Hidden Gem

Former plantation now serves
as Blue Wing Landing Inn

Rockin’ Thunder Jet Boat tours stop there
on way to Frankfort

GRATZ, Ky. (August 2017) – Search hard enough and it is possible to find a slice of history hidden away down a quiet back road in Owen County, Ky. Blue Wing Landing Inn is a pre-Civil War plantation surrounded by hundreds of acres of Kentucky wilderness. The wildlife management area is a step back in time, but the easiest way to get there is by the Kentucky River on a modern jet boat with two twin diesel engines producing more than 800 horsepower.
Two couples have made a partnership to bring tourists to Blue Wing Landing via Rockin’ Thunder Jet Boat Rides, starting from either Madison, Ind., or Frankfort, Ky.
Capt. Paul Nicholson and Capt. Janet Harding operate Rockin’ Thunder Jet Boat Rides in Madison, Ind. Doug and Kathleen Martin are the driving force behind Blue Wing Landing Inn in Gratz, Ky.

Photo provided

Blue Wing Landing Inn sits along the Kentucky River in rural Gratz, Ky., in Owen County.

The 90-mile Sunday dinner adventure delivers guests to Blue Wing, an 1850s peach plantation.
To get there, the boat travels through two Kentucky River locks built in 1838. Wildlife seen along the river can include sightings of bald eagles.
Once at the plantation, guests tour the plantation and a log cabin that was used as the outdoor kitchen.
There is a catered lunch of barbecued chicken and sugar cream pie. Guests are serenaded with music of the era played on mountain dulcimer before heading back home to Madison or Frankfort.
“Blue Wing was originally settled by John Brown,” said Kathleen Martin. “He was the first senator from Kentucky around 1798. It was a productive plantation estate. Riverboats frequented the property, exchanging goods for peaches.”
Martin shares a lot of the history of the plantation when she leads visitors on a tour of the property.
“John Brown’s sons, Nathan and Orlando, both built house there,” she said. “Nathan built the Blue Wing house. The house Orlando built was on other side of the river. It was flooded and is in bad shape. Both are built in Gothic Revival style.”
The Martins maintained all the original features of the home at Blue Wing, including floors, woodwork, large windows and high ceilings in stately rooms. There are modern conveniences, but they have been added in a subtle way so as not to clash with the antique feeling of the home.
The plantation sleeps 10 people in the house with two more at the cooking cabin. There is a full kitchen, living area, dining areas and four bedrooms with two full baths. There are central air and heat units hidden away in the basement and attic.
The entire house can be rented for the weekend and often serves as an event or convention center.

Photo by John Sheckler

Will Martin also operates Blue Wing Landing Outfitters that include chartered boat fishing trips.

Blue Wing Landing has been in operation for three years and includes multiple original field hand cabins.
“The Browns educated and emancipated their slaves,” Martin added. 
The Martins are proud of the memorable experience guests have at the house.
Guests can do a variety of activities such as hiking, stand up paddle boarding, swimming, kayaking, bird watching, fishing in the river or stocked pond, hunting or watching wildlife from several viewing platforms.
“Our oldest son was in Navy,” said Martin. “His best friend in the Marines was killed. When we went to the funeral, the memory video was scrolling, and 60 percent of the photos were of him on our property. His mother thanked us for helping make him into a man. It still makes me cry to think about it.”
Guests to Blue Wing Landing are able to experience nature by hunting or fishing, or from a simple walk in the woods.
Their son, Will Martin, is also a licensed river captain who works for Rockin’ Thunder.
Will Martin also operates Blue Wing Landing Outfitters. He offers guided hunts for turkey and deer, as well as chartered boat fishing trips.
The Blue Wing Landing owners bought one of the Rockin’ Thunder jet boats. It was fitted with stainless steel decks so people can stand and look in the water at the fish on fishing trips.
“Originally, we had family property for a weekend place,” said Will Martin. “We had a pontoon and pulled a knee board behind. That was when I started liking boats. That was my getaway. I don’t think I’ll ever live anywhere not near the water.”
“Being here made us realize how impactful nature can be,” Kathleen added. “It is possible to disconnect with the everyday rat race and reconnect with yourself and nature here. That is the heart of our mission statement. It changes people’s lives. It really does.”
As much as the Martins love Blue Wing Landing, the river boat captains love the river and the jet boats.
“The Kentucky River is a true gem,” said Harding. “Starting with the untouched landscape, that reminds me of the western United States with the high peaks and rivers flowing in a valley. The palisades are gorgeous, including the dry waterfalls that Daniel Boone mentions in his writings.”
“It is a river we know like the back of our hand,” said Nicholson. “But few people get to see it. We like to share. I like the solitude of it.  There is no traffic, no lawn mowers. Once in a while we see another boat cruse by, but it is very seldom.”
The jet boats are becoming a regional tourism destination. Rockin’ Thunder works with tourism directors in Madison, Carrollton, Ky., and Frankfort, Ky.
“There were fewer than 1,000 passengers during our first year of operation,” he added. “This year, we expect to have more than 4,000 guests.”
Rockin’ Thunder offers several different trips on the Ohio and Kentucky rivers. There is a 15-mile rocking thrill ride, a 40-mile scenic trip to Lock 1, a 75-mile lunch excursion to Captains Quarters restaurant in Prospect, Ky., the 90-mile trip to Blue Wing Landing on Sunday, and a 155-mile trip to Frankfort.
“On the Captain Quarters trip, a boat is the only way to see that part of the river,” said Nicholson. “It is a beautiful section of Ohio River to see.
Blue Wing Landing is available for weddings, church retreats, yoga retreat, graduations, family reunions, small corporate gatherings such as team building events or just a quiet getaway.
“It is really a unique place,” said Kathleen. “It is not your typical B&B. There are lots of things to do.”

• For more information about Blue Wing Landing call Doug Martin at (513) 519-1416. For information about hunting or fishing trips, call Will Martin at (513) 535-7292. For information about Rockin’ Thunder, call (812) 701-1155.

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