McHargue’s Mill at Levi Jackson State Park – photo by Jessica Bray

Recently, a young lady, Leslie Smith, wrote some rather harsh things about my hometown of London, Kentucky.  I’m honestly not sure what her reasoning behind the article, but it was full of a fairy tale fantasy of the real life of London, without any solutions to what she portrayed as issues.

Years ago, I left London to attend college at Berea College.  Upon graduating with a Bachelor’s Degree in hand, I had a job opportunity in the larger city of Lexington.  I would soon move to Versailles and lived there for 5 years.  However, my heartstrings pulled me back home to London because that is where my family called home.  In fact, whenever someone asked me where I was from, I always said London, Kentucky.  No matter where I roamed, London was always home.

Let’s explore Ms. Smith’s “factoids” that she presented with the truth:

#1: “London was a small town, definitely not the smallest of course, but was indeed one of the poorest.”  According to the American Community Survey from Census.gov, in 2014 28.6% of the population within the city limits of London was below poverty level in the past 12 months. Out of 540 cities listed by the Census, 140 cities were even higher percentage.  So, really, London is not one of the poorest.  Laurel County as a whole had 23.3% of the population below poverty level in the past 12 months in 2014.  Laurel County ranked 75 out of 120 counties in Kentucky. Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2010-2014 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates

#2: “smaller glimmer of hope to escape the small mile radius of those city limits.”

Do they not teach geography and geometry with measure of units in high school?  London city limits stretches quite a bit.  Looking at the maps on the Kentucky Cabinet Transportation website, starting with Hal Rogers Parkway (KY-80) from the intersection with KY-192 (about milepoint 4.021) to Ridings Mitchell Creek Road near Exit 41 (milepoint 9.975 ), that makes the city limits to be 5.954 miles.  Then let’s go from KY-192 where it intersects at I-75 (milepoint 18.19) to where it ends at KY-80 (milepoint 21.821), making the city limits to be 3.631 miles. I could add more streets, but I think you get the point that we have more than 1 mile radius of the city limits.

London City Limits – from Kentucky Transportation Cabinet

#3: “Growing up in a small, Eastern Kentucky town meant nobody grew up in neighborhoods, we all grew up in hollers and everybody had an uncle that was in jail for making meth.”

You cannot drive along a stretch of road without seeing subdivisions, from Cross Keys to Crooked Creek to Sunshine Hills.  Over the years, many farms that use to raise tobacco, hay, corn, cattle, and more were sold off to build into small communities.  East Bernstadt has its own Independent School system with houses surrounding it.  Sublimity area is full of houses surrounded.  What about Keavy, Hazel Green, Lily, and so much more? Those areas had their own high school until everything grew fast to form Laurel County High School and eventually North Laurel and South Laurel.  By the way, please name one holler in London.  I’m sitting here looking at a map of all of the little map dots in Laurel County.  I have yet to see “holler” behind any of them.  However, I can tell you that Butcher Holler is over in eastern Kentucky and was home of Loretta Lynn.  As far as everybody had an uncle in jail for meth, I have quite a few uncles and not one of them has spent time in jail, nor made meth.

#4: “…education was simply not a priority in London, Kentucky..”

One look at the Laurel County Schools website, you will see the following headlines:

* McDaniel Learning Center Named in State Top Programs

* South Laurel FCCLA “Environmental Ambassadors” win State–Headed to Nationals!

* North Laurel Environthon Team Wins State–Going to Nationals!

* SLMS Band to Perform at KMEA State Conference

* SLHS Teacher Wendell Worley named to Kentucky Teacher Hall of Fame

* SLMS Academic Team Advances to State

* Three Laurel County Teachers Receive Campbellsville Excellence in Teaching Award

Also, 74.3% of those that were of school age graduated with a high school diploma or higher from the 2010-2014 American Community Survey 5-year estimates.  If education was not a priority, would we have award winning teachers, students, and a high percentage of those graduating from high school?  Also, students now have the opportunity to receive college credits for free while in high school thanks to partnerships with Somerset Community College, as well as our newly built Center for Innovation.

Also from Laurel County Schools website, “U.S. News and World Report annually selects the highest achieving U.S. schools. Using the 2014-2015 completion data they began by evaluating 28,561 public high schools in all 50 states and the District of Columbia according to a comprehensive ranking methodology. Among those ranked, North Laurel High School qualified to receive the Silver Ribbon which made them eligible for a state ranking. Of the 92 Kentucky schools selected, NLHS ranked number 27.”  (But then again, Ms. Smith says that education is not a priority.)

