Meade County, Kentucky is like a pirate’s treasure. A golden chest of hidden history clothed in science and culture, and lying within the ancient coastline of its miles of Ohio River frontage. The Promised Land drawing buffalo and people to that defining border’s stopping point.
Three hundred and twenty-five square miles. That’s a lot of land to land upon. But it’s that shoreline on the mighty Ohio River that makes this land so intriguing! More Ohio River miles than any other county in Kentucky. And the rest of the water, moving toward it, is moving underground in subterranean passage!
Meade County is part of Kentucky’s great karst [sinkhole] plateau. Often called the Mississippian Plateau [for the geologic age of its rocks] or the “Pennyrile” [for a plant], it was once covered by that great expanse of grasslands that the Europeans called the “Barrens.” A necklace of prairies that surrounded the Western Kentucky Mountains like a collar.
These “Barrens” were on very fertile land. And to keep the forests at bay, it was likely maintained through the use of fire by Native Americans. Burnt to grow the prairie grassland that attracted game, including the Buffalo crossing the river here and at the Falls of Ohio upstream.
So, what would you see floating down on your own, after you portaged your early flatboat past the famous falls of the Ohio River at a place now called Louisville. What is that strange, cold water stream entering here, growing different life, different things? [Doe Run Creek with Freshwater Red Algae]. It is the last significant creek that you will see for a while, flowing into the river from the land upon which you will be living.
Now just towering walls of tight green growth and rock sequence. And beauty. You’ve now entered Meade County and the famous Barrens of Kentucky!
There is a long gash in the ridge, a small front of level land. A place to land. Maybe a place in which to hike on. And what glories you will find on that tabletop land. Rolling fields to farm, studded with protective sandstone castles set out around.
You will come back to this place. But first, float further down. Gorgeous cliffs, now, on both sides of the river. Scary, really, to be alone in such wilderness!
There, another bottom. A little lazy, sideways creek a’flowing. Flood land, you think. Keep going. The river is flowing north again. How can that be? Current is strong, though. Keep the course and see what is coming. A longer bottom, not flat like before. So many hillocks and broken up homes. Or at least they could be. Are any of these Native American mounds?
Oh, here is a big bend of the river sweeping back around. Plenty of flat land here to farm, but where to land? Keep going. You need to find a town. And a place with an appreciable watercourse to move your goods inland!
And so you find it! It is a creek named for the wolves that prowl around it. And a flat cut-off meander of the river in which to get your first crops to the dinner table. This will be our home. Wolf Creek, in what will become Meade County. But what lies atop that knob, there in the middle?
That gash in the cliff you first saw coming down has become Brandenburg, the first good way to get your goods up and down and around that tabletop land. It is a stunning place, with the prettiest waterfront in all the Commonwealth. Even prettier before the tornado walked it down in 1974. And until the 1960s, you could take a ferry over to a forested, lonely Indiana landing still seen on the other side!
Grab some lunch at Jailhouse Pizza and eat in one of the old cellular structures. Then get some coffee and pastries at the Daily Grind Coffee Shop and Deli. Now you are free to explore these lands first sighted from the river.
You should begin your journey at the new Meade County History Museum. History, culture, and science abound. Sip of its knowledge and you will be filled with expectation. You will now know what surrounds you as you drive the route on land that you passed floating down!
And that museum has everything you need to understand the scene! Biology and geology, culture and history. Even that mysterious, enigmatic Brandenburg Stone. I could tell you more about it, but you should go there and learn for yourself!
Alright now, back in the car. Head northwest into that big river bend you found. But take the “High” road out from Brandenburg. The view is spectacular, and not just of the river valley below!
On to Battletown. Must be some meaningful history to that name [probably just a fist fight over where the Post Office was to be located!]. How about Oolite just across the way? That was once a real town, and a mining one. Oolite is a type of limestone rock, composed of fine grains, almost sand-like in tiny, glued shapes.
But Oolite is a forest now. So much of what was developed is gone. Look at the size of the width of the trees. Tall, yes, but relatively young. Utilize that sizing technique like a mental eraser, bringing back to mind the view of the land after it was first turned to the industry of man.
“Paradise Bottom” is next. Is it what you admired, in passing, from the boat? Now on the ground, you see the difference you’ve found. Not just a floodplain. Some other geographic feature is being made! Some hills are mound-like, mysterious. But I don’t know of any Woodland Period mound building people that lived here!
To further explore history, and the history of the thing itself, I must say that this is where the Brandenburg Stone was found! Does it really contain Coelbren writings? [And are those things really real?]
And how strange is the website, “Weird Meade County” [www.weirdmeadecounty.com]? One of the stories presented is “The Axe Murderer of Paradise Bottom.” And there are pictures. Witches? More strange places, and lots of ghosts in your faces, if you have the courage to Google “Weird Meade County.”
Farther up into the Big Bend is a convenient loop road on which to drive around. Just at the end, if you look carefully ahead, stare high atop the river’s edge at the opposite cliff that announces Indiana’s presence. Up there, you can just about see the building that houses the well-known Leavenworth, Indiana establishment called, “The Overlook Restaurant.” An excellent destination in itself, even if it is over there looking down from Indiana. And it has a spectacular view of what you are now driving through!
There are a number of deep rock quarries along this river. Aggregate Stone, they say. What is it for? From what strata is it mined? And how was that stone deposited in the ancient geologic history of that riverbank? There is another large quarry operation, found as you swing back along the river, near Wolf Creek, the place to which you are now headed. Wait for a moment, however, as traffic is stopped during blasting!
There is the creek! The one seen from the sea of the river that you recently floated. The Ohio River, with the strength to bear you forward. Early French explorers saw the creek, too. The same ones that found “Big Bone Lick” farther up in Kentucky in the 1700s!
Did they stop here looking for more ancient bones? There were buffalo here, and it is said that the creek was named for wolf packs following them in. And you are following them, too. Right to the river landing from which you will now launch the skiff your car is pulling!
Wolf Creek is a destination location. At least for me and the local people. It has a Kentucky Fish and Wildlife, well maintained ramp leading into the water. And there is sand! Enough for a beach, of sorts. Is that from erosion of the Big Clifty Sandstone capping off outlying knobs of the Dripping Springs Escarpment?
A tent is up, and fishers fishing. Bike riders visiting, and I am looking for freshwater mussels. The Ohio is famous for such shells and, at one time, they might have been made into your buttons, or granular starter “seeds” for that old Asian pearl that your mother is wearing!
Wolf Creek was once a thriving community, and you can see why from its location on the river. Many of its houses still remain, along with a strong church presence. But I think it is now a more comfortable hamlet of local residents.
Let us now penetrate the “Little Bend” of the Ohio River farther downstream. The access road is on the central ridge, and you immediately recognize fields of affluent agriculture. This is a special place in which to live. And that feeling only increases as you slide down into the river’s fertile bottoms. What treasures are buried in Meade County, Kentucky!
Time to return to the historic slopes of Brandenburg. Through Andyville [nice name!], where you will find the beloved Stull’s Country Store. For 50 years, it has been feeding the locals. Famous for its barbecue, and if you are lucky enough to catch one of its delicious Friday night fish fries, famous for that too!
On the way back, you will pass through Payneville. But you will not be the first to have passed that way. For nearby is the Payneville Petroglyph site. Bird track carvings left by Native Americans.
Maybe they, too, were hunting the buffalo where Wolf Creek enters the Ohio River!