It is a long way from Lexington to Whitesburg. To most, that is way too long to wait for a restroom break. On July 5, 1967, the state announced that some relief was coming by way of a rest stop. The Kentucky Department of Highways announced the soliciting of bids for the construction of a roadside rest stop in Breathitt County on the newly completed Highway 15.
The site chosen for the complex was three miles north of Jackson between the river and road in the bend of the Kentucky River overlooking a section of Wolverine. The roadside park on the Kentucky-Virginia Highway resulted from the efforts of Governor Edward T. “Ned” Breathitt after he had to make a trip into the weeds near the area on a political trip to Jackson. He said he could “understand the need.”
The plans, as released by Highway Commissioner Mitchell W. Tinder, called for the construction of restrooms, drinking fountains, charcoal grills, vending areas, picnic tables, and a parking area. Advertisements for sealed bids appeared in the newspapers around the state the week of July 13. The state planned to use federal funds from the Highway Beautification Act of 1965 to construct the new facility.
According to the advertisement, Commissioners would receive and open bids to construct the Mountain Parkway Rest Area on July 28th at the Highway Office in Frankfort. The process was restarted, after some reworking of the project, and final bids were received on September 22. The Transportation Cabinet opened the received bids on September 22. The Commissioners for Highways awarded the project to the Frederick May Construction Company at a cost of $43,220, according to the September 23, 1967 edition of The Lexington Herald-Leader.
Construction started and progressed rapidly. The construction proceeded with only the occasional delay due to rain and the facility opened quietly in the Spring of 1968. Thousand of travelers used the facility and the break from travel was greatly appreciated.
Over the years, thousands of weary travelers continued to use the “break” on their ride from the mountains to the flatlands of the bluegrass. From the time it opened, vandals frequently damaged and destroyed parts of the site. The plastic globes on some of the parking lot lights were shot away in 1968 and again in 1969. A major “attack” on the site occurred on the night of April 27-28, 1969.
According to reports in The Jackson Times, District Highway Engineer John Sturgill and his assistant Roy Bach were called to the rest stop after they discovered three broken commodes and a broken water tank. The vandals further damaged the rest area by pouring battery acid into the hand dryers. The Kentucky State Police investigated the damage, but no charges resulted. The attacks at the rest stop were part of several needless examples of destruction in the area including a picnic table torn apart and thrown into Panbowl Lake and another was burned. The damage was repaired by Mack Johnson who was placed in charge of a crew of the “Happy Pappys” to monitor the rest stop and keep the area clean.
Despite the watchmen, the vandals returned the next week on Sunday evening, May 4. According to reports in The Jackson Times, some “super citizens” shot the mercury bulbs out of two large lights in the parking lot, ripped the electric meter out of the wall, and emptied their pistols into the locks on the doors of the restrooms and storage areas. A long editorial in The Times decried the work of these “bums and punks.”
Many local civic groups joined together to voice their outrage. The Breathitt County Jaycees President Lewis Warrix and the club offered a $100.00 cash reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the “pin-headed nitwits” who caused damage to the rest stop. A prosecution for the 1969 damages did not happen and a conviction never came.
Sadly, the needless destruction and vandalism continued as long as the roadside park was open on Highway 15. The facility was dirty and run down in the early 1980s. It closed and was torn down before 1984. Highway 15 was expanded in the 2010s and the site was partially obscured by several dirt berms. Only a part of the asphalt parking area and a metal sign holder are all that remains of the site.
The roadside rest stop, a place of rest and relief for many who traveled the Kentucky-Virginia Highway (now Highway 15), remains only as a memory thanks to the work of vandals who cared little for their fellow man or community. Sadly, as much as things change, it seems they just stay the same. Some would say, “I guess we just can’t have nice things.”
© 2022 Stephen D. Bowling