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Memories of 'Gran' and Sulphur Well's Buelah Villa Hotel
A Treasure from what we call CM GOLD. This story is reprinted today to celebrate Sulphur Well, the location, today, of one of America's longest running traditions the Third Sunday in August. The following is the introduction from that article: The place Sulphur Well, Kentucky holds unique memories for people across Kentucky and surrounding states because of the fame for its artesian sulphur "healthy" water well and for its country ham and hospitality at the Buelah Villa Hotel. Don Graeter recently caught himself wondering about it and used the Google search engine for information about the name King Crenshaw. Google matched him up with ColumbiaMagazine.com and our following communications resulted in his sharing of . . .
"MEMORIES OF BUELAH VILLA"
By Don Graeter
August 1955. There in black and white was my grandmother, just as Iremember her, and a smart aleck seven year old making a face. No denyingit, that was me.
Fifty years ago. FIFTY YEARS? No denying that either. Mom took thepicture. She would have been thirty five. Now, as I helped her get somethings in order, this treasure had risen to the surface of the "picturedrawer." There were "Gran" and me at the Buelah Villa Hotel in Sulphur Well,standing on the short footbridge from the main hotel to the annex. At thetime, Mom had been furious with me for ruining the picture. KingCrenshaw's assistant, James, had been behind her laughing and exclaiming,"He made the ugliest face I ever saw."
Gran was a Logsdon from Horse Cave and her late husband, Carl Pedigo,was from Edmonton. King Crenshaw, the "proprietor" of Buelah Villa, hadbeen their long time mutual friend. After she was widowed, summer tripsfrom Louisville to Sulphur Well to visit old friends were something Granenjoyed for many years. Eventually, I got to go along five or six times.
King was a nice man who perfectly fit the definition of an oldsouthern gentleman. He was bald, of medium build, wore glasses and Ialways saw him in an open collar short sleeve shirt and slacks. He spokewith a pronounced southern accent ("star" was "staah," for example) andalways seemed laid back, even with what must have been very busy daysrunning the hotel.
Buelah Villa...Sulphur Well...what a place that was for a boy in the1950's! Around every corner seemed a new experience and source of wonder.The main hotel was a white frame two story building with a huge front porchstocked with rocking chairs. Across a short footbridge over the road wasthe annex with additional rooms.
At the end of the porch, a few steps led down to a long suspensionfootbridge which went all the way to the other side of the river. There,one could descend to a concrete, riverside platform and drink sulphur waterfrom an artesian fountain. The water was cold and rich going down, butthat "aromatic" aftertaste was quite a shock to the uninitiated. It wasalways hilarious to watch a "rookie" take his or her first gulp.
The footbridge was itself a source of great fun. If you hopped upand down, or even just ran on it, it had considerable spring. Suchbehavior was irresistible, of course, but brought consternation to theladies who had to hang on until the recoil ebbed.
Next to the main building was a dance hall and game room. It lookedlike a large, two story barn. There was a place for cars to park on theground floor and the upper, main level was accessed via the footbridge.
Behind the game room's screen doors was a fascinating world. Besidesthe dance floor, there was a snack bar and a seemingly endless array ofgames. There were pool tables and one of those long table games which waslike a scaled down version of shuffleboard. The object was to slide metalpieces about the size of hockey pucks as close to the opposite end aspossible without falling off and to knock your opponent's pieces off theedge.
There were also two bowling lanes with a manual pinsetter. That hadto be the world's worst job. I remember feeling sorry for the setter whohad to keep jumping down to clear and reset pins, jump up on top of a railto keep from getting hit by the next ball, and then do it all over again.
Every year, I met a different local youngster about my age who washanging around, knew the games and befriended me for a few days. We'dshoot pool, play the other games when we weren't in the adults' way andwatch the adults compete, pulling for our favorites. I had never shot poolor played any of the other games before and pretty much got my plow cleanedthe first year, but I learned soon enough.
