2015 Walking Tour Proves Successful
FROM THE INDEPENDENT
ASHLAND Until the moment the winds and rain hit downtown Ashland Saturday, it looked as if the second annual Downtown Ashland Historic Walking Tour would break every first-year record. At the end of the day, however, organizers were left with unclaimed tickets, a big batch of ruined photo enlargements and plenty to consider for next year’s event.
Eastern Kentucky Military Historical Society President Matt Potter said there is a silver lining to Saturday’s storm story, although he still shakes his head when he talks about the way the big photos, printed on an extra-tough form of plastic, peeled away in sections after enduring the morning’s hot sun followed by the wind and rain.
“It pulled down half the signs, actually ruined half of them, and it ruined ticket sales,” Potter said, noting one of the main goals of this year’s walking tour was “Get the pictures right,” and properly mounted for participant viewing.
“The first three hours were sold out,” Potter said, adding several afternoon tours after the storm were also at or near capacity. The day’s total was likely near 225, he said, which is significantly less than organizers expected if the weather had remained nice. Last year’s tour was geared for about 100 participants, and organizers scrambled to accommodate more than four times that amount.
“There were a couple of positive aspects to it. We had record crowds that morning and an influx of high-quality guides including keynote local historians,” he said, explaining several faculty members from ACTC were involved. During the morning briefing, Potter said he surveyed the room and was slightly stunned to realize “there was probably a century’s worth of experience dealing with local history and just a tremendous amount of local knowledge” in the room.
Improvements to this year’s tour, based almost entirely upon suggestions and comments from people who participated in last year’s tour, included a phone-app guide, better transportation for people who might have trouble walking, and portable P.A. speakers for the tour guides. Among the unexpected aspects of the day, Potter said people seemed to genuinely appreciate the T-shirts worn by the guides bearing a “vectored image” of the old Ventura Hotel, which was once near the corner of Winchester Ave. and 13th Street, and a surprising number of those people decided to buy their own copy of the shirt.
Churches along the way were an especially appreciated part of the program, Potter said.
“That was very well received – taking time to go into the churches and hearing the history of the churches,” he said, explaining the official tour included stops at a historic Episcopal, as well as a Methodist, church. Some of the people who took the tour had never been inside a church other than their own, he said, and were fascinated by the historic touches, such as a hand-carved altar brought over from Germany more than a century ago, or the story of a Chinese family whose son became the first Chinese-American to die during World War II.
“They were amazed. They were astonished,” he said of their reactions, adding the stories told “just prove the rich cultural diversity of our area” and often disprove accepted stereotypes about local people and history.
“There is no doubt this tour is filling a void in our community,” he said, noting tour participants often included multi-generational families, including one group with five generations walking together along Winchester Avenue, allowing important aspects of the city’s past to be passed along to another generation.
TIM PRESTON can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2651.