ANITA PAYNE – AT HOME ON FLOYDS FORK – STORY BY BOB HILL
Let’s just call this story taking a lap around Anita Payne’s old neighborhood.
Sure, some new names have been added to her old Floyds Fork stomping grounds. It’s part of the necessary process in creating a 3,700-acre park on land that’s belonged to others for hundreds of years. It requires a set of unifying names, signage and identities for modern consumption.
But there are several miles of the Parklands of Floyds Fork from Seatonville Road to Bardstown Road that are exactly that: Anita Payne’s old neighborhood.
She was born 80 years ago in a small house up off Broad Run Road – a house from which her parents walked over the hill and across Floyds Fork to get to Bardstown Road.
Her family almost moved into the historic Stout House on nearby Stout Road when the Jean family – who then owned it – believed they needed help milking their cows.
She became friends with the fully-grown adults living in nearby Munchkinville. She lived as a teenager along Floyds Fork in a small farm house that became site of the failed Seatonville Springs Country Club – later called Irongate.
She and her husband, Sterling, 90, later lived 39 years and 6 days on about 13 acres of farmland on Dawson Hill Road – and came to know many of the neighbors living on and near the Fork for miles around.
“That’s the way it used to be in the country,” she said. “If you went somewhere you either walked or went in a wagon. And you might stop to talk to every neighbor on the way…Mother had kids, but she always had time to go spend a day with a neighbor.”
Anita Payne was born June 11, 1932 in a tiny house up the wooded slope above the historic Mills-Wheeler House off Fairmount Road – a house now owned by 21st Century Parks to be used as its southern headquarters.
Her attending physician was to be Dr. William Rush, a legendary Fern Creek doctor who delivered many babies in homes in the rural areas along Floyd Fork – but not her.
“I didn’t wait for him,” she said. ”He was a half-hour late.”
Anita Payne started out small and only made it to diminutive; 4 feet 11 inches. She grew up resolute, self-taught and with a terrific sense of humor. She and her husband, Sterling, 90, now live in a Hikes Lane house whose yard is a horticultural and botanical marvel.
In the beginning there would be 13 children in her family. Her father, John Hollis Brown Sr., had four children with his first wife and nine with his second, Irene Shake Brown – Anita’s mother.
“There’s just three of us kids left,” said Anita. “That’s not fair.”
John Hollis Brown Sr. was born in 1895 in a log cabin in Anderson County, Ky. He grew up working on farms, studied to become a minister, spent most of his life as a sharecropper and tenement farmer. He met his wife – Irene Shake, a part-time school teacher and full-time mother – in Spencer County and they moved to the remote hilltop farm above the Mills-Wheeler House.
“I don’t even think there was a road back to it,” said Anita. “I think you just walked to it. I know Mother and Dad used to talk about walking to Fern Creek across the field.”
Two years after Anita was born her family moved to the larger home of her widowed grandmother – Sarah Hammock Brown – who lived just a little further up the ridge toward Broad Run Road.
Anita lived there with four siblings until she was six and a half years old: “Yeah it was crowded, but we didn’t know it.”
Childhood memories come in all colors and sizes. Her favorite memory as a small child was of her grandmother teaching her about the woods and fields that flowed around their house – and what vegetables to plant where.
“I just followed her around, helped her plant,” said Anita. “All of us did. As a matter of fact we used to fight over who got to do things for grandma because then we got to eat supper with her.”
Her most vivid memory was of joining with two brothers in spitting on the red-hot barrel of the wood-burning drum stove used to heat the house – and getting a spanking for her trouble.
Was spitting on a drum stove a mortal sin?
“It was if it was a brand new stove and it was making marks on it,” she said.
Her older brother found a lot of Indian arrowheads in one high-ground area near a big, flat rock ledge. The two of them climbed on it, often played around it; pretended to be Indians.
“In my memory, all these years, the rock was really really high because it was up past my shoulders and I could just look over the top of it,” she said. “I went back there with a friend probably 15 years ago and that rock ledge is two feet tall.”
Her memories outlasted the two family houses; both of them now torn down or rotted away. Not gone – but greatly altered and enlarged – is the old Primrose School she attended as a child. It sat at 9900 Broad Run Road near the current edge of the Parklands of Floyds Fork property.
Anita and her siblings walked down to the school across the 20-foot swinging bridge above Broad Run. Many of the other farm kids in the area caught rides to school on the milk truck; miss it and the walk really was up and down hill for miles.
