On The Road With RL Reeves Jr: Monterey Kentucky

Monterey, Kentucky

Monterey, Kentucky

Family matters carried me to the Bluegrass State last month, and fate led me to the small, forgotten town of Monterey on the Kentucky River in Owen County.

I love old, broken towns particularly if they once had a heyday as Monterey surely did.

Owen County’s population peaked in the year 1900 at 17,553 and saw a yearly decline til finally bottoming out in 1970. Today some 10k odd souls call the county home while Monterey is home to roughly 130 people.

Monterey reached its apogee in the year 1900 when 375 Kentuckians rested their heads in the village at night.

An Abandoned Grocery Store In Monterey, Kentucky

An Abandoned Grocery Store In Monterey, Kentucky

Back then, Monterey was home to a post office, hotels, grist mills, saloons, a drug store, a barber shop, a furniture maker, a coffin maker, a dry good store and W.D. Hardin’s store which had an elevator all the way back in 1873.

I imagine it was quite a thrill for folks to venture into town from the hinterlands and ride that elevator. Hell, it was a big thrill for me to do that in the 70s at the Daniel’s Department Store down in Corbin.

The Once Grand W.D. Hardin store In Monterey, Kentucky

The Once Grand W.D. Hardin store In Monterey, Kentucky

Monterey is in the ‘Hills Of The Bluegrass’ region of Kentucky, and it is lovely with plenty nearby farms featuring wooden barns covered in splashy artwork. The old days when barns were left to weather and slowly fall apart or were painted with Mail Pouch Tobacco advertisements are long gone in these parts.

Downtown Monterey is seeing a little activity as there are a handful of kids frolicking about as the grown-ups watch warily as a strange vehicle prowls through the hamlet.

It is estimated that early humans came to this region of the Kentucky River basin in 12,000 B.C and they did not survive for millenia by being accepting of strangers.

Historical Marker In Monterey Kentucky

Historical Marker In Monterey Kentucky

I stop at an historical marker and make note of the fact that this town has been settled since 1805 when a James Williams arrived and set up a trading post. The hamlet was nicknamed Williamsburg in his honor and kept the appellation til 1847 when it became known as Monterey. There is a connection in the naming to a battle fought in Mexico but I had no luck finding the link.

There are number of old buildings in the downtown of Monterey but sadly all traces of the Ransdell Hotel have vanished. It was felled in an 1885 fire and the citizenry is still feeling the loss.

The once grand W.D. Hardin store is now a community center.

There is no trace of Walton’s Restaurant.

City Hall In Monterey, Kentucky

City Hall In Monterey, Kentucky

The old Clover Farm Store is now City Hall.

There was a fever for the sport of croquet in Monterey at the mid-part of last century but the old croquet courts are long gone and we’re left to wonder how many of the competitors who showed up for the big tournament of 1963 are still alive.

Monterey’s post office closed in 1969, it had been established in 1817. This is a crippling blow to a small town and is certainly a contributing factor to the ennui of the ‘burg.

Pebbles, A Pregnant Donkey

Pebbles, A Pregnant Donkey

Soon enough it’s time to depart. There’s a donkey farm nearby that I’m determined to visit to see if the burros can help me shake off the melancholia that’s settled into me over the past few days.

After a short ride through the country I arrive at a hilly homestead where a brace of donkeys are being tended to by their human caregivers. I immediately take note of a young, heavily pregnant donkey named Pebbles who turns out to be quite affectionate.

Pebbles The Donkey

Pebbles The Donkey

After a few minutes of busing from this sweet creature I make my way further back into the fields where a handful of other donkeys are galloping about a hillside. Plentiful 450 million year old limestone juts out of the ground helping to maintain the donkey’s hooves. I soon meet a jack donkey named Barney who is the sire of Pebbles’ pending baby.

He’s a gentle, young jack but I am warned by the farmer to keep my wits about me as “he’s a biter” He does nibble at me a bit but it’s all in good sport as he never tries to harm me in any way.

A Donkey In Rural Kentucky

A Donkey In Rural Kentucky

After an hour or so of conversation the farmer has to attend to some chores so I bid him goodbye. He tells me to visit again in a week or so as Pebbles will have dropped her foal and I can share some time with her baby donkey.

Pebble's Baby Donkey

Pebble’s Baby Donkey

Winding down US-127 in the gloaming I dream about the glory days of Monterey when the village was abustle with activity: butchers carving up Duroc hogs slaughtered on the town’s farms, mailmen saddling up bay horses for their days work, women firing cauldrons for a family’s laundry, and old W.D Hardin himself riding up and down the only elevator in Owen County.



About RL Reeves Jr

I'm a writer living and working in New Orleans, Louisiana.
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10 Responses to On The Road With RL Reeves Jr: Monterey Kentucky

  1. Cindy Grace-Collins says:

    No mention of the Monterey Restaurant? Run by the Grace family in 1970s. Homemade food. People from all over Kentucky came for the hand made burgers and shakes. Tim Grace covered both the restaurant and house with creek rock. Location was never flooded when the creek rose.

  2. RL Reeves Jr says:

    Wow, thanks for the tip. It did not come up in my research. Wish I could’ve visited. Is the building still standing and if so where is it located?

  3. Robin Gentry says:

    Did you get to come to the Monterey Homecoming Fair the date of your article says October 3 the fair was October 1st you could have gotten lots of stories from some of the residents that live or have lived in the community. The next fair is October 6, 2018 make sure you come back. We have a Facebook Page at https://www.facebook.com/Monterey-Homecoming-Fair-218791191649262/ . Come back. Thanks

  4. RL Reeves Jr says:

    I did not. I had to come back home. I read an article in the Owenton newspaper about it though. Maybe in 2018. Thanks for checking out the article.

  5. Current Resident says:

    Yes the restaurant and house covered in rock the previous poster mentioned is still standing. It is now a private residence. It is on the main drag in town. You would of seen it when you was at city hall. There is alot more history then you article touched on.

  6. RL Reeves Jr says:

    Thanks for the response. I don’t doubt that the area is really rich in history. I barely scratched the surface although I did about a week of research. I look forward to visiting there again one day

  7. Jane Wright says:

    Do you have any additional info on the Ransdell Hotel fire?

  8. RL Reeves Jr says:

    Unfortunately no. rl

  9. Brenda Forrest says:

    My Claxon ancestors lived in Owen Co. There is even a Claxon Ridge. We have been told that our William Anderson Claxon was a keeper of a hotel in Monterey that burned. We have also been told that his wife and children burned up in that fire. They are listed on the 1880 census, but only he can be found after that. If there is any information that would help me to document that, I would sure appreciate it. Thank you.

  10. RL Reeves Jr says:

    Unfortunately I do not. Good luck, rl

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