Graham Mitchell begins his days early at his Hadley One-Stop Store that sits near the Warren-Butler County line.
“We open up at 5:30 a.m., Monday through Saturday, to serve breakfast for the locals,” he says. “We pretty much see the same people every day.”
Country stores like the one Mitchell operates are a dying breed. They used to be a staple of rural Kentucky and were prevalent along Kentucky’s back roads.
Better known as general stores, they were often the heart and soul of rural Kentucky. People shopped there for the necessities of life, such as food, clothing, agricultural supplies, and in the late 1920s a few even added fuel pumps. The stores were a social gathering place, mostly for men who often discussed their crops and politics. A few of the stores served as the local post office.
“During election time, this place should be the Democratic headquarters,” laughs Mitchell. “They are all here, and they’ve all got the answers.”
Hadley One-Stop Store sells just about anything to tide you over “till you can get to town.” Health and beauty aids, motor oil, work gloves, pet food, livestock feed, car batteries, farm supplies, nails, bolts, tobacco products, canned goods, cheese, sandwich meats, eggs, and of course, bread and milk. Out in front of the store are two gas pumps.
“It’s my food sales that keep our doors open,” Mitchell says. “I’ve dedicated more space for customers to come in and eat our barbecue, so I’m taking the space away from canned goods.”
Mitchell cooked up some 9,500 pounds of barbecue last year, and because of his food service and catering, he’s able to keep his little community country store open.
Kay Bush owns Tracy General Store of Tracy in Barren County, some eight miles from Barren River State Resort Park.
“There’s been a family store on the property since 1909,” Kay says. “These kinds of stores are sort of like a community center. We fill a need for the people who live out in the country. We’re 15 miles from Glasgow and 20 miles from Scottsville.”
Just down the road from Tracy sits Austin General Merchandise in the community of Austin. Austin and Tracy are so close together that the local volunteer fire department is called the Austin Tracy Fire Department.
Doris Atwell and her husband Larry operate the Austin store, and Doris says it has been in continuous operation for more than 150 years. Somehow you believe her as customers bounce across the old, sagging floor walking back to stand by the wood-burning stove in the back.
Ellis Maggard took over his family store, Maggard’s Cash Store in Letcher County, when his father died 13 years ago.
“My family’s had this store since 1914,” he says. “We’re eight miles from Whitesburg, just across the mountain.”
The store was used in scenes in the movie Coal Miner’s Daughter, and is registered as a historical building.
In Marion County, 12 miles from Lebanon in the community of Holy Cross, is Cash Variety Store. It’s been around for almost 80 years. Rob Edelin’s store, like the others, offers farm supplies, feed, hardware, gas, tires, and groceries.
Stores like these are disappearing quickly, but several are still sprinkled around the state. Half the fun is finding them.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR FAVORITE KENTUCKY GENERAL STORE and give us its location. Send 50 words or fewer
A sampling of Kentucky’s country general stores:
Austin General Merchandise
3281 Austin Tracy Road, Hwy. 87
Austin, Barren County
7 days a week, 7 a.m. until whenever; has been a store for 150 years.
Cash Variety Store
Intersection of Hwys. 49, 527, and 457
Holy Cross, Marion County
6 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday-Friday; 6 a.m.-12 noon, Saturday.
Drake Country Store
Drake, Warren County
6 a.m.-6 p.m., Monday-Thursday; 6 a.m.-7 p.m., Friday; 6 a.m.-6 p.m., Saturday. Opened in 1926.
Gold City Grocery
Intersection of Hwys. 622 and 585
Gold City, Simpson County
6 a.m.-6 p.m., Monday-Saturday.
Hadley One-Stop General Store
Hadley, Warren County
5:30 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday-Friday; 5:30 a.m.-4 p.m., Saturday; 9 a.m.-4 p.m., Sunday.
J.D. Maggard Store
Intersection of Hwys. 119 and 806
Eolia, Letcher County
8 a.m.-9 p.m., Monday-Friday; 9 a.m.-9 p.m., Saturday; 10 a.m.-9 p.m., Sunday.
Hwy. 243, Penn’s Store Road
Gravel Switch, Boyle County
(859) 332-7715 or (859) 332-7706
Call ahead; open only when Jeanne is there! Store has been in Penn family since 1850.
