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— with the first few obligatory shopping stops, and lunch at the Courthouse Café in Whitesburg: under the same management as the Cozy Corner, the place that sells Appalachian folk art and books. Simple lunch, what they called Carbonara, spaghetti with a bit of cheese and a crumpled strip of bacon; we split a slice of pie, nominally banana, but really an excuse for whipping cream: and a stop at the AppalShop (pron. Apple Shop), a private cultural center, heavily into media and film, on all aspects of Appalachia, I actually didn't see much of it — not really much to see for a loose visitor, it's mostly a working facility, which though open to roam around and in, is a place where people can work on their media projects — because I was gently collared by a man about my age, Herbie Smith, striking mane of white hair like a Civil War general, who explained to me what the center is about: he's a film maker but had just been out with some scientists, including one from the Sierra Club, who are monitoring the quality of the watercourses for such things as conductivity, acidity, mineral content etc. Susan and he talked sewage; I explained that I connect with his and the center's work, in that basically all I'm doing is recording what I see, especially buildings, for which in some cases I may eventually be the last person to photograph them, etc.
By late afternoon light we eventually moseyed our way toward Cumberland and Benham, with no map but no real need. The road almost immediately out of Whitesburg is declared a Kentucky Scenic Highway: pretty but big and empty. We soon, both of us by temperament, got off the behemoth highway and found ourselves at or near Ovenfork (also Oven Fork), at an isolated curve in the small winding road, the handsome plain building of the Ovenfork Regular Baptist Church, next to a more nondescript low building of the Lions Club. We stopped, me to photograph, Susan just to get out of the car a bit, and witnessed what we felt was odd activity: a woman waiting by what appeared to be her car, then a man drives up, picked up, they drive off down around into a hollow below; and instantly from the bushes behind the church, a second man out of nowhere, opens the rear door of the car, climbs in and over the seats and drives off, following down the same road round the bend. Susan got the license of the first car, I got the license of the other —
Ovenfork Regular Baptist Church.
Another pit stop at an extraordinarily iconic, and to me beautiful, tiny general store and gas pump that I was later told was in Eolia; founded in 1914 and substantially unchanged: click-click, of course.
Eolia, KY: J. D. Maggard's Store.
Cumberland a large sprawl, and to the casual passerby not great (and of course I know that if we'd poked around for a day or a week it's probably got its stuff!), although the best food store I've seen so far around here, a Food City supermarket where we found habanera peppers, red cabbage, mangoes, avocadoes, and similar luxuries: Susan tanked up.
Finally, Benham, just two miles away, that I'd been wanting to see for some while since its history is closely parallel to that of Jenkins, just International Harvester rather than Consolidation Coal Co., and they have two rather good websites that make you want to visit. Failing light but still plenty enough to take pictures by: a prominent, attractive Methodist Church, most of the town's original buildings, now in use as cultural/tourist attractions. The school for example — large ungainly rectangular brick building (these utilitarian buildings from the 1910's and '20s nothing extraordinary of course) — now a bed and breakfast with restaurant, said to be quite good; a coal museum like at Jenkins, except larger: maybe no more stuff in it, the Jenkins museum is packed full of stuff, but a lot more floor space, in a large building which looks like it might have been the company recreational center, with an interior balcony around at least three, maybe all four sides (it was closed, so I couldn't see), with little rooms: suggestion of hotel or even whorehouse? A "Coal Miners' Theater" in an Art Decoish building; a little memorial park, with a statue of a miner, markers on the first springs used here, a monument apparently to those killed in mine accidents, a railroad car.
The old center of Benham, KY: Main Street. The tallest building is now the Coal Museum; the small building at the end of the street on the left is the Coal Miners' Theater.
And just about as we were leaving, we met a young police officer — by a most peculiar coincidence, when Susan got back to her books a couple of hours later, she tumbled onto a contemporary engraving of Sir Philip Sydney looking very very much like this young man, it was really eerie — to whom we told our little story of what we'd seen at Ovenfork, and he said yes, it probably was some kind of drug activity (rife all thru here) and took careful notes and seemed to be recognizing a pattern.
Then by twilight the not very far ride back home to Jenkins — not far, he says, not driving — with mists forming on the road and rising into clouds, which then from above in a few places, we had some beautiful views of from above. And eventually, very late as usual, to bed.
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Page updated: 7 Dec 20