Cindy and I went on a road trip out to Ohio a couple years ago and we took a nice little day trip along the Ohio River between Huntington, WV and Cincinnati.
I've always been intrigued by state borders, especially ones that are separated by rivers. We've found a number of great drives along the Mississippi, and we knew there would be some great drives along the Ohio.
We started off from Huntington on a rainy morning and went over the Ohio River and back into the state of Ohio along U.S. Highway 52. There was fog in the valleys of the rolling hills going down the river, and even though 52 was a four lane highway for most of the journey to Portsmouth, OH, it was still a neat journey with lots of great views.
We were going by a little town in Ohio called Ironton (the region was huge years ago for iron and fire clay brick production - there's little towns such as Franklin Furnace, Scioto Furnace and Ohio Furnace that were named from the furnace companies that produced the smelt for iron production and that made fire clay bricks for building) and Cindy looked up and saw what appeared to be an observation tower on a bluff just west of town. We're suckers for places like that, so we go back and try to find a road back up to this tower. We drove around the place for about a half hour trying to figure out if there was a marked road, but we didn't see one.
We ended up stopping at this little place that turned out to be a bakery. We asked a teenaged boy working there if there was a way to get up to that tower. He kind of snickered and said, "Well, the only way you'd be able to get up there we be on a four-wheel ATV." He explained that it was private property and the owners put up the tower years before, but it's not open to the public.
Well, OK, that was out. But as luck had it, it turned out the bakery was famous in Southern Ohio - the Red Brick Oven. They had a number of great pastries, breads and baked goods in their cases. We picked up a couple things, some milk and coffee for the road and took off. Sort of glad we found the place. It was actually kind of neat.
We made it into Portsmouth in a driving rain and decided to go back across the river into Kentucky and drive that side for awhile. As we were trying to figure out how to get to the bridge that would take us across, we ended up in the downtown area of Portsmouth next to the river. We turned a corner and found ourselves on a street that was bordered by a huge flood wall that had a series of murals on it depicting the history of Portsmouth. It was pretty cool to see a bunch of images on this flood wall that talked about the 2000 year history of Portsmouth and its place as one of the starting points of the Underground Railroad, it's history of professional football back in the 1920's (Jim Thorpe played for the Portsmouth team in a league that was a predecessor to the NFL), and how it was an important shipping port throughout the 1800's and into the early 1900's. We must have spent a half hour just walking and looking at the large number of murals.
We were on our way out of town on the west side and we passed a place that looked like a micro-brewery. Cindy said, "Hey, let's go back and see what that's about." Turned out it was the original building for the Portsmouth Brewing and Ice Company and had roots of brewing beer there back to the 1830's (see map).
The brewpub was actually called Mault's Brewpub and they served a number of different types of beers. They had a little bar area and a restaurant. We got a couple beers and an appetizer to tide us over and their beer wasn't bad, but it wasn't anything spectacular.
When we were getting ready to leave, a guy came up to us in what looked like it was a party room and he said, "Have you folks seen the basement?" We said, no, we hadn't - kind of wondering what he was getting at. He said, "We're working on restoring the basement and making a banquet area out of it."
He took us down these rebuilt steps and into this big brick lined room in the basement. He explained that the room, back in the 1800's, was their ice room - they'd cut blocks of ice out of the Ohio in the winter time, bring them up to the ice house by cart and store them under sawdust. They would use the ice to brew their beer with and sell to the citizens of Portsmouth.
But, he also told us that the ice room also acted has a holding area for slaves escaping the south via the Underground Railroad. He told us that there was a hidden tunnel down by the river that slaves fleeing the south (Kentucky was a slave state, Ohio was not) would use to get into another area of the basement of the Portsmouth Brewing and Ice Company. He said he couldn't even begin to guess the amount of slaves that may have come through here, but his guess was "hundreds, possibly well over a thousand".
He took us back upstairs into the large room that was set up for a wedding reception. He said the room was actually the alley way between the brew pub and the brewery back in the 1800's and into the 1900's, but they closed it off and made a big room out of it. It was kind of neat.
