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Monday, February 13, 2017

Bill Penn’s book, Kentucky Rebel Town, is a lifetime achievement; reading Thursday evening at library

Penn poses with his book outside his Midway Museum Store.
Story and photos by Austyn Gaffney
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

It could be said that Bill Penn’s book, Kentucky Rebel Town: The Civil War Battles of Cynthiana and Harrison County, is 55 years old.

Penn, co-owner of the Historic Midway Museum Store, first wrote about “the best rebel town of our native state,” a Confederate officer’s reference to Cynthiana, in 1962. Dr. Thomas D. Clark, University of Kentucky history professor and founder of the University Press of Kentucky, taught Penn in his History of Kentucky course. Penn turned in a 40-page paper on his hometown of Cynthiana, the seed of his future book.

Although Penn never went back to school, the history bug never left him. In 1995, he synthesized research he had done since his undergraduate years, self-publishing the book Rattling Spurs and Broad Brimmed Hats. The title was a quote from a letter on Gen. John Hunt Morgan’s Confederate raiders who rode through Cynthiana.

When Penn sent the book to Clark, his old professor wrote back: “One can never tell where bread he casts upon waters will come floating home.” His proud appreciation of Penn’s book encouraged Penn to do further research. He expanded his study to nearly 400 pages of historical text, published by the University Press of Kentucky last fall.

Penn will give a reading at the Midway branch of the Woodford County Public Library at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 16, and will be at the Northern Kentucky Regional History Day at the Boone County Library for a workshop on his book March 25.

The Kentucky Civil War Bugle editor, Ed Ford, said of Penn’s work: “Penn deserves an “A” for his research and another “A” for his skill in effectively pulling the story together.”

Close-up of cover shows cropped image.
Penn’s insistence on historical precision begins with the book’s cover. The painting of the Civil War emblazoned on the bottom half comes from Frankfort.

“The battle is realistic,” said Penn, “But an anomaly exists in the bottom right.” According to Penn, rifles are shown instead of a cannon atop a wheeled carriage. Because a cannon carriage is more historically accurate to the time period, Penn had the University Press cut off the image at the carriage wheel.

His research is undoubtedly a labor of love. Unable to find any Civil War battlefield maps of Cynthiana, Penn studied primary texts of citizens and soldiers. The extensive analysis allowed him to redraw battlefield maps for Morgan’s raids, and the subsequent first and second Battles of Cynthiana.

According to Penn, there is an assumption that Morgan rode through town on horseback shooting guns and quickly leaving. But Morgan and his troops actually dismounted and fought bigger battles in Harrison County.

Morgan raided Cynthiana because of its tactical position bordering the Kentucky Central Railroad. But his interest in Cynthiana may have also been its initial pro-Southern leanings. State Rep. and slave-owner Lucius Desha advertised for Southern sympathizers to join a volunteer company led by his sons. At the beginning of the Civil War, a Confederate flag flew from the Harrison County Courthouse.

Penn did several maps. (Click on image for larger version)
Reviewer Lawrence K. Peterson of Civil War News was impressed with Penn’s distinctive story. In his article, “A Gem Concerning Middle Kentucky,” Peterson stated, “This book is a gem for two sets of students of the Civil War: those interested in the fighting in Kentucky other than Richmond/Perryville, and those interested in civilian life during the war.”

Those interested in civilian life can also look forward to Penn’s next book. “A project I had started before I finished this was a history of Midway and northern Woodford County horse farms,” said Penn. “And I laid that aside. I’ve done two chapters of that, I’ve done one on the settlement period around this area from the first surveyors. They actually camped near here. And then I’ve written a chapter on the Civil War period here.”

Penn is obviously a hard worker, but is anything but self-congratulatory.

“I plagiarized all I could,” Penn joked when asked how long it took to complete the book. He teased Dr. James Ramage, a history professor at Northern Kentucky University, when Ramage visited Penn’s shop. “Dr. Ramage was in here about a month ago,” Penn said. “I told him that I had stolen all I could out of his book on John Hunt Morgan.”

Joking aside, Penn’s love of history continues to guide his life. Penn interrupted the Midway Messenger’s interview to greet a customer purchasing books on Versailles from his store’s upstairs library. Hopping up from his stool, Penn ran upstairs to get another book to “throw in” for free.

