Picture and story by: The Lane Report.com
Henderson holds a place in my heart. When I was in the eighth grade, a friend’s dad took us to Dade Park (now Ellis Park) to watch the ponies run – on a school day, no less. For the first time, I witnessed the thrill of watching those gorgeous beasts fly around the track, manes and tails streaming. I bet $2 on a horse named Like Mike, because it was my friend’s brother’s name. When jockey Earlie Fires drove that runner across the finish line first, I was hooked, and later spent a number of fascinating years in various capacities in the Thoroughbred industry.
A vibrant river town on the banks of the Ohio, Henderson in the late 1800s was the richest community in the nation per capita due to the export of dark tobacco, and still boasts a number of beautiful homes and buildings from that era in its historic downtown district. Famous bird artist John James Audubon and the Father of the Blues, W.C. Handy, brought notoriety to the town as native sons. One is remembered with a state park and the other, a rockin’ blues festival.
These days, Henderson can keep both visitors and meeting attendees happily busy.
A great place to get to know this west Kentucky city is at the downtown Depot, a replica of the original 1901 train station. Here, you’ll find the Henderson County Tourist Commission and the Community Room, where you can learn about the city’s history and its scads of special events. Among those are themed guided walking tours the first Saturday of each month, April through November, including A Taste of Henderson (July), Henderson’s Military History (November) and an Audubon Sculpture Tour (September), when you’ll stroll past some of 16 bird sculptures honoring Audubon scattered around town by Kentucky craftsman Raymond Graf.
Tune up for musical special events, such as Bluegrass in the Park (August), which includes the Folklife Festival (two-in-one!); Sandy Lee Watkins’ Songwriting Festival (July); and one of the nation’s largest free music festivals, the W.C. Handy Blues & Barbecue Festival (mid-June).
Strolling along the Ohio on the Henderson Riverwalk, you might glimpse a splendid riverboat, Queen of the Mississippi or the American Queen. Should you feel the need to watch speed, catch sleek boats making big waves at the Hydrofest “Roar on the River” in July, and those rapid runners hoofing it at Ellis Park Thoroughbred Racetrack, fondly known as “the Pea Patch” for its yearly infield soybean crop.
Get back to the land at an agritourism attraction, such as a honeybee farm, you-pick berry farm and a winery (see below).
Meeting planners have a myriad of options for meetings, events and retreats in Henderson.
From July through Labor Day, Ellis Park hosts live racing in its 8,500-seat grandstand and inter-track wagering in the off season. Its Sky Theater seats up to 450, with a panoramic view of the track. Meet in one of two smaller rooms or chow down at a buffet in an outdoor pavilion.