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Muhlenberg Music Museum: An interesting day trip

A map wall shares the home locations of visitors to the Muhlenberg County Music Museum, which includes all 50 of the United States and 21 foreign nations.

The reputation of Muhlenberg County in the world of country and rock-and-roll music is well known the world over, but did you know the community maintains several attractions and venues highlighting those cultural contributions?

The Muhlenberg Music Museum, located at 200 North First Street in Central City, is a must-see destination for fans of The Everly Brothers, Merle Travis, John Prine and more.

The museum – operated by the Central City Tourism Commission – features the music and artifacts born from the talent which sprouted from the rolling hills and coal-mining culture of the county.

The Everlys – or simply “The Brothers” – are the main focus of the museum, with a vinyl record library from across the world featuring their biggest hits such as “Bye Bye Love” and “All I Have To Do Is Dream” in the collection, as well as memories and objects from numerous “Homecoming” concerts the duo held in Central City through the 1990s.

Phil and Don were inducted into the Rock and Hall of Fame in 1986, part of the inaugural class of genre giants.

The museum also has displays honoring the work of Travis, widely-considered the single biggest star of the thumbpicking style of guitar. Much of Travis’ music spoke of the plight of coal miners, though the Country Music Hall-of-Famer never worked in the industry.

Travis learned to play from Mose Rager, a coal miner and part-time barber from Drakesboro, along with Ike Everly, the patriarch of rock’s first superstar family act. Rager and Everly were inspired by native son Kennedy Jones, who probably heard the style from Arnold Shultz.

While Jones is considered the “father of thumbpicking,” many fans look to Shultz, an African American from Ohio County, as the musician who likely inspired the growth of the style.

A “Four Legends” monument on Merle Travis Highway in Drakesboro is dedicated to Jones, Rager, Everly and Travis, though interest in Shultz continues to grow in modern fans of the playing style.

The building the museum is housed within was once an auto dealership, and the former service area has been put to great use as the home of the Kentucky Motorsports Hall of Fame and Museum.

Inside the Kentucky Motorsports Hall of Fame and Museum, a display features Kim Bard and other notable west Kentuckians. Kim is a former NASCAR Busch driver, has raced NHRA events, and currently drives monsters trucks overseas. Kim and husband Tom own The Bard Distillery in Graham.

The museum features a collection of some of the finest stock car, late model, dragster, dirt track and cart racing examples within a day’s drive, highlighting the careers and efforts of Kentucky’s legends in the sport.

The attraction was once housed in Owensboro, but moved the Central City through the dedicated efforts of local enthusiasts and the Tourism Commission.

Be prepared to spend some time in both museums as your eye catches something interesting wherever you might turn. And don’t worry about admission for large groups; the museum charges no fees, though donations are graciously accepted.

Museum hours are 9 a.m. until 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, and the fourth Saturday of each month from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m.

The museum is located just one block from Central City’s downtown business district, which features shopping and eatery choices.

Other attractions in Muhlenberg County:

  • Greenville is the county seat of Muhlenberg County, and is highlighted by stately homes built by some of the early coal-mining millionaires, as well as a well-maintained Main Street lined with late-19th and early 20th Century structures. Downtown Greenville is watched over by the historic 1907 Muhlenberg County Courthouse, which is topped by a Baroque octagonal cupola and four-faced clock. Just down the sidewalk is a one-of-a-kind 9/11 Memorial featuring an 18-foot box beam from the 91st floor of the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Nearby Old Greenville Cemetery holds the graves of several U.S. Colored Troops veterans of the Civil War, and Lieutenant Ephraim Brank, the sharp-shooting hero of the Battle of New Orleans.
  • Paradise Park in Powderly recreates what an early 20th Century coal-mining town in Muhlenberg County would have looked like. Structures inside the park include the birth house of Merle Travis, a restored UMWA union hall, a two-room schoolhouse, and a shotgun house.
  • Bard Distillery is a family-owned bourbon operation housed at the former Graham High School, located just off the Western Kentucky Parkway. The Bard family continues improvements in the historic property, and their award-winning products can be purchased on-site. For more information, visit thebarddistillery.com
  • Lake Malone State Park was established in 1961 as a flood control and recreation project by Muhlenberg, Logan, Butler and Todd counties. The 788-acre lake is enclosed by towering sandstone bluffs, including a natural arch along the shore. Attractions inside the state-owned property include a public beach, a boat dock, primitive and RV camping, and the Big Twigs, a group of giants who call the forests their home. While there are no dining facilities near the park, Shady Cliff Restaurant and Resort in Logan County offers chef-prepared meals with beautiful views of the lake.

By C. Josh Givens

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