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The International Writers Magazine

Where North Meets South
Ari Kaufman

A little 300 mile day trip was my choice on a rainy Sunday a few weeks back. Destinations were south of Indianapolis, and much was to be seen before the winter sun set just prior to 6pm in the Hoosier State. Mid-morning, we rolled a shade over 100 miles south on Interstate 65, through rain and a few hills until we crossed one of the numerous bridges over the Ohio River into Louisville, Kentucky.

"Looville" is Kentucky's largest city. Founded in 1778 by George Rogers Clark (remember him from his Natioanl Historic Park in Vincennes, Indiana?) it is named after King Louis XVI of France. While perhaps best known as the home of "The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports": the Kentucky Derby, Louisville also has many other appealing features the media would (typically) just as soon ignore.
Situated in north-central Kentucky on the Kentucky-Indiana border at the only natural obstacle in the Ohio River, the Falls of the Ohio, the city has a shade more than a quarter-million residents.Because it includes counties and cities in Southern Indiana, the "metropolitan area" is regularly referred to as Kentuckiana. A resident of Louisville is referred to as a Louisvillian, and some “native sons” include President Zachary Taylor, Colonel Sanders, Pee Wee Reese, Johnny Unitas and the esteemed scientologist formerly known as Tom Cruise.
The city's culture is influenced by both the Midwest and South, hence Louisville is often referred to as the "northernmost Southern city and southernmost Northern city in the United States." Based upon my three trips there and the folks I know from the city (including my cousin's husband, a heroic Lieutenant currently in Afghanistan), I'd concur with that culturally-clever moniker.
If I can have the atheists and ACLU supporters avert their eyes, religiously-speaking, Wikipedia notes that:
 "A sizable number of Louisvillians belong to a Protestant faith, and Southeast Christian Church, one of the largest Christian churches in the United States, is located in Louisville. Additionally, Louisville is home to the oldest Black Seventh-day Adventist congregation, Magazine Street Seventh-day Adventist Church.
There is also a noticeably large Jewish population of around 10,000 in the city, which is a larger raw percentage than my hometown of Indianapolis--who knew? Most Jewish families came from Russia at the turn of the 20th century with a sizable number (around 1,000) of Soviet Jews having moved to Louisville since 1991. Jewish immigrants founded "The Jewish Hospital" which was once the center of the city's Jewish district. Jewish hospital recently merged with the Catholic healthcare system CARITAS."
The city's architecture contains a blend of old and new, or so it is said. The Old Louisville neighborhood is the largest historic preservation district solely featuring Victorian homes and buildings in the entire United States; it is also the fourth largest such district overall.

There are many modern skyscrapers downtown, as well as older preserved structures, many walking distance from the River. The buildings of West Main Street in downtown Louisville boast the largest collection of cast iron facades of anywhere outside of New York's SoHo district. We spent our time there by chance.
I, of course, wanted to make a second trip to the Louisville Slugger (Baseball bat) Factory, and Maria obliged. This is why she's my girl.
We eschewed the pricy tour of the actual factory ($10 per person), but were still able to peek around those rooms and snap a photo. What we were able to do was look around the museum portion of the facility, the outside with the HUGE baseball bat, gift shop and the batting cage where I took ten swings with an Alex Rodriguez model (34 inches, 30 ounces), shattering it on my 7th swing. Sorry, A-rod. Like the bat, the balls were authentic white pearls and the machine was old-fashioned classic with the rotating arm. Picture Tom Hanks in A League of their Own: "C'mon, Jimmy, you're hitting like a girl!"
Continuing with the basebal theme in a city that is, sportswise, known more for horses and basketball, we then stopped by Louisville Slugger Field at the edge of town.
The stadium, built in 2000, is the home of the Triple A (International League) Lousiville "Bats." I would have thought "Sluggers" worked better, but with Bats, they worked both the animal and the baseball implement into the logo of Cincinnat’s farm club. The stadium, that has a statue of the city's own baseball hero, Hall of Fame Brooklyn Dodger, Pee Wee Reese, at its entrance, can accommodate more than 13,000 fans. My city's minor league baseball jewel, Victory Field, holds nearly 16,000 onlookers, with a view of downtown Indianapolis. Louisville went the other way, offering the Ohio River and the state of Indiana to its fans that sit behind home plate.
As the fog rolled in from the east, we cruised back north across the Ohio, and exited at Exit 0, near the town of Clarksville, population 22,000, in order to get a nice view of the city’s skyline to the south.
Not at all surprisingly, Clarksville is named for our friend, American Revolutionary War General George Rogers Clark, who once lived on a point of land on the Ohio River. Founded in 1783, the town is believed to be the first true American settlement in the Northwest Territory. Local historians say that Clarksville is also the starting point of the Lewis and Clark's west expedition, as it was here that the pair joined up to start their journey. {However, several other localities claim to be the true start of the journey, most notably St. Louis, Missouri.}
The town failed to flourish in the 1800s, due to the many floods. It was a popular dueling spot for Kentuckians who wanted to dodge Kentucky's anti-dueling laws. Yes, no duels in the Commonwealth of Kentucky back then. But in the Hoosier State, sure. The most famous of these duels was the 1809 duel between Henry Clay and Humphrey Marshall.
Clarksville grew due to the post-World War II housing boom. The population went from 2,400 in 1940 to 22,000 in 2000. This was helped by the building of a mall and other commercial endeavors north of the old town. More recently, hotels and restaurants have been built like Hooters, a Japanese Steakhouse, Residence Inn, Hampton Inn and Holiday Inn; they dot the perimeter of the river nicely. Clarksville is also the birthplace of the popular midwestern restaurant chain, Texas Roadhouse.
The fog was so heavy as we hit "Falls of the Ohio State Park," that aside from not seeing those falls, we could not even see the city of Louisville, looking south across the Ohio. It was rather eerie as all we could see was an abandoned ship and small portions of the bridges. We went to grab some really good and spicy chicken salad and soup at a cute little house that makes big money during the summer selling ice cream. I spoke with the co-owner and he confirmed this fact. His "partner" runs the real estate office on the upper level of the house, which looked old, but was really built just a decade ago.
Then, as we matriculated back to the highways, we went under a small open wall, which actually is one of "city-lines" (I use that term very lightly) between Clarksville and Jeffersonville. It is basically a line (crack and bump in the wet cement) with a cut out opening in a wall with signs on each side welcoming you to the city, as well as recognizing high school teams that have won state titles, like most American cities do.
Jeffersonville, at 28,000 folks, is the birthplace of the Papa John's Pizza restaurant chain.
During the 1920s, the city was a popular gathering place for the Ku Klux Klan, as Louisville and New Albany had strong anti-KKK laws and Jeffersonville did not. Kind of them...not really.

