Fueling a Developing Imagination in Bath County, Kentucky

I am the youngest of four children, and a big gap in years exists between my siblings and me. It worked well for my mother, as my two sisters helped watch me (and dress me up, and cut my hair, and put makeup on me…) but as their activities took up more and more time, my father got the dubious pleasure of taking me around with him on the farm more often. If he needed that time for quiet reflection and solitude, it didn’t happen. I chattered constantly as we rode about in one of a succession of Ford trucks. Occasionally, though, I did pause to listen, and my father also paused his work to take small detours, and show me a bit of the rural world we occupied.

According to non-family members, I inherited my father's smile, and before having three daughters scared the hair off of his head, we also both had lots of dark hair...

According to non-family members, I inherited my father’s smile, and before having three daughters scared the hair off of his head, at this time, we both had lots of dark hair…

My paternal grandfather grew up in Owingsville, the county seat of Bath County. He died four months before I was born, so all I know of him are stories. He inherited a farm there, where he would go and walk for hours on the weekends. A trip to Bath County on a Saturday morning was a thrilling prospect for me as a child.

mary richart and nephews 1895

The farm there was different – hillier, less tamed, more “wild.” There was a circa 1840s house occupied by tenants, and then left empty and open to the elements. Down in one of the creek valleys there were piles of stones, and I informed my father that it was the remains of a stone house, and proceeded to create a family to go with the house. I remember that he mildly interjected it was likely just a chimney from a log or frame house, but I was having nothing so mundane in my story! The gift of my first camera meant that I could supplement the drawings I made to go with those stories with actual photographs – really bad, blurry, poorly lit photographs of rocks almost subsumed by vegetation, but still – it fed my imagination.

The ridges of Bath County, Kentucky.

The ridges of Bath County, Kentucky.

Many times our trips were just to the farm in Bath County and then back – being a farmer means your free time comes when the sun goes down or it rains. But sometimes, we would drive through town. Owingsville sits on a ridge, and our farm on a neighboring ridge. It is smaller than my hometown, and since I didn’t know it well, the streetscapes appeared exotic and mysterious. (As an adult, I appreciate the built environment even more – Bath County has a wealth of amazing 19th century architecture that few people know about and appreciate.)

Streetscape in downtown Owingsville, Kentucky.

Streetscape in downtown Owingsville, Kentucky.

My grandfather served in World War I, and was already living in Mt. Sterling by that time, so no direct (and living) family remained in Bath County. But we visited family at the cemetery, which occupies another ridge on the southeast side of Owingsville.  (I grew up visiting cemeteries all over Kentucky. As a child,  I thought every family made pilgrimages to these resting spots to visit distant relatives.) Wandering through the cemetery was another story opportunity – and when my father wasn’t pulling my leg and making up an outlandish tale, (I was gullible. I found it very believable that my cousins were raising Ethiopian water buffalo in the Bluegrass) he related all the stories he knew from his parents.

Locating all of the family...

Locating all of the family…

I am incredibly lucky to still have both of my parents. My desire to tell the stories of places I visit can be traced back to those magical Saturdays when we needed to check on the farm in Bath County, or the times I joined my mother in her rambles in Mercer County. Over Memorial Day weekend, as I tended to family graves in the cemeteries in Mt. Sterling and Owingsville, I took my youngest nephew along. After we finished planting zinnias for Sally Dawson Brother and Robert Barnes Brother, we strolled down Main Street in Owingsville, both of us with cameras in hand. Every time I stopped to take a photo, so did he. And I told him every story I knew about what we were seeing.

A historic marker and another photo-op!

A historic marker and another photo-op!

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  1. Janet Johnson says:

    What a wonderful childhood you had! Love reading about your adventures and your love of family and place.

  2. Monica Goodrich says:

    I love the landscape of Bath & it’s now on my Bucket List! How nice of you to pass the love of tradition & heritage along to your nehphew. I love Kentucky!

    1. Janie-Rice Brother says:

      Monica, The Outer Bluegrass of Kentucky is quite stunning – and too often overlooked for the more familiar Inner Bluegrass. I love both regions, but find more mysteries and interesting landscapes in those counties like Bath – their narrow roads and creek valleys boast some incredible architecture. I hope you get to visit soon!

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