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Monterey still matters

Monterey Homecoming Fair a reminder of community's historic past


Sweet Owen Editor

Cedar Creek at Monterey — Photo by Molly Haines/Sweet Owen Editor

For one day every other October, multiple cast iron kettles bubble with the familiar aroma of burgoo near the intersection of Monterey Pike and Greenwell Street. Around them, a crowd of men begins gathering, sharing stories from the small village’s colorful past. The scene signals the beginning of yet another homecoming in Monterey.

Situated on the banks of Cedar Creek and with direct access to the Kentucky River, the area was first known as Williamsburg. On this vibrant trading route, agricultural goods were loaded from the town’s wharf on flatbeds and keelboats for transport down the river to markets in Louisville on the Ohio River and New Orleans on the Mississippi River, according to the Kentucky Historical Society.

In 1847, the Kentucky legislature founded the town, which would be renamed Monterey in a nod to the Mexican-American War’s Battle of Monterrey. By the late 19th century, the downtown commercial district included a post office, hotels, grist mills, blacksmith shops, drug stores, saloons, a barber shop, furniture maker, coffin maker, and the W.D. Hardin Dry Goods Store, known as the first building in Owen County to include an elevator.

Catastrophic flooding and multiple fires would claim many of these structures throughout the years, and from 1900 to 1970, Monterey’s population suffered a near 50% decrease. In March 1969, U.S. Postal Service officials announced their intentions to shutter the community’s post office, the second largest in Owen County. Despite the citizens’ belief that abandonment of the office could lead to the deterioration of other areas in the town, the USPS moved forward with its plan, and the post office closed later that year.

Unbeknown to its natives, Monterey would soon experience a renaissance of sorts when artists and craftspeople from all walks of life would converge upon the town, creating and selling their wares at shops like Larkspur Press, Rising Moon Pottery, Bittersweet Bindery, Jubilee Candles, and The Corner Shop. Many of the businesses’ proprietors would become synonymous with the community; names like Gray Zeitz and the late Paula Nye are still lauded across the commonwealth today.

Dara Carlisle, who moved to the area in the early ‘70s, attributes the group’s settlement in Monterey to the late James “Jimmy Clark” Hudson, a journalist turned attorney who grew up on Monterey’s Point of Rock Road.

“Jim Hudson found all these cheap houses, which of course didn’t have running water; they didn’t have anything in them,” Carlisle explained.

After working as an editor, journalist, and photojournalist in Kentucky and Ohio, Hudson returned to school to earn a Juris Doctor degree and was admitted to the Kentucky Bar in 1967. In 1968, he returned to the family farm. In a few years’ time, he would meet a theater graduate from the University of Illinois who grew up on a farm in Harrodsburg.

“He and four of his friends were looking for a place to live, and I found them a house in Monterey,” Hudson told the Lexington Herald-Leader in 1974. “Friends of theirs then came down, and others came after them. It was the type of community people were looking for because there were a lot of vacant houses here. People who were sort of into this ‘back to the land’ movement started showing up here and buying houses . . . most of them fit the mold of the young college graduate interested in living the simple life in a small town.”

While many of Monterey’s new residents served as farm laborers in the area, they would also help to grow the city’s business district, which at the time consisted of a restaurant, a branch of the now-defunct Peoples Bank & Trust Company, and a small grocery.

Paula Nye would purchase a building to start the Jubilee Candle Shop—the shop, according to the Herald-Leader article, also served as a communications hub, where job postings were found written on a blackboard. Nye was also one of the few in the group to own a telephone. Others in the area began making jewelry out of their homes, and Gray Zeitz would rent a former pool hall to expand his printing business.

As the businesses grew, so too did public interest, eventually leading to the group’s decision to organize a fair.

“As craftspeople here, we’d had several nice sales where we advertised and people came in,” Zeitz recalled. “We also had readings and dances, and we just thought, ‘Why not have a fair in the summertime?’ We got together and talked about it and said the only way it would work was if we got the whole community involved. We went to all three churches and started having meetings.”

The meetings included members of the Monterey Christian Church, Monterey Baptist Church, and Old Cedar Baptist Church. Planning would take approximately a year, with Zeitz serving as representative for the crafts people.

The group met weekly, and as plans developed, so too did its purpose, displayed on programs for the inaugural event: “The Monterey Fair creates a sense of community, lets old friends visit, builds a mini-park.”

The first fair, held Aug. 7-8, 1976, included bookmaking demonstrations by Zeitz, a rook tournament, a candle demonstration by Nye, a burgoo supper prepared by Scott Ballard, among others, and a litany of traditional children’s games — including a sack race, bubble-gum blowing contest, and a turtle race — coordinated by Jean Zeitz, Charlotte Green, Dana Peters, and Vicki Turner.

“It went from one day to two days, with Sunday being a big church service,” Zeitz said. “That was great. There’s no way you can get a community together without the churches; all three preachers preached. Even though it was hard to get everything together like it always is, the first fair was wonderful. It was high energy; it was just wonderful. We had a street dance with the Progress Red Hot String Band with Bill Livers. We had cloggers from Berea, and they were just amazing. There was no violence.”

In the years that followed, organizers moved the date of the fair to accommodate area farmers.

“We realized that it interfered with people getting their tobacco in, so we moved it to October,” Carlisle added. “I think one of the critical decisions we made was not to have it every year, only to have it every other year because it’s so much work.”

The community park in Monterey — Photo by Molly Haines/Sweet Owen Editor

Following the success of the first fair, land on Greenwell Street that was initially home to a croquet court would become the location of the mini-park, which included a gazebo designed by Pat Kennedy. A portion of the funds raised by the fair continues to support the park’s upkeep today. Both Zeitz and Carlisle continued their work with the fair for a number of years.

Today, the Monterey Homecoming Fair planning committee is comprised of Tammy Powers, Vanessa Wilhoite, Mike Figgins, Wanda New, Noel and Kathy True, Emma Engelman, Charlotte and Chris Cox, Stacey Tingle, and Susie Ballard.

The event retains much of its original itinerary, from the street dance (music this year provided by Brothers From Different Mothers) and bonfire to craftspeople serving as vendors (organizers remain adamant that vendor wares must be handmade), a parade at noon, a silent auction, and burgoo at 2 p.m.

This year’s fair is scheduled for 10 a.m.-11 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 1. The community church service will begin at 11 a.m., Sunday, Oct. 2, at the park. For a full schedule of events, search “Monterey Homecoming Fair 2022” on Facebook.


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