Kentucky Lake and Paris Landing State Park were created in 1945 when the Tennessee River was dammed near Paducah, KY, by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) for the purpose of bringing electrification to our rural area. I was a teenager about to graduate from Dover High School in Dover, TN (class of 1946), and preparing to enter nearby Murray State College in Murray, KY (class of 1950) when this change to our landscape took place. I recall driving with friends from the Murray State College campus to Paris Landing just to see where the park was being formed at the new lake edge. The lake started filling in late summer of 1944 and completed filling in spring of 1945.
The name Paris Landing referred to an old river boat stop on the west side of the Tennessee River to serve people from Henry County, which included the town of Paris, TN, fifteen miles to the southwest. My community of Standing Rock Creek was on the east side of the river in Stewart County. Our creek flowed into the river at McGee’s Landing.
My next door neighbor and future brother-in-law, Dudley Parker, was eighteen years old in the fall of 1944 and started working for the TVA’s Reservoir Maintenance Division. The new dam had been completed and river water was beginning to rise to form the lake. Dudley’s job included clearing saplings from what would become the shallow underwater lake edge. After a bulldozer toppled the saplings, Dudley, using a rake pulled by a team of horses, would maneuver the saplings into piles, and return later, to burn the piles. Dudley continued to work for the TVA in some capacity until 1951, much of the time doing mosquito control. By small boat he would motor into small inlets and take water samples to be tested for mosquito larvae. If larvae were found, Dudley would return by boat to that spot and release some dirty used-oil mixture to kill the mosquitoes.
Many families were forced to leave their homes, and their homes were moved or demolished. Graves in some cemeteries had to be re-located to higher ground. Dudley’s TVA crew had the job of moving two remaining graves to prevent them from being flooded. They would dig up a rusty old vault, dig a fresh grave on higher ground, and rebury the vault. Dudley does not remember grave markers or names for those two, but does remember being responsible for saying a brief eulogy over each new grave.
The damming of the river had a major impact on my childhood community of Standing Rock Creek. As the waters rose, the mouth of our creek became an inlet of the lake. By 1956, when the Paris Landing State Park Hotel was built, I was long gone from the area, married, and the mother of two baby boys, Eric and Casey. Baby daughter, Clea, came nine years later in 1965. After my parents, Stanley and Hattie Martin, died, my family and I started staying at the State Park Hotel when we “went home” to visit. Thus began forty-five years of memorable stays in that hotel, which are sadly coming to an end now in 2018 with its demolition. My sisters, their husbands, and their children, together with me, my husband Mac, and our children, created many memories at that special place.
The most beautiful time to be in Tennessee is late October when the leaves are at the peak of their fall colors. Because of cooler weather, the ticks, chiggers, gnats, and sweat bees are not a problem like they are in hot summer. A walk in the woods is more pleasant in the fall and safer because snakes are less active.
My sisters, Dot and Imogene, and I used my birthday, October 28, as an excuse to gather there, but once we were there, little thought was given to my birthday. We just liked to go to our favorite restaurant and eat fried catfish and hushpuppies, and visit “the rock” for which our community of Standing Rock Creek was named. We always visited our other sister, Leita, who lived in Murray, KY. While in Murray, we would tour the college campus where Dot and I had both graduated.
We visited the various family cemeteries. One cemetery was on the hill behind Standing Rock Creek Methodist Church where we had attended church as children and where our mother’s parents, J. R. and Sarah McHood, were buried. Another, but more difficult one was the Jones cemetery where my paternal grandfather, Reuben Martin, was buried. To access that old cemetery some fence climbing was required as well as trespassing through the old Herman Stavely farm. Another was the Sexton cemetery on lower Standing Rock Creek where aunts, uncles, and neighbors were buried. We visited the city cemetery in Murray, KY where our parents and grandmother Vicky Sexton Martin are buried. The circuit wasn’t complete without including Ft. Donelson National Cemetery at Dover to visit the graves of our brother, Dale, and Dudley’s brother, Carter, who were both killed in WWII. Part of the pleasure of these visits was being outside walking in beautiful weather and stopping for lunch at our favorite restaurants, like Cindy’s near Dover.
We walked the familiar woods and got together in our old one-room country school building, Mulberry Hill, by then turned into a second home for my oldest sister, Dot, and her husband, Dudley. We had all attended eight years of elementary school in that building and, as an adult, Dot had taught there for several years. The slightly raised stage had become the kitchen and dining area. At the opposite end of the room, two tiny bedrooms had been created. An efficient gas stove was installed in the middle for heat, with an adequate bathroom and shower behind the stove. The building had been enlarged by adding an enclosed garage beyond the stage to house a few of Dudley’s eleven restored Ford tractors.
