Bubbleland: The Kentucky Bend
One of the most interesting places in Kentucky has many names and is often called the the Kentucky Bend, New Madrid Bend, Bessie Bend, or simply Bubbleland. It's a small area in the most southwestern parts of the state, completely cut off from the rest of Kentucky by a sharp bend in the Mississippi River.
This "Kentucky Bubble" is 17 square miles of farmlands, fishing lakes, graveyards, and a few small houses. With a population of just seventeen, the only highway in or out is Tennessee's Highway #22. The few children ride a 12-mile-long bus route north to school in Tiptonville, and the nearest voting location is 40 miles away in Hickman, Kentucky. The last store closed in the early 1960s, and the local church no longer remains. Needless to say, it's pretty hard to stumble upon and according to locals, most of the notable visitors are escaped inmates from a nearby Tennessee prison!
The formation of this land had a lot to do with a series of the most violent earthquakes ever in the eastern United States back in 1811 and 1812. Some of the earthquakes surpassed an "8.0" on the Richter Scale, sending shelves of land 30 feet in the air, and even causing the Mississippi River to briefly flow backwards!
According to historians, hundreds of English colonizers began occupying the land after the bend's creation. Thanks to the help of steamboats, the population grew from just 2 in 1820 to over 300 by 1870. Because of it's proximity to the river, the soil was extremely rich and fertile, attracting hundreds of farmers to the area looking to grow cotton. Most of the crops grown today include soybeans, cotton, wheat, and corn.
Interestingly enough, this was the place that inspired Mark Twain to write about a legendary family feud in his 1883 memoir, Life on the Mississippi. 60 years of bloodshed between the Darnell and Watson family is rumored to have originated over the fate of a single horse or cow.
It's also worth noting that Kentucky Bend played a part in the Civil War, and was just east of "The Battle of Island Number 10" which took place February 28 to April 8, 1862.
In The West Tennessee Farm edited by Marvin Downing (University of Tennessee at Martin Press, 1979), Norman L. Parks reports a population in 1880 of 303, of whom 18 were African American. By 1900, "large numbers of Negroes in the Bend" were working as laborers to plant and harvest the cotton.
The closest tourist attraction is Reelfoot Lake a few miles away in Tiptonville, which is said to be a beautiful spot to visit year-round.
Needless to say, Kentucky Bend, aka Bubbleland is a very intriguing place you could say is shrouded in an air of mystery. With it's rich and bloody history, it might be worth a visit to see what is arguably the most unique area of Kentucky.
Kentuckians Hold True to Their Quiet Bend - Los Angeles Times (latimes.com)
Bowed Radio at the New Madrid Bend - Western Kentucky (archive.org)
Motel Magazine: In Search of the Bubblelanders (archive.org)