Road Trip Route: Philly to Little Rock (Part 4)
Memphis, TN to Lexington, KY
Our goal to make it from Memphis to Lexington, KY in one day, including multiple stops, was an ambitious one. With the sightseeing we had scheduled, the route took about seven and a half hours, not including time spent outside the car at the actual sites. The good news is that this route is built with the largest chunk of driving in the morning before the first stop, which is hopefully your most energetic (and patient) part of the day! The bad news is that it is still seven and a half hours worth of driving.
These four hours on the road are not going to be the most fun or the most interesting. Part of it is retracing the route back to Nashville (wave 'hi' to Jackson as you pass it), and then its just continuing across Tennessee and into Kentucky.
Jefferson Davis State Park
The fact that monument at Jefferson Davis’ birthplace (located in the Jefferson Davis State Park) looks like a knockoff of the Washington Memorial feels like a metaphor for the entire debate about the ‘glory’ of the Civil War time. While Davis’ 351 feet tall monument is substantially shorter than its 555 feet tall inspiration, it can still be seen for miles popping up above the treeline. Our stop here was fueled completely by my own curiosity about their framing (or warping) of history. The fact that the docent was a retired, white man was not surprising, but his articulated position on Davis was. We discussed the true cause of the Civil War (aka slavery) and that the gift shop does not sell any Confederate flag memorabilia. Although the museum and monument charge admission, the land is a state park, so we were able to experience the park (and chat with the docent) without having to monetarily support the organization. I felt like it was my responsibility to witness and, potentially, challenge the history that was being propagated at this site. (The fact that we felt safe at the site undoubtedly has to do with white privilege. If you do not feel that same sort of comfort or safety, I encourage and support you leaving this off your itinerary.)
Friends, please learn from our mistakes and heed our words carefully. If you are looking for the Lincoln Birthplace Cabin, it is a National Park Site in Hodgenville, KY. If someone tries to send you to a KY State Park called Lincoln Homestead in Springfield, KY – ignore them. While they are undoubtedly well-intentioned, they will potentially screw up your itinerary. From Fairview, Springfield is about fifty minutes past Hodgenville, meaning that’s a two hour detour to backtrack and then continue on to Lexington. To complicate matters even further, Hodgenville and Springfield (and Lexington), are an hour ahead of Fairview because they are in the Eastern Time Zone. We found ourselves in Springfield, frantically Googling the actual National Park Site only to realize that we would never make it. If you feel compelled to visit the Lincoln Homestead - just know that the buildings are tied to the early lives of Lincoln’s parents and it’s basically a recreational site/golf course.
Lincoln Birthplace Cabin
(Note: Due to the above mentioned confusion, we had to forgo this site and continue to our B&B in Lexington on Day 6. Because of our dogged determinedness and flexibility in the Day 7 itinerary, we woke up early and made the two hour round-trip detour in the morning. But, as it is most efficient for you to do this on Day 6, I’ve kept it here.)
Billed as ‘The First Lincoln Memorial’, the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace is a stone memorial that protects a replica of what historians think the Lincoln cabin probably looked like on the spot where it was probably located. Regardless, if there was a quintessential Kentucky activity, this would be it – besides, perhaps, drinking bourbon. There are a few interesting artifacts in the visitors center and some other buildings to explore, but, at the end of the day, the park is free and it just seems wrong to miss out on this iconic piece of American history, even if it is replicated and based on educated assumptions.
Kathy’s Place B&B
We stayed at Kathy’s Place for two nights (both Day 6 and Day 7) and, considering we basically had the run of an entire apartment, it was the perfect place to feel like we could relax for two nights. While its location is probably a little too far to walk into downtown Lexington, there is a great little group of shops and restaurants less than fifteen minutes away. We ate dinner within walking distance both nights and were glad to have explored a part of the city that we ordinarily wouldn’t have seen.
Mirror Twin Brewing
After walking by Mirror Twin Brewing our first night, we knew we wanted to stop by the next day. Turns out that they have a partnership with a local pizza shop, so not only can you get homemade beer, but you can also have made-to-order brick oven pizza. Also, their bruschetta and avocado appetizer is amazing, as evidenced below. Unbeknownst to us, we were there during March Madness on the same night that Kentucky was playing. A vibrant scene to get the true local experience.
