Adventures in the Villa



2019-05-10 – Airstream Caravan Travels – Springtime in Kentucky; Butcher Holler and the Coal Miner’s Daughter – Day #16

We began today by spending time at OSCAR, the Oil Springs Cultural Arts and Recreation center; it is located in a school that was sold off in 1955 when the mining industry shut down and the population plummeted… (more on the mines later…)  The school was purchased by a local businessman who has lent it to OSCAR for the past many years…


We did crafts.  Just like – well, you know… There was wood carving, tin punching, painting, wire art, and several other things that we could try our hand at…  We spent the morning crafting away, and they even provided a tasty mid-morning snack…


I did a little relief carving of an apple…


Lynda made something out of tin…


Some others made these wall plaques…


The sky was roiling when we returned to the Villa; we had a light lunch in the Airstream, and then we headed out for our next tour.  The rain held off for the rest of the day…


We carpooled to the town of Van Lear, and the Webb General Store… About 1 1/2 miles down the road from the store is Butcher Hollow, or, in Kentuckian, Butcher Holler…

Here the story begins…

Loretta Lynn was born Loretta Webb on April 14, 1932, in Butcher Holler, in the “house” that is still standing today.  She is the eldest daughter and second child born to Clary and Ted Webb.  Ted was a coal miner and subsistence farmer.  The youngest Webb daughter was Crystal Gayle (born Brenda Gail Webb).  There were six other children born to Clary and Ted, but you only need to remember Herman, Loretta’s immediate younger brother.

Butcher Holler was one of many communities that loosely made up the town of Van Lear, KY.  There were five coal and slate mines in the area dating from the early 20th century, with 2,500 miners, and four railroad lines serving the mines.  These mines supported a community of 15,000 to 20,000 people.  When the mines closed in 1955 the population plummeted.  There is little remaining today of this thriving community.  Today, even with recent “suburban” style growth, Van Lear has fewer than 2,000 people.

On January 10, 1948, 15-year-old Loretta Webb married Oliver Lynn, better known as “Doo”, or “Mooney”.  They had met only a month earlier.  Despite Doo’s promise to Loretta’s father never to take her away from Butcher Holler, the Lynns left Kentucky and moved to the logging community of Custer, Washington, north of Bellingham, when Loretta was seven months pregnant with the first of their six children.  The happiness and heartache of her early years of marriage would help to inspire Lynn’s songwriting.  In 1953, Doo bought her a $17 Harmony guitar.  She taught herself to play the instrument, and over the following three years, she worked to improve her guitar playing.  With Doo’s encouragement, Lynn began singing in local clubs in the late 1950s.  (In the Movie, “Coal Miner’s Daughter”, she mentions that she was going to be playing in a “nasty ol’ honky tonk over to Lyndon”.  I sincerely doubt that Lyndon ever had a “nasty ol’ honky tonk”…) 

Lynn signed her first recording contract and cut her first record, “I’m a Honky Tonk Girl”, in February 1960.  Her first album was recorded in Hollywood.  The Lynns toured the country to promote the release to country stations.  By the time the Lynns reached Nashville, the song was a hit, climbing to No. 14 on Billboard’s Country and Western chart, prompting her first appearances on the Grand Ole Opry in 1960.  The rest, as they say, is history.

Her best-selling 1976 autobiography, Coal Miner’s Daughter, was made into an Academy Award–winning film of the same title in 1980, starring Sissy Spacek and Tommy Lee Jones.  Spacek won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role as Lynn.

Back to Lynn’s brother, Herman Webb.  After the mines closed most of the Webb family moved to Indiana.  But Herman always wanted to return.  In 1975, he bought the local general store near Butcher Holler.  He named it Webb’s Store and ran it until his death in 2018.  Today his son and daughter run the store and offer tours of the house where Loretta Lynn grew up…

Butcher Holler is a fer piece down the road, about 2 miles past Van Lear, and about 10 miles past Paintsville, (pop. 5,700 today).  Butcher Holler is way back in the hills…


This is Webb’s store…


The sign is a little worn…


There are signs everywhere hawking the tours in case no one is at the store…


A shuttle took us up the 1 1/2 mile one lane road to the house.  We shouldn’t complain – when the Webbs lived here there was no road, just a footpath.  (In the movie, “Coal Miner’s Daughter”, Doo drives his Jeep to the house by driving in the creek…)


The house is pretty much original.  When Herman moved back to Butcher Holler in 1975 he did shore up the foundation and replace much of the front porch using 1970s techniques and design.  (If you notice the front porch guardrail you will see that it is VERY similar guardrails in 1970s era apartment buildings in Orange County, CA…)

