Historic Highway

Hwy. 42 recognized as scenic roadway


LA GRANGE, Ky. – As you drive along the rolling, two-laned U.S. Hwy. 42 in Oldham County, you might think you've taken a wrong turn and wound up in Lexington's horse country.

La Grange Fire & Rescue

Photo by Don Ward

The La Grange Fire and Rescue
Station No. 3 sits along Hwy. 42 and
is fashioned in a horse barn-like
design to fit in with its
rural surroundings.

The view is just as majestic, with miles of board fence, colorful barns, manicured fields and galloping horses.
A little farther down the road, you pass a historic church, a winding creek and an old-fashioned general store.
In fact, you can't help but wonder how this idyllic, agrarian scenery ever escaped the bulldozers, construction crews and real estate signs that are quickly gobbling up much of Oldham County.
That day may come.
But for now, a small group of Oldham County citizens have succeeded in at least recognizing this peaceful stretch of roadway for what it is: the last vestiges of rural America.
And to some, a piece of Oldham County heritage worth saving.
During an April 10 ceremony held in the parking lot of the Shiloh Methodist Church (circa 1870), about 100 people gathered to unveil the first of 18 signs identifying 14.7 miles of Hwy. 42 as a Kentucky Scenic Highway and Byway.
Various politicians and dignitaries shared personal stories about the roadway. During his remarks, Oldham County Judge-Executive John Black admitted, "There's no guarantee that development to won't come to 42, but we want to make sure we recognize what we have here. We're going to be challenged with economic development, but I'm going to try to keep this black-board fence and what this highway means to me."
Black and State Sen. Earnie Harris were joined by other politicians and dignitaries. But it was a handful of dedicated citizens who made it all possible. The all-volunteer committee included Sonja Lowery, Ed and Rita Aders, Jan and DeeDee Horton, Nancy Burke and Glenn Watson.
After six months of hard work to prepare the proposal, and then having it survive the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet's intensive screening process, a year later the committee members had reason to celebrate.
"There's a great deal of history along this road, and it may take people a long time to sense the importance of this day. But I think it will finally dawn on people when these corridors start filling up," said Sonja Lowery, who chaired the committee and has been credited by many as the driving force behind the project.
Patricia Michael, director of the Oldham County Historical Society, added, "This designation is important because it shows that historic preservation is about more than just saving buildings; it's also about preserving a way of life, and in this case, traditional rural America, which is quickly disappearing."
The effort began nearly two years ago when Lowery learned about the program from former Oldham County Judge Wendell Moore. She recruited other concerned citizens and began the arduous task of collecting statistical and other data about the highway and the properties it crosses.

KY Scenic Hwy. Sign

Photo by Don Ward

One of the Kentucky
Scenic Byway signs
was unveiled during
the April 10 dedication
ceremony. State
officials have ordered
18 signs for possible
use along the historic roadway. U.S Hwy.
42 joins 19 other
scenic roadways
in Kentucky.

Following a strict set of guidelines provided by state transportation officials, the committee eventually submitted its proposal on March 2, 1998. It included such sections as a historic narrative about the roadway, a map, color photos, a list of scenic components along each mile, typographical data and information about geological and natural formations. The proposal also required evidence of local support from residents, groups and local government agencies.
"Everyone we approached was supportive of the project," Lowery said.
In all, the committee prepared 10 copies of its exhaustive report and plans to make one available for public viewing, perhaps at the county's historical society.
The report then was sent to four separate state agencies for review. As part of the process, a group of state officials toured the area. After a further review by safety engineers, a recommendation was made to the Transportation and Tourism Interagency Committee and, upon approval, an official document is prepared, said Cindy Griffin, who directs the program.
"This is not a program that the Cabinet promotes," Griffin said. "We don't go out and actively look for areas; it's done by local citizens groups who come to us."
Griffin said each scenic roadway in Kentucky has its own distinct personality. She recalled her drive along Hwy. 42 as "a very unique area, with lots of history and a rich collection of 19th Century churches and historic farms."
The highway passes by several farms, including The Hermitage, listed on the National Register and associated (along with nearby plantations) with the recruiting of slave labor for Black Maria, a slave wagon that arrived from Louisville to load human cargo; the Henry Button House, site of bitter struggle between 1824 and 1838 over where to establish the county seat; the Liberty Baptist Church (circa 1871); Shiloh Methodist Church (mentioned above); Goshen Presbyterian Church (1887); and Little Vine Church, the county's oldest surviving black church, built just after the Civil War.
In addition to historic sites, Hwy. 42 passes by L'ESpirit, Shadwell, Longfield and Upson Downs thoroughbred horse farms, as well as the Skylight Thoroughbred Training Center.
Nearly every person attending the dedication ceremony had some personal connection to Hwy. 42. But the few who spent hours on this project will perhaps drive a little slower now when they travel through northern Oldham County.
"It's such a personal thing," said Lowery, who recently moved to Centerfield but plans to build on property she owns along Hwy. 42. "People fall in love with that land. And this designation means the state has recognized that it's unique and worth saving for its archeology, history and scenic assets."
"We were just a group of people who felt something needed to be done to help save this area because once it's gone, you can never get it back," said DeeDee Horton, who lives on Bohanan Lane. "We learned a lot of history of the area and it brought us closer together.
Bill Coyne, a retired lawyer from Crestwood, Ky., who emceed the ceremony, said, "This doesn't guarantee anything (regarding future development), but it recognizes our need to preserve our heritage.
"It doesn't buy you rules and regulations," he added, "but it buys you respect."

Back to May 1999 Articles.



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