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Elkhorn: Evolution of a Kentucky Landscape, by Richard Taylor.

September 12, 2018

ElkhornElkhorn: Evolution of a Kentucky Landscape, by Richard Taylor.  University of Kentucky Press, September 5, 2018.

4 stars

A well-researched and written local history of a small piece of land around the Elkhorn River in north central Kentucky by an English professor and former state poet laureate who has lived there for forty years.

Richard Taylor was born in 1941 and spent his childhood in Louisville, Kentucky, with visits to relatives in more rural regions of the state.  He earned his B.A. from the University of Kentucky, his M.A. and his law degree from the University of Louisville, and his Ph.D. from the University of Kentucky.  He has written two novels, several collections of poetry, and a variety of publications on Kentucky history.  From 1999 to 2000 he served as Kentucky Poet Laureate. He now teaches creative writing at Transylvania University in Lexington.

Forty years ago Taylor came to Frankfort to teach.  He and his wife bought a small farm and dilapidated house overlooking Elkhorn River. In addition to repairing the house and taking frequent kayak trips on the Elkhorn, Taylor has collected all he could about the river and the land and the people who lived here. Elkhorn is the summation of what he found.  The book is gentle trip down a calm stretch of the river, stopping here and there to talk about what has happened in its vicinity. Interspersed with the history are loving descriptions of the region which has happened to avoid the worst of urban sprawl.

Taylor starts his story with the discovery of bones of a prehistoric mammoth near the Elkhorn and the geology of the area.  From there he goes on to writes about Native American legends and what is known about the land’s first inhabitants. Moving chronologically he learns about hunters and surveyors who came to claim the land before the American Revolution.  We learn of the men and women who first settled on Taylor’s farm and the house, built in the 1859, in which he lives.  As he moves on to the near past, one reads about all sorts of topics, unexpected in this context, but interesting and relevant because they actually existed here.  For example there is a long discussion of early papermaking and another on the growth of bourbon industry.

Elkhorn is the kind of local history that every county and region needs, but few have.  The research is careful, through and fair.  It has no ax to grind in local rivalries.  Local details are brought together into a coherent form, and discussed within the context of larger historical developments. And the book is a joy to read.

I recommend Elkhorn to all who like local history or who are interested in Appalachia.

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