Tidbits, gleanings, and gossip from your Kentucky Gateway Museum Center

Jean Calvert and John Klee wrote and collected images to produce books like, Maysville, Kentucky from Past to Present in Pictures and The Towns of Mason County-Their Past in Pictures. You can find these books in the Kentucky Gateway Museum gift shop. In them, you can see beautiful images of homes and buildings that have been hallmarks of the community. Thanks to the effort of men and women who value the history of these beautiful buildings, many have been painstakingly restored and have made the community the picturesque destination it has become. I grew up in an old house, and I know how expensive restoration is and how expensive heating rooms with tall windows and ceilings can be, but it saddens me to see buildings being torn down or left to fall into rubble.

Every now and then, when you’re driving in the county you will see beautiful old farm houses, some with and some without outbuildings and you wonder what they were. Maybe they were summer kitchens or smokehouses, but ones you rarely see now days are corn cribs. They are the unusual looking outbuildings, long and narrow at the bottom with sides that tapered outward at the top and usually divided with narrow slats nailed on either vertically or horizontally. It was a shed with a gable roof and a door at one or both ends with a couple of small doors high up just under the eaves on one side. It was used as a granary to dry and store corn. Where I grew up, most of them were wire. Corn was handpicked and husked, then stored in corncribs allowing the ears to air-dry through good ventilation. Kernels of corn remained on the ears until they were shelled from the cobs for use as livestock feed or before being taken to sell at a local grain elevator. On the farm of the “early 1900’s, the corncobs left from shelling were used as fuel for the kitchen stove and as livestock bedding. Often it was the children’s responsibility to keep the cob box in the kitchen filled, as well as to hand-shell and manually grind small amounts of corn for feeding poultry and livestock during daily chores.”

Many corn cribs sat up on ties where cats or dogs could get under to keep the rats out. I can remember comedian Jerry Clower talking about how people would come from all over the county for a “rat killin”. He would say Uncle Versie Ledbetter was the head rat killer in the community and “onest, them rats came out from under the crib, headin in all kinds of directions, and got under a concrete slab.” Uncle Versie told the boys to get the “old A Model car and run the exhaust pipe- it will make em come out. You ain’t never had no fun unless you have stood with a stick waiten for them carbon monoxided sick rats to come out of that slab.” Jerry also went on to say that his brother Sonny caught ‘the hugestest rat’ and went in to show his mother. Sonny ran to the house and saw his mother sitting in the living room and declared, “Mamma, Haw, Mamma, look a here what a rat. I done whooped it over the head with a ear of corn, chopped it with a hay fork. I done stripped all the hide off his tail. I done whipped him up and down on the floor of that corn crib. I done stomped him 3 or 4 times…. then Sonny noticed the preacher sitting in the corner of the living room visiting his mother. Sonny hugged that rat up fondly to his chest stroking and crying, “and then the lord called the poor thing home!””

Now you can get rodent proofed feed sheds, corn cribs and other existing wooden structures. Farmers use self-propelled combines that harvest and shell corn on the go, expelling chaff and crop debris directly back on the field. And, instead of “Rat Killins”, Barn Hunts have become a sport. Barn Hunts are based on the traditional roles of many breeds in ridding farms, barn crop storage areas and homes of destructive vermin. In a Barn Hunt, dogs locate rats (safely enclosed in aerated tubes) hidden in a straw or hay bale maze. It’s a timed event with 3 different dog height divisions. Teams can get titles, placements and championships. It is an independent sport but titles are recognized by the American Kennel club and the United Kennel Club. “Barn hunt is committed to creating a safe and fun sport for dogs that also holds rat care at the highest level of consideration. The rats used in Barn Hunt jump eagerly into their safe, comfortable aerated tubes and enjoy interacting with the dogs.”

Gone are the days Uncle Versie and Sonny ‘ain’t never had so much fun’ waiten with their sticks, but you can still enjoy a ride in our beautiful community looking at some pretty amazing century old homes, and instead of letting your dogs run the rats all over the place, you can take them to the new dog park they are building in Nicholas County. Economic Development donated 3 acres, Nicholas County schools donated fencing and Hinton Mills has donated supplies, so your pets can have fun without executing rodenticide. Or, you could visit KYGMC and see some of the beautiful old buildings that once existed in our community. Excavations at Harrison’s Tavern/Half Way House, featuring the work of Orloff and Elizabeth Miller, is currently on display in the museum’s historic Wormald building.

Readers may email questions [email protected] @Kentucky Gateway Museum Center, Maysville, KY