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.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.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.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.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.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.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.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. 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.