“This is a prize,” Penn told the customer, handing him a book on the architecture in Versailles. “I just want someone who’s interested to have it.”

“He forgets we have bills to pay,” Leslie Penn teased her husband. Bill Penn smiled and insisted on the gift. History, for him, is just that, a gift.

Penn poses in the upstairs library and bookstore of his and wife Leslie's Midway Museum Store.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Annual Chocolate Stroll is Saturday, 10 to 5, downtown

Midway’s annual Chocolate Stroll, Saturday, Feb. 11, between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m., celebrates chocolate lovers across Kentucky. The Valentine’s Day weekend event includes 10 downtown stores and restaurants along Main Street. Each store will feature its own unique chocolate treat along with special offers.

The ticket to taste is free, but a $5 donation is recommended. The donation goes straight to the Midway Business Association to pay for the advertising costs of local events. Raffle tickets have been sold in the past but will not be sold this year. Tasting tickets, along with prize tickets, can be picked up at the Historic Midway Museum Store.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Council rezones, starts to annex land for industry; discusses restaurant vestibule in Main Street sidewalk

By Austyn Gaffney
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

Midway’s City Council rezoned and began to annex more property for industry at Midway Station, and discussed the new, temporary vestibule outside Heirloom Restaurant, at a regular meeting Monday night. It also heard about safety trainings that will be available in the city.

The council approved a zoning map amendment and heard first reading of an annexation ordinance for 34 acres at Midway Station that Lakeshore Learning Materials intends to use for expansion of the distribution center it is building. Mayor Grayson Vandegrift said second reading and passage are set for the next meeting, Feb. 20.

The council also approved a reimbursement agreement with the Woodford County Economic Development Authority for Midway’s commitment of $450,000 for the $2.8 million gas line to Midway Station. The EDA plans to repay Midway most, if not all, of the financial commitment with net profits from land sales.

The council also heard from Woodford County Emergency Management Director Drew Chandler. He invited the community to a monthly, one-hour CPR training for bystanders at the Woodford County Courthouse, and a Community Emergency Response Training session Saturday, Feb. 25 and Saturday, March 11, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., with lunch provided, at The Homeplace at Midway.

The council approved Chandler’s proposal to apply for a grant from Kentucky’s Homeland Security Department to buy a new computer for the fire department.

Proposals by council members at the end of the meeting included Sara Hicks’ request to move the city’s cemetery database to a user-friendly site like www.findagrave.com or www.billiongraves.com, to which members of the Veterans Committee have posted the graves of military personnel. Libby Warfield praised those efforts, led by committee member Jimmie Murphy.

John McDaniel suggested the downtown Christmas tree be moved to another location replaced by a smaller tree less likely to damage surrounding infrastructure. Mayor Grayson Vandegrift agreed. Warfield complained about speeding near the lower end of Cottage Grove, and she requested that Vandegrift consider adding a three-way stop there.

The recently installed vestibule at Heirloom
Warfield’s complaint wasn’t the only one discussed Monday evening. Vandegrift said county Planning Director Pattie Wilson told him she has received two or three complaints about the vestibule recently placed outside Heirloom restaurant.

Vandegrift said the main issues were the obstruction of the sidewalk, which he said he wouldn’t press for now because the city leases the restaurant sidewalk space for tables and chairs in the summer, and a potential fire hazard. He said the fire department is aware of the vestibule, and the fire inspector will make a report about the safety of the structure before the city moves forward with any other action.

Wilson said in an interview, “I have received several complaints anonymously, and the concerns are that it sets a precedent for all businesses along the railroad. The concerns are a safety hazard and an aesthetic issue for the street. It’s both a visual, but most importantly, a health-and-safety issue.”

Hannah Smith, a server at Heirloom, told the Midway Messenger that the vestibule is a temporary structure added to retain heat during the winter.

“It’s exactly what Grey Goose puts up every winter in front of their restaurant,” Smith said. “It’s so our customers don’t get blasted with cold air through the front door.”

Vandegrift noted that the Grey Goose’s vestibule doesn’t obstruct a public passway, and said he is worried about setting a precedent.

“Can you imagine if every business had one of those things outside?” Vandegrift asked the council. He said he brought up the matter at the meeting so council members could explain it to their constituents if they inquired.


