Book Scouting - Adventures in Kentucky
By Bob Fleck
It all started because my wife Millie wanted to visit her old homestead in Flat Lick, Kentucky, a tiny community founded before 1784 in the southeastern part of the state. She hadn’t been back for many years, so how could I refuse the request? However, being a true bookman, I immediately started thinking about how I could combine book adventures with family visiting.
I really can’t stand driving for long periods of time so each part of our trip had to be restricted to about 5-hour driving sessions. A really bright book spot in Kentucky is the University of Kentucky’s Special Collections and its curator extraordinaire, Jim Birchfield. That had to be our first stop. But Lexington was 11 hours away from New Castle, Delaware which meant I had to find a place halfway between to spend a night. MapQuest told me that Morgantown, West Virginia, was my halfway mark. I searched for a downtown hotel near the waterfront and found the Hotel Morgan.
The hotel was right next to the Morgantown History Museum so we visited that and were pleasantly greeted by a full printing shop set up, along with other interesting historical displays. I had forgotten most of my knowledge of West Virginia history (if I ever had it) so the history of this state was really interesting. After the museum, we discovered that one of the best restaurants in the city was on the top floor/roof of our hotel. The night was perfect, weather-wise, so we scheduled ourselves for dinner on the outdoor patio overlooking the town and Monongahela River.
The next day we left for Lexington to visit Jim Birchfield. At his recommendation we stayed at the Gratz Park Inn, a boutique hotel in the center of Lexington filled with horse racing memorabilia.
Jim picked us up the next morning and gave us a tour of UK’s Special Collections. We started in the very large, multi-roomed basement with the King Library Press, the famous printing office established by Victor and Carolyn Hammer in 1956. Dr. Paul Holbrook, who has been associated with the Press for many years, was there and gave us a personal tour and history.
Jim took us to lunch in the facility dining room and we swapped book stories as always happens when bibliophiles get together. It is so nice to talk with librarians who are just as involved with the love of books.
As we were leaving the dining room, Jim called us back and said he had the perfect photo opportunity for us. He brought us over to the wall outside the dining room and told Millie and I to stand there while he took a picture.
The afternoon was spent visiting a few sights and a bookstore. We visited Mike Courtney at Black Swan Books where, of course, I bought a book! I wished that I had time to visit Glover’s Bookery but time ran out.
The next day saw us travel to Louisville which is only about an hour away from Lexington. I had done a great deal of business with a very pleasant bookseller in Louisville by the name of Charles Bartman. We had never met in person and all our business had been done via phone and email. While planning our trip I asked him if it would be possible to visit him. He said that his books were in a garage attached to his home but that I was welcome to visit.
We were a bit anxious that Millie would be bored as I looked at books. Boy, were we wrong! Charlie and Bonnie met us at door and the conversation didn’t stop for a minute. They love to travel and so do we, so we had lots of foreign places to talk about. As lunch time approached, they said that they had prepared lunch for us rather than have us all go out and asked “Do you drink Cava?” These are my kind of people! I bought lots of books (nothing to do with the Cava I’m sure) and we just had a great time. This is what bookselling is all about – making new friends.
We were then off on our 3 hour trip to Flat Lick, taking back roads through scenic hills. Millie got to see her aunt, brother, and various cousins, and catch up with the local gossip. She was especially nostalgic about her old school building which now stands abandoned and for sale. I wanted to show a picture of her standing in front of it with the caption “Millie considering a major renovation project” and see if we could get her relatives interested but then had second thoughts.
Finally it was time to say goodbye to all the relatives and head back to Delaware. We decided to travel the Virginia route on the way home so out came MapQuest again and there was Lexington, Virginia at the halfway mark. We drove through the Cumberland Gap following the reverse course of Daniel Boone, through Tennessee and up to Lexington, Virginia. We had time to tour Washington and Lee University and its museum devoted to Robert E. Lee (and George Washington). The bookstore there had a rare book section of books for sale concerning Lee and Washington. I think this is the first time I have ever seen a selection of rare books for sale in a museum bookstore.
We had drinks at the restaurant next to the hotel and Millie quickly struck up a conversation with two locals. They told us about a restaurant in the historic part of Lexington. We got to the restaurant, got the last table on the outdoor porch overlooking the main street, and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. The cadets from Virginia Military Institute were all dressed in their uniforms and enjoying the beginning of their new school year – some cadets enjoying it more than others by the sounds of it.
The next day took us up Virginia to Washington and Baltimore. We had lunch in the historic town of Havre de Grace sitting on the patio while watching the Susquehanna flow by.
It was a perfect ending to a perfect trip.
(Posted on the Oak Knoll Biblio-Blog, presented here by permission of the author.)