Much of King's clientele consisted of older ladies, such as Gran andher friends. A daily ritual was to walk down to the river for a drink ofsulphur water. It was explained to me (with a little smile) that the waterwas "good for you." It took a while before I figured out just what thatmeant.
Endless hours were spent in the rocking chairs on that huge porch,just talking and reading. King kept a generous supply of those old,cardboard hand fans for use on hot days. The fan portion usually carriedan ad or religious message and the wooden handles reminded me of tonguedepressors. The ladies put them to good use.
One year, Gran unpacked her bag and brought out the first two booksin the Hardy Boys series. She said she would read one if I would read theother. I was soon hooked and reading became a lifelong passion. Ieventually collected the entire Hardy Boys set. It sits in my home librarytoday and continually reminds me of Gran and Buelah Villa.
You would think a small, rural Kentucky resort in the 1950's wouldhave contained a pretty homogeneous group, but that wasn't always the case.King's assistant, James, was the first African American I was ever around.James always wore a smile. He was funny and kind. I especially liked himbecause he used to stop and chat with me briefly between his duties.
I also learned at Buelah Villa that not everyone was a Methodist.King used to conduct a brief Christian service on the porch on Sundaymornings. He would read a bit of scripture, we'd sing a few hymns, have aprayer, etc. One year, I noticed that several ladies were sitting togetherat the service, but weren't participating. Afterward, I asked Gran whatthat was all about. She explained that the ladies were Jewish and whatthat meant. She said that it was nice of them to attend to be witheveryone else who was Christian.
No one ever missed one of King's bounteous meals, which were servedfamily style in a screened room in the main building. All the guests usedto crowd the porch before lunch and dinner eagerly awaiting the sound ofthe dinner bell. There were many dishes, but, to me, it was all about thecountry ham, biscuits and real butter. Those were indescribable delicaciesto a Louisville boy.
One year, my mother drove down to have lunch and take us home. Thecountry ham was its usual exceptional quality and Mom asked King if shecould buy some to take home to my father. King apologetically explainedthat he would feel obligated to do the same for everyone if he did it forher and there just wasn't enough to go around. Mom thanked him just sameand we went to gather our bags. A few minutes later, we pulled aroundbehind the main building to check out. Out the back door of the kitchencame James with a large grin and an even larger plate of country ham which"Mr. Crenshaw" had instructed him to give to us. Mom tried to pay him butJames just chuckled and refused. It was explained to me on the way homethat Mom had made the mistake of asking King about the ham in front ofothers and had gotten his "official" answer. King's generosity had thenbeen extended to us privately.
It all couldn't last, of course. Nothing does. But I didn't knowthat then.
In August 1960, Gran and I took the bus from Louisville to the depoton 31W where King was waiting for us. I sat between them for the car rideon to Buelah Villa as they talked at length about how much times hadchanged. Their conversation was prophetic. King's health took a suddenturn for the worse before the year was over and the hotel went into declinealong with him.
The same was true for Gran. By the next summer, she had come to livewith us due to the infirmities of age and could no longer travel. Shepassed away in early 1966 during my freshman year at UK. A short timelater, I heard that Buelah Villa had closed. Gran, King and the hotel allseemed to have passed on together, ending an era.
Soon, another war came. I became a Navy officer, and, when it wasover, a lawyer and stockbroker. Diane and I were blessed with twowonderful sons who married two wonderful girls and with opportunities totravel to distant lands.
No travel experience could ever mean more to me, however, than thoseleisurely days at Sulphur Well of a half century ago. In that small place,I developed a passion for reading and learned much about life---aboutmaking new friends, the value of old friends, race, religion, competitivegames, acts of generosity and kindness, and, most of all, devotion tofamily and a grandmother's love.
It was a simpler time...an innocent time...and, with a nod to CharlesDickens, "It was the best of times."
The writer can be reached for comment at: firstname.lastname@example.org
~ ~ ~
For another memory about Sulphur Well, click here: John Dillinger was a guest at the Beulah Villa
This story was posted on 2011-08-21 08:01:12
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