Saturday, February 4, 2017

Fawn Leap Farm-connected Classic Empire places third in Holy Bull Stakes; foot infection blamed

UPDATE, Feb. 12: Trainer Mark Casse told the Thoroughbred Daily News that Classic Empire came out of the Holy Bull Stakes with an abscess on his right front hoof, perhaps explaining his third-place finish in a race where he was the odds-on favorite. On Wednesday morning, "He had a huge pus pocket bust out of the bulb of his foot," Casse said. "He's now a happy camper and moving around fine. We feel some relief because we knew something was up and we just couldn't pinpoint it."

For a TDN podcast of a 35-minute interview with owner John Oxley, click here. In the interview, he voices high regard for Charles Nuckols and his staff at Nuckols Farm for "such good care" that they gave 2001 Derby winner Monarchos when he stood at stud there for many years before his death on Oct. 22 following surgery for an intestinal issue.


Video by TVG via YouTube     

Classic Empire, the Midway-connected colt who was the early favorite for this year's Kentucky Derby, finished third in the 1 1/16-mile Lambholm South Holy Bull Stakes this afternoon.

Irish War Cry led sire to wire in winning the $350,000 Grade II race at Gulfstream Park by 3 3/4 lengths over Gunnevera. Classic Empire, the odds-on favorite until post time, was five more lengths back. He was a close third for most of the race, but failed to rally in the stretch after he took second and jockey Julien Leparoux whipped him during the turn.

Classic Empire was sweaty and had difficulty getting into the gate, reminding observers of the only race he has lost: the Sept. 5 Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga, when he threw his jockey and didn't finish. He became the Derby favorite after winning the Breeders' Cup Juvenile on Nov. 5. This was his first race as a 3-year-old.

“He gets a little hot, but maybe hotter than normal, so I don't know. We will regroup,” Trainer Mark Casse said after the race. “He had no excuse . . . They kind of tried to pin him in a little bit on the first turn and Julien used a little bit of him. We had a good trip.”

Leparoux said, “I got in the clear on the first turn and there was really no excuse. He came back good and we’ll see what happens. He got a little bit warm [warming up] but after that we a good trip and every chance and he just didn’t kick at the end.”

Classic Empire is owned by John Oxley, who has Fawn Leap Farm at Midway, and is trained by Mark Casse, a top trainer in Canada. The horse was sired by Pioneer of the Nile, the sire of 2016 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah.

The odds on Classic Empire were 3-5 until shortly before post time, when they dropped to 1-2. His third-place finish paid bettors $2.10 and earned him two more qualifying points for the Derby, raising his total to 32, still more than any other horse.

Irish War Cry, a son of Curlin, got his first 10 qualifying points, paid $10.80 and ran the race in 1:42.52. Gunnevera got four points, raising his total to 14. Talk Logistics was fourth and got his first point. Some of the same horses may face each other again in the Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream March 4.

Ambulance, facilities for visitors, homes for new plant workers among goals voiced by city council members

An ambulance for the Midway area, a visitors' center with restrooms and plans for more housing were some of the long-range goals voiced by members of the Midway City Council and Mayor Grayson Vandegrift at a special planning meeting Thursday night.

Shorter-term goals include a lower speed limit on Winter Street, changes at the Midway Cemetery and continued work on the city's streets, sidewalks, water lines and sewer lines.

"Please feel free to be outlandish as well as practical," Council Member Sara Hicks asked her colleagues as she presided and Vandegrift made notes on big easeled sheets, divided by goals for the next six months, two years and five years, in that order.

Near-term: next six months

Several near-term goals voiced by more than one member dealt with the cemetery: revising and updating its rules, and placing benches. Council Member Libby Warfield said the new rules should include a retroactive timeline for compliance. She also called for demolition of the old cottage, more landscaping around the veterans' monument and creation of a section for infant burials.

Warfield, who brought a long narrative to the meeting, also said the city should modernize or repeal outdated ordinances, educate citizens about ordinances on nuisances and blighted property, better enforce ordinances, "perhaps with a city manager," replace the ballpark storage building and keep cars off the North Winter Street sidewalk "so baby carriages can go down the street."

New Council Member Steve Simoff said the city needs a welcome sign for motorists entering town from Interstate 64, and a list of business owners' phone numbers for police. He also called for a committee to consider development of a "distillery district" between Main Street and Lee Branch.

Council Member Kaye Nita Gallagher said the city needs to work with the Midway Business Association to develop events each month to bring people to town, and develop a way to notify everyone in town of events and other things that need to be publicized.

