Courthouse square sets the stage for multiple summer events; county fair, Wide Open No Fear Rodeo return
BY MOLLY HAINES RIDDLE Sweet Owen Editor
American novelists of Southern descent are known to take great pains in their descriptions of the archetypical Courthouse Square. Once a bevy of activities, the romanticized town center became neglected as industrialization grew, leaving many businesses shuttered and historic structures in disrepair.
Although Owenton's courthouse square suffered this same fate for a number of years, a global pandemic led to a need for goods and services closer to home, and thus six new businesses opened in a matter of months. The business openings eventually spurred an increase in events around the Square, connecting both residents and visitors with the town's past and present.
Take, for example, Food Truck Friday (FTF). Organized in 2019 by the Owenton City Council, the event brings live music to the courthouse lawn and multiple food trucks offering meal options not readily accessible at local restaurants. With the tagline, "Bring a Lawn Chair and a Friend," the event—held in May, June, August, and September—encourages catching up with old friends and meeting new ones.
COVID-19 would bring the event to a halt in 2020. Upon its resurrection the following year, the opportunity to shop the Square's newly-opened businesses led to increased attendance.
"Having those businesses in place and their agreement to remain open during Food Truck Friday is a major boost to the event," said FTF Committee member Jill Dunavent. "Not only that, but we're always hopeful visitors to Food Truck Friday will continue to return to the Square to shop and support small. Big-box stores are convenient, but nothing beats knowing that by shopping local you've just contributed to a daughter's college tuition or a son's baseball uniform."
The remaining dates for this year's Food Truck Friday season are Aug. 4, with Lauren Mink and Dale Adams; and Sept. 8, with Honey Child. For a list of available food trucks, visit www.facebook.com/owencountykytourism before each event.
Local State Farm Insurance Agent Richard Greene knows a thing or two about classics—cars and sitcoms. Taking a page from Mount Airy, North Carolina’s, book, Greene has combined his pastimes into an event that draws hundreds to Owenton’s Courthouse Square for one day each June.
Known as the real-life hometown of the late Andy Griffith, Mount Airy has capitalized on its similarities to the fictional town of Mayberry, the setting of the 1960s sitcom, “The Andy Griffith Show.” When visiting Mount Airy, fans of the show are invited to see Floyd’s City Barber Shop, the old Mayberry jail, Snappy Lunch, and Wally’s Service Station, among other landmarks from the much-loved television show.
Reflecting on the success of Mount Airy as a tourist destination, Greene notes similarities between Griffith’s hometown and Owenton. Those similarities, according to Greene, aren’t lost on visitors to Owen County.
“The main vibe I get from (visitors) is that it’s a little slower paced here,” Greene said prior to the inaugural event in 2014. “People are nice, and they say, ‘People wave at me, and they don’t even know me—it just reminds me of Mayberry.”
With that knowledge and a desire to increase foot traffic at Owenton’s downtown shops, Greene successfully turned his dream into a reality. Now in its sixth year (canceled from 2020-2022 due to COVID-19), Mayberry Day returns from 10 a.m.-2 p.m., Saturday, June 17, with a classic car show, Andy Griffith Show look-a-like contest, a baking contest—bring your best cakes, pies, cookies, and yes, canned pickles—and a special guest appearance by The Darlings, AKA regional Bluegrass favorite No Tools Loaned.
Additionally, businesses on the square have agreed to take on a Mayberry persona for the day, with Carpenter Lane Coffee Company becoming “Snappy Lunch,” Family Billiards & Restaurant the “Bluebird Diner,” and Tackett’s Men’s Wear “Weaver’s Department Store,” among others.
Following the success of the first two events, Greene took his vision a step further, approaching the Owen County Tourism & Convention Commission on the possibility of hosting a Christmas play. “Christmas In Mayberry” has become a popular tradition, bringing hundreds to the Owen County Courthouse each December.
For more information on Mayberry Day’s schedule of events, follow @OwenCountyKYTourism on Facebook.
Owen County 4-H Fair & Horse Show
Less than two miles from the Courthouse Square, the Owen County Park & Fairgrounds is home to one of the county's largest events of the year: the Owen County 4-H Fair & Horse Show.
This year's fair events get underway Saturday, July 1, with the 4-H & FFA Open Sheep Show and Open Goat Show. Similar events continue through Tuesday, July 4, when the midway officially opens at 5 p.m., followed by Family Fun Night and the return of the ever-popular peddle tractor pull at 6 p.m. Demolition derbies and truck and tractor pulls are among the fair's other events.
Paradise Amusements Inc. provides this year's midway, which has helped expand the fair's ride options in recent years.
"With the community's support, we've been able to expand our offerings as far as the midway goes," said Owen County 4-H Fair & Horse Show President Glenn Wright. "Those offerings bring fairgoers back for multiple nights. The more attendees we have, the more we can offer."
Admission to the Owen County 4-H Fair & Horse Show is $15 per person. Weekly fair passes are available at the Owen County Visitor Center & Gift Shop for $60, which includes rides. The passes are non-refundable. The Owen County Fair Board will not replace lost passes; no refunds will be available for bad weather.
Wide Open No Fear Rodeo
Produced by Crofton, Kentucky's Lone Star Rodeo Company, the Wide Open No Fear Rodeo has become Owen County's premier event of the season.
The inaugural event, held in July 2021, drew an estimated 6,000 spectators over a two-night span. The 2022 event rivaled those numbers, and organizers are confident this year will be no different.
The rodeo memorializes 2017 Owen County High School graduate Wyatt Cole, who died in a tragic 2019 car crash near the University of Tennessee Martin's campus. Cole was attending the university, majoring in agricultural business, and was a highly successful rodeo student-athlete.
Cole's rodeo accomplishments were extensive: he qualified multiple times for the National High School Finals Rodeo in both middle and high school and advanced to the finals of multiple collegiate rodeos during the 2018-2019 season.
After his death, his parents, Eden Shale Farm residents Greg and Isabella Cole, created the Wyatt Cole Memorial Scholarship Fund and asked for donations in lieu of flowers.
In the following days and weeks, community members who recognized the significant impact of Wyatt's lifestyle on those around him began talks of a rodeo in his hometown supporting the scholarship fund. To date, the rodeo has raised nearly $50,000.
This year's event takes place Friday, July 21, and Saturday, July 22.
The entertainment begins at 7:30 p.m., with kids' events, including a best-dressed cowboy and cowgirl contest and kids gold rush for ages 10 and under. The rodeo starts at 8 p.m. and includes bareback bronc riding, calf roping, saddle bronc riding, and cowgirls breakaway roping. Live music by The Ranahans will conclude Friday's events.
Tickets are on sale now, and available at the Owen County Visitor Center and Gift Shop, 300 S. Main St., Owenton, KY 40359, online at lonestarrodeo.com, or by calling 270-269-6000. Tickets are $15 per adult, $10 per child (ages 4-12). Children ages 3 and under are admitted free.