Keith Holt’s extremely large toy collection started with one toy: David Hasselhoff’s “Knight Rider” figurine.
“It may sound silly, but I realized right then that there were so many toys I didn’t even realize existed,” Holt said. “I grew up with Tinkertoys and Lincoln Logs, and there was so much more available. I collected ever since. That was 20 years ago.”
Holt has an entire small building, nicknamed Toyland, and a semitruck next door filled with toys. When he moved back to his native Kentucky from Los Angeles, it took him two trips with the largest moving truck available to transport his collection. His dream is still to build a structure big enough to house his entire collection.
But Holt has just acres upon acres of property he inherited and had so many ideas to unleash. He designed Apple Valley Hillbilly Gardens and Toyland, his entire life’s work.
Apple Valley Hillbilly Gardens and Toyland is exactly what it sounds like.
Located on the McCracken-Marshall county line, they have bicycles hang in the trees, a lawn mower graveyard features half-buried lawn mowers, a huge pile of empty cans comprise “Can-sas,” and an abandoned zoo lauds a Beagle as the main attraction ... the list goes on, but I will let you see for yourself.
Then there is the actual art. Most of Holt’s gardens are plays on redneck living, or just strange to begin with, but his art actually has some merit. Faces painted in only red and white paint, using sheet metal as a canvas, really gives the place a legitimate feeling.
“Whatever I can do in about two hours is what it turns out to be,” Holt said. “If it takes longer than that I quit.”
The first few years that Holt started to design Apple Valley, he received a lot of criticism from neighbors and had to cut through a lot of red tape to get the county to allow him an entertainment license. There are people who don’t like his message boards, and even more who don’t understand what he has done with the property.
“It’s not for everyone,” he said. “I get that. But it’s not garbage, and it’s not ugly.”
Holt lives on the land with his wife and five children, in a house that’s decorated much like the property. And the family isn’t hurting for customers. Holt’s son Ian gives most of the tours and said that the stop averages three cars per day.
Those tours last an average of 20 minutes, but have been three hours long on occasion. They cover the history of the land (the plot was known in the 1920s to be a stop for gas and cider, and even maybe a rest stop for organized crime members), and can explain most of the toys and all the the bizarrely fascinating pit stops.
The best part is, Holt charges nothing to tour his property. The family accepts donations based on what you see there, what you think it’s worth. Those donations are how he adds on to the gardens and feeds his family.
“I went cross-country once and stopped at every roadside attraction I could find,” Holt said. “Some were $15, others were only $3 dollars. I was worried about spending the $15 because if I didn’t like what I saw I would feel gypped. When it came time to name our admission, I figured the people who understood it, saw it for what it was meant to be, would know how much they wanted to spend.”
When he receives donations, he works on restoring the house his family resides in and adds to the property’s mystique with new exhibits. His toys are never far away. The old adage that one man’s trash is another’s treasure (which makes Holt roll his eyes slightly) is still alive and well on the property.
And he’s doing what he loves. The excitement he gets when he walks into Toyland and flicks a switch that illuminates the building and gives life to the animatronics and moving trains is priceless. Holt is living the dream, and not making any apologies for doing so.
Contact Corianne Egan, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8652.