Remember Eclipseville? Marking the five-year anniversary of Hopkinsville’s big day

Is there still a sense of civic pride that drives us to show up and do the kind of work we did in 2017? We’d like to hear what you think.

In four weeks, we’ll be marking the five-year anniversary of Hopkinsville’s big day as the town closest to the epicenter of the Great American Eclipse.

Maybe you remember, as I do, the surge in community pride that Hopkinsville experienced leading up to the total solar eclipse on Aug. 21, 2017. Hopkinsville hit the astronomical jackpot and chose a brand to prove it — Eclipseville.

solar eclipse spectator
A spectator watches the solar eclipse on Aug. 21, 2017, from Hopkinsville, Ky. (Photo by Axel Drainville | CC BY-NC 2.0)

In the months leading up to the eclipse, the community prepared for company in a grand way. Our most public places got a scrubbing. Businesses hustled to finish improvements. State officials pushed to complete upgrades on Fort Campbell Boulevard. And a new marquee went up at the Alhambra. The list goes on.

City officials — most notably Brooke Jung, who was hired to manage Hopkinsville’s marketing and eclipse logistics — predicted that thousands of people from around the world would beat a path to our town. And they did. 

In fact, we didn’t realize how big the crowd had been until the evening of the eclipse when everyone tried to leave Hopkinsville at around the same time and traffic came to a standstill on just about every highway leading out of town. Members of my own family got stuck in a snarl on Pennyrile Parkway and then texted they were headed back to spend another night with us.

But we handled the crowds and welcomed all takers who wanted to spend time with us. The reviews of Hopkinsville couldn’t have been much better. 

Louisville Courier-Journal photographer Michael Clevenger had the good fortune of meeting Pennyroyal Arts Council executive director Margaret Prim, who let the newspaper crew use the Alhambra Theatre as their base of operations for a few days.

“We had planned for the eclipse for a month. Hopkinsville planned for it for a decade,” Clevenger wrote in a column for his paper. “In the end you can plan for portable toilets and traffic flow and campgrounds for 200,000 of your closest friends. But you can’t buy helpfulness. You can’t rent hospitable. You can’t fake friendly. Hopkinsville figured out how to host the world but remembered the intangible things that make us uniquely Kentucky. And it showed. The sun and the moon may have stolen the show in Hopkinsville on August 21, but Hopkinsville stole my heart.”

solar eclipse spectators
Over 150 kids watched the August 21, 2017, solar eclipse at the West Kentucky 4-H Camp in Dawson Springs, Ky. (UK College of Agriculture, Food & Environment photo | CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Clevenger had the keen eye of an outsider’s perspective. 

I had a different vantage point when I wrote about Hopkinsville’s eclipse experience. I saw it from the inside — as someone who has lived here and written about the town most of my life. I was particularly interested in how downtown Hopkinsville, which appeared to be in the early stage of a cultural and economic revival, would shine on the day so many visitors landed in the heart of our town.

In a story I reported right after the eclipse for The Daily Yonder, a news outlet that covers rural America, I wrote, “… I think the eclipse gave locals something I haven’t seen in a long time — if ever — in my hometown. I think people wanted a reason to feel good about Hopkinsville. Getting ready for company and then reveling in the party did something significant for the town’s self-esteem.”

And now? How should we rate Hopkinsville’s self-esteem in 2022?

This summer is a good time to take stock of Hopkinsville. Five years after the eclipse, how has the town progressed and how has it declined? Is there still a sense of civic pride that drives us to show up and do the kind of work we did in 2017?

I’m working on my own list and I’ll report back on what I’ve found on the anniversary of our big day. I also want to hear from community members. What kind of improvements, including new businesses, recreation sites and cultural improvements, have you noticed in the last five years? Where do you think the town has lost some focus? What is declining that needs attention?

If you have thoughts, please send me an email. I look forward to hearing from you.

Remember Eclipseville? Marking the five-year anniversary of Hopkinsville’s big day

Jennifer P. Brown | Hoptown Chronicle

Jennifer P. Brown is co-founder, publisher and editor of Hoptown Chronicle. You can reach her at editor@hoptownchronicle.org. She spent 30 years as a reporter and editor at the Kentucky New Era. She is a co-chair of the national advisory board to the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, governing board president for the Kentucky Historical Society, and co-founder of the Kentucky Open Government Coalition.