Inside the house we were given a tour by Hermasina, Herman’s daughter.  There are four rooms plus two attic bedrooms.  Much of the furniture is original to the house; there is a lot of memorabilia from the Webb and Lynn families…


This view up the valley was not like this when the mines were operation.  There were few trees; any tree over 6″ in diameter would be needed as shoring in the mines, so this view would have extended miles up the valley.  The area would be farmland for residents to raise their own vegetable gardens…


It was a great tour – very authentic and not too much hype and certainly no glossy brochures…


This road was only a footpath in the 1940s…


We forewent the shuttle ride and walked back to the Webb Store…


We did pass one of the entrances to one of the mines…


The store isn’t much – more memorabilia, a few staples, candy, and lots of moon pies and RC Colas…



Other than the store, just about all evidence of this thriving community is gone… No train tracks, no industry, no other businesses, very few people…

So we returned to the Villa.  We had a little FaceTime with our grandson, Ian.  He is five years old this week!


In the evening we returned to the Highway 23 Museum.  We enjoyed a nice dinner, then the pickers began… Bluegrass music!


There was music, dancing, singing, and even some square dancing!


And an enjoyable time was had by all…

2017-09-17 Westbound; Mt. Rushmore, Crazy Horse, Needles, Wildlife, and Pigtail Bridges…

Today is the day for Mt. Rushmore!

2017-09-17 Black Hills 21 Mt Rushmore 03

We began the day with a temperature of 34 degrees at the campground.  However, the day warmed up nicely…

We set off to see Mt. Rushmore – the Presidential Memorial.  We got more than we bargained for!

We drove towards Mt. Rushmore via the Needles Highway.  We saw (and drove through) spectacular rock formations:

2017-09-17 Black Hills 07 Needles

2017-09-17 Black Hills 06 Needles

And when I say “drove through”, I mean through tunnels:

2017-09-17 Black Hills 05 Needles Tunnel 1

2017-09-17 Black Hills 05 Needles Tunnel 2

2017-09-17 Black Hills 05 Needles Tunnel 4

Tiny tunnels!  No Villas allowed on these roads!

2017-09-17 Black Hills 07 Needles Tunnel 1

2017-09-17 Black Hills 07 Needles Tunnel 2

There were a few viewpoints along the way that offered distant views of the monument:

2017-09-17 Black Hills 21 Mt Rushmore 05

2017-09-17 Black Hills 11 Pigtail Tunnel 08

Mount Rushmore National Memorial is a sculpture carved into the granite face of Mount Rushmore, a batholith in the Black Hills in Keystone, South Dakota. Sculptor Gutzon Borglum created the sculpture’s design and oversaw the project’s execution from 1927 to 1941 with the help of his son, Lincoln Borglum, and Chief Carver Luigi del Bianco. Mount Rushmore features 60-foot tall sculptures of the heads of four United States presidents: George Washington (1732–1799), Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826), Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919), and Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865).  The memorial park covers over 1,278 acres and is 5,725 feet above sea level.

South Dakota historian Doane Robinson is credited with conceiving the idea of carving the likenesses of famous people into the Black Hills region of South Dakota in order to promote tourism in the region.  Robinson’s initial idea was to sculpt the Needles; however, Gutzon Borglum rejected the Needles because of the poor quality of the granite and strong opposition from Native American groups.  They settled on Mount Rushmore, which also has the advantage of facing southeast for maximum sun exposure.  Borglum decided the sculpture should have broad appeal and chose the four presidents because of their roles in preserving the Republic and expanding its territory.

Construction on the memorial began in 1927, and the presidents’ faces were completed between 1934 and 1939. Upon Gutzon Borglum’s death in March 1941, his son Lincoln Borglum took over as leader of the construction project.  Each president was originally to be depicted from head to waist.  Lack of funding forced construction to end in late October 1941.

Mount Rushmore has become an iconic symbol of the United States, and it has appeared in works of fiction, as well as being discussed or depicted in other popular works.  It attracts over two million visitors annually.  (I think they were all here today… see below…)

After Needles we found the Ironwood Highway.  It is famous for the Pigtail Bridges – wooden (logs) bridges that spiral the road upwards to meet a tunnel, then offer spectacular views after you drive through the tunnels:

2017-09-17 Black Hills 11 Pigtail Tunnel 01

2017-09-17 Black Hills 11 Pigtail Tunnel 02

2017-09-17 Black Hills 11 Pigtail Tunnel 05

2017-09-17 Black Hills 11 Pigtail Tunnel 06

And then the payoff at the end of the tunnel:

2017-09-17 Black Hills 11 Pigtail Tunnel 07

It is quite the dramatic scene!

