Tuesday, January 02, 2007

"The Final Days of a White Elephant"

In the early 1900's, a large motel was built next to the railroad tracks in my hometown of Horse Cave, Kentucky. It was called The Owens Hotel, and it was extremely popular a place to stay in, as the old L&N Railroad linked the tracks between Nashville, Tennessee, and Louisville, Ky., with this being nearly in the center between the two cities.

It was close to Mammoth Cave (within 15 miles), and all the way up until the late 1960's, the small burg of Horse Cave was still filled with many business, stores, groceries, pharmacies, 5 & dimes and even a movie house. For a small town of approx. 1,500 people, it was pretty "booming"!

Back in the 1940's, this area still sold alcoholic beverages, and the Interstate highway hadn't been yet constructed, so everyone had to pass through the town if they traveled what was the main road then: HWY 31-West. Then in the mid to late 1960's, Interstate 65 opened and, as with so many such towns, Horse Cave was by-passed. Businesses began to fail and move out and eventually the main part of the town had little to offer. Add such corporations as Wal-Mart, K-Mart, and shopping malls and the town had nothing to offer anyone that was young, so Horse Cave became more of a place for the retired. The hotel was one of the first places to go out of business, and it sat there, mostly empty for many years being used on occasion as a boarding house with apartments for rent, or as a campaign HQ for some political party.

The above two photos: the top one is of a neon sign that hung across the street from the motel, and the bottom, a photo of the place as it looked in the 1980's (at which time it was actually within reason to rebuild.)

Finally in the 1980's, the building, sitting almost empty, suffered more than one fire. It was never rebuilt and the place continued to fall into decay. Sadly, at last, there was nothing left but the reinforced brick shell. Now, at one time 30+ years ago, a person came into this town and had a plan to rebuild the place and actually had people conned into buying bricks from the walls. Her whole plan was to inscribe contributors names onto these bricks and put them back into the building during its reconstruction. This was all just a scam and that person skipped town with a lot of the locals' money. Discouraged, the local townspeople once again neglected the hotel and it fell even further into dismay.

About 10+ years ago, the town decided to attempt to get grants to rebuild it once again. There was this grand plan to get passenger cars back on the trains which still pass through the town, and Owens Hotel would be the place for them to stay so they could get off and enjoy some fine meals or visit the local live theatre. And in fact, several government grants were obtained, but time ran out before all of the funds needed to even start on the project took hold, and, as well, there were those who didn't like the fact that this rundown building ready to be condemned kept the town from getting beautification awards and extra cash given for such from the state. Everyone started to finally realize it was time for the structure to be torn down. And with the new mayor here locally that has had this as his wish for so long now, it looks like that day draws ever nearer.

I personally, if anyone was going to shed tears for this, would be one of the first to do so, so I grew up a good ten years of my childhood hardly a block from the hotel. I have been in many rooms in it, and seen the beauty it once contained. This was one of the reasons so many opposed its destruction. They remembered all of the school dances and the like that was held there back in the 1940's and before, and honestly, back then it had a quite fantastic dinning area and was up to date with the times. But...that was back then. Because of those memories, they think it wouldn't take much to repair the building. They just don't realize that hundreds of thousands of dollars wouldn't do it; we're now talking in the millions. It would be better to totally tear it down and reconstruct the entire structure to even make it look anything like it did originally. So...no tears from me.

If people want to remember it as it was, tear it down, use the bricks to build a wall around the area, then put a playground within that. On the wall, a nice bronze plaque with an ingraved picture of the hotel's original splender would be a fitting tribute. And perhaps now any funds given to this town can actually be used to better the downtown district again and perhaps bring in needed businesses.


At 5:25 PM , Blogger Johnny Bacardi said...

Nice post. I like that idea about building a wall with the bricks.

Y'know, I don't think I was ever in the Owens more than once or twice- I recall having some pictures made there when I was in elementary school, '66-'69 perhaps. Still, I can respect what it used to mean to the town, and it's been a real shame that it's been allowed to sit there in such disrepair for so long.

Is that sign still up? I haven't noticed it in years...

At 6:07 PM , Blogger ~D.Puck' said...

Hi "Johnny"! No, the sign was taken down probably sometime in the 1990's. It sat beside the building that's the pizza place now for a while, then sorta disappeared (so I'm glad I took a photo of it). It's sad, true, that the building wasn't saved before it got to the point of being as it is now, but the point's sorta mute since it's gone beyond anything save total reconstruction from the ground up. I think local interest has now shifted to the park being built behind the theatre.

At 6:35 PM , Blogger Johnny Bacardi said...

Yeah, well, I'm a little mystified as to exactly what they hope to accomplish with that park...still, it's promised to be a nice place so what the heck. Doubt I'll ever spend any time there!

Personally, I wish they had torn the Owens down years ago...that's what I meant. It's been a sad eyesore for over 20 years now...

At 6:59 PM , Blogger ~D.Puck' said...

Re: "The Park". Yeah. just something else for people to piddle with here in the middle of Nowheresville, Ky. Shame all of this money isn't being used to actually revitalize actual business in the downtown area, since there's really only a few things that bring anyone here locally at all to the town's center anymore (i.e.,the post office, pharmacy, and occasionally the theatre). Personally I'd like to see the whole downtown section closed off, fill them with little stores like Gatlenburg and promote it as such. Since this town lost its original identity years ago, it needs to create an entirely new one, otherwise it'll eventually become nothing but a returement village.


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