There is a special beauty to living in a small town that a big city can’t offer. That beauty is the unique buildings and homes that line the streets, nestled behind trees along the way. Downtown Owingsville is a prime example of this. When Owingsville was founded in 1811, the area was a thick forest with small paths and dusty trails that zig-zagged across the land. Main Street as we know it today didn’t exist; Coyle Street was the main drag with a few rough built homes, a school and some merchant shops lining the dusty wagon trail. As the town grew, homes and buildings were erected across the plats that were laid out by proprietors and soon, Owingsville became a booming place. Today, it is hard to imagine how Owingsville looked during the early times; as a matter of fact, in the forty plus years of my existence, things have changed so much.
Most residents of Bath County know the story of the Owings House and the Bath County Courthouse, but there are so many more buildings and places that have stories of their own. The heart of the town at the stop light has been the most changed. The shops and church are not the original structures, but were built after the great fire of September, 1893. The block from the Perfect Lady Salon to the Citizen’s Bank was reduced to rubble and brick shells after that devastating fire. Within a few months to a year, the town was rebuilt, including the First Christian Church we see today. The Christian Church was founded by renowned pioneer evangelist John ‘Raccoon’ Smith in 1828, along with the Upper White Oak and Sharpsburg Christian churches. Smith was a minister associated with the Calvinism Movement and early Baptists. The original church was described as a ‘magnificent wood frame structure’ in John Richards’ book An Illustrated History of Bath County. The wooden church was replaced by a brick structure in 1849 and was similar to the present day church, standing in the same spot as it does today. The Christian Church was rebuilt and finished in 1894 and is indeed a magnificent and beautiful place of worship. John Smith's residence further down West Main Street is still standing today and is listed on the Owingsville/Bath County Chamber of Commerce's tourism pamphlet, along with several other homes and buildings, that can be picked up at the Bath County Memorial Library.
|Fratman's Hall, early 1900's.|
At the corner of Main Street and North Court Street is what locals know as Smith's Hardware store. Owned by Charles 'Chick' Smith, the building as we see it today looks like a typical, nondescript late 1800's brick frame structure, but if you look up to the second and third level, you'll notice stained glass windows that seem out of place with a hardware store. On the second floor of the building, there was once a live theater called Fratman's Hall. The hall held around 500 people and had dressing rooms, a curtained stage and boasted as having the first fully electric lighting system in Owingsville at the time. During fall and winter months, traveling actors entertained with vaudeville comedies and tragedies. The Owings House across the street would be busy with entertainers and visitors renting out rooms to stay during the theater season. Today, the second floor is mostly a storage area and there is an area where the tongue and groove hardwood floor is sagging due to age and disrepair. The stage is now gone, but the service elevator is still behind where it once was, still stuck between floors.
|A Howe type fire apparatus|
|Site of Owingsville's early fire station|
The small white building next to the present day courthouse annex is a plain, white structure that has been many things over the years; from a beauty shop, a law office, to its present function as the Hometown Mortgage business. While searching old maps, a Sanborn Insurance map from 1903 shows in that location a fire station; likely the first fire station in Owingsville. While I am not sure if the current structure is in fact the old fire station, the dimensions on the map seem to correlate. The same map has a note that states there was a Howe type hand pump truck, a two wheel hand hose, 1000 feet of cotton hose line and two 25 foot ladders housed at the station. While the fire department was mainly ordinary citizens who would mobilize in a time of need, much like the volunteer fire service we have today, it appears the city was sufficiently equipped to stop a major fire in 1903.
|The Kimbrough House|
|The Nesbitt House|
|John Kimbrough's drug store, 1893|
Some of the oldest structures in Owingsville still stand today, like the Bailey house at North Court and Main Street which was built around one of the first cabins built in Owingsville. The site where Richardon Funeral Home is located is where Harrison Conner built a cabin around 1803; eight years before Owingsville was founded. The Catholic church on East Main Street began as the Presbyterian Church and was established in 1876. After the great fire, the First Christian Church congregated at the Presbyterian church until the new building was erected. The house belonging to the Elam family located at the corner of East High Street and East Alley was once owned by E.V. Brother, an early county judge executive, and is reportedly the location of Owingsville's earliest church. Each one of these old houses are magnificently built structures of a bygone day; built with a construction method that is entirely hands-on with very little modern amenities.
|A row of early homes in Owingsville|
The 'pocket' behind the Bath County Courthouse was once a center of activity for Owingsville. Starting at the Owings House, the rows of shops bear little resemblance to how they would have looked even in the past sixty or even forty years. Law offices, a post office, a grocery store, and drug store once occupied the row of buildings, with the Masonic Lodge and Majestic Theater being the standouts. Davis Department Store was also a busy and popular business in the pocket for many years. Patrons could buy all the latest fashions and home items at the store and it remained open at some capacity until the late 1980's. In the corner of the pocket was one of Owingsville's most popular places, Boyd's Restaurant. Marjorie Boyd operated the eating spot and served highly acclaimed home cooked style meals for many years, even to passing senators and governors. My aunt Frances Willman once owned a beauty shop next to the Karrick's Cut Rate Store building; I can still vaguely remember being there as a small child while my mom and grandmother had their hair permed. The most popular hot-spot in the pocket was the Majestic Theater.
|The Majestic Theater, 1947|
So many other buildings and houses in Owingsville have a rich and storied history; it would literally take volumes to tell all the stories of these places and how they have evolved over the generations. A leisurely walk through Owingsville on a warm spring, summer or fall day or evening is relaxing; one must really stop occasionally and take in the elegance and beauty these places hold. The voices in the walls echo back to a day that sadly, will soon be forgotten. For now, take a moment to hear the stories the walls offer and see the beauty of a small town.