Search For:

Share This

No Title 1793

Ferry Back in Time

Horses and History in the Bluegrass

Ferry Back in Time

Turn back the clock a century or two and travel the way many Kentucky settlers did: by ferry. It’s a shortcut that will lengthen the time you can explore and appreciate the waterways and surrounding attractions.

“Every time I travel the Mississippi River area, it never fails to amaze me how few opportunities there are to get up close and personal with the mightiest waterway in the country,” says boat pilot Steve Stanionis, more familiarly known to passengers aboard the Dorena-Hickman Ferry as Cap’n Steve.

As operations overseer, Stanionis says the Dorena-Hickman, the only riverboat ferry crossing the Mississippi between Missouri and Kentucky, is “a significant local alternative to the long way around.” But for travelers, the thrill of the 20-minute jaunt is experiencing the river from two feet above.

“We carry lots of folks with their grandchildren for the round trip as they tell ‘when I was your age, this was the only way across the river’ stories.”

Connecting towns
A handful of ferries still operate in Kentucky, including the oldest ferry west of the Appalachian Mountains—Valley View Ferry in Jessamine County, transporting passengers across the Kentucky River since 1785—and the last ferry crossing the Ohio River between Cincinnati and northern Kentucky, the Anderson Ferry, in continuous operation since 1817.

Cumberland River Ferry is the only ferry owned and operated by the Commonwealth, and is one of the last remaining free-floating ferries. Leading to the scenic Turkey Neck Bend area of Monroe County, it is the only means of crossing the Cumberland River for 30 miles.

Cave-in-Rock Riverboat Ferry connects Kentucky Hwy. 91 and Cave-in-Rock on the Illinois side of the Ohio River.

“The ride takes about 15 minutes, but what a joy it is,” says Michele Edwards of the Marion Tourist Commission. “From the rail, you can see the massive limestone cliff wall that contains the large cave for which Cave-in-Rock is named.

“In the days when America was moving west, the cave was used by outlaws who would rob and kill unsuspecting travelers on this part of the river. No such villains exist today, though. Even the ferry ride is free.”

Ferries with a past
The circa 1797 Augusta Ferry transports pedestrian traffic across the Ohio River. Reed’s Ferry, the last county-owned ferry in Kentucky, provides transport across the Green River. And the Houchins and Green River ferries within Mammoth Cave National Park save travelers from having to drive an additional 40 miles to get from one side of the park to the other.

“These ferries are like a piece of history that are still on the job,” says Vickie Carson of the National Park Service. “The park is split in half by Green River and the ferries are the connection between the north and south sides.”

The ferries are much more than shortcuts. The Houchins and Green River ferries are blessed by the natural beauty of Mammoth Cave. The Augusta Ferry has Riverside Drive, picturesque with its well-shaded lawns and gracious old homes, as its backdrop. Cave-in-Rock Riverboat Ferry is in Outlaw Trail territory, the former stomping grounds of Frank and Jesse James.

The Dorena-Hickman Ferry is in an area overrun with history and attractions. It is home to Reelfoot Lake in Tennessee, Big Oak State Park on the Missouri side, and on the Kentucky side, charming Hickman with its heritage sites and breathtaking views from the bluffs overlooking both town and river.

Take a shortcut to a scenic slice of Kentucky. You’ll savor every minute of the ride.


Book passage on one of Kentucky’s historic ferries to see a side of the state missed on more conventional routes:

Anderson Ferry Boat, 4030 River Road, Hebron, (859) 586-5007,, is a car ferry traversing the Ohio River between Kentucky and Ohio. Hours: operates daily; hours vary. Admission: $4/car (one-way); $0.50-$2/bike; $0.25/pedestrian.

Augusta Ferry, Riverside Dr., Augusta, (606) 756-3291, pulls up just down the street from the Rosemary Clooney Museum, where the “girl singer” once lived. Hours: 8 a.m.-8 p.m. daily. $5/vehicle; free for pedestrians.

Cave-in-Rock Riverboat Ferry, (270) 965-5015, (800) 755-0361, Hours: 6 a.m.-9:30 p.m. daily; connects Kentucky Hwy. 91 and Cave-in-Rock, Illinois. Free.

Cumberland River Ferry, Hwy. 214, Tompkinsville, (270) 487-1314, Hours: 24 hours a day. Free.

Dorena-Hickman Ferry, Riverfront, Hickman, (731) 693-0210, (731) 285-0390, Hours: 7 a.m.-6:15 p.m. CDT daily during summer, 7 a.m.-5:15 p.m. CDT during winter. Tolls vary.

Green River Ferry and Houchins Ferry, Mammoth Cave, (270) 758-2417, Hours: Green River Ferry operates 6 a.m.-9:55 p.m. year-round; Houchins Ferry runs 10:15 a.m.-6 p.m. March-November. Free.

