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Celebrating our two-lane highways of yesteryear…And the joys of driving them today!

Our Trek To Bardstown (dixie/jackson Highways)


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Quinn, Natalie and I took a great trip back in August to Bardstown, KY–home of Stephen Foster, Jim Beam Bourbon and many fond childhood memories for Quinn (who was celebrating her 24th birthday, give or take a few–not that you could ever tell!). We took off on Saturday morning and trekked the superslab (I-64) to New Albany, IN...here we veered off the superslab in search of the Dixie Highway. Found a little bit of it going through Floyd’s Knobs, IN (where the Dixie Highway is called the Paoli Pike) that took us to New Albany. In Floyd’s Knobs, we found a great bridge and a rather terse gas station attendant who just did not care that I had just found something! Natalie gave us a bit of a scare when she swallowed a peppermint wrong, but she recovered in grand style, and we were off to Louisville.


Before the trip, I did some reading up on the Dixie Highway, and I was really suprised at how little there was available (other than on the internet, where you will find a few sites) about the road and was more suprised at how unmarked it is. The only way you know you are on the Dixie Highway is because the streets on the towns through which it passes are marked "Dixie Hwy." or "Dixie Ave".. Maybe it is better marked elsewhere along the Dixie Highway, but not in Kentucky or Southern Indiana. Considering the import the Dixie Highway had on North/South road travel, creating a network of highways between its eastern and western alignments, I would think that the road would have been better identified a la the Lincoln Highway or the National Road.


We took the Dixie Highway (US 31W) through Louisville. I am not going to make judgments about taking the Dixie Highway through Louisville, as I always get my dander up when people shun the North St. Louis alignments through North St. Louis. However, I think I need to be educated on what I am looking for through this stretch. It is not dangerous, but unless I am given a reason, I probably won’t go through there again.


When we got out of Louisville, the road turned four lane and we stopped at an excellent little greasy spoon called J-Boys (Jerry’s). It has a cool retro interior, sweetened tea without asking for it, and a pretty good burger. It also has a nice Elvis mannequin that kept Natalies attention! From Jerry’s, we cruised down the Dixie Highway south to Elizabethtown (US 31W), through some of the prettiest country I have seen in a long time. You also go right through Ft. Knox and past the gold depository. You cannot take pictures on this stretch; when I thought about it, Quinn reminded me of my experience when I tried taking pictures at Stateville Prison, so I refrained.


Elizabethtown is a pretty place. It has a great movie theatre (the State) and several mom and pop motels. This is where the WK and Bluegrass Parkways intersect, and was the place where mom and dad always stayed on their first night heading east to pick up my brother and sister. I looked for the Motel but couldn’t find it. As my last trek with the folks through Elizabethtown was 30 plus years ago, I wasn’t suprised.


From Elizabethtown, we headed south on 31W through some beautiful countryside and cool old towns on the way. You are never more than a half mile from I-65 through here, but, with a couple of exceptions, you could be a hundred. We passed through one town (Bonnieville) that had an awesome Motor Court sign (OK Court, I believe it was). Just past Bonnieville, we came across an old bridge that had to have been from Dixie Highway days.


We stayed the course down the Dixie Highway through Munfordville and Horse Cave, and on to Cave City, situs of the Wigwam Motel that is NOT on Route 66–the Wigwam #2 Motel! From the outside, this place is cooler than the other side of the pillow! The Teepees are in an oval, facing a big greenspace and play area (Natalie LOVED it!) Behind the teepees, there are a row of beautiful pine trees. The Motel is on 31W, but the back side of the Motel "fronts" the "Old" Dixie Highway (SR 335). The grounds are neat and well kept, and the "lobby" (check in teepee) has a lot of neat little mementos you can pick up of the place. One of the proprietors made plaster casts of the Wigwams, which are pretty neat. The owners were extremely nice, and were the only people I came across that had any clue that the Dixie Highway was more than just another street.


The Wigwam 2 is undergoing some renovation. It is getting a fresh coat of paint and new paneling in the rooms. The rooms themselves would be perfect for two people and one bed. If you have three people and two beds (including a 3 year old running rampant) is a bit tight but manageable. The rooms and bathrooms are clean and the shower is downright awesome (gives new meaning to the term "water pressure"). The floors are linoleum (I imagine this is the case because the soil in these parts is largely clay and it creates a big mess wherever you track it.) The only complaint I had (and it is easily rectifiable) is that they have to do something with the air conditioner–it was loud and was secured in the window with duct tape. I presume that it will be remedied as part of the renovation.


We were going out to eat that evening, but decided to get carry out and eat there, enjoying a fried chicken dinner at one of the picnic tables on the motel grounds and watching the trains pass nearby and the sun set. Other folks had the same idea, and as dusk neared you saw almost everyone staying at the motel walking around, chatting away, enjoying the place It really felt like what it must have been like to stay at a motor court during the 30's...real neat! We ended the evening with Quinn’s birthday cake, and I got a few shots of the Wigwam Motel sign, with the neon a blazin.


The next morning (Sunday), we bid the Wigwam #2 adieu, and, after what was called a breakfast at a place called Jerry’s (great sign, lousy food), we took Natalie to one helluva great tourist trap: Dinosaur World. The place is full of life size models of every dinosaur imaginable (including one called a "Tsintaosaurus"; I have one on top of my computer!)...Dinosaur World has one of those gift shops like Meramec Caverns–anything they could stamp "Dinosaur World" on, they did! Also, Natalie got to "fish" for fossils and came up with a couple of Shark Teeth–she had a blast!


