A bit about cities:
I love cities. Before Zac and I moved to Charleston, I spent nearly the last 4 years in New York City. What a wondrous place New York is. It’s nothing like the rural living we Chambers brothers knew growing up. Moving from orange groves to sky scrapers takes considerable adjustment. But if you make that adjustment, you’re then sucked into New York living. I grew unexplainably attached to the city. For all the ways in which I found difficulty living there–whether it’s having no space, little money, or weekly panic attacks–equally I found great joy in remaining there. You gain this wild energy from its people, they inspire you to build towards something–something better.
After I completed high school I had to part ways with the South. Me and my brothers were born in Tennessee and raised in Florida. But I grew tired of living in a region where, to city dwellers, all that comes to mind is racism, illiterate rednecks, and narrow minded Christians. It seemed that the South wreaked of all that was dull and boring. But I wasn’t concerned with changing any of that; I wanted to move where things were happening, where people were building things. And I did.
For a while I felt as if New York, London, and Tokyo were the only facilitators of change and innovation in the world. Yet the more I dwelled in a big city, I learned that you don’t have to live in one to foster innovation in the world.
Earlier this year we partnered with our friends at Garden & Gun Magazine on a project with Travel South USA and Kentucky Tourism. Our mission was to road trip through a southern state to capture our favorite moments along the way. The prospect of exploring creativity in the South’s biggest cities excited us! When Garden & Gun reached out letting us know Kentucky selected us to check out their state, Louisville and Lexington were the only two cities that came to mind. I judged the state based on my notions about big cities and what they offer. When we received our 3-page itinerary, though, neither of those cities were on it. The names that did appear on it were Danville, Harrodsburg, and Paducah… 3 towns I’d never heard of. At first, I was disappointed with the way our schedule had been structured. Surely Louisville and Lexington were the only two cities with creativity flowing through them. I very was wrong.
Every town we visited had, in its own quiet way, a creative circle. In Danville we explored the Wilderness Trace Distillery and its highly complex research lab. Two scientists who had a deep interest in the understanding liquors launched the distillery several years back. Jane’s Barley Corn, a fine dining and mercantile destination, offered the same with its fine craft cocktails and fresh charcuterie. We finished the night at newly renovated downtown building on Main Street, which serves as an Air BnB for those passing through.
The next day we traveled north to Shaker Village in Harrodsburg. The Shakers were a community dedicated to living small, secluded communities. They craved simple living, and the best means of accomplishing that was through specialization. Individuals and families were given specific tasks, with the intention of simplifying life for the community at large. And it did. Shakers were commonly known for the efficiency with which they navigated through life. The homes they built, the gardens they tended, and the technology they invented were testimonies of this. We spent a day the restored Shaker Village, where we went canoeing along the Kentucky River, rode carriages through their hundreds of acres, and finished with a wonderful dinner in the garden.
On our last day we drove several hours through the serene countryside to Paducah, in Western Kentucky. This is a town that has managed to preserve its buildings well. The people there, whether they’re transplants or natives, take pride in where they live. They see opportunity. We first stopped at Kirchoff’s bakery–the legendary, 5 generation old family business–for lunch. After that we headed into MAKE Paducah, a creative workshop space for people interested in learning arts and crafts. We seemed to interact with hopeful people at every stop. A wonderful lady took time out of her day to show us an ornate, abandoned movie theater she’s been fighting to have restored and turned into a music venue. The space was breathtaking, one of those where you focus less on capturing the moment and more on taking it in.
By the afternoon we needed a caffeinated reinforcement, so we stopped by Pipers Coffee & Tea, run by power couple (and our now friends) Peter and Amber Barnett. Perhaps their saintly drinks made us biased, but truly, of everyone we met, they captivated us the most. The two opened their shop early that summer in an old Coca Cola bottling plant. The place is pure quality. Neighboring it is Dry Ground Brewing Company. The owner mentioned that in Paducah’s past, a terrible flood devastated much of the town, from the river several miles inland. The spot we stood in the brewery was the first sign of dry ground people found. Their craft brews were terrific, too!
That weekend whizzed by. Before we knew it, we were in the Nashville airport headed home. I left Kentucky feeling encouraged, though. The trip taught me that creativity lives where creative people live. All along I was sold on the idea that large, metropolitan cities are the only destinations that facilitate innovation and change in the world. And all along, small towns in Kentucky (and hundreds of others like it) house creative people building creative things with the intention of making those around them better.
Check out Kentucky Tourism online for information regarding cities and destinations worth exploring!