We drove on to the memorial itself.  Then we waited for over an hour, in a mile long traffic jamb of cars trying to get into the parking structure.  (PS to the National Park Service:  You need to get this figured out!  I would hate to be here in the summer when the park is busy!)

We opted not to park; we did have some fine views of the monument:

2017-09-17 Black Hills 21 Mt Rushmore 04

2017-09-17 Black Hills 21 Mt Rushmore 01

2017-09-17 Black Hills 21 Mt Rushmore 02

When we finally were able to drive around the traffic jam we saw something that I had not known about:  Washington’s profile:

2017-09-17 Black Hills 21 Mt Rushmore 15

This was not intentional on the part of the sculptor; he originally had Jefferson placed here, but after they had done some preliminary rough blasting, they found that the rock was not suitable; they blasted off the preliminary work, and this remained.

Just for fun:

2017-09-17 Black Hills 21 Mt Rushmore 15a

Also, if you look closely, you can see some people climbing on the monument***:

2017-09-17 North_by_Northwest_movie_trailer_screenshot_(28)

After seeing the monument we took a break and met my cousin and his wife (Chuck and Joan Canaan) for lunch; they live here in Rapid City, SD:

2017-09-17 Black Hills 99 Canaan

Then, back to the Black Hills we went.  This time to see its counterpoint, the Crazy Horse Memorial:

2017-09-17 Black Hills 41 Crazy Horse

The Crazy Horse Memorial is a mountain monument under construction on privately held land in the Black Hills, in South Dakota. It will depict the Oglala Lakota warrior, Crazy Horse, riding a horse and pointing into the distance.

The memorial was commissioned by Henry Standing Bear, a Lakota elder, to be sculpted by Korczak Ziolkowski.  It is operated by the Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation, a nonprofit organization.

The memorial master plan includes the mountain carving monument, an Indian Museum of North America, and a Native American Cultural Center.  The monument is being carved out of Thunderhead Mountain, on land considered sacred by some Oglala Lakota, between Custer and Hill City, roughly 17 miles from Mount Rushmore.  The sculpture’s final dimensions are planned to be 641 feet wide and 563 feet high.  The head of Crazy Horse will be 87 feet high; by comparison, the heads of the four U.S. Presidents at Mount Rushmore are each 60 feet high.

The monument has been in progress since 1948 and is far from completion.  In fact, it appears that nothing has been done in years.  If it is ever completed, it may become the world’s largest sculpture.  I say, If…

At the base of the mountain is a huge complex containing western native american art, memorabilia, and trinkets, basically a giant gift shop.  The sculptor died in 1982, and his wife died in 2014.  Their 10 children have taken over the foundation.

Friends had told us this is a not-to-be-missed opportunity.  We thought the whole thing was a giant waste of time.  It appears to me that if they had spent half as much effort on completing the memorial as they did on building a giant gift shop for selling trinkets, they would have made more progress.  At this point it appears that it will never be finished…

So, after our disappointment at the Crazy Horse Memorial, we headed into Custer State Park, and drove the Wildlife Loop.  We saw beautiful outcroppings and wildlife…


2017-09-17 Black Hills 08 Needles Deer 01

2017-09-17 Black Hills 08 Needles Deer 02


2017-09-17 Black Hills 31 Custer Wildlife 04 Bison

2017-09-17 Black Hills 31 Custer Wildlife 09 Bison

2017-09-17 Black Hills 31 Custer Wildlife 08 Bison

2017-09-17 Black Hills 31 Custer Wildlife 07 Bison

2017-09-17 Black Hills 31 Custer Wildlife 06 Bison

2017-09-17 Black Hills 31 Custer Wildlife 05 Bison

Wild Donkeys:

2017-09-17 Black Hills 32 Custer Wildlife 02 Donkey

2017-09-17 Black Hills 32 Custer Wildlife 01 Donkey

They were very friendly:

2017-09-17 Black Hills 32 Custer Wildlife 03 Donkey

And rock outcroppings:

2017-09-17 Black Hills 31 Custer Wildlife 03a

2017-09-17 Black Hills 31 Custer Wildlife 03

2017-09-17 Black Hills 31 Custer Wildlife 02

2017-09-17 Black Hills 31 Custer Wildlife 01

We finally returned to the Villa, exhausted.  Happy hours ensued and an enjoyable time was had by all…































*** The monument was famously used as the location of the climactic chase scene in Alfred Hitchcock‘s 1959 movie North by Northwest.














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