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Two Classic Small Towns in Kentucky
US 60 Part 4
David McLane (davemclane)     Print Article 
Published 2009-11-24 09:33 (KST)   
With just under 4,000 people in 2.5 square miles (6.5 km2) and an original main street, Grayson Kentucky is a classic small town believed to be named for Colonel William Grayson, aide to General George Washington.

The first thing that caught my eye was the park with its long war memorial mural depicting World War I, World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, Wars in the Persian Gulf, and the War on Terror.

War Memorial Park, Grayson, Ky.
©2009 D. McLane

Next were the buildings a block away in the business section all of which looked well cared for.

Horton Brothers & Brown Pharmacy, Grayson, Ky.
©2009 D. McLane

There weren't many cars but I had to wait for some time for somebody parked in front of Horton Brothers and Brown Pharmacy to leave before I could get a good shot. The stone marker said it was built in 1927 by W.A. Horton and I thought maybe the Horton family still owned the place.

After I had the shot somebody asked me what I was doing and when I told him, he said, "No, the place has changed hands many times, but the woman who owned the jewelry store right behind might know more," and went inside to fetch her.

Ruth Haney, Haney's Jewelry, Grayson, Ky.
©2009 D. McLane

Out came Ruth Haney who didn't know anything more about the Horton Pharmacy but knew a lot about the area as she'd had the store since 1961 and had lived in Grayson County all her life.

We went inside so she could show me all the photos of what life was like back in the '40s and '50s. There was a collection devoted to what is now Carter Caves State Resort Park between Grayson and the next town, Olive Hill.

As for business, she said, it'd been slow but was continuing -- the same story as elsewhere.

IT STARTED TO RAIN AS WE CONTINUED WEST TO OLIVE HILL. There wasn't much to it and the buildings in the business district had seen better days. As I was out walking around somebody in a pickup stopped and asked what we were doing; I guess they don't get many people stopping as he seemed surprised to see us. He said to make sure we saw the long mural on the wall as it told the history of the town.

I had a look at the mural which did indeed show the history of the town and had a smallish Statue of Liberty at one end.

And I found signs commemorating two people: First, Tom T. Hall, Story Teller, who was born in Olive Hill and became famous enough to be inducted into Nashville Songwriter셲 Hall of Fame. Second, Miss Megan "Penny" Gearhart, Kentucky's Miss Basketball of 2003.

For sure there were some stories here but not the kind you can just pick off like low-hanging fruit so we continued west along US?60 which runs back and forth across Interstate 64.

One thing we'd noticed in rural areas along US?60 is that people were running businesses out of their homes. For example, just west of the center of Olive Hill there was Angie's Hair Palace. Quite a few had given up and walked away -- many times leaving an "Open" sign in place -- especially those for which there was no longer any business such as car repair shops. But Angie's was definitely in business.

Angie's Hair Palace, Olive Hill, Ky.
©2009 D. McLane

Further down the road was DeHarts Bible & Tire which looked interesting. It was only drizzling, so I was able to get a photo.

DeHart's Bible & Tire, Morehead, Ky.
©2009 D. McLane

While I was doing that, Sueko went into the store and tried to get some information but none was forthcoming. I searched the internet and found the DeHart Picture Gallery which included a photo of the place sent in by Roy DeHart with his e-mail, but my request for more information bounced as the address no longer exists.

As it is, you can find lots of pages which reference DeHarts Bible & Tire, but only in the sense of being odd, that is, not the usual, regular, habitual, and accounted for. Just the things that I find interesting.

Somewhere between Morehead and Winchester, we came upon three or four Barn Quilts. Some people call them Quilt Blocks, but I think of them as Barn Quilts and they certainly brighten up a gloomy rainy day. Here are two:

Barn quilt, US 60 west of Morehead, Ky.
©2009 D. McLane


Tobacco barn quilt, US 60, west of Morehead, Ky.
©2009 D. McLane

LATE IN THE AFTERNOON, THE RAIN FINALLY LET UP just as we reached Winchester. The streets were still wet and the dark clouds up above were broken putting the well-cared for buildings on Main Street in a special kind of light.

