Stanford, Kentucky By RV
April 11, 2006
Filed under Travel
As for counties named Lincoln, I have been in at least six. And there must be a couple dozen more spread around the country. Here in Kentucky, the birthplace of our 16th president, they have a Lincoln County, but it’s not named for Honest Abe. In fact, it was named before Abraham Lincoln was born — for Benjamin Lincoln, a general in the Revolutionary War. The state of Virginia created it in 1780. What we know as Kentucky was its territory then. So Lincoln was a county here long before Kentucky was a state. When it became a state in 1792, its legislature cut Lincoln County up into 46 smaller ones, shrinking it to its present 337 square miles. Some early towns here were Knob Lick Station, Chicken Bristle, Crab Orchard, Preachersville, Turkeytown and Dog Walk. Most are still around; among them is Stanford. With a population today of 3,600, Stanford has been the county seat since 1787 — again an anomaly, a seat of government that’s older than its “parent” state.
The mayor of Stanford is Eddie Carter, age 55, and he seems well-suited for the job. It’s his second time at it. Affable, very much a local boy and still single, he apparently has both the time and inclination for it. He describes himself as a semi-retired used-car dealer whose passion is travel. He’s been to Europe a number of times. Living at the edge of town on 175 acres, Eddie raises Tennessee Walking Horses. He told me that Kentucky has more of them than any other state, outside of neighboring Tennessee. (The wonders of travel: You and I would never have learned that had I stayed in California.) “Been here all my life,” he says. “Went to a one-room school for the third grade. That was in the ’50s. Actually it was two rooms — grades one through eight. Looking back on that year, it was probably the most rewarding. It was true to life. As kids we learned together, helped each other and shared everything, like taking turns hauling in coal for the potbelly stove.
“The other day I was going through stuff my mom kept — she died recently — and I found my report card from that year. I got all A’s — except in conduct. Got marked down in that. I’ve been meaning to get on my teacher about that. She still lives here. But I’m afraid she will tell me it should have been lower.” We were driving down Main Street in Eddie’s 1984 Dodge farm truck that he inherited a few years ago from his dad. Getting waves from people along the street, Eddie said, “I think they just wave at the truck. They’ve sure seen it enough. “We keep things pretty much the way they’ve always been here — we know what works for us. That’s the way of most small towns, I suppose.” “I don’t know,” I said, “they have a problem with that out West in a lot of small towns. I see it happening in Montana, for example. Big-city people move in, buy a lot of property and then want to make the place over like the place they left.
Makes you wonder why they ever moved.” “Yes sir, I’ve heard of that. Most folks who move here are folks who are moving back. They grew up in Lincoln County; left for one reason or another and come back to live out their lives here. They fit in like they’ve never been gone.” Along Main Street, the old storefronts look to be authentic and aesthetically honest. Stanford, apparently, has not given in to the often-misplaced impulse to “modernize.” At street-level, stores do not wear a veneer of cedar siding or imitation marble, making it necessary to look to the second floor to see the building’s true face before it got lifted. “You can’t renovate history you know, just like you can’t rewrite it,” Eddie said. “We restore things, as best we can. But it’s a big job, and more often costs more than ripping down and starting over. But it’s worth it. “Progress comes, and that’s fine. We take what we want of it and forget the rest.
For example, parking meters were said to be progress at one time. We didn’t think so. A town that is user-friendly does not have parking meters. “And when you know the history about it, this is more than just Stanford’s main street. Definitely not one to clutter with parking meters. We are the latecomers here, custodians of an historic trail. This was the Wilderness Road that ran from the Cumberland Gap north, and was used by thousands of pioneers who settled not just Kentucky, but much of the country way west of here.” “So this is Daniel Boone territory?” I said. “Yes sir. He built the road. North of here is Fort Boonesborugh, which was an earlier settlement, but it never grew into a regular town. It’s a state park now.
Stanford is the second-oldest permanent settlement in the state. Our courthouse has county records going back to 1780 that are written on sheepskin. Can you imagine when sheepskins were more available than paper?” Eddie and I met some people for lunch at the Kentucky Depot Restaurant. Every menu in this state seems to include peanut-butter pie, of which I had my share. Here they served an entree called, “Kentucky Hot Brown.” It’s ham and turkey on bread covered with a rich cheese sauce and garnish — yet another reason to get out of California.
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