Berea continues growing from its roots as an antislavery community into a progressive city of the Bluegrass.
The dramatic hills surrounding Berea are just 40 miles outside Lexington and less than two hours from Henry County.
The city and its college grew around progressive ideas from Kentucky emancipationists Cassius Clay and John Gregg Fee.
Clay invited Fee, who wrote several articles for Clay’s newspaper, The True American, to settle on land he owned in Madison County and start an antislavery community. Fee called his community Berea and founded the one-room college in 1855. The college opened its doors as the first interracial and coed institution. Proslavery groups ostracized and threatened Fee resulting in his exile from the county despite a plea for protection from Kentucky Governor Beriah Magoffin. He would return with his family by the 1860s to continue his dream of Berea.
Berea College continued to flourish after the Civil War. The school still offers a four-year tuition scholarship to admitted students. Several students work within the city at the Boone Tavern Hotel and Restaurant, which aid in their living costs.
In the spirit of progress, the college offers an ecovillage dorm with 50 apartments. The apartments work on a sustainability model with a reduction in energy and water consumption. The rooftops capture rainwater for production of produce with a goal for treatment of sewage and wastewater on site and the apartments use passive solar heating.
The Boone Tavern Hotel and Restaurant recently underwent a $11 million renovation including historic preservation and the installation of solar panels for electricity. The the U.S. Green Building Council certified the hotel as a gold green hotel by the standards of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.
The city has festivals year round, but its foundation of craftsman, artisans and artists galleries makes Berea a perfect destination or afternoon getaway without looking at an event calendar.
Jimmy Lou Jackson didn’t start out as an artist, but continues as one in Berea. Near the visitor center inside the Honeysuckle Vine building, you can see her working on her pieces.
“I used to work in a medical laboratory. I started doing this when I was 52 so they are called hot flash beads,” Jackson said. “We don’t cure hot flashes here, but we make you look cool while you are having them.”
Jackson worked in a hospital medical laboratory. She started doing glass work to unwind.
“I would come home and do this for sanity,” Jackson said. “This process is called lamp working because they used to use a lamp to do this. They would blow air across the plane of the lamp to heat it up the glass.”
Jackson makes necklaces and earrings from putting different colors of glass together in her pieces. Jackson uses a stainless steel rod with clay coating to keep the glass from sticking. She chooses a color of glass and heats it over a torch.
“In nature, glass would be in a lava flow at about 2,005 degrees. I get the glass about 2,000 degrees with the torch and wind the glass on it like spaghetti,” Jackson said. “The glass on the outside will cool faster than the inside, crushing it if I didn’t put it in a kiln.”
The kiln cools the glass over night progressively lowering its internal temperature and the glass.
“If you think about the molecular structure glass at that temperature, the molecules are moving so fast it’s like they are boogying,” Jackson said. “When I slow it down, it’s like a freeze. So now we’ve got a molecular structure where it isn’t supposed to be. With my kiln at 950 degrees, the molecules aren’t boogying anymore now they are slow dancing.”
Jackson said she became interested in glass since playing with marbles as a child.
Unlike Jackson, Neil Colmer graduated from Berea College and knew exactly what he wanted to do.
“I began weaving as a Berea college student. It ended up being my 10-hour a week job,” Colmer said. “By the end of my senior year, I decided I would rather be weaving than anything else.”
He and his wife Mary own Weaver’s Bottom at 140 North Broadway. The couple produces everything in their store by hand and loom.
“The process just got me. You take a bunch of yarn on cones and handle it and move it around and end up with it on a loom,” Colmer said. “It becomes cloth. It’s an ancient and magical process.”
Colmer wove one of the couple’s Christmas towel designs. They don’t change the red and green colors of the towel but the plaid design every year.
“I weave this towel a yard long , throw the shuttle through 20 times an inch and I can complete it in 20 minutes,” Colmer said. “The same towel on one of our hand looms would take over an hour. It takes about 12 hours to set the project up. That counts measuring the thread and putting it on the loom.”
Colmer uses a flying shuttle loom once used by the college.
“It was probably built during the 20s,” Colmers said. “The technology itself is ancient. It’s been around for over 3,000 years. It didn’t make it into western culture until the late 1700s.”
Colmer has been a weaver for 45 years.
“I weave on all the looms,” Colmer said. “My wife Mary will work on the hand looms.
It takes a lot of patience to be a hand weaver. Nothing can get in a hurry.”
Berea’s numerous shops lie within easy walking distance. The Berea Coffee and Tea is a great place to energize your self on your favorite coffee concoction or Palapeno’s for hand tossed pizza.
Afterwards, go out of town on KY 21 for a hike to work off the extra calories. Exactly three miles from the tavern on the left is the parking lot for trails leading to outlooks over the Appalachian region. If time doesn’t allow for the circuitous 6.7 miles of trails, take the West Pinnacle trail for a less than two-mile hike with a huge payoff.
On the top of the West Pinnacle, you can see a reserve water basin and the rolling green hills nestling the town of Berea inside it.
For more information about Weavers Bottom visit: http://on.fb.me/16sbPC0
For more information about Berea visit: www. berea.com.