After Dinosaur World, we cruised through the tourisma around Mammoth Cave. Along the way, we came across one heck of a tourist court (The Oakes Motel) near the Cave. We then took the Dixie highway back to Munfordville, where we got completely confused by the tourist brochure they offered, but did see one excellent bridge trestle (for the L and N Railroad, which was pretty significant during the Civil War). We took SR 88 from Munfordville to 31E, and trekked North on 31E (aka the Jackson Highway).


Enroute to Bardstown, we took in some of the Lincoln tourisma around Hodgenville, including the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln and Lincoln’s boyhood home. Both are GREAT roadside attractions. Lincoln’s birthplace is in a marble "tomb" that would be better suited to house lincoln’s remains than a rickety one room cabin....there are 56 steps up to the "tomb" one for each year in his life. Right next door (literally) is Nancy Lincoln’s Tourist Court, which was built in 1926, with little log cabins for the rooms. Lincoln’s boyhood home is right on 31E–literally a wide spot in the road. The site is kind of a throwback to the heyday of blue highway travel, when roadside attractions were right on the highway, not a mile away, across a huge parking lot, behind an iron gate.


In Hodgenville we ate at a little place called Harpers. It is a bona fide mom and pop–the whole family runs the place. They have several flavors of soft serve ice cream (very tasty) and they have some good road food. Harper’s also has a fine sweetened tea, which you can buy by the gallon!


From Hodgenville, it was off to Bardstown The trek down 31E was as scenic as 31W, sometimes more so. One other thing you saw along 31E was tobacco fields. The huge tobacco leaves were turning yellow, getting close to harvest time!


We were greeted to Bardstown by a distillery and a huge Catholic Cathedral. A short trek to the left landed us at the General Nelson Best Western. It was a very excellent, very comfortable place, and we had a room with a door that literally opened to the swimming pool! Across the street was a 1950's mom and pop motel, "My Old Kentucky Home Motel", complete with an awesome sign, especially at night with the neon a blazin.


That evening, Quinn had tickets for "Stephen Foster, the Musical". Sensing BBQ down the street, I had to have a little dinner before we went. We ate at Bryan’s Hog Wild BBQ (on US 62, just West of the Best Western). It took awhile to get the food and frayed a nerve or two, but I don’t think I have ever had a better BBQ pork sandwich in my life. Highly recommended! From there we went to the Musical, which was a lot of fun; especially watching Natalie Kay "dance to the music". Went back to the Motel and spent the late evening hanging out watching a local car sales show and the hilarious "Kain-Tucky" hosts.


On Monday, we trekked up Federal Hill and saw "My Old Kentucky Home", which was absolutely beautiful. The State of Kentucky has gone to great lengths to keep the original furnishings, and have done a wonderful job with what has had to be reproduced. Afterward, we cruised downtown to Talbott’s Tavern, a 1790's roadhouse and coach stop. This place had food to die for: We had Country Ham and REAL cornbread (cornBREAD, not cornCAKE!). To this day, I am still not hungry. We then took a horse drawn carriage tour of the town and saw many of the historic buildings in Bardstown, including a Sears House (with an "S" on the chimney). Afterward, we went to Spaulding’s, an old department store, and then stopped at Hurst’s Pharmacy, which has a great soda fountain that serves even better ice cream. We then took a tour of an old prep school that contains the Getz Whiskey Museum, where you will find, among other things, one of Carrie Nation’s hatchets. That evening, we hung in the room with some great pizza, and I took advantage of the moment to take some shots of the neon display on the "My Old Kentucky Home Motel sign.


On Tuesday, we bid adieu to Bardstown with a fine breakfast at the Steven Foster Restaurant. We cruised up 31E to Louisville, crossed into Indiana, and took a chunk of the Ohio River Scenic Byway. Passed a "new" Mail Pouch Tobacco sign on a barn outside Corydon, and then made a stop in Corydon, the site of the first Indiana Capital. Also took advantage of another great pharmacy soda fountain at Butts (yes, Butts) Pharmacy there. The Scenic Byway west of Corydon is beautiful, and would be a great trek in the fall. We stopped at a wide spot in the road in Leavenworth, IN and took a look around Stephenson’s General Store, got a great view of the Ohio River, and finally took a stint on Indiana Route 66 before we got back on the superslab and headed back to St. Louis.


It was a great trip, a great weekend, and I would recommend any part of it to anyone!


Tsingtao Kip

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Great report, Kip! We were down in that same neck-o-da-woods this past weekend. The Corvair club went on a fall trip to southern Indiana and overnighted in Owensboro, KY where we feasted on some fine BBQ at Moonlight BBQ. We took a lot of Indiana 66 from Rockport, IN (the Indiana side of Owensboro) to it's terminus. Leavenworth is a great river town. We're going to head down there sometime again and eat at the Overlook Restaurant. GREAT VIEW. Next time you're in the area of Floyds Knobs, be sure to stop by Joe Huber's Winery in Starlight, IN. Free tasting!

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That part of Kentucky is beautiful. I was last thru there in 1990, tho, headed west across Kentucky on the West Kentucky for Memphis. I remember one rest area we stopped at out there somewhere - the scenery was breathtaking with hi hills all around.

I've driven 79/68/64 between Memphis and my sisters place in St. Albans, WV, a couple times and enjoyed the run. Sometime I'll have to do it again and write it up. Trouble is the past few years I've been making these New England/Memphis trips in December and January - not the best time of the year to go "off-Interstate" in mountainous regions (not the best "on-interstate" either - couple years ago I saw a LOT of cars and 18 wheelers off the road on I-81). In fact it is one thing that has made me leery of stopping at sisters place. Me, snow and mountains do NOT mix. LOL

Great write-up, Kip - thanks for sharing.



Alex burr

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