While I had previously visited Midway on a couple of different occasions many years ago, what took me back to Midway this time was their fall festival. I wanted to check it out and see if it was a good show to do next year as a vendor with Kentucky Creature Comforts. I took my husband and daughter with me that day, and we all fell in love with Midway. So, on my next free day, I headed back to Midway to take pictures and walk the town when it wasn’t packed with people.
Midway was the first town in Kentucky to be established by a railroad company. This occurred in 1835 when the first lot of land was sold, but the history of the area begins long before that. Just as discussed in my blog post about Augusta, KY, the land that would one day become Midway was originally inhabited by native people. The difference here is that the native people in this area are thought to have been Indian Mound Builders. This group of indigenous people predate what we typically know as Native Americans. These particular people were of the Adena Culture dating back to 500 B.C. through 100 A.D. To read more about this group of people in Kentucky, click here.
1700+ Years Later
Now, fast forward a few hundred years, and we arrive in 1774, when the lands around what would become Midway were first surveyed by early settlers; Hancock Taylor (the son of Zachary Taylor (1707-1768) and uncle of future President, Zachary Taylor), Willis Lee, and others. This land was then a part of Fincastle (later Kentucky) County, Virginia. Many of the early surveyors loved the land so much that they stayed in the area.
Lt. Col. John Francisco & the Railroad
Sometime in the early 1800s, Lt. Col. John Francisco (War of 1812) purchased 216 acres of farmland (in the area of what would become Midway) in anticipation of the coming rail road.
In 1830, the Lexington & Ohio Railroad incorporated in Lexington, creating what would become Kentucky’s first railroad The L & O began building a rail road line between Frankfort and Lexington in 1831, and by 1833 the first train was rolling into the midway point, right in the middle of John Francisco’s farmland.
Building a Town
Upon purchasing the 216 acres of farmland for $6,491.25, the railroad company’s civil engineer, R. C. Hewitt, began laying out a town. It was then called Middleway, as it was in the middle of the Lexington & Frankfort line, and the prospective Georgetown & Versailles line. The first lot of the town was sold in 1835, and the state of Kentucky incorporated Midway in 1846.
The business section developed along Railroad Street, and by 1900 hotels, saloons, a large distillery, dry goods and grocery stores, many trades, churches and schools appeared.MEET ME IN MIDWAY
Midway and the Civil War
Being on a rail roadline, Midway found itself in the middle of the war. On two separate occasions, Midway became a part of the historical story.
John Hunt Morgan
When John Hunt Morgan completed his First Kentucky Raid in July 1862, he and his Confederate States of America Calvary made a stop in Midway, seizing the telegraph to send false messages to confuse the Union commanders in the area.
In 1864, George Prentice, an editor of the pro-Union Louisville Daily Journal, created the fictional editorial persona of ‘Sue Mundy’ as a way to highlight the guerrilla tactics of Confederate commanders and soldiers, and other events of the Civil War.
In late 1864, Jerome Clarke, one of John Hunt Morgan’s infamous guerrilla raiders, formed his own band of raiders after the death of Morgan. Clarke, having heard rumors of a female guerrilla named Sue Mundy, took the nickname to mock Unionists. Quickly becoming known as Sue Mundy, Clarke and his band of guerrilla raiders scoured Kentucky, including Midway.
On November 1, 1864, Mundy and his gang raided Midway to obtain horses for the Confederacy. A shootout occurred killing Adam Harper Jr. on his own property.
As restitution for the death of Harper,
General Burbridge ordered four Confederates imprisoned in nearby Lexington, Kentucky shipped to Midway. On November 5, Burbridge had a firing squad of forty execute the Confederates in what was then the town of Midway’s “commons”, forcing local men to watch the eventMartyrs Monument in Midway
To learn more about these raids and others, click here.
After the War
Throughout the events of the Civil War, Midway continued to grow and prosper. Later, electricity was introduced to the town and its businesses in 1911, and during the railroad’s heyday of the 1930s and 40s, up to 30 trains (both passanger and freight) rolled through town daily. Today, historic homes, businesses, and churches stand as a testament to the growth of the times. Beautiful architecture can be seen throughout the historic main street district as well as surrounding streets.
As with many small towns built around railroad lines, once the motorized vehicle was introduced, as well as highway systems, train travel dwindled. The old depot was closed in 1963, the last passenger train traveled through in 1971, and the few businesses remaining served the surrounding farmers.
Midway was quick to react to their changing times, and began work on revitalization in the mid-1970s. While I did not visit Midway until the late 1990s, the revitalization of the 70s is what I remember from my first visit. The town was filled with many antique shops and a few small galleries.
In 1978, 176 buildings in Midway were placed on the National Register of Historic Places, helping to save this now iconic “Main Street” town.
Today, the town has moved away from so many antique stores and has created a place for locals and visitors alike to gather and enjoy the quaint beauty and friendliness this town has to offer. With restaurants and boutiques lining Railroad Street and various craft shows and festivals held throughout the year, you can enjoy this town in every season. Don’t be surprised if a train just happens to pass through town during your visit, as freight trains still use this rail line today, adding to the ambience of this historic town.
Having begun our crafting business this past Spring, I wanted to attend Midway’s Fall Festival to see if it lived up to its advertisement of “Best Fall Festival in Central Kentucky.” We decided to make it a family visit as it was an absolutely beautiful Saturday afternoon. We arrived around 3, parked easily in the field of a farm on the edge of town, and walked up the hill to Railroad Street. The street was lined with canopies as far as we could see, and there seemed to be just as many people! We wandered through the booths and explored the open shops, and found our way to Blind Harry’s for an early dinner.
We were seated outside, as the restaurant was slammed, so they were using every inch of their space for seating. We were under a beautiful canopy of fall colored leaves and could see the street booths and foot traffic from our table, which added to the fall “vibe.” The dining experience took longer than usual because they were so busy, but we didn’t mind. We enjoyed the company of a local older gentlemen, whom we offered to share our table with, who told us the history of the town and his experiences there. We felt so welcome and at home in this quaint historic town. We walked away from our dinner having fallen in love with Midway. We promised ourselves to visit again during other special events, and even to experience the other restaurants of Midway.
A Second Visit
I knew when I left the festival that day that I wanted to return to take photos and complete a history post. So, about a week later, I had the day off and took a quick drive down I-64 to visit Midway again. I arrived much earlier that anticipated, so I was the first person on Railroad Street because nothing was open! I walked the street, took photos, and explored side streets. It was another beautiful fall day and I had the street all to myself, quite the opposite of our visit the week before. Stores were not scheduled to open for quite a bit, so I decided to drive on down the road and check out the historic district of Versailles, Kentucky. I had never been there before and knew it was “just around the corner.” So, off I headed and promised myself I would make Midway a place I would visit more often.
If you are in the area, you absolutely must make a stop in Midway, just make sure the shops and restaurants are open! These small historic “Main Street” towns are trying to stay alive and hold onto their historic buildings. Visiting a boutique, a restaurant, or a festival helps both the small business and the small town to hold onto their history. So, get out and see Kentucky!