He took us out into a big garden area where he was smoking a hog and some beef for the reception that night. The garden abutted up to a flood wall and his smoker was right next to the wall. This is the guy - we never did get his name - but he was a nice guy.
Cindy liked all the vegetation and flowers that he had growing in the beer garden. He had tons of tomato plants in all different sizes of containers. Cindy asked him, "What do you use to grow the tomatoes in? "
The guy matter of factly replied, "Shit. Plain and simple. It's shit. I go get manure and put the plants in there. They're the best tasting tomatoes around. We use 'em all the time here in the restaurant."
We thanked the guy for his time and he said, "Hey, check out the old Federal Prison next door before you go." He said it was the second federal prison built in the United States, sometime around the 1820's. They housed river pirates, more than anything, he said.
So, we walked next door and there was this old brick structure. It wasn't very big, but the shell of the building was still intact. It was actually pretty cool. We guessed that there were upstairs and downstairs cells in the place. I thought that something like that should have had some sort of a historical marker. But it didn't.
We got out and took some pictures from time to time when the weather would allow us. Here's a nice picture of Cindy along the Ohio in Kentucky.
We kept on Highway 8, going through a little town called Concord and we kept going on 8. Only problem was that about 12 miles down the road Highway 8 stopped. Dead. I don't like to back track, but we went back a little ways and found a gravel road that took us south. We sort of meandered around on gravel and one-lane black top roads in northern Kentucky for awhile, trying to make our way west. We stopped on a little hillside next to an old cemetery down a dead end road we turned on to (lots of dead ends in northern Kentucky) and had a little snack. The weather was starting to break and it was clearing off and warming up.
We pressed on to the south and west to find a main road and finally came out on Kentucky State Highway 8 - again! Geez - they forgot to finish the friggin' road! 8 took us into Maysville, a nice little river town and the hometown of Rosemary Clooney, the singer and aunt of George Clooney; and the hometown of Heather French, Miss America 2000.
We ended up crossing the river back into Ohio and picked up Highway 52 and headed west. By this time, it was partly sunny and much warmer than it had been earlier in the day. It was going to be a nice 90 minute drive into Cincinnati. Only we found that we had one more stop we had to make.
Outside of Cincinnati about 35 miles to the southeast is a little town called Point Pleasant, OH. There was a sign outside of this little unincorporated town that said, "Birthplace of the 18th President of the United States, Ulysees S. Grant". Well, I've always felt somewhat of an affinity for President Grant as he and I share the same birth date (April 27). So I said, "Huh! Maybe we ought to go see it."
So we turn onto a road and I see a sign that said, "15 miles" or at least that's what I thought it said. I told Cindy, "Oh, geez, I don't want to drive 15 miles to see his birthplace."
So Cindy immediately protested, "Oh, come on! You've said you've always wanted to go there..." And suddenly I look over to my left and there it is. Not any more than 200 yards off of Highway 52. She still gives me grief about A) Not wanting to go even though I thought we were 15 miles away; and B) That I'm still not very observant when it comes to driving.
We parked the car in a lot across the road from his birthplace and I took this picture. Check out the little plaque above the door. That's a marker of how high the Ohio River got in 1937 - the worst flood on record for the Ohio. This house is about a half mile from the banks of the Ohio. The river got to 85 feet deep at that point. Wild.
We went in and gave a donation to look around. An elderly lady dressed in 1800's clothing gave us a short little tour and answered a couple of questions we had. The main house was just a one room building that was actually restored and moved after the flood of 1937 up to Columbus, then it was sent via railroad flatbed to a number of places across the nation for viewing before it ended up back in Point Pleasant in the 40's. A couple additions were added on the back when it came back to its original location. It was furnished with 1800 period furniture and accessories. It was kinda neat. Glad we stopped.
We made it to Cincinnati and our hotel in the downtown area around 4:30. When Cindy found that the hotel was in the heart of a shopping district, she was mad. She said, "If I'd known that there was all this shopping around here, I would have told you this morning to step on it and get me to Cincinnati!"
But I know she enjoyed the trip. We could always go back for shopping in Cincinnati later. And we did...