Main Streets Rule “The Road”

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Main Street towns dominated the voting in the “Best of the Road” Small Towns contest, which selected five towns for their friendly people, great scenery, tasty food, patriotism, and fun, fun, fun… Sponsored by Rand McNally in collaboration with USA Today, The Best of the Road contest chose winners in five categories: Most Beautiful, Most Patriotic, Friendliest, Best for Food, and Most Fun.

Main Street towns won three of the five categories, with nine additional towns as finalists in several categories. Congratulations to Bardstown, Kentucky, winner of Most Beautiful Small Town in America; Murray, Kentucky, winner of Friendliest; and Gainesville, Texas, winner of Most Patriotic. Nearly 700 towns competed in the contest, with 30 being chosen as finalists. Two-person teams visited each town and recommended their favorites to a panel of judges, which made the final selection. Winners were announced on July 17th. (See all the Main Street towns chosen as finalists below.)

Most Beautiful Small Town in America: Bardstown, Kentucky

Bardstown, which calls itself the “Bourbon Capital of the World,” is the home of several distilleries as well as the Kentucky Bourbon Festival each September. Another major attraction is My Old Kentucky Home State Park, site of a former plantation built in 1795. The mansion is purportedly the inspiration for the state song, “My Old Kentucky Home,” and every summer, crowds watch the outdoor drama “The Stephen Foster Story” about the song’s composer.

On June 22nd, Bardstown welcomed the judging team of Nikki and Dusty Green, known as the Two for the Road team, with a parade through downtown and a party at the Welcome Center Plaza, which attracted more than 250 people. During their visit, the judges toured local attractions, including the state park and the bourbon distilleries; visited with downtown business owners; spent time at the Farmers Market, examined the town’s carefully preserved architecture, sampled the local cuisine, and even crashed a wedding!

“The people of Bardstown have brought us in,” said Judge Nikki Green of her experience in the town. “We feel like family.”

“Being named the Most Beautiful Small Town in America is one of the most prestigious honors a community can hope to receive," said Kim Huston, president of the Nelson County Economic Development Agency. “I really believe one of the reasons we were chosen for the award is because the judges experienced a true ‘spirit of community’ as residents of all ages showed up for our opening parade and party.”

See the top 10 Reasons Why Bardstown Was Chosen Most Beautiful:

Explore Bardstown with the Two for the Road judges.

Friendliest Small Town in America: Murray, Kentucky

Located less than half an hour from Kentucky Lake and the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area, Murray, an accredited Kentucky Main Street town, is a hub for outdoor activities such as hiking, camping, swimming, and fishing. But it’s also known for its warm friendliness and down-home charm.

It felt “like home in Murray more than anywhere else,” said the judging team of Jennifer Jordan and Robert Schatz, also known as the Rogue Riders team. Murray’s residents “had a way of bringing us in, and we made friends. This is the only town where we went into people’s homes.”

“We were truly shocked and excited that we received this honor,” said Deana Wright, director of Murray Main Street. “We had some wonderful competition around the country.”

“Murray was the first stop on Rand McNally’s cross-country tour,” said Stephanie Butler of the Murray Convention & Visitors Bureau, giving the town only hours to prepare. “We did not have time to over-think or panic. We just came together as a community to show them how and why we live the way we do. It’s natural to see our hospitality and kindness without putting on a show,” added Butler.

Listen to Voices of Murray and see what friendliness means to the people of this Kentucky town:

Explore Murray with the Best of the Road Rogue Riders team here and here.

Most Patriotic Small Town in America: Gainesville, Texas

This north Texas Main Street town, with its beautifully restored, late-19th-century downtown and courthouse square, “changed our definition of patriotism” said judges Sandra McKenna and Rick Griffin, the MidLife Road team. “It’s not just the number of flags or monuments, memorials, or programs; it’s not even just for the people who serve. It’s how you care for the people who were fought for.”

The Road team was surprised to learn that Gainesville is the only “Medal of Honor Host City” in the United States, and its annual spring celebration, conceived in 2001, draws Congressional Medal of Honor recipients from all over the nation, with volunteer donations covering their travel and food expenses. For those few days each April, residents and visitors have the opportunity to meet America’s greatest heroes and be inspired by their stories of patriotism, self-reliance, and service.

In fact, said Lynette Pettigrew, Main Street manager and Chamber of Commerce executive director, “Patriotism, It’s What We Do has become the town’s slogan for all its efforts to duty, honor, and country.”

Still, the community erupted with surprise when the announcement came that Gainesville had won. “We were by far the smallest rural community in the contest,” said Pettigrew. “We had been tweeting, texting, sharing, and even talking face to face—the old-fashioned way—to everyone we knew or wanted to know about our hope and hard work to become America’s Most Patriotic Small Town.”

See what patriotism means to Gainesville’s residents:

Explore Gainesville with the Midlife Road team.

Best of the Road Finalists

Nine other Main Street towns were among the 30 finalists.

Finalists for Most Beautiful:

  • Baker City, Oregon
  • Danville, Kentucky (Great American Main Street Award winner 2001)
  • Sedona, Arizona
  • Tybee Island, Georgia

Finalist for Friendliest:

  • San Luis Obispo, California (Great American Main Street Award winner 1999)

Finalist for Most Patriotic:

  • Deland, Florida (Great American Main Street Award winner 1997)

Finalists for Best for Food:

  • Bloomington, Indiana
  • Walla Walla, Washington (Great American Main Street Award winner 2001)

Finalist for Most Fun:

  • Denton, Texas (Great American Main Street Award winner 1999)

Congratulations Main Streets! You rule the Road!