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Historic Border Town Stays On Track

Rich in history and lore, Fulton—Kentucky’s southernmost town in what was part of the 1818 Jackson Purchase—lies in the extreme southwest of the state, along the border with Tennessee. In fact, the community overlaps the border, with Fulton to the Kentucky side and South Fulton to the Tennessee side of the line.

Though still a wonderful slice of small-town Americana—with a population today of slightly less than 3,000—from its fledgling foundations, Fulton was a linchpin of strategic historical importance to a growing America. But its role is little known by much of the nation, and perhaps even within Kentucky.

Fulton, originally called Pontotoc (variously translated as “cattail prairie” or “land of the hanging grapes”) by the Chickasaw Indians who hunted the land, was settled in 1828 by Benjamin Franklin Carr. The first postal stop was opened in 1850 due to the site’s strategic positioning, east to west and north to south. Pontotoc was renamed Fulton around 1860 in honor of steamboat inventor Robert Fulton, and it was incorporated in 1872.

From farming village and traveler stopover, the town itself sprang up around the Pontotoc rail station, as a midway point between New Orleans and Chicago. Today, the Fulton Railway Station is still vital, with many freight trains passing through and Amtrak making daily stops there. As one of the few locations in Kentucky still served by Amtrak, it highlights Fulton’s continued importance to the region.

In its heyday, Fulton was a primary rail yard. For several decades, starting in the 1920s, insulated rail cars carrying bananas from the Gulf of Mexico were repacked with ice to finish their journey north. From this origin, Fulton’s International Banana Festival was launched in 1963. Its centerpiece was called the largest banana pudding in the world, weighing in at an astounding one ton.

That festival ended in the 1990s, but a successor, Fulton Railroad Heritage Days, is held the third weekend of September. The event features concerts, games, and food, and is a strong reminder of Fulton’s roots as a rail town.

Another reminder is the Twin Cities Railroad Museum in South Fulton. It houses exhibits about historical and current area trains, including the Illinois Central and Canadian National lines. Retired railroad engineers and conductors chat with visitors. Souvenirs of Banana Festivals and items showcasing the history of the two towns are also on display.

For a small town, Fulton’s prominence is signaled by a total of 12 state historical markers in the area. One highlights Revolutionary War veteran Isham Browder, who enlisted at age 14 in 1776 and was wounded at the Battle of Monmouth. He was buried in Fulton County in 1830. Another marker denotes the grave of Lucy Flournoy Roberts, believed to be the first woman of French Huguenot heritage in the region.

Others designate the horrific New Madrid earthquakes of 1811 and 1812, and commemorate early resident Rob Morris, a poet laureate of Freemasonry. Other markers remember Civil War bivouacs, forays, and battles.

Civil War buffs will find much of interest at Columbus-Belmont State Park in nearby Columbus. A Southern home built just before the Civil War, once used as a Confederate hospital, now houses the park’s museum.

The 156-acre state park has a self-guided 2.5-mile hiking trail that allows one to retrace the path of local history. Hikers will encounter Confederate entrenchments, some nearly 20 feet deep. Visitors can also view old artillery and the monumental anchor and chain, originally one mile long, the Confederates used to prevent the use of the Mississippi River by the Union.

Besides the railroad and Civil War history, bodies of water are important to the Fulton area. Both the Mississippi River and Reelfoot Lake are nearby. Visitors can drive to the riverfront in nearby Hickman and press a call button to summon a ferry across the Mississippi to Missouri. The Dorena-Hickman Ferry is the only riverboat ferry connecting the two states across the Mississippi. The 20-minute ride lets visitors experience the mighty Mississippi up close.

Reelfoot Lake, formed by the New Madrid quakes, is a must destination for fishermen, hunters, and naturalists. Fingers of the lake extend north into Kentucky, but most of Reelfoot is in Tennessee. In October, arts and crafts and waterfowl festivals draw crowds to Reelfoot Lake.

Fulton is easily accessible from the Julian M. Carroll Purchase Parkway via Interstate 24. If you’re thinking about visiting Fulton for its Railroad Heritage Days festival or just for a weekend jaunt to a small town with deep historic roots, you’ll find a friendly attitude and welcoming atmosphere.

DESTINATIONS

Festivals and other fun in the Fulton area
Fulton Railroad Heritage Days

Pontotoc Park, Fulton, September 16-18. Concerts, classic cars and motorcycles, parade, Fulton’s Got Talent show, food vendors, arts and crafts, children’s activities, and more.
(270) 472-9000
www.fulton-ky.com

Twin Cities Railroad Museum
700 Milton Counce Drive, South Fulton, Tennessee. Open Friday and Saturday (except holidays), 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Also open by appointment; contact rryardmaster@att.net. Museum is free, but $1 donation per adult is suggested.
(731) 479-2640
www.tcrailroadmuseum.org

Columbus-Belmont State Park
350 Park Road, Columbus
(270) 677-2327
www.parks.ky.gov/findparks/recparks/cb

Hickman Pecan Festival
Community events begin September 11; public events at Jeff Green Memorial Park, September 17-18. The 17th annual Pecan Festival features concerts, a barbecue cookoff, vendors, children’s activities, and more.
(270) 236-9335
www.hickmankytourism.com

Dorena-Hickman Ferry
Riverfront in Hickman. Operating daily through November, then Wednesday-Sunday through winter; closed Christmas Day. Hours: 7 a.m.-6:15 p.m. CDT during summer, 7 a.m.-5:15 p.m. during winter. Tolls vary.
(731) 693-0210
www.dorena-hickmanferryboat.com

Hickman County Museum
221 E. Clay St., Clinton. Museum was the home of a Confederate Army captain. Displays include local household, farm, medical, and military items. Open Wednesday and Saturday, 1-4 p.m., or by appointment.
(270) 653-6948

Warren Thomas Museum
603 Moulton St., Hickman. Museum, in a former church building, was named for founder of town’s first black church. Highlights history of area’s black community and includes clothing and memorabilia. Open by appointment.
(270) 236-2191

Reelfoot Arts and Crafts Festival
Tiptonville, Tennessee, October 1-3. Hundreds of exhibitors are expected. Free entertainment from local artists, including old-time string music and singing.
(731) 885-7295
www.reelfootartsandcrafts.com

Reelfoot Lake Waterfowl Festival and Sporting Collectibles Show
Samburg, Tennessee, October 9-10. Duck-calling competitions, sporting collectors’ exhibits, and vendors specializing in hunting gear, boating and accessories, decoys, wildlife art, and more.
(270) 830-6505 or (731) 536-0266
www.reelfootwaterfowl.com

Reelfoot Lake State Park
2595 State Route 21E,
Tiptonville, Tennessee
(731) 253-8003
www.tn.gov/environment/parks/ReelfootLake

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