WORTH THE TRIP
A weekend adventure to New Madrid, Reelfoot Lake, Wickliffe, and nearby areas
When my husband and I set out on an adventure to fulfill one of the items on my “bucket list,” I felt a little like Mark Twain did in his Life on the Mississippi.
Several years ago I decided I would like to visit the far western spot in Kentucky that looks like a teardrop and can only be reached (by land) when driving through Tennessee. It has been called many names, such as Kentucky Bend, Bessie’s Bend, The Bend, Bubbleland, and most recently New Madrid. According to Mary Reynolds, one of its residents, it is pronounced Mad´-rid, not Ma-drid´ like the capital of Spain.
We followed near the river through several small towns, arriving at Hickman, where we called the Chamber of Commerce (located in the judge’s office) for directions to New Madrid. They suggested we call the sheriff for directions, who asked amusingly, “You’re looking for an adventure, aren’t you?”
After spending the night in Union City, Tennessee, the next morning we drove around Reelfoot Lake, which consists of 18,000 acres of land covered by shallow water where one can see bald cypress trees and nesting pairs of bald eagles. We tried to imagine the earthquakes of nearly 8 on the Richter scale that had formed the lake in 1811-1812.
The commercialization of Tiptonville, Tennessee, soon turned into rural homesteads as we followed KY 22 several miles before seeing the “Entering Kentucky” sign leading into New Madrid. We could see levees all around the soybean fields with trees in the background that followed the Mississippi River surrounding it.
At the beginning of the soybean fields was a sign warning “Dead End.” We could see houses farther in. Working along the road is where we met Mary Reynolds. She had lived in New Madrid for 40 years, but said she and her two teenagers might soon be moving to Tiptonville due to the minimum 15-mile commute as well as regular flooding. In February 2011 they evacuated for two weeks, and again later in the year the water rose to 48 feet, which required them to stay out for a month.
Reynolds reeled off the names and relations of the 18 people who still live on the teardrop, including her brother and his family. She planned to commute back and forth to continue helping him on the farm after she moved. Living there was very important to her family because generations ago Alfred and Adrienne Stepp had owned about 4,000 acres of this land. After giving a portion to his grandson, Stepp had promised Mary’s mother and father (not relatives of Stepp) if they would live there the rest of their lives and take care of him until he died, the remainder of the farm would be theirs. Mary’s father has died but her mother is still living, so Mary and her brother are helping her keep the agreement. They presently tend almost 850 acres. It is bottomland, very fertile, and good for growing crops. Some years they grow corn but in 2011, due to lingering floodwaters, they only had time to grow soybeans and wheat because of their shorter growing season.
As we started to drive away I noticed the mailboxes, so being a former rural mail carrier, I questioned their mail delivery. It comes by the U.S. Postal Service from Tennessee, but if anyone ever questions where she lives, Mary says her answer is definitely Kentucky.
There are many places in Kentucky that I have never been, but New Madrid is no longer on the list. I was not disappointed in our adventure there.
After leaving New Madrid, we had lunch at nearby Memaws Cafe in Hickman, which proved to be a local favorite and it wasn’t hard to understand why. We then drove to the Dorena-Hickman Ferry, off KY 94, which crosses the Mississippi River from Hickman, Kentucky, to Dorena, Missouri. It had gone to the Missouri side, so we did not get to see it, although we were amazed that it crosses such a wide expansion of water. Maybe next time.
I’m glad we did not miss the Fort Jefferson Memorial Cross at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers in nearby Wickliffe. Standing 90 feet tall, it serves as a beacon to people passing on the rivers and can be seen from the three states of Kentucky, Illinois, and Missouri. The cross has an inspiring story of its conception to completion and the site is often used for weddings and special events.
This area has many other interesting places to visit, which you can check out in the Destinations listing.
More to see in the area
(866) 698-6386 or (731) 593-0171
Big Sandy, Tennessee
70 square miles, 18,000-acre lake on the Kentucky/Tennessee border
Off KY 94; runs daily except Christmas Day; summer 7 a.m.-6:15 p.m.; winter 7 a.m.-5:15 p.m.; fare $14 to $42 (single vehicle).
Great River Road
a 3,000-mile, marked scenic route along the Mississippi River passing through four Kentucky counties.
Warren Thomas Black History Museum
603 Moulton Street, Hickman
Housed in the former Thomas Chapel CME Church, the first black church in Hickman was organized in 1866 by newly freed slaves. The current structure was built in 1890. Tours by appointment, (270) 236-2191.
Columbus-Belmont State Park
West of Clinton on KY 123 and US 58 on the Mississippi River at Columbus; Civil War site with museum and huge anchor and chain strung across river to stop Union boats from continuing south on the Mississippi; 7,500-pound cannon.
Fort Jefferson Memorial Cross
On US 51 South, view three states from this 90-foot memorial high upon a bluff at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, on the site of George Rogers Clark’s last outpost. Open dawn to dusk.
Wickliffe Mounds State Historic Site
94 Green Street, Wickliffe
Open March 16-November 15, Wednesday-Sunday, 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. www.parks.ky.gov, click on Find Parks, Historic Sites for Wickliffe Mounds.
Barlow House Museum
509 Broadway/US 60 West, Barlow
Turn-of-the-century 1903 country Victorian house with family furniture and memorabilia. Open Mondays and Fridays 1-4 p.m.; 2nd and 4th Sunday 1-4, or by appointment. Cost $3, under 12 free. For more info, contact Della Johnson, (270) 334 3691.
Source: Kentucky Travel Guide