Where there’s smoke, there’s fire — unless you’re in Hopkinsville, where white smoke routinely rises from barns when they’re curing dark fired tobacco, a local agricultural staple. This sight, along with the vivid green of soybean fields and the golden expanse of corn and wheat at harvest time, paints a pretty picture of this western Kentucky town of 30,000 residents.
With a renewed devotion to its rich and diverse history and the addition of an energetic assortment of eateries, shops, breweries and distilleries, Hopkinsville is experiencing a renaissance. But beyond the bucolic scenery and historic downtown, the heart of “Hoptown,” as locals call it, is undoubtedly its people, who have collaborated to create a storybook small town that welcomes visitors with open arms.
Because of that collaboration, Hopkinsville offers a flexibility to groups that ensures their experience will be perfectly curated to suit them.
Downtown Hopkinsville is replete with boutique shops, public art and historic buildings doubling as distinct attractions.
The Pennyroyal Area Museum is housed in the 1914 former post office building on Ninth Street, just a block away from the city’s historic clocktower. With its stately columns and the historic mailboxes from its post office days, it’s a piece of Hopkinsville history.
“The building itself is our biggest artifact,” said Alissa Keller, executive director of the Pennyroyal Area Museum.
Inside, the museum is crammed full of exhibits about Hopkinsville and Christian County. A wide range of subjects are covered, from artifacts by feminist icon and Hopkinsville native Bell Hooks to an exhibit about the Civil War in Hopkinsville.
The museum also has some strange and delightful stories to tell with its exhibits featuring intriguing topics. These include Edgar Cayce, an alleged psychic known as “the sleeping prophet” who was a Hopkinsville native; the Kelly Green Men Case, also known as the Kelly-Hopkinsville Encounter, a notorious altercation with extraterrestrials said to have partially inspired the hit movie “E.T.”; and an invasion of blackbirds large enough to rival a Hitchcock film.
Groups can enjoy a guided or self-guided tour of the museum to learn about the surprising amount of connections between this small Kentucky town and the rest of history.
“Our local historian calls it the ‘Hoptown connection,’” Keller said. “We can connect everything to Hopkinsville. Anything in American history, we can draw back to it, even if it’s just a tangential connection.”
Also on Ninth street, several shops cater to groups. At Stella’s Soap, they can peruse soaps and bath products, watch products being made at the soap bar, make their own bath bombs or take a soap-making class on the shop’s upper level. At Milkweed Health and Harmony Emporium, they can shop for teas, crystals and locally made jewelry. Just a short walk away, shops on Sixth Street include charming boutiques and an antique store.
A walk around town is great for spotting public art installations, from colorful murals to statues honoring Hopkinsville as the Batter Capital of the World, such as a larger-than-life bushel of wheat.
To end a day of exploring downtown, groups can visit the Alhambra Theatre, a 650-seat proscenium theater first built in 1928 and renovated in 2018. The theater’s second floor is now the Hall of Alhambra, a lounge that can seat groups for receptions or meals prior to a show. Groups can catch a performance at the Alhambra, from concerts to comedy shows to classic movies, for an unforgettable evening.
From Batter to Bourbon
Hopkinsville is known for its agricultural contributions of wheat, corn, soybeans and tobacco. But it’s the Batter Capital of the World for good reason — Kentucky produces over 3.5 million bushels of wheat annually, and anyone who enjoys a McDonald’s biscuit east of the Mississippi is enjoying a product made from the wheat in the county surrounding Hopkinsville.
Groups can take a Farm to Fork Tour organized by Visit Hopkinsville. First, they’ll head out along scenic rural roads to a local farm. They can hear about operations firsthand from a farmer, see the equipment and enjoy the fresh air while they learn where their food comes from.
The next stop on the tour is the Krusteaz Factory, which produces Krusteaz pancake and waffle mix, Ghirardelli brownie mixes and Cracker Barrel biscuit mix, among other products. After donning their hardhats, groups can head to the factory floor, where knowledgeable guides will take them through production, from the processing wheat coming into the factory to testing the final products.
They can finish the tour at the city’s visitors center, where they can make pancake batter art and shop for local souvenirs.
But batter isn’t the only thing coming from the crops in Christian County. The serene countryside just outside Hopkinsville is home to two stops on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour: MB Roland Distillery and Casey Jones Distillery.
MB Roland, named for co-owner Merry Beth Tomaszewski, uses local grains to make its bourbons and moonshines. Tomaszewski and her husband Paul, bought the former Amish dairy farm and converted it into a distillery in 2009. Groups can enjoy a tour and tasting at the distillery and learn what makes this craft distillery’s tightknit operation so distinct.
“There’s only about 20 of us getting the product from grain to glass,” said Loralee Childers, marketing and hospitality manager at MB Roland.
