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Weekend Wanderings

Go west to Marion

In 1977, 15 Old Order Amish families moved to Crittenden County, settling on 2,000 acres of farmland between Marion and the Ohio River. In just 25 years, their presence has had a major impact on the lifestyle of the region.

But this wasn’t the first time Crittenden County has undergone major cultural changes. In 1835 the Columbia Lead and Silver Mine was opened six miles from Marion, and mining became a major industry. But it wasn’t “galena,” nor even the traces of silver mixed in with the lead, that brought prosperity. Rather, it was fluorite, a mineral used in everything from toothpaste to Teflon. Indeed, from 1900 to 1953, the so-called Kentucky-Illinois Fluorspar District, of which Marion is the center, was the world’s leading producer of fluorite.

The Chamber of Commerce isn’t open on weekends, so you might want to contact them ahead of time for literature, including the walking tour brochure and the map of Amish farmstands and crafts locations. And it’s a good idea to check the hours of operations of the attractions you’re interested in seeing as there is a wide range of operating hours.

There’s a surprising amount to see and do in a small area, so we suggest getting settled in your lodgings right away. Our choice is Myers Bed & Breakfast, right downtown at 124 E. Depot Street, Marion, KY 42064, (270) 965-3731. Merl and Jim Myers have lovingly restored a turn-of-the-century mansion into a comfortable base for your tour.

Start your visit at the Ben E. Clement Mineral Museum, (270) 965-4263. Ben Clement was involved in fluorite mining through most of the 20th century. But he was a collector, too. In fact, after 1953 when the mining business fell apart, he devoted his time to the growing collector marketplace.

Fluorite crystals come in a bewildering array of colors and patterns, which makes them very appealing to mineral collectors. Among other things, he traded fluorite for fluorescent minerals–those whose colors show best under UV or black light.

In addition to the collection of fluorite samples, there are about 3,000 samples of fluorescent minerals in the collection, many of which are displayed in a single gallery lit by black lights.

The fluorite specimens themselves are lit to best show off their facets and colors. Many of the raw crystals and cut slabs, for instance, are lit from beneath. And there is a large collection of sculptured pieces as well.

From the mineral museum, head over to the Bob Wheeler Historical Museum & Log Cabin, (270) 965-9257. Like many country historical museums, this one houses a collection of local memorabilia dating back several hundred years. Attached to the museum’s main building is a one-room log cabin, furnished as it would have been in the early 1800s.

The crown jewel of the museum collection is the 200-year-old rocker-beater loom, only 30 of which are known to exist. Rocker-beater looms, which originated after the American Revolution, represented a radical design change that virtually replaced earlier technology in just a few years. Yet oddly enough, no one knows who originated the new design, or how, with no known announcement or advertising, it came to capture the marketplace.

When you’re ready for lunch, check out Thom’s Sweet Shoppe, (270) 965-2211, as close to an old-time soda fountain as you’re ever likely to get.

After operating for 70 years as City Drug, the business was sold. But not the building. Thom Hawthorne purchased it five years later, and restored it to its original 1920s look. All the original marble counters and display racks are in place, just as they were 75 years ago. Not that they were new even then. “The original owners bought the furnishings used,” Thom told us, “so they’re likely more than 100 years old.”

When’s the last time you had lemonade made from scratch? Or could even find orangeade for sale? You can get them here, along with fountain drinks, ice cream treats, candy out of glass bins, and meals.

After lunch it’s time to tour the Amish country. While among the friendliest people in the state, keep in mind that the Amish do not consider themselves a tourist attraction. Among other things, due to their religious beliefs, they do not like to have their pictures taken.

The Crittenden County Amish country is roughly defined by Highway 60, Weston Road, the Ohio River, and Highway 91. You can wander the back roads and byways within that area, and ferret out shops and sites on your own. Or you can follow the guide to the Amish community published by the Chamber of Commerce.

Either way, what you’ll see is a unique lifestyle that has barely changed since the 1700s. The Amish still travel by horse and buggy, and work their fields with animal power and human muscle. Particularly known for their quilts, Amish women sew them by hand, or on treadle sewing machines. They take great pride in the produce they grow and the crafts they make. Much of this is for sale right at their homes, or from roadside stands.

