Some of our most pleasant moments always seem to come when we stumble upon one thing while in pursuit of something else. So it was when we unexpectedly came upon the historic town of Midway. Located midway between Frankfort and Lexington, Historic Midway was the first town in Kentucky founded by a railroad.
But the town’s history began long before that when the area was inhabited by Indian Mound Builders. Two large Indian mounds have been identified on farms nearby Midway, as well as several smaller such structures in the outlying areas where they still exist today.
Settlers visited the area as early as 1771 when Kentucky was still part of Virginia. Many of them were surveyors and liked the land so well that they stayed. By 1788, residents successfully fought to break off from Fayette County to form Woodford County.
Nearly 45 years passed before the town of Midway came into existence. Then, when the Lexington and Ohio Railroad was incorporated in 1830, the town became a hub of activity with the accompanying construction. Lodging was needed for the railroad workmen as well as food, supplies, and other dry goods.
By 1832, the railroad carried its first passengers from Lexington with horse-drawn cars. The line was completed to Frankfort in 1834 and by January 1835 the first steam locomotive passed through Midway (also known as Middleway) from Lexington, bound for Frankfort.
Both cities celebrated the successful journey of the “Iron Horse” with a grand ball. Many accounts of those early years of the railroad-related tales of the engineers not only stopping for water and wood but also to open and shut farm gates since the train traveled through private pastures.
It was around this time that the town of Midway was surveyed and laid out by the railroad company. In honor of their work, many of the streets in Midway were named after the railroad company directors. These streets continue to exist today.
Midway continued to prosper along with the railroad. Electricity was introduced in 1911. In 1915, a fire destroyed a large part of the south side of Railroad Street. During the railroad’s heyday, the 1930s, and 40s, up to 30 trains, a day rumbled through the middle of town.
The passenger trains dwindled until the old depot (located where the caboose now stands) was closed in 1963. The last passenger train traveled through in May 1971.
Midway’s downtown followed the railroad’s fortunes and by the late 1960s and early 1970s, the few remaining businesses primarily served the local agricultural community.
Revitalization and rebirth began in the mid-1970s when several antique shops and galleries were established and the Midway I Village Guild was formed. In 1978, 176 buildings in Midway were placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Now, Historic Midway once again thrives and enjoys its present reputation as one of Kentucky’s favorite spots for antiques, crafts, gifts, restaurants, and clothing. Several freight trains still make use of the active tracks running through Railroad Street, preserving Midway’s unique history and atmosphere.
Today, Midway continues to be a uniquely friendly and quaint town with a noticeable spirit. Among the cheery storefronts that line Main Street, you’ll find an array of antique shops, specialty boutiques, and restaurants with a little something for everyone.
The town is a hangout for local and visiting horse enthusiasts who fill the tables at the Grey Goose bar and restaurant, come happy hour. So it’s no surprise that you’ll find lots of equine gifts and gear in the stores especially at Freedman’s leather shop. If bridles and bits aren’t your things, Freedman’s leather accessories—belts, wallets, and handbags, for example—are a notch above Ralph Lauren’s in both materials and workmanship.
Embellished with local shops, cozy tea rooms, restaurants, and beautiful local architecture, the streets of Midway offer visitors an exceptional, relaxing experience. Because of its special charm and small-town appeal visitors always leave Midway in high spirits and vow to return.
So it was with us.
Surely it is the right wish that draws us to the right place.
Nothing of importance happens accidentally in our life.
—Lama Anagarika Govinda, The Way of the White Clouds