Casey Jones Distillery was built on the legacy of notorious moonshiner and still-maker Alfred Jones, known by his alias, Casey. Jones’ grandson, AJ, and his wife, Peggy Hayes, used the last still made by Casey to make early batches of moonshine. This blossomed into the distillery. With a brand new rickhouse on the property and plenty of event space, the distillery is now a prominent fixture in Hopkinsville’s entertainment scene. Groups can tour the premises and partake in a tasting while hearing the tale of Casey Jones. They can catch live music on certain days or even host a group meal at the distillery.
Food and Beverage
Downtown Hopkinsville is a haven for foodies, with an excellent range accommodating everything from café food to fine dining.
A local fixture since 1929, Ferrell’s Snappy Service is an eight-stool eatery serving an all-American menu of burgers and chili. The mouthwatering taste of griddle-seared burgers has beckoned late-night diners, hungry travelers and Hoptown natives for nearly a century, making the humble eatery a must stop.
Across the street, the Corner Coffeehouse offers light café fare like avocado toast, summer salads and comforting soups, as well as coffee and fresh pastries. It also features a community collection of used books for sale.
With an anticipated reopening in early 2024, the Mixer is a trendy local favorite undergoing renovations following storm damage. Located in a historic building on Sixth Street, the restaurant/bar has two separate spaces for groups, including a mezzanine and second floor; its hand-crafted cocktails and eclectic menu make it a great option for brunch, lunch or dinner. Next door, Baked serves coffee and fresh pastries to go.
“Both of these businesses are about helping people make good memories and experiences,” said Heather Dawson, owner of the Mixer and Baked.
Another favorite for dinner is the Local, an Irish pub and kitchen offering elevated pub fare for lunch and dinner. Groups can grab an Irish meal, like fish and chips, shepherd’s pie, or bangers and mash, or stick to American classics such as burgers, sliders and steaks.
Just a short walk from historic buildings like the Alhambra, Hopkinsville Brewing Company is a craft brewery in a former auto shop, meticulously restored and transformed into a homey and hip space for gatherings and hangouts. Co-owned by veterans Kate Russell (who recently graduated with a master’s degree in brewing science from Auburn University) and Joey Medeiros, the craft brewery opened in 2016. It’s been a hub for community events ever since, including food truck festivals, bingo, stein-holding contests and beard competitions. Groups can tour the facility and learn about the brewing operations from Russell and Medeiros, do a tasting of the beers and ciders made on the premises, and enjoy a pint among locals.
Oak Grove Racing, Gaming and Hotel in neighboring community Oak Grove is home to Garrison Oak Steakhouse, a fine-dining establishment serving delicacies like prime and choice cuts of steak, seafood and pasta dishes. Groups can follow dinner here with a trip through the gaming floor. DaVinci at NovaDell, in what was once the clubhouse of a golf course, offers fine Italian fare and locally inspired cocktails.
The Trail of Tears refers to the forced displacement of Native American tribes to Oklahoma following the passage of the Indian Removal Act. The Five Civilized Tribes were forced by the government to make the long and treacherous march from their homelands to unfamiliar territory, and many perished along the way.
In 1838 and 1839, the northern route of the Trail of Tears led the Cherokee through Hopkinsville during their removal, where they stopped and camped for the winter and stocked up on rations. Today, that stop is marked with the Trail of Tears Commemorative Park. The park includes a flag memorial, walking paths, a statue garden and a small cabin with indigenous artifacts, including belongings of some of the Native people who made the journey.
“The stuff you read in books only scratches the surface,” said Kristina Scott, historian and cabin docent.
The park is also significant because it’s the burial ground for two Cherokee leaders who died while camped in Hopkinsville, Chief Whitepath and Fly Smith. Their likenesses were sculpted by local artist Steve Shields, and their headstones are a short walk from the heritage cabin.
“There is only one other marked [Native American] gravesite in the state of Kentucky,” Scott said.
Groups can tour the cabin and talk with a historian to learn more about the people who came through Hopkinsville on the Trail of Tears. But there’s an even more interactive way for them to appreciate Native American history in Hopkinsville. Every year, the weekend after Labor Day, Hopkinsville is home to the Trail of Tears Pow Wow. This intertribal event is a spectacular sight full of symbolism, beauty and the appreciation of Native American cultures.
The ceremony opens with a grand entry, where participants of all ages and tribes enter the arena and dance to Native American music. Then comes the competitions, arranged by gender and age, from toddlers to golden age participants. Thanks to the bright colors and elaborate regalia, these symbolic dances are a vibrant display of authentic Native American culture that is a rare treat for groups to witness.
Outside the arena, dozens of Native American vendors sell their art, jewelry, pottery and food. The star of the show culinary-wise is the fry bread, which can be enjoyed as a taco with tons of Tex-Mex toppings or as a dessert, with honey, fruit or powdered sugar.