Main Street, Winchester, Ky.
©2009 D. McLane

Wandering around, the first thing I noticed were small plaques saying "You do the walkin, We do the talkin" along with a telephone number, along with another number to enter once you get connected to hear the history of the building you're standing in front of. The Winchester-Clark Country Tourism Commission has brochures listing the 25 places the plaques appear.

A little further on I ran into Bill DeWitt and learned that Winchester dates back to 1793, and thus has history of more than 200 years, with connections to Daniel Boone and the Civil War. Curiously enough, some 30 years ago Winchester had gone to wrack and ruin and was designated the "Ugliest Town in America."

This riled the townspeople to the point of taking action, the first being to get rid of the utility poles and put the wires underground. Since then, owners have cleaned up and renovated the various styles of facades to the point where Main Street looks somewhat like San Francisco.

It wasn't clear if the upgrade was around the same time as the big box stores like Wal-Mart arrived, but the kind of goods and services available on Main Street are very 21st century. Instead of trying to win the race to the bottom by selling the mass-produced and mass-distributed, they offer what chain-stores can't: goods and services that go with Winchester's sense of place. Thus even though the population was bigger than what would normally be considered small, Main Street could be considered a classic 21st-century small town.

When I asked Bill what brought about this change he said, "When the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of making the change, change happens." And the change wasn't limited to just commercial buildings on Main Street but spread to the residential area as well.

Bill said that one of the best examples were two buildings just a few blocks away where the business district ended. They were quite similar in architectural style but one was either going to fall down or be renovated -- I learned later it's been scheduled for demolition. The other was the historic Guerrant Clinic right next door which has been restored and now houses the Bluegrass Heritage Museum.

Bluegrass Heritage Museum, Winchester, Ky.
©2009 D. McLane

Once inside we were met by volunteer David Braght who briefed us on how the museum was laid out and said the purpose was to collect, preserve and exhibit things that tell the story of Winchester and Clark County including the surrounding area known as the Bluegrass.

The presentation was definitely 21st century with large panels putting the various objects in context. What was particularly interesting was a corner devoted to the history of Peter Bruner who was born a slave in Winchester back in 1845 -- Kentucky was one of the five slave states that bordered a free state and aligned with the Union during the civil war.

Peter tried many times to escape his master and eventually succeeded and joined the 12th US Heavy Artillery and fought for the Union. At the end of the Civil war he learned how to read and write and wrote his autobiography, "A Slave's Adventures Toward Freedom". The display had excerpts from the book along with a copy of the original Bill of Sale for Peter. I knew that slaves were bought and sold but didn't know there was an actual Bill of Sale transferring ownership.

Meanwhile, Sueko had been talking withSandra Stults, a teacher and the museum's managing director. She'd asked her usual question about Obama's idea that, "out of many, we are one."

Sandra Stults, Managing Direcotor, Bluegrass Heritage Museum
©2009 D. McLane

I joined the conversation when Sandra was saying, "Yes, we can become one, and I have evidence. Where I teach there are more and more African Americans, both teachers and students. And more and more students from other countries, other cultures."

Then Sueko asked how local schools deal with the creation-evolution controversy, a recurring theological and cultural-political dispute about the origins of the Earth, humanity, life, and the universe.

Sandra replied that, "We need to teach various perspectives as our students need to know what셲 out there so they can decide things for themselves."

David Braght asked if had heard of the Creation Museum up north near the border with Ohio. We said we'd never heard of it but would check it out and see if we could take it in as we continued west.
I will also be posting this story to Open.Salon a few days after it I've sent it to OMNI and will then send a newsalert containing links to both websites to my mailing list.
©2009 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter David McLane

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