A town of Awe

Destination unreachable, but landscape is awesome

awilson1@herald-leader.comOctober 28, 2010 

  • Fall colors

    The folks who follow Kentucky fall color at Kentucky Tourism (Kytourismapps.com/colorfall/) advise that peak color is fading just about everywhere now, but that southeastern Kentucky seems to be the best place to find it still.

    At Jenny Wiley State Resort Park in Prestonsburg, check out the the Lakeshore Trail and the Moss Ridge Trail. At Lake Cumberland State Resort Park in Jamestown, the rain and the wind took its toll earlier this week, and the fading and falling of the leaves is continuing apace.

    Hurry to find the hickories and maple in still vibrant reds and the hickories in bright orange.

  • Project Dateline is an occasional series we began in 2006 to explore Kentucky towns with fascinating names.

AWE — The town itself is just plain elusive.

The beauty at sunrise where, by all rights, the town should be, is anything but. Perched on rock outcroppings, the colorful trees seemed to have marched up the hill in steps, layering their colors, which are hit by the sunshine in shards as if by spotlights.

The trees are the valiant survivors of last July's flash flood and the serious subsequent scrubbing of the land they rest on. The creek that slopped over its banks has so reordered its own bed that the road is indistinguishable from it in places. This means that the road is sometimes 4 feet below the ground level now sprouting fall wildflowers.

The trees have triumphed somehow, sending up their flags of color, thumbing their nose at the ravages of July and the succeeding paucity of August.

It's the trees that keep you moving in the direction of Awe, thinking there is more to see. To the right, there is a burned-out house with an empty clothesline out back. Then two old barns, long past their tobacco-hanging days.

Soon enough, it is clear, there is no getting to Awe. The road has narrowed, become rocky and steep and impassable. Surrounded by the reverential forest of light, shadows and flabbergasted leaves, there is no way back.

Coming down off the ridge, James C. Esham, 68, and his red truck pull off to make room and conversation. He knew Awe as a boy, he says, but there hasn't been an Awe "since a long time."

"There's nothing there," he reiterates. "I could take you there, but I'm not sure I'd know I was there when we got there because there's nothing to show me where it is."

Nothing? No schoolhouse or church? No houses or post office?


The best Esham can remember, it was Charlie Probst, a German Dutch, who lived up there his whole life until he died 15 years ago. He lived to be 98.

Now the only information the Internet can supply anyone is a tidbit explaining how the postmaster of Awe named the town after himself. His name was Anthony Wayne Everman.

Esham is highly doubtful of that story. Yes, there are Evermans in Lewis County, and some Hetricks, some Heinishes, some named Standards, but "no Evermans up there. In my opinion, the name came from those Germans."

He is even skeptical that there ever was a post office. Does remember that the road was better once when he was little but, no, never, ever paved. The fall color was better back then, too. Just was.

He apologizes about the mess there now, then offers that there's another way into Awe, on Straight Fork Road. Go around the ridge by way of Ky. 344 and Ky. 59, turning at Camp Dix onto Straight Fork. From there, he says, it's a straight shot, provided the road "don't give out, which it will."

He offers, too, that Probst's daughter lives around here, even gives directions to her place. But she's not home, either. No one, it seems, stands ready to explain Awe.

The second way is about as successful as the first. Some progress, then 1.1 miles from Awe, no farther. Still, the awesomeness is holding fast. As the day has warmed, steam has subtly poured off the tin roofs of houses in the hollows, and wild turkeys have taken flight into the almost breathless air. The dew stays longer than expected on the wildflowers, and the woodpeckers are not drowned out by man nor beast.

It all seems an odd place to put a town, almost 1,000 feet up, far from easy access.

It's all a funny thing that it's on the map still, a thing of the past, referenced exactly by a global positioning system precisely to the foothold.

And yet so exacting in description from the time it was likely named and the distance of a hundred years.

Reach Amy Wilson at (859) 231-3305 or at 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3305.

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