New Council Member John McDaniel also called for more events, and endorsed the infrastructure goals voiced by other members.

Council Member Bruce Southworth said the city needs to identify where water and sewer repairs need to be made and work with county officials to get an ambulance. (See long-term goals, below.)

Vandegrift said the first round of city-subsidized sidewalk repairs should be done this spring. He also said the city needs new cemetery rules, updated blighted property procedures and better code enforcement: "Our rules have been piecemealed together over the years."

Mid-term: six months to two years

Vandegrift said the city needs to develop a master plan for Midway Station with the EDA and Anderson, continue paving projects, and work with the state Transportation Cabinet to get a lower speed limit on Winter Street.

Warfield said that if no housing is built in Midway Station, the current intention of developer Dennis Anderson, the city needs to identify other places housing.

Woodford County Economic Development Authority Chair John Soper said he had an inquiry from a Leitchfield firm, Wabuck Development Co., that is interested in building moderate-cost apartments that would need three to five acres within walking distance of retail stores.

"They're interested in our community because of all these jobs coming in," Soper said. "When people see the walls going up on Lakeshore [Learning materials' distribution center], it's going to open up a lot of eyes." The company hopes to open the plant by November, and the American Howa Kentucky auto-parts plant is complete and "partially open," Vandegrift said.

Simoff said the city needs to establish parameters for future development, including housing; ensure greenspace buffers for Midway Station and other developments; and "try to get away from vinyl siding." He also called for a beautification plan.

Gallagher also voiced the need for more housing, especially for those who will be working at Midway Station.

Hicks said the city needs a plan to make it fully handicapped-accessible, a sidewalk to Northside Elementary School and a mixed-use path to The Homeplace at Midway. She said it could slow traffic on Winter Street by painting parking spaces. The state controls the street's speed limit.

Warfield said the city should consider a pavilion at the cemetery for memorials and other ceremonies which would be especially useful in bad weather. She estimated the cost at $28,000. She also said the city should "re-establish gifting opportunities" as outlined in the ordinance for the cemetery's endowment. She added later, "We're gonna have to address the fact that our parking is getting so limited downtown."

McDaniel endorsed the cemetery-pavilion idea and said the city needs a Main Street manager to do outreach, contact motel and hotel developers, recruit businesses for empty buildings and take charge of downtown activities, "just like we had before." The city stopped funding the position when Tom Bozarth was mayor.

McDaniel also said the city should benefit financially when it issues tax-exempt bonds for other jurisdictions that have reached their annual limit on such bonds.

Long-term: two to five years

McDaniel called for "an ambulance service for our side of the county." County officials have been resistant to the idea because of cost, but Vandegrift noted after the meeting that they are planning to build a new fire station just northwest of town, and said an ambulance could be based there to meet the need that will grow greater due to Midway Station.

Southworth said earlier, "We're gonna have 400 people working out here and the closest ambulance is in Versailles."

Vandegrift said the city should have a goal in the next five years of creating "200-plus" more jobs at Midway Station, and 150 to 200 new homes, including affordable housing. "Let's not have jobs outpace homes too badly," he said.

The mayor also called for paying off the bonds on water and sewer facilities and using half the savings for repairs and half to lower customers' rates.

Hicks said the city should develop a downtown "performance area" with a stage and bathrooms. She also called for solar panels on City Hall, an "edible forest" in the park; an elevator in City Hall; a swimming pool and recreation center; a small organic grocery; a Dollar Store; a bike and walking trail around the city; and a volunteer transport service to Lexington and other cities like one offered in Versailles.

Warfield said the city needs to rebuild the rear entrance and porch on the second story of City Hall "before it falls down," and have a visitor center with restrooms that complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act and a city manager to manage employees and enforce ordinances. She also said all blighted areas should be in compliance with the building code within five years.

Simoff also called for a visitor center with bathrooms, and said Midway Station should be mowed and cleaned regularly until its development is complete.

Gallagher, asked for her five-year goals, replied, "Let's get the two-year first."

Asked for his, Southworth smiled and said, "Get re-elected."

With that and laughter all around, the council adjourned until its next regular meeting, at 5:30 p;m. Monday, Feb. 6 at City Hall.