Rabbit Hash General Store
10021 Lower River Road
Rabbit Hash, Boone County
10 a.m.-7 p.m., 7 days a week.
Tracy General Store
7151 Austin Tracy Road, Hwy. 87
Tracy, Barren County
6 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday-Saturday. Has been a store at this location since 1909.
Gary P. West is a regular contributor to the Traveling Kentucky column.
Never let it be said you can’t see the forest for the trees.
At Lilley Cornett Woods in southeast Letcher County, you can get a good look at both the forest and the trees. The 550-acre site includes an old-growth forest that covers some 250 acres, and has the distinction of being the first and largest preserved remnant of old-growth forest in eastern Kentucky.
This portion of Lilley Cornett has never been logged, and with the exception of grazing livestock and an occasional burning of the upper slopes, it remains just as Daniel Boone and other pioneers saw it for the first time.
Trees that date back more than 600 years offer visitors a view of trees with a height and girth that cannot be seen anywhere else in Kentucky.
“You might see a tree or two the size of these trees, but not a whole forest of them,” adds Robert Watts, superintendent of Lilley Cornett Woods for 35 years. “Many of the people who visit here are surprised at how this has managed to be preserved.”
The diversity in wildlife is something to behold. From the wildflowers, to the more than 500 species of flowering plants, to the hundreds of breeding birds, hikers can see it all. And there’s even a chance you will come across a white-tail deer, bobcat, or fox foraging in the forest.
The U.S. Department of the Interior has designated Lilley Cornett Woods as a Registered National Landmark.
Visitors must make arrangements for guided tours on designated trails, but for those drawn to a rare outdoor adventure this is a must.
Since 1969, Whitesburg has been home to Appalshop, a world-famous arts cooperative and economic development project created to fight the war on poverty. What started out as a program that would help locals learn new skills in order to escape the area has turned into one that has allowed them to remain.
Appalshop, through its wide range of media efforts, has developed into a nationally recognized center with a strong emphasis on film, video, recordings, literature, theater, storytelling, and radio productions.
Whitesburg, as a result of Appalshop, has seen an influx of “outsiders” over the years. Most intended to stay only for a brief time. However, the acceptance by the locals and the scenic mountains caused many to stay.
Herbie Smith, a filmmaker, has been connected to Appalshop almost from its inception. As a local high school student, and then coming back home after graduating from Vanderbilt University, Smith has seen a lot.
“If you had said in 1969 this little nonprofit would still be going and growing 38 years later, no one would have believed it,” he offers. “Scores of people have come here to document the history and culture of central Appalachia.”
The old South East Coal Company that dates back several decades has been transformed into the family owned Highland Winery. The old company store has been carefully restored, and visitors can see firsthand how the small community of Seco has turned coal into wine. It’s definitely a recommended stop, and even though the county is dry, visitors can still enjoy a taste at no charge. Tours are also available, with a bed and breakfast and restaurant conveniently housed in the old store.
Lilley Cornett Woods
91 Lilley Cornett Branch, Hallie
Open daily 9 a.m.-5 p.m., May-August 15. Open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. weekends, April, May, September, and October. By appointment only November to April. Public access by guided tours. Tours are not regularly scheduled, but on a first-come, first-served basis.
193 Seco Drive, Seco
Open 11 a.m.-7 p.m., Monday-Saturday, closed Sunday. Offers 15 varieties and produces some 4,000 gallons each year. In the restored old company mining store, with bed and breakfast.
91 Madison Avenue, Whitesburg
Open 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday-Friday. Films, videos, and CDs are for sale.
104 North Webb Avenue, Whitesburg
www.kaht.com, search for Courthouse Café.
Restored 1911 bank building. Daily lunch specials and dinner. Open Monday-Friday.
C.B. Caudill Store & History Center
7822 Hwy. 7, Blackey
Regional history museum and cultural center; extensive collection of objects, oral history interviews, and old photographs.
Little Shepherd Trail
U.S. 119, Whitesburg
A 38-mile scenic road on top of Pine Mountain for hikers, riders, or motorists.
Bad Branch State Nature Preserve
KY 932, Whitesburg
The 2,639-acre preserve offers a scenic gorge with 60-foot waterfall, one of the largest concentrations of rare and uncommon species known in the state, hiking, birding, nature photography, and research.
Gary P. West is a regular contributor to the Traveling Kentucky column.