Anonymity comes easy these days. Shopping on the internet is easy and hassle free, and even in brick and mortar stores, the need for actual human contact can be minimal. Although there are times I am relieved to not see anyone I know when I dash out for an errand, the sense of community that comes with small, locally-owned and run establishments is reassuring and makes some tasks much less onerous (please don’t just direct me to the electrical aisle. I know nothing about electrical supplies, other than it is magical the way the lights come on. My eyes are glazing over….).
Perhaps that is why my car drifts over, seemingly of its own accord, when I spy a small store in rural Kentucky. Many areas of Kentucky in the late-19th and early 20th centuries had few real “towns” with their numerous stores, so each rural crossroads created and maintained its own commercial sector. The general purpose store supplied farmers living in the immediate vicinity with goods that could be had for produce or other goods. Kentucky historian Thomas Clark summarized the larger role that these stores played, noting that “ the stores of the southern countryside quickly became the heartbeat and pulse of a good portion of American business. In their own communities they were centers of every sort of neighborhood activity. Everything of importance either occurred at the store or was reported there immediately.
The Motley Store is a small, one-story, front gable frame store in southeast Warren County, about 10 miles east of Bowling Green. Built in the first half of the twentieth century, the building has a canted storefront, with a recessed central entryway containing double doors. A shed roof porch on the front kept customers dry, while the brick flue poking through the roof at the rear suggests a pot-bellied stove once kept the inside warm (or somewhat less cold than the outside).
Motley gets its name from the Motley family; Matthew Motley built a two-story, frame I-house around 1853, and built each of his sons a house as well. Matthew’s brother Washington Motley ran a grist mill nearby on Bays Creek. The store not only sold general merchandise, but also operated as the post office and local polling place. The post office was in operation from 1890 until 1908.
There wasn’t much hustle and bustle visible the evening I drove through Motley; scattered farmhouses with wide porches held people winding down their day, watching the skies darken with an approaching storm, and dogs barked at our vehicle as we drove slowly past. Tractors were silent and waiting inside barns, and at the Motley Store, I like to imagine the buzz of generations-old gossip and news humming in the air like dust motes.
 Thomas Clark. Pills, Petticoats and Plows. (Indianapolis : New York : The Bobbs-Merrill Company , 1944), 32.
[2 Irene Moss Sumpter. An Album of Early Warren County Landmarks. (Clarksville, TN: Jostens Publications, 1976), 156.