September 2015 – We stayed in Maysville Kentucky for two weeks, and every day was filled with fun things to do. Some of our favorites were various tours we took around town.
Kentucky is tobacco country, and Maysville once flourished as the heart of the burley tobacco industry. Burley tobacco leaves are what give cigarettes their flavor, and the climate and landscape here is ideal for growing this kind of tobacco.
This is a very labor intensive industry, and it seemed that all the guys we talked to had worked in the tobacco fields at some point when they were younger. It almost seemed as if it was a rite of passage to spend some teenage years making money out in the hot sundrenched tobacco fields or climbing high up in the barns where the leaves are carefully hung to dry.
Our friend Norbert wanted to be sure we experienced this unique aspect of Maysville life, and he took us out to some fields to see the harvesting in action. We’d never seen tobacco fields before, but in no time we could recognize the broad, yellowing leaves from a distance. We wandered in and out of a few barns utterly wide-eyed at the painstaking effort it takes to cut and dry a tobacco plant’s precious leaves.
Apparently, farm machinery has been developed to take some of the back breaking effort out of the cutting process, but it doesn’t do the job nearly as well as human hands. As sweat poured down our brows in the sweltering Kentucky sun, we watched a bunch of strapping young men bounding on and off of tractors, cutting the leaves, loading them up on trucks and driving them off to the barn.
As we followed a truck to one of the barns, we noticed other trucks loaded with tobacco leaves on the roads too. This was cutting season, and now that the plants were ready to be harvested, it was all hands on deck to get it done.
In the barns, we watched in amazement as these young men leaped up into the rafters effortlessly. They were nimble, strong and quick on their feet. Sidestepping out along the beams, they each took a wide stance facing the racks of leaves, and then the bucket brigade began.
Guys on the ground unloaded the leaves from the truck and passed them up to waiting hands in the rafters that, in turn, passed them higher. And so it went, up and up and up until the guys at the top placed the leaves on the racks to dry.
The tobacco industry has all but disappeared today, but the elegant buildings of downtown Maysville are testament to a time when the local industry thrived. One particularly beautiful building is the Cox Building
When we first arrived, everyone kept sending us to the Cox Building. Afterall, not only is it home to the College Cafe, with its yummy desserts and inexpensive gourmet Friday lunches, but it also houses the visitors center on the second floor.
And everyone kept telling us, “Make sure you take a tour of the Cox Building too!”
When we poked our heads inside the door of the visitors center, we saw an enormous corner office with a big desk and huge windows overlooking the town.
Suddenly we heard a perky, welcoming voice greeting us, and we quickly got caught up in a rapid fire conversation with a petite and vivacious gal named Suzie. As she talked to us about how much she loved living in Maysville, we were struck that she didn’t have even a hint of that leisurely, drawn out Kentucky drawl we’d been hearing around town. She spoke with a British accent!
She was talking so fast about the history of Maysville and the history of Kentucky that I was still scratching my head to figure out out how a Brit came to be the visitors center’s hostess of this very cool and quintessentially American town as we found her leading us up the stairs on a tour that would soon reveal the many hidden secrets of the stately yet mysterious Cox Building. But how unique and special it is that a small town filled with people who grew up together welcomes not just tourists but new residents with such open arms!
It turns out that the Cox Building is a Masonic Temple and that the Freemasons of the York Rite Knights Templar built it to their very unusual specifications over a century ago. In the last few years, the building has been lovingly restored, and by some stroke of luck, what might have been a very superficial makeover was given a chance to become a very detailed restoration.
Back in 2010, the Cox Building suffered a terrible fire caused by the heat of a workman’s light igniting the tinder dry interior wood. The whole town watched in horror as flames shot out of the turrets (there are heart wrenching photos of the fire on the first floor of the building).
That fire could easily have been the end of this magnificent building. However, a wise insurance agent had insisted that the town guard against disaster and insure the building for its true value. So, when this disaster struck, they were financially prepared.
But of course! This is, after all, a town that has been trained to prepare for disaster by the Mighty (and unpredictable) Ohio River!
The insurance claim allowed the town to attend to every detail in the building’s reconstruction, and what details there are. The frescoes on the walls and ceilings are exquisite!
