When the news media reports a winning lottery ticket, my imagination shifts into overdrive. My plans for my imaginary lottery spoils include buying up lots of farmland for preservation, endowing numerous non-profits, and buying my own country store (adjacent to my farm, of course). In the preface to Pills, Petticoats, and Plows, the late state historian Thomas D. Clark remarked that the “modern American in search of local color regards [country stores]…as sources of antique merchandise, antiquated human relics, and rural wit and wisdom.” The rural country store was “market place, banking and credit source, recreational center, public forum, and news exchange.”* Clark succinctly sums up the clattering of my mental files whenever I see a rural store out in Kentucky – these hubs of rural, agricultural life retain some potent aura even in their (usually) shuttered states. The Hardcastle Store in Warren County is no exception.
Around 1888, brothers Francis and Ewing Hardcastle built the frame, rectangular store (a side shed addition was added later to the east side). Farmers and businessman, the Hardcastle brothers bought tobacco from other local farmers, and then prized, cured, and shipped the tobacco to Bowling Green and Louisville. Establishing a store might have been a decision based on the traffic generated by their tobacco business, which was located across from road from the eventual store site.
Historic country stores tended to be clustered together, much like schools and churches. In a five-mile radius around the Hardcastle Store, there were three other known stores – one in the community of Claypool, one in Motley, and another in Green Hill. The Hardcastle Store was, according to a former owner, a store that “had everything, anything that you needed for the farm.” The road into Bowling Green in the 1950s was still gravel, so the Hardcastle Store was an exciting place – where you could get a Royal Crown cola, candy by the pound, and listen to all of the neighborhood gossip.
Bessie Hardcastle ran the store from 1944 until it was sold out of the family in the early 1970s – and she ran a tight ship. Though men (and it was generally men) were welcome to spend winter days clustered around the coal stove, talking and visiting, some of their less savory habits were not tolerated. Bessie had a sign prominently displayed that said “if you spit on the floor at home, go home and spit.”
The location of the Hardcastle Store was not only convenient for the family (who lived across the road), but for travelers both along the road (which shifted during the store’s first 40-50 years) and the Barren River, which is down the hill behind the store. A gas pump (now gone) was added in the 1940s as automotive traffic increased.
These additions, however, could not compete with modern grocery stores in Bowling Green, like the Houchens chain (which actually began as a one-room store). The Hardcastle Store is now empty, like many of its brethren. But it appears to be in excellent shape, so is a perfect trigger for the imagination as it waits for its next incarnation. And…the Hardcastle Store was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2011 – so any rehab work on the store would be eligible for state and federal historic tax credits!