The one-room building had eight grades; three to six children to a grade. One man, James Everett Farmer, was it principal and sole teacher for 10 years. Heat was supplied by a word-burning stove. The water supply was heavy on sulfur. The road in front was gravel. A long stone wall ran along the back of the property – and still does.
The school closed in 1941 when Fern Creek Elementary School was opened. It was later remodeled by one of its former students, Woodrow Brown, and his wife, Ann, dairy farmers who converted the school into a home for their nine children.
Two years before the school closed – in the thick of the Great Depression – Anita’s grandmother sold her house and moved to Shepherdsville. It was then that Anita’s father turned to sharecropping, moving to a series of farms of Meade, Oldham and Jefferson counties, and the southern Indiana.
The opportunity to live in the Stout House came when one of the Jean boys was offered a chance to fulfill a long-time dream:
“Mr. Jean rented this out to my dad because his son was going to play professional baseball and he needed someone to milk his cows. And dad had a house full of kids who knew how to milk…and then the baseball deal fell through so the milking deal fell through, too.”
Anita’s father kept moving from farm to farm, doing what he had to do to take care of his family.
“He was the best man in the world, ever,” Anita said of her father. “I’m serious about that. He was a good Christian man. He was good to all his kids and everyone else.
“Mother had this huge cedar chest that Daddy – and probably his Daddy – built for her. It was a beautiful piece of furniture.
“Some of my earliest memories are sitting around working jigsaw puzzles on that in the winter…and some of the jokes and funny things that would happen…He was really one of a kind.”
One of the places where they lived was in Stith Valley near Brandenburg. All the children had their farm chores – but were never allowed to work on Sundays.
One Sunday morning – while all the children were in bed – an electrical fire started in a stairwell, the house burned to the ground and one brother didn’t make it out.
“For about half a day we really thought two of my brothers were in there,” said Anita. “But I had one brother that was really good at doing the unexpected. He’d sneaked out and gone to play with a neighbor.”
In the late 1940s, when Anita was a teenager, her family moved to the farm on Floyds Fork off Seatonville Road that would become a failed series of upscale golf courses – a wild and impractical dream that also included a motel and executive housing. The land would eventually be purchased by 21st Century Parks.
In 1948, Anita said, the land was owned by two men named Marcum and Stucker. The area was still remote, isolated gravel roads; little traffic: “It was just country.”
Anita remembers the constant Floyds Fork floods. She vaguely remembers the old Seatonville country store, the park-like area near the river that was used for picnics and baseball games; and the old Seatonville School later converted to a house; she happened by the day it was bulldozed down in 1969.
“We used to sleigh ride down that hill and come down just to the side of the school,” she said.
The four-room house where she lived with then five siblings and her parents would become the exact site of the Jasper-Ward-designed glass and concrete clubhouse for the failed golf complex – a 1960s dream washed away by Floyds Fork.
“That clubhouse just didn’t look like a building,” she said. “It was glass and it had drapes pulled all around it but it just looked like there was too much stuff on top of the glass.”
That section of the land is now owned by Jan Pfeifer – whose property borders the park property. She had the old clubhouse building torn down and hauled away for environmental reasons.
“Our house out there was very very small for that many people,” Anita remembered of their two year stay on that property. “And it had no electricity; no plumbing.”
Her family had a washing machine – but no electricity. A neighbor over near Seatonville had electricity – but no washing machine. The problem was solved by placing the Payne family’s washing machine on the neighbor’s back porch. Anita would carry her family’s clothes over there, wash them and hang them out to dry.
Then she’d go home, get something to eat, and then have to walk back over to carry the dry clothes home.
The family milked cows, raised hogs, grew hay, raised a garden. The children walked down to Seatonville Road to catch a bus to Fern Creek schools. Her father had an old Army truck with a tank on it he would use to drive over to the nearby Grosscurth Distillery to get slop for the cattle.
When her father hurt his leg and couldn’t work, the kids hand-milked the cows, poured it into the 10-gallon milk cans and Anita drove the truck to Seatonville Road where the milk was picked up.
In taking a lap around her old neighborhood Anita met with Jan Pfeifer. The two looked at old maps, talked about the old horse farm on the place, the land itself – and those who used to live on it.
One of them was a man named Hap Phillips who lived in a very remote house up near Buttermilk Ridge up behind them. His wife would have to walk past their house in the dark to get to Seatonville Road to catch a ride to work.
Anita has a photograph of a late 1940s airplane crash in the field in front of their house. No one was injured; she pulled a seatbelt from the wreck and kept as a souvenir a long time.
“That was such a beautiful valley that went back from where we lived to the woods and the Fork,” she said. It was all so pretty.