Virtually any side road will give you a glimpse of their lifestyle, and take you to a store or workshop that is part of their private community.

Within this area, too, is a little-known Confederate burial plot. Turn left at the intersection of Highway 60 and Weston Road, watching your odometer. Mt. Zion Church Road comes in on the left at 1.7 miles. You’ll find the graveyard .5 mile on the left, just past the first curve while going up a small hill. On top of a grassy bank are four headstones, all but hidden in the weeds.

For more information, contact: Crittenden County Chamber of Commerce, 113 East Carlisle Street, Marion, KY 42064, (270) 965-5015.

Day Trips & Short Stops

Ultimate flea market

The guy behind the stand seemed to be kneading something in his hands. Walking up for a closer look, it turns out he had a hedgehog that was shifting from one of his palms to the next while the guy gave a spiel about how hedgehogs make great pets. On the table in front of him was a cage holding about half a dozen more of the bristly animals.

Kind of strange to find pets being offered at a flea market. But this isn’t your typical, garden-variety flea market. Not by a long shot.

Technically it’s the Paintsville Livestock Market, and it’s actually in Staffordsville, about five miles north. But given its size, and the diversity of products offered for sale, and the number of people who visit, it may well be the ultimate flea market.

Hedgehogs weren’t the only live animals for sale that day. There were goats, sheep, chickens, and cattle as well. Some were being sold by farmers. And some were completed 4-H projects being sold by the kids who’d hand-raised them.

Covering more than 15 acres, there are about 120 vendors on any given Friday or Saturday. The items they sell could fill volumes. Sure, there are all the regular things you expect at a flea market. Over here is somebody job-lotting new clothing. Right next door is a booth with a diverse selection of rusty tools, tools of all kinds, from farm implements to plumber’s wrenches. Down yonder is a guy selling knives and firearms, while a woman in a bonnet has homemade preserves.

While not officially a farmer’s market, you’d never know it from the fresh produce being hawked. Some of this is bulk-lot, brought in by the caseload. But much of it is locally grown, too.

Mostly what you find, however, are eclectic collections of things. Stuff found in attics, and barns, and outbuildings. One man’s junk, they say, is another man’s treasure. And so it is here, where you’re liable to find genuine antiques next to worn-out car jacks–all selling for from a song to next to nothing. A friend of ours, for instance, needed a set of fireplace irons, and bought them here for $12. Turns out they were hand-forged late in the 18th century and have considerable value in the collector market.

For details, contact: Paintsville Tourism Commission, 304 Main St., Paintsville, KY 41240, (800) 542-5790.

Outdoor Log

Cool fall hiking

For hikers and backpackers in Kentucky, October is the unofficial start of the season. Cooling temperatures, lowered humidity, and fewer bugs make walking in the woods a pleasure. And with 2,300 miles of formal hiking trails in the Commonwealth, there’s no shortage of opportunities.

One of our favorite early season hikes is the Bee Rock Overlook Loop in the Rockcastle Recreation Area of the Daniel Boone National Forest. What makes it so appealing is water. Although the trail is just over two miles long, you’ll see more cascading water on this one hike than along any comparable two miles in the state. Three waterfalls and several streams with sharp gradients flowing through laurel thickets lend the aura of a rain forest to your walk.

Actually, you’ll pass through several eco-systems as you follow the trail. When you start out, you’re in an oak/beech/hickory wooded area. As you climb, the forest changes to hemlocks and pines.

Less than half a mile from the trailhead you’ll pass the first waterfall, on the side of a rockhouse. Four hundred feet farther is the second one.

At slightly more than a mile you’ll reach the overlook itself. Downstream are signs of civilization. Upstream is wilderness, marked only by time and the flowing river.

From the overlook the trail descends, sharply at times. At 1.4 miles it seems to disappear. Actually, it makes a sharp left into a natural tunnel in the cliff. On the far side is the third, and most dramatic, of the waterfalls. During heavy flows you actually have to walk under it.

You can find a step-by-step guide to this trail and many others in our book, Hiking Kentucky. Or contact the London Ranger District, Daniel Boone National Forest, P. O. Box 907, London, KY 40743, (606) 864-4163.

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