Gambling in the 1930s and 1940s was also instrumental in Jeffersonville's recovery from the Great Depression. Casinos, night clubs, and even a dog track was present, giving the town the nickname "Little Las Vegas". After a businessman from nearby New Albany was gunned down, public sentiment turned against gambling.
As it is told: On January 2, 1948, Indiana State Police raided every casino in the city before the operators could warn each other, and the judge who had devoted the past nine years in eliminating gambling from Jeffersonville, James L. Bottorff, made sure that the equipment was confiscated and the money at the casinos given to charity.

Detouring, naturally, from the interstate for a more scenic and hilly road home to Indy, we took state highway 150 northwest toward the Hoosier National Forest in order to eventually cut straight up Highway 37 northeast back to the capital city.
Our destination, roughly 50 long, soggy miles (and 90 minutes later) away was another former “sin city” type town: French Lick. It stands as home to 2,,000 kind souls, but is perhaps best known as the hometown of NBA Hall of Famer, Larry Bird.
F.L. also was the origin of "Pluto Water," a best selling laxative of the first half of the 20th century, and Tomato Juice was first invented and bottled in French Lick.

After rolling twice through the cute, hilly town square in Paoli, (home of the Paloi Peaks Ski Area—you heard me right: “Ski Indiana!”), we hit the French Lick  “Metro Area,” shared with West Baden Springs ten miles of westward ho later.
 Founded in 1811, French Lick was originally, surprise, a French trading post. Nestled in the hills of southern Indiana, its sulfur springs were utilized for medical benefits starting in 1840. By the later half of the 19th century, French Lick was famous in the United States as a spa town. Franklin Roosevelt won his nomination for his run for president inside the French Lick Springs Hotel. He also went there often to recuperate.

In the early 20th century it also featured casinos attracting celebrities like boxer Joe Louis, composer Irving Berlin and gangster Al Capone. The French Lick Springs Resort was the focal point of most of the entertainment, and the hotel remained open well after the casinos were closed down and the heydey of this town was well past.
The resort closed for renovation in November 2005 and reopened last month as part of the new French Lick Resort Casino (many articles in local magazines here in Indianapolis analyzed and glamorized the event of this nearby wonder), becoming Indiana’s tenth casino in the modern legalized era. The nearby West Baden Springs Hotel is also a marvelous structure that attracted tourists even on this soggy day.
We went there to throw away some dollars, but actually wound up winning a few.
And then we drove 100 miles home through more rain, hills that are nice to view in the daytime, summer and fall, arriving back for dinner in downtown Indianapolis. 

© Ari Kaufman Jan 20th 2007
Ozark Adventure
Ari Kaufman
My fiancee and I (well, maybe just me) felt it incumbent upon us to embark on one final road trip to what many call “the American heartland.

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