Each year, several months in advance, I would make the call from Florida to Paris Landing to reserve hotel rooms as needed. On occasion, I would learn that one of the young women on front desk was a relative of mine. While there, my young boys, Eric and Casey, ate well from the bountiful hotel buffet. They enjoyed exploring the wooded surroundings, playing by the lake edge, skipping rocks and fishing.
Some of the boys’ more exciting adventures on these trips occurred on Standing Rock Creek in or near the old Mulberry Hill school building. At their request, the boys were allowed to spend one night alone in the school building. I remember a violent thunder and lightning storm that evening but apparently the boys were not alarmed. Once, after leaving the boys there at Mulberry Hill for a few hours, I returned to find them sitting on the front walk with a large dead copperhead snake curled up between them. If their intention was to startle me, it worked!
One of my favorite things to do while at Mulberry Hill was to walk down the hill, along the road in front of my old home place, stand on the bridge over Standing Rock Creek, and listen to the water trickle over the rocks. This was where I had played as a child. Also, on most every trip, Dudley would walk with my sisters and me down the hill, past his old home place, to Ribbon Branch just above the Ribbon Branch Bridge where he had played in the creek as a child. Our homes were very close to each other, very close to the school, and very close to where Ribbon Branch flowed into Standing Rock Creek.
A vivid memory of one hotel stay is having our private cocktail hour interrupted due to a fire in the hotel kitchen. My sister Imogene, her husband Benny, my husband, Mac, and I, and our young daughter, Clea, were in our second floor hotel room enjoying happy hour when a hotel employee pounded on our door yelling “Get out now! The building is on fire!” Mac quickly gathered all his stainless steel bar supplies and scotch bottles, put them back into his fancy zippered leather traveling bar, and we escaped the hotel carrying the bar with us. It was snowing and we stood outside for a while.
After my three children were grown and away on their own, I would drive from Florida to my sister Imogene’s home in Columbia, TN. The next day, the two of us would drive on to the Paris Landing Hotel. Imogene’s husband, Benny, still lived on Standing Rock Creek, only eight miles away from the hotel. Benny and Imogene chose to stay married, but lived separately, much like Mac and me. Dot and Dudley would leave their Nashville home and stay at Mulberry Hill, their second home, for the duration of my visit. Frequently, their daughter, Dotty, would be with them. Our other sister, Leita, lived twenty miles away in Murray, KY. My adult children and their children were included off and on, depending on their situation. Also, Imogene’s and Benny’s son, Martin Jobe and his wife, Linda, were sometimes involved. For meals, we would take the big round table for eight or ten in the corner of the dining room. The food was great, served buffet style. One of our Standing Rock Creek neighbors, Della Courtney, was chief cook in charge of the kitchen staff.
A childhood schoolmate and neighbor, Macon McGee, worked at the Paris Landing golf course and marina. On one trip, my son-in-law, John Hancock, rented a catamaran from him and we motored across the lake to the mouth of Standing Rock Creek near where I grew up. John’s children, Emily and Alex, and my daughter Clea and I rode along. It seemed strange seeing the old familiar creek from that new and different perspective. The lake had covered some very familiar territory including where my childhood friend, Bobbie Jean Parker, and I used to play around her house. The lake edge now covered the road in front of her house. But the familiar buildings, the Parker house, and Parker Brothers General Store and Uncle Rob and Aunt Irma McHood’s house were no longer there.
Imogene and I were frequently the only ones staying in the hotel, as the other sisters, Dot and Leita, had homes nearby. Consequently, we were usually the only ones going down to the dining room for breakfast. We had a favorite table by the window overlooking the lake. The menu seldom varied. I remember their scrambled eggs, grits, orange juice, and French toast strips with maple syrup.
As soon as Imogene and I had settled in at our table, her husband, Benny, would appear, as if by magic, and sit with us. Through Benny, we would hear the local news from our old neighborhood of Standing Rock Creek. Benny was entertaining. On one occasion, his news was about a young man breaking into a local home to steal a lady’s panties. “And he only took the dirty ones!” exclaimed the astonished Benny.
At one breakfast, when Benny was not there, Imogene and I both left our table at the same time to revisit the buffet. At the end of that meal, Imogene reached for her wallet and found it missing $75.00 and sticky with grape jelly. We were shocked that the young man who had been seated at the adjacent table would do that. He and his wife had seemed nice enough when we chatted with them.
Once, probably in 1976 or 1977, I was seated in the hotel dining room when I looked up from my plate of food and saw my son, Eric, sitting across from me. It must have been his fourth and last year at the U. S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, because that’s when they were allowed to own a car. Seeing him was a shocker and, of course, a happy surprise!