According to Vickie Carson of the National Park Service, the Green River Ferry in particular gets a good workout: park staff, visitors, area residents, and emergency vehicles use it daily unless rising or dropping river levels create hazardous conditions. “If that happens, then folks have to drive an additional 40 miles to get from one side of the park to the other,” she says.

Reed’s Ferry, Logansport, (270) 526-3433. Hours: open dawn to dusk, year-round, unless high water. Free.

Valley View Ferry, Jessamine County near Nicholasville, (859) 258-3611, Lexington Traffic Information Network Recording; (859) 628-8143, Hours: 6 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Friday; 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday; 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday. Free.

Kathy Witt is a regular contributor to the Traveling Kentucky column.

Back to Top

Horses and History in the Bluegrass

Lexington’s history is closely linked with its world-renowned horse industry, and nowhere is that more true than at Ashland, the Henry Clay Estate. Clay, one of the most influential political figures of the 19th century, was also one of the leading horsemen of his day. A tour of Ashland reveals that, long before Lexington was known as the “horse capital of the world,” Clay was breeding and raising thoroughbreds on what was at that time a 600-acre estate.

Clay began racing thoroughbreds around 1809. He was a member of the prestigious Lexington Jockey Club, and eventually laid out his own racetrack at Ashland so he could hold private races. The track is long gone, but artifacts and documents relating to Clay’s success as a pioneer of Kentucky’s horse culture remain.

Through his stud farm at Ashland and his love of horse racing, Clay left a legacy to Kentucky’s horse industry that was continued by his descendents and is present today. Bernardini, the 2006 Preakness Stakes winner, can trace his dam’s line back to one of Clay’s mares.

Ashland’s billiards room is dedicated to the equine pursuits of Clay’s descendents; a framed collection of silk racing purses from the mid-1800s and two silver trophies are displayed there.

The original Federal-style home where Clay lived from 1806 to 1852 was torn down due to the poor quality of bricks used in its construction. What stands in its place is a stately, Italianate-style mansion built by Clay’s son, James, in 1857. Clay’s descendents occupied the house for generations, periodically remodeling it to suit their taste. It is filled with fine antiques, family portraits, and historically significant artifacts.

Clay’s beloved Ashland, with its lively thoroughbreds, was an oasis from the frustrations of political life in Washington, D.C. In 1830, the year Clay established the Ashland Thoroughbred Stock Farm, he wrote to his brother-in-law James Brown, “I am getting a passion for rural occupations and feel more and more as if I ought to abandon forever the strife of politics. I shall not be unhappy if a sense of public duty shall leave me free to pursue my present inclinations.”

For a look at some of today’s thoroughbreds, and possibly some of tomorrow’s Derby winners, join Unique Horse Farm Tours. More than just a drive past breathtaking pastures filled with sleek horses, this two and a half hour van tour gives guests the low-down on the most prominent horse farms in Lexington. Get behind-the-scenes stories on former champions and rising stars of the equine world. On some horse farms, guests can even have a hands-on experience, actually patting and interacting with these bold, spirited creatures.

Spring is a special time on Kentucky horse farms because that’s when the foals arrive. Watching them frolic in their pastures like toddlers on a playground is a favorite activity for kids. On occasion, a veterinarian is on hand to give a brief lecture on how the foals are nurtured after their birth, and raised as they mature. Unique Horse Farm Tours departs from the Kentucky Horse Park twice daily.


Ashland: The Henry Clay Estate
120 Sycamore Road
Lexington, KY 40502
(859) 266-8581
Admission: $7 adults, $3 students
On Tuesday, April 15, Ashland will offer a special tour, Kentucky Bloodlines: Ashland’s Equine Legacy, that focuses on Clay’s contributions to Kentucky’s horse industry. Admission: $10

Departs from Kentucky Horse Park
4089 Iron Works Parkway
Lexington, KY 40511
(859) 233-4303 or (800) 678-8813
Price: $25 adults, children 12 and under $15

Headley-Whitney Museum

4435 Old Frankfort Pike
Lexington, KY 40510
(859) 255-6653

Hunt-Morgan House
201 N. Mill Street
Lexington, KY 40507
(859) 233-3290
Admission: $7 adults, $5 students

Clark Art & Antiques

192 North Broadway
Lexington, KY 40507
(859) 361-2147

Heritage Antiques
380 E. Main Street
Lexington, KY 40507
(859) 253-1035

Ann Tower Gallery
141 East Main/Arts Center
Lexington, KY 40507
(859) 425-1188

Jean Farris Winery & Bistro

6825 Old Richmond Road
Lexington, KY 40515
(859) 263-WINE

Natasha’s Café
112 Esplanade
Lexington, KY 40507
(859) 259-2754

The Grotto
314 1/2 S. Ashland Avenue
Lexington, KY 40502
(859) 268-4374

Back to Top

Don't Leave! Sign up for Kentucky Living updates ...

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.