Right down the block from Mirror Twin, is Locals’ Lex and the place is just as it sounds. A small, but beautiful building, this is a place to go if you’re in the neighborhood. Some reviews online complain that portions tend to run on the small side, which is true, so judge appropriately. Sharing an appetizer and an entrée, plus a beer each, left us feeling satisfied.
Mary Todd Lincoln House
Undoubtedly you have a terrible image in your mind of MTL. Whether it be that she was snobbish or crazy or some other unfortunate description, come to the Mary Todd Lincoln House and get a more nuanced view of one of our most infamous First Ladies. Our guide was a good combination of passionate, but also realistic and I left feeling like I had really learned more about such a controversial figure.
We went to HopCat for lunch based on a recommendation from our guide at the Mary Todd Lincoln House. Before going there, I had never heard of it and did not realize that it is something of a MidWestern chain. I don’t normally like going to chain restaurants over local establishments, but as it was an unwitting mistake, and we don’t have any on the East Coast, I’m giving us a pass. Because we were in a little bit of a rush to make sure we had time to visit the Lexington Cemetery and make the 3:00 tour at Henry Clay’s Ashland, the myriad of choices but quick service at HopCat worked out perfectly.
Henry Clay’s Ashland
You may already be mentally crossing this off your itinerary because Henry Clay sounds like some boring, stuffy politician you don’t care about. Not so fast. While Clay was a politician, Ashland (his mansion) is full of interesting and original artefacts that tell the political story of America from the early 1800s until his death near the beginning of the Civil War. Clay was an statesman, compromiser and knew all of the most powerful and fascinating figures of his time. (Note: You will have to listen to current Senate Majority Leader and Kentucky State Senator Mitch McConnell narrate part of the biographical movie, so do with that what you will.)
*Clay is also buried in the Lexington Cemetery, if you want to pay your respects at his enormous obelisk.
Lexington, KY to Blacksburg, VA
It is about five hours from Lexington until you cross into Virginia and then another hour to get to Blacksburg. Along the way, you will pass through West Virginia, but we had trouble finding anything worth stopping for. (Any West Virginians – let me know what I am missing out on in your state. I want to know!)
About five hours into your six hour journey, enjoy a well-deserved stop in Wytheville. A perfect example of small-town, picturesque America, this little hamlet is not to be missed.
Edith Bolling Wilson Birthplace
Second wife of 28th president Woodrow Wilson, Edith Bolling Wilson was born in Wytheville in 1872. The Edith Bolling Wilson Birthplace is a labor of love for the couple who created the museum and are dutifully restoring the building above it. This is a hidden gem about a fascinating woman and you'll be in the rare position of getting to see the museum as it takes shape. (Note: their hours can be a little erratic, so if you really want to go, I would call to confirm.)
Next do to the Edith Bolling Wilson Birthplace is the most iconic stop in Wytheville, Skeeter’s World Famous Hot Dogs. Established in 1925, it still feels like you’re stepping back in time as you sit at the bar or one of their red plastic tables. They serve more than just hot dogs, so if you're like me and don't like to road trip on a stomach full of chili dog, there are plenty of other options.
Wytheville, VA to Blacksburg, VA
Blacksburg, the home of Virginia Tech, makes a great stopping point to recharge before one final day of travel. (Besides VTech, Blacksburg is also home to two of our favorites, Sarah and Justin! Too bad Justin slept in and didn't get to be in the coffee run/photoshoot.)
Blacksburg, VA to Philadelphia, PA
The return trip from Blacksburg to Philly is about seven hours. It’ll take you up through Virginia, around Washington D.C. and Baltimore. Make sure to watch the traffic. (If you need a pick-me-up before heading out, Sarah kindly took us to Carol Lee Donuts, and we agree with her endorsement of their deliciousness.)
Blacksburg, VA to Hardy, VA
While you might not need a stop only an hour into your return trip, the Booker T. Washington National Park Site is a concise, but impactful overview of his life at the plantation where he was born and enslaved. Washington is a fairly famous historical figure, but to see his life story told at the place where his story began feels like some small form of justice.