I won’t give away all the secrets of the Cox Building here, because the mysteries of the building and its Masonic origins are best experienced in person. The unusual architecture, bizarre staircases, and obscure symbols etched on everything from interior door hinges to exterior stonework all left us reeling.
So, we’ll join the chorus: When you visit Maysville, take a tour of the Cox Building!
Another special tour we enjoyed was through the Kentucky Gateway Museum. The entire history of Maysville is written out and shown with pictures in great detail, from the arrival of Simon Kenton and Daniel Boone, who settled the area, through the rise of industry, to the rise of the Ohio River floodwaters. (By the way, the Boone family tavern was down by the river and you can see headstones of the Boone relatives buried in the Pioneer Cemetery in town).
Our favorite part, however, was the miniatures exhibit. The Kathleen Savage Miniatures collection is a stunning display of building replicas done in exact one twelfth scale, that is, where one inch equals one foot.
There are living room interiors and dining room interiors complete with furniture and table place settings (imagine a fork or spoon in perfect 1/12 dimensions!). One of our favorites was the jewelry store. Peeking into the well lit store through the windows and door, you can see jewelry on display. Every piece is crafted with real gem stones!
The centerpiece of the whole exhibit is a replica of Princess Diana’s ancestral home.
The exterior of this building is extremely grand, and I found that while I was peering at the enormous dining room and luxurious bedrooms I could almost imagine what life would be like inside such a home. Being served at the long dining room table or relaxing in the library almost seemed possible!
All of the miniatures have paintings on the walls along with candles and vases and all the other decorations that go with an elegant home. The surprise in Spencer House was seeing miniature portraits of Diana herself!
Maysville boasts another wonderfully skilled craftsman who brings antiques to life, but in full, lifesize scale. Joe Brannen replicates antique furniture in a wonderful workshop at the end of the main drag in town. We stopped by to visit and were instantly enveloped in the deliciously pungent smell of wood.
Joe has every woodworking tool imaginable, and there are pieces of wood on the workbenches that are in every stage of transformation from raw wood to fine works of art. Out front we saw the finished products: beautiful pieces of museum quality furniture.
Maysville boasts its own homegrown Hollywood celebrity family fame too. Singer Rosemary Clooney was born in Maysville in 1928, and her nephew, George Clooney grew up in the area.
Celebrity sightings are fairly common in Maysville, and when we had dinner overlooking the river at Caproni’s, we admired a huge display of dinner plates signed by all kinds of dignitaries that have eaten there. Front and center, of course, was a plate signed by George Clooney!
We thoroughly enjoyed Maysville, Kentucky, but what really surprised us during our stay was how many events there were going on. It seemed that every day there was some kind of special gathering, and in no time our usually empty Day Planner was full to overflowing with activities. We just had to stick around!
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NOTE: The timing of this post is really unfortunate. I discovered after publishing it that in the same moments that I was writing about the Cox Building fire above, another horrific blaze was burning in a group of row houses in downtown Maysville. These were buildings we knew well from our runs and walks in town. Tragically, five people died in the fire, a mother, her three young children and a neighbor. Words can’t express the grief we feel for our special friends in this beautiful and vibrant town as they rally together once again in the face of unspeakable loss.
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Here’s a little more info about some of these special spots in Maysville:
- The Cox Building – History and construction of this extraordinary Masonic Temple
- Kathleen Savage Miniatures Collection – World class miniatures exhibit
- Kentucky Gateway Museum – Town history and home to the miniatures collection
- Rosemary Clooney – Singer and recording artist
- Caproni’s on the River – Italian food with a view!
- Where is Maysville, Kentucky? – Google Maps
If you take your RV to Maysville, there are two RV parks across the river in Aberdeen, Ohio, that have a great view of the town:
- Maysville River Park and Marina – On the Kentucky side of the river in Maysville
- Lively Lady Marina & Campground – RV camping on the Ohio side of the river in Aberdeen
Other posts from our RV travels to Maysville, Kentucky:
- Thanks for the Great Times, Maysville KY!! 11/01/15
- A Sweet Life on the Ohio River – Maysville, Kentucky 10/04/15
- Maysville, Kentucky – Come for the History, Stay for the People! 09/23/15
- OMG – We Made The Front Page! 09/07/15