#5: “A mere 250-something students, including myself, managed to walk across the makeshift stage in our gymnasium to receive our diplomas…” 
I honestly don’t know if she tried to make it as though we put up a flatbed trailer and have graduates walk across. From the photos below, you can see that the stages at the 2016 North Laurel High School and 2016 South Laurel High School graduation ceremonies were very tastefully done.  Did she expect pyro fireworks as each student’s name was called out?  You might also note that students did NOT receive their diplomas on the stage.  Instead, they received them in front of the stage.

North Laurel High School 2016 Graduation

 

South Laurel High School 2016 Graduation

Ms. Smith also mentions that there were over 200 to drop out of her class upon graduation.  If that was the case, then why does the US Census show that the enrollment from 2010 to 2014 increased from 2083 to 3023 for those enrolled in high school?  That is 940 students in 10 years added.

Why did I move back to London?

For those of us that moved away and came back, there are many reasons as to why.  Not only was my family here, but you had the best sense of community.  When someone’s family passes away, you can bet there will be a crowd to pay their respects, to call and check on the spouse and children, and offer to help in any way.  My family experienced that with the loss of several loved ones over the years.  Your neighbors stop by and mow the lawn or offer to watch the children because they care.

Our town of London hosts a lot of free events for everyone to enjoy.  We have a strong London Downtown group, as well as Chamber of Commerce.  From 5k walks, car shows, parades, live concerts, and well even the World Chicken Festival, we form a community to spend time with each other.  We just celebrated our 80th Laurel County Homecoming last year.

Thanks to the Restaurant Sales Tax, our community was able to rebuild the Rotary Park to include children with disabilities.  There are plans for a dog park, as well as more walking paths.  We also have a Wellness Park that has a skate park, splash pad, swings, walking paths and more.  Levi Jackson State Park will also have a new Treetop Aerial Adventure Park coming soon.

Car Show in London, Kentucky – photo by Jessica Bray

Any time a family is in need or has a hardship, strangers will stop what they are doing and lend a hand or donate.  When several students were afflicted with cancer over the last few years, our community came together with cookouts, car washes, t-shirt sales, and more to help the financial burden of medical bills.

In my community, when a hearse carrying someone’s loved one passes on any road, you can bet that every car stops to pay their respects.  In the years I lived in Lexington, no one did that because they were too busy living their own life.

I love the quirkiness of London and telling people where I’m from.  I always make sure to let them know that we are the Cycling Capital of Kentucky and host the Redbud Ride to over 1000 bicyclists worldwide.  The honeybun was invented here.  Singer songwriter, Darrell Scott is from here.  He wrote “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive,” that fellow Kentuckian, Patty Loveless made famous.  London is the hometown of several athletes, doctors, musicians, politicians, writers, and much more.

London is very historic with Levi Jackson State Park, as well many historic trails that run through the town, including the Boone Trace and Wilderness Road.  Russell Dyche was instrumental of a lot of improvements in Laurel County.

Our job force is pretty strong as many business have relocated to London.  We have AISIN Automotive, London Cookie Factory, Wal-mart Distribution Center, and so many other industry.  London is also a great place to start a small family owned business.  Several long serving restaurants include Weaver’s Hot Dogs, Dairy Dart, and the BP Auto Truck Stop (definitely stop by there for some good home cooking if you are coming down I-75.)

Furthermore, how can one not forget about the beautiful views of London and Laurel County?  It is always fun to take a drive down to Laurel Lake or any of the back roads to see the pure beauty that nature has given us.  The sounds of birds chirping away as you sit on your front porch are more peaceful than the hustle and bustle of a larger city.

Laurel County barn – photo by Jessica Bray

Hopefully Ms. Smith will learn that it doesn’t pay to write such fiction of a hometown that many of us have grown to love, and come back to even when we moved away.  While yes, we do have some that are afflicted with drugs, domestic violence, and other crimes, London is a good community to live in.  Our people are passionate and are willing to lend an extra hand no matter how big or small the need.

If you are from London, what are your favorite things about our community?

Jessica Bray has been a music journalist and historian for over 15 years. She enjoys providing concert photography, reviews, red carpet event coverage, and exclusive interviews of your favorite country music singers. She is a Kentucky Colonel, as well as a collector of Volkswagen and Gnome items.

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