NASHVILLE, Tennessee (Reuters) - It was huge news in the small town of Guthrie, Kentucky, on Thursday when the governors of Tennessee and Kentucky unveiled new highway signs directing motorists to the Robert Penn Warren Birthplace and Museum.
“We’re getting something that we’ve been hoping for for the last 25 years,” said Jeane Moore, the education and events director for the museum, which opened in 1989 in the Warren family’s restored brick home.
Penn — the author of “All the King’s Men” and other works and the first U.S. poet laureate — was born in the farming community of Guthrie on April 24, 1905, and died in Stratton, Vermont, in 1989, aged 84.
He had planned to visit his old hometown to attend the museum opening, but his health became too fragile and he never made it back.
The museum contains historical and biographical information and memorabilia chronicling Penn’s life and literary career, drawing tourists and scholars.
But many motorists traveling on Interstate Highway 24 passed within a few miles of the hardscrabble town across the state line, which was an old railroad and stagecoach stop, without being aware of its museum, Moore said in a telephone interview.
Signs on the interstate highway are vital, Moore said, and drew Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear and Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen to the unveiling.
“It piques their interest,” Moore said, referring to literature fans and families on vacation now more likely to pull off onto Highway 79 and visit the museum, which is free.
The excitement spread throughout the town. On the main drag, Ewing Street, Bill Longhurst, owner of Longhurst General Store — a city gathering spot where hardware, sandwiches and wisdom are offered up — said having the signs up “is great, of course ... I think it will help Guthrie.”
Warren left Guthrie to attend high school in Clarksville, Tennessee, then college at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. But his brother, Thomas Warren, remained a fixture in the town, operating a local grain elevator.
Editing by Andrew Stern and Peter Bohan