Apple Valley Hillbilly Garden and Toyland Museum is Western Kentucky's most fun-filled, pun-filled roadside attraction.
Where some folks might see a problem, Keith Holt has a way of finding a creative solution.
For example when the local sheriff paid him a visit after neighbors reported his tractor-trailer — which sits in his yard and holds the majority of his massive toy collection — as abandoned, Keith saw it as an opportunity for self-expression.
"They were going to fine me as a public nuisance, so I thought if I painted faces on the side it wouldn't look abandoned. Clowns are the easiest, so I painted them free hand," Keith says. "Now, whenever I paint something I give myself three hours. If it doesn't look right after that I turn it into a clown."
Keith has since used his toy collection and free-wheeling imagination to create Apple Valley Hillbilly Garden and Toyland Museum, a sprawling mash-up of folk-art installations, vintage toy displays and other whimsical elements that have to be seen to be fully appreciated.
A short 15-minute drive from Paducah, Kentucky, Apple Valley is both an homage to the roadside attractions of yesteryear and one of Western Kentucky's most unique and popular tourist destinations. Apple Valley is open to visitors from 8 a.m. to dusk year-round. There's no charge for admission, although donations are appreciated.
Keith's homestead has a long history as a local attraction.
His grandparents, Oral and Myrtle Wallace, bought Apple Valley in 1928 and opened a roadside produce stand called "Shady Nock." They sold apples from the property's orchard, as well as homemade apple cider. Presumably, one could also procure harder stuff the Wallace's made using an underground still they kept hidden beneath their barn.
When Oral heard that Highway 68 would run past Apple Valley, he added a room to rent and an auto camp, along with a small petting zoo. Using leftover lumber, Oral also built a tiny one-room country store where he'd cut hair and serve chicken dinners. Legend has it that Bonnie and Clyde once stayed at Apple Valley and left a shotgun behind in the barn. Oral Wallace passed away in 1964 and Apple Valley fell into disrepair.
"My grandmother always wanted me to come back and do something with the property," says Keith, "but I was like everyone else. The last thing I wanted to do was come back to Kentucky."
Keith moved to Los Angeles after high school to pursue an acting career, although "obviously I never made it because you've never heard of me," he says with a chuckle. While in L.A., he built model train layouts for A-list stars and producers to make extra money.
"I'd also get to see all these big star's private toy collections," says Keith, who had also begun collecting toys by that time. "I always thought it was a shame that no one else got to enjoy them."
That's when Keith landed on the idea of using toys as the backdrop for model train layouts. He stored the idea away for what he thought would be his eventual return to Kentucky.
When his mother passed away, Keith decided to move back sooner than he expected. He had big plans to build a toy museum on his grandparents' property. His neighbors, on the other hand, wanted to see the area developed into a subdivision.
Keith moved ahead with his toy museum, and spent a lot time and money fighting public nuisance charges. He filled the tiny country store with as many of his toys as it would hold and rechristened it as Toyland. Inspired by Cadillac Ranch, a public art installation in Amarillo, Texas, he also began filling the rest of his property with weird and whimsical "hillbilly art," as he calls it.
Nearly every inch of Apple Valley revolves around the seemingly endless supply of puns that fill Keith's head. Old sofas and chairs dangle from trees in an installation dubbed "Hanging Out." "Gulf Man" is a robot made from an antique Gulf gas pump, and "Potty Mouth" is a face installed on a tree with a toilet seat serving as its mouth. There's a "Deer in Headlights," and all sorts of stuff resides in "The Throw Away Woods."
The internet has provided Keith with a new outlet for his distinctive brand of hillbilly humor. He and his children like to make wacky homemade videos showcasing their pun-filled antics, as well as celebrating nearly every obscure observance on the calendar.
Between his fans on social media and features in national media, the popularity of Apple Valley continues to grow and Keith now welcomes visitors from all around the world. It's a fitting second act for a man who's always dreamed of a career in entertainment.
"Apple Valley is my stage and my act, so to speak," he says.
His neighbors have also come around.
Says Keith: "Now, instead of a public nuisance, they call me a landmark."
Visit Apple Valley Hillbilly Garden and Toyland Museum on the web at applevalleyhillbillygardenandtoyland.com, and in person at 9351 US-68 in Calvert City, Kentucky.
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