You cannot listen very long to Maxine Wilkins Bohannon describe life in Brewers back in the day without thinking that maybe you were born 100 years too late.
Although life was far from idyllic, the 95-year-old talks of a time when families, children included, worked together and did what needed to be done “without fussing.” When work was done, her family, like most others, created their own entertainment, playing music together, riding bobsleds in the snow, or having picnics with relatives at Cross Springs, near Soldier Creek.
Bohannon now lives in the house she grew up in. But in 1948, she and her late husband Ernest Bohannon moved into town and in 1959 bought the old general store business from Solon Hendrix. They operated in the original building, owned by the Chesters, until 1963, when they enlarged it to look pretty much what it looks like today.
Before her adult life as a merchant, she had a busy childhood on a 158-acre farm on Wilkins Road. “We had a good home, plenty of food, everything we needed and GREAT PARENTS (her emphasis),” she writes in a memoir co-authored with her brother Pat Wilkins.
This was during the Depression, but the Wilkinses, like so many other families around Brewers, were not affected so much as big city dwellers. “Pat and I think we grew up in the very best times there ever have been,” she writes. “It was a hard time financially. No one had very much money, but we were as well off as our neighbors, better than some.”
There were problems of course and the tragedies typical of life back then, and now. Of the six children born to her parents, the first were twin boys. When they were five months old, the boys took sick and, although a doctor treated them, one of the twins died. Bohannon said when her mother was old and in a nursing home, she cried, “Oh, I lost my baby,” as if it had just happened.
Then there was the 1928 fire that destroyed the town’s first school. Bohannon, a third-grader then, said smoke started coming up from the furnace below through the floorboard vents. Everyone made it out okay, but the school burned to the ground.
The students moved across the street to Brewers Methodist Church for the rest of the school year until a two-story brick edifice was built on the same site. It operated until the 1956 South Marshall school consolidation. Eventually, the school was torn down.
In its day, the school was the focus of many activities, both for students and for the community. Bohannon recalls pie suppers and candidate “speakings.” The Carter Family performed there once, she said, and there were exhibition basketball games from traveling teams, including one where the players rode on donkeys—in the gym.
The gym was on the second floor, with classrooms below. That made for some noisy classes when the team was practicing, said Barney Thweatt, a member of the celebrated 1948 boys’ basketball team. Charles Stone, Tom Mathis, and he are its only three surviving ballplayers. Beloved coach McCoy Tarry died in 1975, but his widow, Martha Tarry Simpson, turns 100 in December, and “she is just as sharp as ever,” Thweatt said.
In 1948, for the third year in a row, Coach Tarry led the Brewers Redmen to state. They arrived in Louisville undefeated and kept that record intact when they beat the Maysville Bulldogs 55-48 for the state championship. The record of that ‘48 team—35-0—stands today, he noted.
Thweatt, a retired schoolteacher, basketball coach and school administrator, showed a picture of the starters and pointed out the muscles on the boys. “We got strong working on the farm,” he said.
And like so many other students, he walked to school, for him four miles each way. (Indeed, one day Bohannon and her siblings ran all the way home, a distance of three miles, “just to see if we could,” she said.)
Thweatt and future teammate Roy Darnall had attended one-room Jackson Elementary, which had only two outdoor goals. “We never played basketball indoors,” he writes in his book Brewers’ Basketball: A Winning Tradition, “and were looking forward to attending Brewers where we could get out of the mud, frozen ground, and wind to shoot baskets.”
His family also worked hard on their farm, and the young Thweatt had his share of chores. One of them was to set rabbit traps at dawn for his uncle, he said, at 10 cents per rabbit. His uncle resold them for 25 cents.
In town, life was a bit different for Marilyn Chester Creason, a cheerleader for the ’48 team. Her maternal grandparents, J.C. and Ophee Chester, established the general store in the early 1900s.
“We had farmland,” she said of her family, “but Dad wasn’t a farmer.” In addition to his sales job for a chemical company, Guy Chester managed his parents’ property once his father died, leasing it out to various proprietors.
The town’s post office was located inside the store, and in her current home, Creason has displayed in her den part of the old wooden shelving that was used to distribute mail.
As a girl, she visited the store with her father, she said, but she wasn’t allowed in back, where men of the community often gathered around the pot-bellied stove and swapped stories. Bohannon said when she and her husband got ready to expand the original building, many people pleaded with them to “keep the old stove.”
Besides school and cheerleading, Creason took piano lessons in Mayfield and otherwise led the active lifestyle described by so many of those who grew up in this once-thriving community.
“I learned to roller-skate on old Highway 80, and I learned to swim in Duncan Creek,” she recalled, smiling large and relishing fond memories of a bygone era in Brewers.