A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Warner Allen: Rabbit Hash means stories and memories — and a faith that it will be rebuilt

Rabbit Hash's famed General Store before the fire.

Rabbit Hash’s famed General Store before the fire.

Most people look at a story as if it were a pile of manure in which there might possibly be a pony. There’s no pony here, folks. But, there might be a rabbit or two.

With 185 years of ubiquitous tales and treasures, Rabbit Hash recently became the geographic center of grief and unwanted surprise. This international icon suffered the tragic loss of its famed “General Store” due to a brutal fire on a freezing, snowy February night.

To most, this devastation left everyone believing the store had met a permanent fate as it lay in ashes, smoldering for days.

It seemed impossible to think of attempting to rebuild the structure from its demise. In this loss, our natural instincts were to look at the debacle and do our best to find the hidden gem — that “thing” which gives us hope or inspiration; something to help us make sense of the tragedy where generations of memories were made; to discover that which is positive in the very midst of a situation that has uprooted heartache.

Rabbit Hash General Store, the day after the fire. (Photo By Warner Allen)

Rabbit Hash General Store, the day after the fire. (Photo By Warner Allen)

This community’s very foundation was shaken to the core.

A rebuild effort of the store would require state and federal resources and approvals, architects and historical geniuses, dozens of volunteers and approximately $250,000.

An unmanageable feat?

Unless you are an optimist, one may not understand the roots and heritage of the people and families of Rabbit Hash, Kentucky.

Rabbit Hash began with what was believed to be a tall tale or as some say “a bunny’s tail.”

According to a narrative written by A.M. Yealey in 1960 via The History of Boone County, Kentucky, salt and fur sellers would embark at Meeks’ ferry in Rising Sun, Indiana traveling from Cincinnati between 1816 and 1840 crossing the Ohio River to Kentucky.

One day, two men crossed paths near the ferry when one remarked, “Can you get anything to eat at Meeks’ ferry?” The other replied, “Yes, plenty rabbit hash.” It was at this time that the river was receding from flood waters, which forced all the rabbits from the lowlands to the hillsides where they were hunted and used as food called “rabbit hash.”

The rest is history.

Even in these tough times, the people of Rabbit Hash were resilient, having endured intense winter weather, landslides and floods—left to their own limited resources in efforts to survive at a time when food and sundry access was challenging. They pulled their resources and they succeeded.

The same holds true today. Despite past casino attempts to purchase and turn Rabbit Hash into a ferry-toting parking lot, the town was saved and protected with a National Historic Registry designation and the creation of the historical society in 2002.

Despite a multitude of historical floods that could have swept the General Store away on numerous occasions — the foundation support beams held firm. And despite this tragic fire that decimated centuries-old gadgets, tools and toys—the Coca-Cola boy’s cap and Potions-Notions trademarks prevailed.

Some important items were salvaged. (Photo by Warner Allen)</Small?

Some important items were salvaged. (Photo by Warner Allen)

Since 1831, the Rabbit Hash General Store, its town and its stories have been the core of community for people of all backgrounds, ages, races and multi-generational families.

In Rabbit Hash, you’re sure to get an earful whether it be a political or religious debate, a scolding for not sharing the heat from the wood stove, playing a horseshoe-like game called “washers” (pronounced war-shers), or simply enjoying a cold one while overlooking the river.

Whether it be its own movie declaring Rabbit Hash the “Center of the Universe” or a Discovery Channel documentary, or a German film crew shooting a KFC commercial — Rabbit Hash and its guests have experienced it all.

From dogs, pot-bellied pigs and cats running for mayor to antique cars shows, the Annual Old Timer’s Day and some of the best damn banjo pickin’ east of the Mississippi, you’re sure to get a show in the Hash. This year, a dog named Lucy Lou is running for president of the United States and is rumored to ‘trump’ even the most terrifying of Republican candidates, so they say.

Regardless of future tales to be made and passed around, Rabbit Hash will continue its fame as a place to experience the unexpected in peace and with a smile — whether you like it or not. Rabbit Hash is engrained in a foundation built upon decades of affection, music-sharing, story-telling, rites of passage, debates, laughs, loves—and yes, overalls. Recently, it was learned that the only salvaged portion to qualify the store for an official restoration to its integrity and fabric was its very own original foundation.

This surviving support structure upheld three standing walls and a floor. It is this very own original foundation that will serve as the dais of resurrection of one of the most beloved gems in all of Kentucky.

Architects, government leaders, community members and funders have united with a shared goal to rebuild the historic Rabbit Hash General Store, one board at a time.

This is commitment. This is perseverance. This is history renewed by faith.

This is Rabbit Hash.

Warner Allen, 38, of Covington, is a global public relations and marketing strategist and consultant. He spent his first years of life growing up in Rabbit Hash and has a lifetime of stories and blood ties to the town since his family’s ownership of Rabbit Hash from 1979 to 2002 (when it was sold to the Rabbit Hash Historical Society). His family developed, named and owned Victory School House Road and its land on the edge of Rabbit Hash. He spent his early childhood days listening to both true and tall tales of the elders upon the General Store’s front porch.

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NOTE: While Terrie Markesbery’s “Restore Rabbit Hash General Store” GoFundMe site (and other events) online have raised nearly $60,000, it’s still a good distance from the needed $250,000. If you prefer to write a check rather than go online, financial investments in the Rabbit Hash General Store’s fund to rebuild this international treasure can be made at Forcht Bank, 6100 First Financial Drive, Burlington, Kentucky, 41005.

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