Back roads and bulldozers: balancing preservation, progress

The regal white house on Paris Pike has looked down on the passageway from Fayette to Bourbon County since 1791 —before Kentucky became a state. And now its days are numbered, if a new owner or renter doesn’t show up in the next 30 days.

There are logical explanations about it all, but the story adds one more dimension to the questions building in my mind over the last few months. The questions were framed by back-to-back experiences in Door County, Wis., and Brown County, Ind. — two areas where back roads with all of their dips and turns are part of the beauty for which their counties are known — respites from the speed and pressure of interstates.

Driving home to Nicholas County after two weeks in Door County in April, the usually quiet drive down U.S. 68 had, in my absence, been invaded by bulldozers. Long strips of brown earth and gravel intersected the spring green of fields. And, sitting forlornly, a farmhouse awaits demolition.

Maybe it wouldn’t have hit me in the same way, or raised the questions if I hadn’t been driving those other roads in other places. Raised in Paris and Lexington, I was more familiar with pristine fields and white fences than ragged fields that roll, so it has been a bit of a surprise to find the different landscape going north lovely in its own way.

But those roads I’ve been driving in other parts this spring touched my soul.

So each time I drive past the house with the empty front porch or sit in the dust of the hillside shattered now into huge junks of the rock native to Nicholas County, I think about the stories lived inside those empty rooms and wonder about the laughter and the tears, the memories.

During my adult years, I lived the 20 years of arguments regarding the Paris Pike, public safety, historic preservation and the equine industry. During the actual construction, I lived at both ends of Lexington Road (so-called from the Bourbon County end) and Paris Pike (from the Fayette County end.) I drove it five days a week.

It was beautifully done. More recently it was the widening of 68 from Paris to Millersburg, and then the bypass around Millersburg. It’s the path I drive regularly. Past the signs at each end of Paris which read “Horses, history, hospitality.”

I miss the goats that rambled on that now nonexistent hillside, and the curtains on the windows and other signs of life in that old farmhouse, with the same trees shading the front porch and the road that carries people beyond the manicured beauty of Fayette and Bourbon counties into the wilder beauty of Nicholas County.

So I wonder. And as another piece of history faces an uncertain future, my wonderment grows. I wonder if all of the back roads will give way to bulldozers. I wonder what it is necessary for us to give up to gain safety. What future generations will never know — a tradeoff for “development” and “progress.”

I don’t pretend to have the answers. But I wonder if anyone else wonders, too. And if someday the bulldozers will rumble their way into Brown County and Door County, heaven forbid, and the respites that offer sanity in a high-pressure world will all be covered over with concrete and the front porches will be gone, as well.

I hope a buyer comes along quickly for the home on the outskirts of Paris. And that we never stop wondering about the cost, as well as the promise, of progress.

Kay Collier McLaughlin is an author and leadership consultant who lives in Nicholas County. Reach her at kcollierm@gmail.com.