LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
From a lonesome whippoorwill call echoing through the Daniel Boone National Forest to the calming babble of a flowing Rockcastle River, Lucille Carloftis takes readers of her new book on “A Beautiful Journey” at the inspiring Carloftis family homestead.
Carloftis is a pioneer of entrepreneurship and a mother of six. At 84-years-old, she has written three books and is already working on her fourth, all while she’s spearheading the Rockcastle River Trading Company in Livingston. She attributes her children’s spirit to their environment growing up beside U.S. 25 on 50 acres that borders the Rockcastle River.
What the Rockcastle River Trading Company is today was the Fort Sequoya of the late 1950s. Fort Sequoya was built like an ancient Indian village with basket weaving and an authentic Indian camp.
“We sold our car and traded it in for a truck and I hauled the lumber and gravel with my children in the cab of the truck. Oh we had a good time! But it wasn’t long until the business took off and then we turned it into one of the biggest private tourist attractions in Kentucky that was privately owned at the time,” Carloftis said.
There was no running water, electricity and the first gift shop was a small cottage built with a Ford Model T engine propped up on concrete blocks.
The Carloftis family had a knack for tourism. It’s in the way Lucille Carloftis greets visitors from all over the world who come to see her handsome haven.
“Come right in. How are you folks today? Where are you from?” she asked a couple from Elizabethtown as they entered the trading company storefront on Wednesday.
The couple said they were just passing through and heard about the place by word of mouth.
“Make yourselves at home,” she said with a heart warming smile.
Lucille Carloftis is a Manchester native and a true southern belle. She does not leave home without one of her Derby-style hats. Her Native American turquoise jewelry suggests she has never forgotten the Fort Sequoya dream she and her late husband, Carlo, gave life to.
“We celebrated this past July 3 the opening of this business 57 years ago, and it’s evolved into three different businesses,” she said. “The beauty of it has been about the people who have been here and the friends that I have made over these years.”
After Interstate 75 was completed, business began to decrease.
“We were a little bit off the main highway, actually. We were kind of forgotten for several years,” she said.
In those years, she admits she didn’t think the Carloftis home would ever open again, and her son, Jon, began paving the way for his success as a New York City rooftop garden designer. At the peak of his newfound success, he re-invented his parent’s dream and built awe-inspiring gardens at his childhood home. The gardens that carry a touch of Eden have been published in both Southern Living and Kentucky Monthly.
“Jon has made this possible for me to remain here,” she said humbly. “When Jon went to New York, his dad told him, ‘remember who you are and where you’re from,’ and I know he’s done just that.”
Her son built something for her, she said, that it’s truly ideal. Over the years she’s watched so much change, but one thing that has remained static is the people. She has many loyal patrons since the days of Fort Sequoya and, no matter what, she and her children have always returned to the enchanting Carloftis home and Rockcastle River.
The Carloftis family homestead was once a place where the Carloftis children ran wild, swinging from ropes into the Rockcastle River and it is now a destination for garden clubs, festivals and dinner parties.
As the Elizabethtown couple started to walked out of the Rockcastle Trading Company’s front door, Lucille Carloftis asked them if they had visited the river yet.
“You need to,” she said. “That’s the magic of the place.”
The Rockcastle River Trading Company is located off U.S. 25 in Livingston, and is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Carloftis’ new book can be purchased at the store or online at Amazon.com.
Already, she is currently burning the midnight oil to finish her next literary work about the most influential people in her life.