Business directories provide insight to early Owen County

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By Bonnie Strassell

As they migrated from Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland and the Carolinas, early settlers to the Owen County area brought with them the knowledge and the tools of their trade.
Many were farmers, whose stalwart endurance provided a viable, productive and stable economy. Others possessed skills that were instrumental in creating thriving communities, and by the 1880s, these Owen County villages boasted undeniable prosperity.
In the late 1800s, publisher R. L. Polk & Co. had compiled a list of businesses in many Kentucky towns. These directories contained vital information of not only the location of Kentucky communities,  but they also listed local businesses.
The Kentucky rifle was a necessity on the frontier. It provided food for the family larder, skins for clothing and protection from Indians, wild animals and ruffians who roamed the wilderness.
By the late 1700s gunsmiths were setting up shop in Scott, Franklin, Woodford and Gallatin counties, and it is quite likely many of these rifles were purchased by early settlers in the Owen County area.
Descriptions of the following Owen County communities and businesses were listed in the 1881-82 Kentucky State Gazetteer and Business Directory, Vol. III:
“Bethany is a small settlement and post office in Owen County, 12 miles south of Owenton, the seat of justice. Ship to Corinth, 13 miles east on the C.S. Railway. Tobacco is exported. Mail tri-weekly. W.B. Sharp, postmaster.”
Businesses in Bethany included three general stores, a carpenter, a shoemaker, a blacksmith, a physician and a tobacco dry house owned by A. Hoffman.
“Truesville is an Owen County village, known also as White’s Run. Ships to Frankfort by rail or to Byrnes (Landing) by boat. Contains one church and one school.”         
“Eagle Hill is a village in Owen County, 16 miles from Owenton, the county seat. Glencoe on the L. C. & I R.R. is three miles distant. Semi-weekly mail. W.M. A. Stewart, postmaster.”
F. Foster was listed as Eagle Hill’s cooper, D. Osborn and Mrs. F. Stewart were boot and shoemakers, J. Stewart was the owner of the meat market, W.M. Steward was the blacksmith, T. Stewart the dentist and H. Swope the owner of the local flour mill.
The directory described the community of Gratz as a Kentucky river town nine miles southwest of Owenton. It had a daily stage to Owenton and Sparta with the stage fare to Owenton listed at  $1 and to Sparta $2.
General store owners in Gratz were H.D. Giles and C.M. and M.A. Riley. T.W. Minish was the druggist and W.R. Minish the jeweler. Other industrious businessmen in the town included a blacksmith, a carpenter and a wagon maker, and Joseph Jones is listed as the steamboat pilot.
In the 1880s, Lusby’s Mill was a thriving village of 100 inhabitants. “The Big Eagle Creek furnished power here and land is valued at $10 to $40 per acre. Mail is delivered tri-weekly and A.B. Acre is the postmaster.”
The directory recorded a population of 330 in the village of Monterey, which had one mill, one church and one free school. Tobacco, broom corn and livestock were shipped via the Kentucky River and the the daily stage fare was .75 to Owenton and $1.75 to Sparta.
Monterey was a bustling community at this time with four physicians, three blacksmiths, two carpenters, a tinsmith, a cooper,  an undertaker, a druggist, a wagon maker and several hotels and general stores.
Over the generations, things changed in Kentucky. During the late 1900s, Owen County and other small communities in the Commonwealth saw a decline in both economy and population. Today small local businessmen and women in towns across Kentucky continue to struggle to survive amid the competition of discount chain stores. It is our responsibility as a people to support these small local businesses as often as possible. Their vital contributions to the development of our country and its success as a nation cannot be underestimated. Their history, whether recorded in publications such as the Business Directory or shared in family stories, help define the character of America and the American people.
It is quite possible that you have an antique that is quite rare, but you won’t know its worth unless it is appraised.  
Join us at the museum from 10 a.m.-2 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 26, to determine its value. A $5 donation is requested for each appraisal. Don’t forget to pay a visit to Big Tricky who will be on hand to offer his mouthwatering fare.
Our annual picnic will be held at the museum beginning at 5 p.m., Sept. 21. This is a six county picnic and will give everyone an opportunity to visit with old friends and meet new ones.
The society is exploring the possibility of expanding the size of our museum to include added space for research. If anyone would like to donate to the society’s research building fund, please send your gift to Owen County Historical Society, 206 North Main St., Owenton, KY 40359. Make a note on your check that your donation is for the research building fund.
We would like to thank everyone who continues to support us in our efforts to preserve the history and traditions of Owen County. Your gifts are instrumental to our success.