John Prine was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, but the compass of his musical world was Muhlenberg County, Kentucky, where his parents and grandparents were from, where he visited frequently when growing up, and where some of his fondest memories were made. Prine spelled it all out in his song called “Paradise” released in 1971. Dedicated to his father, the song was about the strip mining that happened along the Green River that first devastated the landscape, then devastated the economy when it moved out of the area due to the collapse of the coal industry.
John Prine is gone, but his memory lives on through his songs, and “Paradise” especially. In the song Prine requests, “When I die let my ashes float down the Green River/Let my soul roll on up to the Rochester Dam.” This is exactly what John Prine’s family did after he passed in April of 2020 by spreading his ashes from the Rochester Ferry, which crosses the Green River from Butler and Ohio counties.
There also happens to be a park right near the Rochester Dam, which after $160,000 in various renovations, is being reopened on October 1st officially as “John Prine Memorial Park at Rochester Dam.” The project includes a new boat ramp below the dam, expanded parking, a large picnic pavilion, paving and landscape improvements, new benches, updated playground equipment, and other future amenities planned.
In lieu of a burial site or other memorial, this will be the place John Prine fans can make a pilgrimage to in order to remember the venerated songwriter. Prine’s heirs and record label Oh Boy Records have signed off on the new park. Hopefully future amenities will include something along the lines of a John Prine statue or other memorial.
Though John Prine wasn’t born or raised there, he’s probably the individual most responsible for putting Muhlenberg County, Kentucky on the map, at least in popular culture. “Paradise” was never a “hit” per se, but it’s been covered by scores of artists, including John Denver, Johnny Cash, Tom T. Hall, The Everly Brothers, Roy Acuff, Lynn Anderson, Whitey Morgan and the 78s, Sturgill Simpson, and more. Now Muhlenberg County is giving back, and giving a place folks can go and remember John Prine right near where his remains were placed.
John Prine Memorial Park is located on Kentucky Highway 70 at the Muhlenberg-Butler county line. The officially dedication is happening at 2 pm on October 1st.