1860 David McKenzie cabin, visiting kids watch in awe as interpreters bake bread in a tiny stove, piece together a quilt, make woodcarvings, and pluck airy mountain melodies on a dulcimer. Clad in homemade beaver britches, a trapper fires an old-fashioned muzzleloader.
“McKenzies come from all over the country to see this house,” says Rose, a distant relative of the family herself. “We had more than 12,000 visitors last year, and probably a third were McKenzies.”
Family ancestors learned their three R’s in the one-room log schoolhouse. With advance notice, school outings can become Appalachian immersion, from the group’s teacher leading a mountain culture unit, to the kids wearing period clothes and playing old-time games like tug of war.
Kids watch the blacksmith forge shoes for the resident quarter horses. The barn is also home to sheep, goats, two pigs named Grant and Lee, and 40-year-old Kate the mule. Two new steer calves will be trained as oxen to pull a plow.
Also new this year is a 1,143-seat outdoor amphitheater, providing a stage for Saturday night concerts and a gospel sing every May. A vegetable garden now sports a pumpkin patch producing jack-o’-lanterns for the first October carving contest.
“If you come for our Halloween Haunt,” laughs Rose, “you’re going to get scared.” Held two weekends, the annual fund-raiser assures the farm of winter survival.
More About Mountain HomePlace
Paintsville and Johnson County can flat keep visitors busy. Check with Paintsville Tourism at (800) 542-5790 or go online to www.paintsville.org or www.johnsoncountyky.com (look under “Community”) for more area tourism information.
When it comes to pickin’ and grinnin’, Paintsville—smack on Kentucky’s Country Music Highway 23—is loaded with talent, like Loretta Lynn and her sister Crystal Gayle. “For 150 miles along this road, every county has had a major music star,” says Leneda Fuller of Paintsville Tourism.
The new U.S. 23 Country Music Museum, (606) 297-1469, showcases every one, including The Judds and Ricky Skaggs.
Just down the road in Van Lear, Lynn’s brother Herman runs the original Consolidated Coal Company’s Number 5 Store, (606) 789-3397, and leads a tour of the family homestead in Butcher Hollow.
Take a peek at a model of the 1920s and ’30s company town in the Van Lear Historical Society and Coal Miner’s Museum, (606) 789-9725.
At the annual Kentucky Apple Festival in Paintsville, buy local apples at auction, hear gospel music, and ogle old cars as you munch apple pies, dumplings, and turnovers the first weekend of October.
Be sure to wander over to the Paintsville Livestock Market, a huge flea market/yard sale with fresh produce in the summer that’s open Saturdays all year. Nature lovers can cool off on a houseboat, cast for bass, and chill in a campsite at 1,140-acre Paintsville Lake State Park, (606) 297-8486.
History hounds can sniff around the 43-room Mayo Mansion (the 1912 home of eastern Kentucky’s first coal baron) and Mayo Church (both on Third Street), and the gravesite of Jenny Wiley (1760–1831) near the small community of River.
Join locals for lunch and luscious homemade pie downtown at Wilma’s, (606) 789-5911.
Katherine Tandy Brown is a regular contributor to the Traveling Kentucky column.
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