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Owen Historical Society News: Minch’s store is living history

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By Bonnie Strassell

It is a landmark in Owen County. Local history permeates every inch of its surface. For over 160 years, it has gazed upon Seminary Street and collected family stories of those who stopped by to visit. Age does not detract from its character but rather defines it; and it represents more than a century of Owen County cherished traditions.
It is believed to always have been a hardware store. In 1945, Herman “Price” Minch and his wife Marie Dowden Minch rented its spacious rooms from W. T. Herndon and opened Minch Hardware and Appliance Co.
Their daughter, Verna Helen Minch Stewart, was guest speaker at the historical society meeting last week and brought with her the stories of Minch Hardware, infusing into them the life and laughter of the Minch family.
Price was ahead of his time in technology. His interest in repairing radios seems to have been inherited from his father who would come home at night from his job as a rural letter carrier and work on repairing old radios.
When Price and Marie were married, her father offered Price a farm and help to make it profitable. However, Price declined the offer. Tinkering was in his blood, and his expertise and know how in repairing soon developed to include appliances and TVs.
The first TV in the area was in the Minch Hardware store. Many days, Price would turn the TV in the window to face the sidewalk. People would crowd in to watch the World Series and other programs. Chairs would line the sidewalk and cars would pull up to the curb filled with families. Children would spend the evening trying to dodge a parent’s head to catch a glimpse of this amazing piece of modern technology.
Eventually most homes in the county boasted of TVs, but for years one elderly gentleman continued to bring his chair and sit in front of the TV in the window of Minch Hardware and Appliance Co. The Minches always made him feel welcome, and after all, watching TV by yourself is no fun.
Many fixtures in Minch Hardware hearkens back to the time of H.T. Herndon. The counter, scales, nail bins and a type setter’s cabinet (filled with odd screws and bolts) all serve to bring a bit of poignant nostalgia to the store.
When their children began school, Marie went to work alongside her husband.
After purchasing the building, Verna Helen Minch Stewart and her brother, Gary Minch, carry on the dreams and traditions of their parents.
The state weights and measures department stop by every year to check the scales, which is said to be the oldest in the state that is still legal to use. It remains remarkably accurate.
Years ago when Dr. O.A. Cull had a patient with a baby who was sick or failing to thrive, he would drop by Minches to have the tyke weighed. Laughing, Verna said she and her mother would place a piece a paper on the scales and place the little one on top of it.
The kindness of Price and Marie was illustrated time and again.
When Dr. Maurice Bowling stopped by one Christmas Eve, Price asked him what his children were getting for Christmas. Dr. Bowling explained he had no money to buy gifts.
Without a word, Price went through the store bagging up some toys that he sold at Christmas time. He handed the gifts to Dr. Bowling and wished him a “Merry Christmas.”
The main building was built in 1851 and sometime later a carriage building and repair shop was added on the side. The front doors of this area opened completely to allow plenty of room for horse-drawn buggies and wagons.
A storage section was recently torn off the back side of the store and revealed an area with blacksmithing tools where a blacksmith had forged parts.
Verna Helen declares she follows in her father’s footsteps as a “techno geek,” but the petite, articulate Owen countian made the audience feel at home and sat alongside them as she told her stories.
Soon others who had grown up with Verna and Gary added details to earlier days in the county.
Larry Dale Perry related incidents on Dog Hill when kids spent their free time outdoors, riding bikes, playing ball and sled riding in the winter.
Verna recalled the amazing ability of Bud Dunavent to take a motor and build just about anything.
His wife, historical society board member, Liz, remembered when Bud was young. His father died when Bud was only 3 and his uncle became a father figure.
Seeing a washing-machine motor in an Owen County business sent Bud’s brain ticking and he asked his uncle for the $15 to buy the motor. At that time $15 was quite a grand sum, but Bud’s uncle granted his request.
Several days later, his uncle was of a mind that the money had gone down the drain as he stopped by to see Bud’s motor laying in thousands of pieces. However, it wasn’t long before Bud had assembled the motor and attached it to a homemade go-cart which he drove on the streets of Owenton delivering mail.
Minch Hardware and Appliance Co. no longer sells TVs, but they do sell a larger line of appliances by GE.
About eight years ago, they started offering custom cabinets produced by an Amish family in Indiana, and both Verna and Gary enjoy this new endeavor.
Stepping inside the front door of Minches reveals an eclectic blending of old and new. Glass shelving displays American glassware. Most American glass companies have gone out of business so the opportunity to buy these rare pieces is quickly vanishing.
The wood floors in Minches still creak a bit, but the music they create brings a picture of the past to mind; and the ready smiles and helpful attitudes of Verna Helen Stewart and Gary Minch reflect their motto of “service, quality, and friendship at all times.”
Several weeks ago, we were pleased to accept the donations of David Prather and Nancy Prather-Boisseau in memory of their mother Freda Prather. Many remember Freda who for years served Owen County as city clerk and city treasurer. What some do not know is that Freda was instrumental in resurrecting the scouting program in the county. Among the many items they donated was invaluable information contained in scrapbooks and several scout uniforms along with three flags used in scouting ceremonies in the county. Our thanks to them and to all of you who share items of your families, and in doing so, help preserve the rich history of the area.
We want to welcome newest historical society member and museum volunteer LeAnn Beckham.
LeAnn is currently working Wednesdays at the museum. She has a wide variety of skills and we are grateful for her help.
Darrin Wolford and his crew are busy giving the museum a new coat of paint. The job is daunting, but under their capable hands the museum will reveal a new face in the next few weeks.
Also our thanks to historical society vice-president Jim Acton and society friend Arthur Kinman, who have sanded and repainted all the picnic tables and chairs on the pavilion. Our museum will be at its best Saturday, Aug. 17, when the historical society presents Kentucky River Day in the backyard of the museum from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Games, music, speakers, food and much more will be on the docket. The Kentucky River played an integral part of Owen County history, so don’t miss out on this fun-filled day.