Monday, January 30, 2017

2017 Christian Church chili cook-off draws a big crowd

Cynthia Campbell collects first prize;
second place winner Will Schein is
seated in the background.
By Austyn Gaffney
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

“It’s out of this world.” This was the first impression Midway Christian Church’s Community Chili Cook-off inspired from Pat Connors, a resident of Lexington. Connors said she enjoys coming to the church’s free, monthly, community dinners. She’s attended the dinners a handful of times, and said Monday night’s Chili Cook-off crowd was the biggest she’s ever seen.

She’s not alone. DeLise Graham-Hill, a 10-year resident of Midway, has been to these monthly dinners for at least the last seven years. “My favorite is the sweet potato” chili, she said. “It’s a bit spicy, and you can add chives on top.” Although the recipe was popular among many foodies at the dinner, it didn’t take the top spot in a tight race between 19 crock-pot chilis.

Three Midway residents shouldered the task of trying all 19 concoctions. Mayor Grayson Vandegrift, City Council Member Bruce Southworth, and Midway University Athletic Director Rusty Kennedy, judged the cook-off through a blind taste test. They tried each recipe in a small Dixie cup with a number, instead of a name, attached to the chili.

Chris Michel refills one of the pots.
Loud applause erupted when Cynthia Campbell won first place, and college student Will Schein received second. But it was Chris Michel’s third place that caused the biggest uproar. Wife Ouita Michel, a nationally known chef who manages the dinners, came out of the kitchen to tell the crowd, “Chris has spent years making gourmet chili recipes and never wins this thing. He went online and got the recipe for Hormel chili and made a Hormel chili recipe for tonight!”

Chef Ouita Michel explains how husband
Chris Michel won third place as her dad,
Ray Papka, watches Jim Nance clean up.
Ouita Michel also had a rabbit chili for the cook-off. Dinner guest Jim Nance of Midway affectionately called her recipe “bunny soup.” Michel described her stew of rabbit, beans and poblano peppers as having almost no fat. Her daughter, Willa Michel, followed in her parents’ footsteps with a chili of ground beef. Nance gave it the seal of approval, finishing his bowl and describing the chili as “a little bit sweeter than most.”

Midway Christian Church has offered free community dinners the last Monday of every month since August 2011. The next will be Monday, Feb. 27 at 6:30 p.m.

Renaissance seeks artists, volunteers and sponsors for Francisco's Farm festival, members for board

Midway Renaissance is still seeking artists for its annual Francisco's Farm Arts Festival, to be held at Midway University May 20 and 21.

Tuesday is the deadline for artists to apply, but it may have to be extended because not enough have applied, Treasurer Leslie Penn said after the group's annual membership meeting.

The chili cook-off preceded the Midway Renaissance meeting.
The festival is also looking for volunteers and sponsors, Midway University Vice President Ellen Gregory told the crowd at the meeting, bolstered by the annual chili cook-off at Midway Christian Church.

"If you can make it here tonight at eat chili, you can be a volunteer for the Francisco's Farm Arts Festival," Gregory said. "You really get to know your neighbors and become lifelong friends."

Also, "We are always looking for sponsors," she said. "Any way you wish to serve, we appreciate it."

Midway Renaissance is also looking for board members to serve three-year terms; it has 10 and can have up to 18, Board Member Debra Shockley told the crowd.

The board meets once a month. Its next meeting will be Thursday, Feb. 23 at the Midway branch library. Officers for the year will be elected.

Shockley said Renaissance will keep City Hall and its restrooms open Saturday, Feb. 11, for the merchants' annual Chocolate Stroll, and will again sponsor Midsummer Nights in Midway in June, July and August.

Shockley began the meeting by recounting the history of Renaissance, which formed to seek grants from the state's Renaissance Kentucky Program in 2001. The largest grant reworked Main Street and financed the purchase of the Rau Building for City Hall.

Funding decreased under Gov. Ernie Fletcher in 2003-07, and Renaissance left the program in 2011 because it no longer had funds to employ a Main Street manager as required by the state. Mayor Grayson Vandegrift said in March 2016 that there was potential to re-create the position in the next three years, perhaps in the capacity of a tourism and economic development director for the city.

The Living History Committee of Renaissance got the street markets for the Midway Historic District last year, and other Renaissance committees have evolved into the group that supports Walter Bradley Park, and the Nursing Home Task Force that led to building of The Homeplace at Midway, Shockley said.