In 1991, I attended my 45th high school reunion at the hotel and many of us attendees spent the night there. In preparation, I had studied my senior high school year book, and reviewed all the names. I was prepared to talk with all those guys, only to find that most of them were dead. On a lighter note, during that reunion I was chatting in the buffet line with elementary and high school classmates, Neil Moore and Marjorie Guerin, when I reminded Marjorie that I remembered the moment she told me how babies were made, and how annoyed I was that she had been knowing that all along and I hadn’t. Marjorie admitted that the preacher’s daughter had just told her five minutes earlier, and I felt so much better.
Every year for many decades, I have stayed in that hotel, usually in October on my birthday, but also for other occasions like funerals. I was there for my mother’s funeral in 1971, my father’s funeral in 1979, Benny’s funeral in 1994, Imogene’s funeral in 2001, Leita’s funeral in 2007, Dudley’s sister Margaret’s funeral in 2009, and my ninety-seven year old sister Dot’s funeral in 2013.
I will never forget going down to breakfast alone on the day of Imogene’s funeral. Imogene and I had been so close, always sharing a room, and had enjoyed every minute of our hotel stays there, especially breakfast time. The dining room felt like a tomb that morning. Her son, Martin, and his wife, Linda, did join me later, but I was alone for that first awful sense of loss.
Eric and his wife, Judy, especially enjoyed Dudley’s company on these visits. Dudley has a wealth of interesting information about old times, and if someone shows an interest, he is very good at describing things the way they used to be. Dot and Dudley, and Eric and Judy went deep into discussing the way things used to be. Dudley described for them what is was like to go into the woods, cut down a red or white oak tree, and turn it into a cross-tie to sell to the railroad for a three or four dollars.
I was staying at the hotel one time with Clea and John pretty soon after they were married. John’s young children, Emily and Alex, were with them. Emily remembers that, on one of our walks, I “made her” reach down and touch moss on the hotel grounds.
A few years later, Clea had her own little girl, Anna Rose. Dotty, Clea, and I hiked the wooded trail on the park grounds with Anna Rose in a shoulder harness on Clea’s back. We were having such a good time pointing out lichen on tree bark. Together, and spontaneously, we came up with this rhyme:
We like lichen.
The lichen likes us.
We like hikin’.
We never take the bus.
Once, Clea, Anna Rose and I, were checking out after a three day stay. I left Clea at the front desk to settle up while I took Anna Rose out front to enjoy some fresh air and a little walk. The month was October and there were large pots of vigorous and lush yellow chrysanthemums decorating the front entryway. Anna Rose, a drama queen even at that early age, made an elaborate show of smelling all the flowers until she fell head first into one pot of yellow blooms. I removed her from her predicament and stood her back on her two little feet. Clea had a lot on her mind and I wasn’t going to mention it, thinking Clea might feel obligated to pay damages. But, Clea came out the front door pushing our luggage cart, noticed the Anna Rose-sized hole in the lovely chrysanthemum display and said, “She fell into that, didn’t she?” I admitted it and we drove away with another vivid memory.
Another Anna Rose memory was when she spent one afternoon in our hotel room, trying to get one pillow case pulled down over her head while standing with both bare feet inside a different pillow case. It was an effort at costuming, but she didn’t have enough arms to hold it all in place. No other clothes were involved except her tiny under panties. Clea and I were spellbound by her determination in spite of repeated failure.
One precious memory involves my oldest sister, Dot, in her nineties and in early stage Alzheimer’s disease, and Anna Rose when she was pre-school and loved to be read to. All other members of our party, Dotty, her husband Kemo, her father Dudley, and Clea, were on the golf course. Dot, Anna Rose and I stayed behind in a hotel room. Dot was entranced watching Anna Rose’s delight as I read to her. Reading about that hapless rabbit was a very special event for the three of us.
In early 2018, Clea, John, Anna Rose, and Dotty, anticipating the impending demolition of our beloved hotel, arranged a final stay there to bid it a sad goodbye. They were joined by Dudley and his new lady-friend, Sandra, for favorite activities like lunch at Fat Daddy’s, a rustic floating restaurant at the mouth of Standing Rock Creek and get-togethers at the old Mulberry Hill school house. Clea called me from the hotel gift shop where sweat shirts, visors, and other items were being sold at great discount. They stayed in close touch with me during their farewell visit and sent pictures. Clea, Dotty, Anna Rose, and their waitress all had a good cry at their final dinner in the dining room. They chose to have breakfast in Dover the next morning to avoid another heartbreaking farewell meal in the hotel.
The scheduled August 2018 demolition marks the end of an era. So many of our family-centered activities took place there, it is impossible to mention all of them. The end of the hotel conveniently coincides with the end of my traveling days. I am eighty-eight and arthritis has taken over my knees. I salute the old hotel, and I bid it a fond farewell. The Paris Landing State Park Hotel was like a home away from home for me and my family for many years. The structure will be replaced by something more modern, while we bemoan the loss of the old building, the one with all the memories.