In 1987, Murray landed on Rand McNally’s list of Best Places to Retire, thanks to a low cost of living, eclectic mix of arts and culture, welcoming hospitality, superb health care options, proximity to West Kentucky’s lakes playground and an award-winning institution of higher learning. Just nine miles from the Tennessee state line, this Jackson Purchase town claims a current resident base nearing 15,000 and enough intriguing attractions, annual festivals and outdoor activities to keep visitors as happily busy as they want to be.
Murray State University (MSU) is the community’s anchor.
“The fact that it’s here expands our cultural base and allows us to bring in a broad range of concerts and exhibits,” said Erin Carrico, event coordinator for the Murray Convention & Visitors Bureau. “It really puts us on the map.”
During the 1965-66 academic year, the commonwealth bestowed university status upon Murray State College. Now, for the 17th consecutive year, the institution has garnered U.S. News and World Report’s vote as one of the top public universities in the country, earning its hallowed halls the nickname of “the Public Ivy League.” Today, MSU boasts a current student population of 10,000-plus and a respected veterinary diagnostic center.
Housed in MSU’s first permanent structure, the 1924 Wrather West Kentucky Museum is on the National Register of Historic Places and serves a twofold purpose.
“It’s a kind of schizophrenic building,” laughed Manager Kate Reeves. “One minute it’s a historic building, a real broad-spectrum Jackson Purchase museum, and the next, it’s a performance venue, complete with an auditorium with beautiful stained glass windows.”
The wonders within its classic brick edifice are myriad, including the gold records of MSU alum Jerry Crutchfield, head of Capitol Records for 50 years; movie posters from Hollywood’s Golden Age and an autographed photo of Clark Gable from Hollywood character actor and MSU grad Hal Riddle; WWII and Civil War history; the story of Gold Leaf tobacco, once Calloway County’s mainstay; and MSU photos from times gone by.
From Feb. 28 through Apr. 18, 2009, the museum will host a traveling Smithsonian Museum exhibit, “Between Fences,” a treatise on what fences have meant to this country.
Another campus must-see is the Department of Art’s Clara M. Eagle Gallery. Highlights from 1,300 artworks in its permanent collection hang alongside regularly changing exhibits.
Another cultural venue is the town’s 142-seat Playhouse in the Park, with year-round Broadway shows, musicals and children’s plays changing monthly. In keeping with Murray’s go-all-out-for-the-holidays spirit, “A Christmas Story” will run during December, while downtown will transform into Dickens Square.
“Our major tourist attractions are our festivals, and they’re a great reason to leave the Interstate,” said Carrico.
Try to hit all of the town’s celebrations, and you’ll be keeping those back roads hot.
Each weekend, spring through fall, Murray Main Street hosts a Saturday Market for local produce, handmade crafts and yummy baked goods. In the summertime, a three-day Fourth of July Freedom Fest rocks with live music, kids’ activities and “monster” fireworks.
At the same time, you’ll want to bib up for “Squealin’ on the Square”, a Kansas City Barbecue-sanctioned cook-off. In 2008, six of the top 10 national competitors cooked for hefty monetary prizes. Visitors, of course, can sample the luscious entries.
Fall offerings include an Ice Cream Festival, the Western Kentucky Highland Festival and the Hazel Celebration.
Known as an antique collector’s paradise, the village of Hazel, just east of Murray, rolls back the clock for a day of sippin’ milkshakes at an old-fashioned soda fountain, indulging in a ladies’ luncheon at the Magnolia Tea Room and taking in a swap meet and car show.
Come November, Murray honors a different sort of tradition during the West Kentucky Fiddle Festival.
The world-renowned Del McCoury Band opens on Friday night, Nov. 7, with Saturday competitions to include mandolin, guitar, junior fiddler and peewee fiddler, and jam sessions galore. Anyone may attend and listen.
Find out more at www.tourmurray.com or (800) 651-1603, and go west!