Sunday, September 5, 2010

A Town Called Rabbit Hash

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

Several years ago, at the start of my internet researching, I stumbled on a picture of the Rabbit Hash General Store. After seeing that picture, I couldn’t wait to see it in person. When we started planning our spring 2006 trip to Kentucky, I tried to figure out how I could fit a stop at Rabbit Hash into our itinerary. We always try to get the most “bang for our buck,” or in our case, the most stops for the miles we’re traveling, so I tried to find other things of interest in the area.

The store is out of the way -- just a wide spot in the road along the Ohio River. But how does a town get a name like Rabbit Hash? There are several stories about how this came about. The most prevalent is that during the winter of 1847, in a time of high water, a group of area residents were watching the waters rise and lamenting their losses. Then their conversation turned to what each would have for Christmas dinner. As others mentioned they would have goose, a fat hen, or fresh pork, Frank, the town comedian, said that there would be plenty of rabbit hash since the rising waters were driving all of the local wildlife to higher ground. Frank was eventually nicknamed Rabbit Hash, and soon the town was being referred to as Rabbit Hash.

The official name of the town at that time was Carlton. Most of the mail was delivered up and down the river by steamboat, and often the mail for Carlton ended up at Carrolton which was just 39 miles downriver. When the postal service asked the town to choose a new name, they chose Rabbit Hash since they had been using the name unofficially for several years.

The year 2006 was the 175th anniversary of the store. It was built in 1831 as a storehouse for local farm products until the next steamboat stopped at Rising Sun, Indiana (just across the river), and the goods could be loaded for the trip down river. Offloaded goods were also stored there until the recipients could pick up the goods. James A. Wilson, age 17 was the store’s first proprietor.

It is amazing that the store still stands today. It has withstood floods in various years, the worst of which were in 1849, 1883, 1884, 1913, and 1937. With each flood, the high water mark rose higher, until in 1937 it reached 79.9 feet. An explanation for why the store survives these devastating floods comes from Donald E. Clare Jr.’s “The Story of Rabbit Hash, Kentucky.”

“The local blacksmith in the 1880’s devised a solution for the ever threatening problem. He designed and installed a series of threaded rods bolted on all four corners of the General Store between the bottom sill logs and top plate logs. Underneath the store, these rods have a hook. Another rod and hook system is anchored by concrete in the ground just below these rods. When flood waters rise and begin to float the store, these hooks engage and secure the building in place until the water subsides.”

Our trip to Rabbit Hash in the spring of 2006 was our last stop in Kentucky before heading for home. We explored all of the buildings looking at the antique signs and the antiques. The town itself is a destination, so I shouldn’t have worried about finding other things in the area to make it worth the trip. Some places are just like that, and Rabbit Hash has been called a state of mind. It’s easy and laid back and all are welcome.

Then, coming home from a trip to Ohio in the spring of 2009, we began to get detoured by bridges that were out, and finally Joann asked how close we were to Rabbit Hash. When I said it was very close, she asked if we could go again. It would be a welcome change from all of the traffic and bridges out around Cincinnati. I didn’t have my Kentucky gazetteer, but there was enough of Kentucky listed at the edge of the Ohio gazetteer to get us close, and then we found the familiar sign pointing the way to Rabbit Hash.

As we drove up to the store, we saw people hanging out on the porch. It wasn’t too crowded, but as Joann got out her camera and set up to take some pictures, one of the women sitting on the porch volunteered to give her guy a kiss for the camera.

Rabbit Hash is also a destination for motorcycle riders, and there are always people hanging out and talking on the front porch. Often there are dogs lounging around or napping while their owners visit on the porch. Since 2004, a dog has been the mayor of Rabbit Hash.

There is an old GEM water pump next to the store. We have not found many of these in our travels, so it was a nice surprise to find one here.

Walking around Rabbit Hash, you find old advertising signs on all of the buildings. An old log cabin is the town museum and the old barn is home to barn dances. Another old building is filled with antiques for sale.

As we were walking around inside the store, I remembered that we had nothing in the cooler for supper that night, and there were no stores around before we would get to our motel. I went to the back of the store and checked out the selection. Then I asked Joann if she was interested in a bologna sandwich for supper. She thought about what wasn’t in the cooler, and agreed. We had some bread left from earlier in the trip, some lettuce, cheese and mayonnaise, so all we needed was the bologna and a couple of bottles of soda to complete our picnic supper.

We stayed too late, as we always do in places like this, just absorbing the atmosphere, knowing that soon we would be back home and back at work.

If you’re ever near Cincinnati with several hours to spare, consider driving down the river to Rabbit Hash. The people (and dogs) will welcome you.

Happy Shunpiking!

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