On the Road: Kentucky's Country Music Highway
Sights and Sounds of an Ol' Kentucky Road
Kentucky's Country Music Highway (U.S. 23) is a National Scenic Byway that leads to roads along the Appalachian Mountains in Virginia and West Virginia. This is the land of country music stars like Loretta Lynn and Crystal Gayle, folk art, pioneer settlements, coal mines, and the famous feud/love match between the Hatfields and the McCoys.
The 1500-acre park on the edge of Dewey Lake has a 49-room lodge, one- and two-bedroom cottages, and a 117-site seasonal campground. Unexpected additions to the usual park attractions include an outdoor summer theater featuring Broadway shows, and an elk-watching tour. These native animals, which disappeared before the Civil War, have been reintroduced to the Cumberland Plateau in the largest elk-restoration program in North America.
At Butcher Holler, the weathered, unpainted cabin of Lynn and her sister Crystal Gayle perches on a high mountain hillside. Their brother, Herman Webb, leads a tour of the four-room house to the tune of "Coal Miner's Daughter." Larger-than-life portraits of the two women in fancy dress watch from walls papered with photos of themselves, family, and other celebrities. Webb tells how Loretta was 13 when she married Oliver "Mooney" Lynn and had the first of four children at age 14. She started on her way to become the Queen of Country four years later.
A number of award-winning singers who grew up in these Kentucky mountains are honored in the U.S. 23 Country Music Museum, opened April 1, 2005 in nearby Paintsville. Names like Ricky Skaggs, Patty Loveless, Billy Ray Cyrus, the Judds, and Dwight Yoakam surround that of recent Grammy winner Rebecca Lynn Howard. Their portraits hang beneath such quotes as, "Country music is three chords and the truth," attributed to Harlan Howard.
The Big Sandy Mountain Heritage Center opened in the old Pikesville railroad depot in September 2003. The museum houses artifacts and memorabilia devoted to coal, railroads, the Civil War, and early east Kentucky pioneers. The last includes the story of the Hatfields and McCoys.
The Big Sandy River that separates Kentucky and West Virginia also divided the two families. Randolph (Old Ran'l) McCoy raised his 15 kids in the Tug Valley section of Kentucky. William Anderson Hatfield (aka Devil Anse) had 13 kids on the West Virginia side. Although a group led by Anse killed Old Ran'l's younger brother in 1864, the feud actually started over ownership of a hog, nine years later. When the Hatfields finally burned down Ran'l's house on New Year's Day 1888, two state governors and the U.S. Supreme Court got into the act. The Hatfield perpetrators were imprisoned and some were hung for the murder of three McCoy brothers, a daughter, and a son.
The love match, which reads like a mountaineer version of "Romeo and Juliet," began during the 1880 election. When Anse's son Johnse and Ran'l's daughter Roseanna fell in love, neither family was pleased. At one point, she rode horseback to tell Anse her family had captured his son. After he saved Johnse from being killed by the McCoys, the kid was afraid to see her again. Roseanna eventually moved to Pikeville where she died, presumably of a broken heart, at age 30.
From Pikeville, Highway U.S. 460/KY-VA 80 heads south to the Breaks Interstate Park, also called the Grand Canyon of the South. The Russell Fork of the Big Sandy River created the five-mile-long, 1600-foot-deep gorge, making it the largest canyon east of the Mississippi. One pyramid of rock called the Tower is estimated to be 250 million years old. The Kentucky state line cuts through the northern edge of the 4500-acre park, but the visitor's center, 82-unit lodge, two-bedroom cottages, and seasonal campground are in Virginia.
Be advised: The information presented in this column is, to the best of our knowledge, correct and accurate at the time of publication. However, because of our lengthy lead time, we recommend you call the proper authorities or local experts for confirmation before visiting.
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