“We kids were roamers. We just rambled around wherever we could go…I don’t like water much so we’d just wade in the Fork, look for driftwood and bottles and just do what kids are supposed to do…especially when they sneak off and are not supposed to be near the water.
“This valley, in the spring, when the vegetation would begin to come up, it looked like a plush carpet with the trees as wall hangings. It was like a fantasy land…Like you should have a ball out there. Have all the fairies out there, dancing.
“I wish I could go back in time. This was a happy place to live.”
We left Jan Pfeifer’s house, turned right at the old Seatonville Cemetery onto Brush Run Road. On the right, near where the old school had been, a big cross was visible in a newly mowed area.
It was a tribute to 18 horses that were killed in the Rock Creek Riding Club fire on Feb. 16, 1996. The bodies had been buried on this site; memorials held in their honor.
Plastic blue and yellow flowers clung to the cross. The plaque on it said:
“In memory of the 18 horses who lost their lives in the Rock Creek Fire on February, 16, 1996. They are all loved and missed and will live in our hearts forever: Junior, Tom, Moe, Cory, Mr. Gray, Spot, Stetson, Pocket Money, Buddy, Missy, Bobby, Fred, Whoopee, Skipper, Sparky, Alpine, Spunky and Julie. Dedicated by Valerie Aldridge.”
Further up Brush Run Road, just past the Echo Trail intersection, was the site where in the early 1950s, Anita had lived with her first husband, Buck Risinger, in a two-room house. She lived there when a daughter, Linda Clement, was born. The couple later divorced.
Just across the drive her father-in-law, Burge Risinger, had a blacksmith shop; she could smell the smoke from the forge and hear the clanging of the metal.
“He was an old man. He was retired,” she said. “But he would make a horseshoe now and then.”
Even further up Brush Run Road before it reached Dawson Hill Road was a partly shaded, wooded area with a large patch of Dutchman Breeches – an abundant native plant that offers white and pale yellow flowers every Spring; a favorite place for Anita to gather plants and remember.
Further up on the left – across the creek – was a little settlement of houses called “Squedunk Hollow”: “I don’t know where the name came from. It was before my time.”
We turned up Dawson Hill Road and past Buttermilk Ridge; Anita ticking off the names of old neighbors and family as we went. Where Dawson Hill met Back Run Road she talked about the old Kinser General Store that served the neighborhood back in the 1950s; a store later converted to a house before being torn down.
“Everybody used to shop in there,” she said. “That’s where you bought your groceries.”
Further down Dawson Hill Road – closer to Bullitt County – was the little farm and four-room house she and Sterling bought in 1967. Anita said they’d first met in 1953 when she was working as a waitress in a Douglas Loop restaurant – but their histories bring them even closer.
Sterling was also delivered by Dr. William Rush. As a teenager – and as did Anita years later – he would often meet with friends on weekends where Fairmount Road could be forded across Floyds Fork near the Mills-Wheeler House.
At the time it was the only way to get from Broad Run Road and Fairmount Road to Bardstown Road; the teenagers would swim, play in the water, party.”
“It depended on the season,” Anita said. “Sometimes you could sit in the area where you drove in and wash your car. And sometimes it was all completely dry there.”
Sterling said he would take his first car – and old Plymouth – to the Fork to wash it.
“It didn’t take long,” he said. “The water was up about the middle of the wheels. You’d just get out and wade in…you didn’t have to work very hard to wash your car.”
Anita and Sterling, a plumber by trade, shared four children through previous marriages and adoption. They left Kentucky and lived in California for many years before moving to the Dawson Hill Road acreage in 1967.
In the 39 years they lived there Sterling greatly expanded the house and added a bathroom: The previous facility had been an outhouse trucked in from Hardinsburg, Ky.
Over the next decades the two lovingly landscaped their land, adding memories as they went; a blue spruce that will go to a nephew; a white crepe myrtle that came from Anita’s parent’s home in Louisville; a burr oak she grew from an acorn she found on Back Run Road – among the dozens of other shrubs, trees and flowers and vegetable gardens that dotted their landscape.
Sterling built a cabin for family gatherings, added a pond for fun and fish. He added a grain bin and built an air-conditioned green house, a chicken coop and a house for pigeons. The couple also raised sheep, quail and Daushunds. Sterling built a small building with a cooler where he and Anita would butcher and process meat and deer for the neighbors.
“When the cooler went out we had done 276 deer that year,” Anita said, “and I stood by the cooling table and I’m saying, “Please God, let that cooler be unfixable…and He answered my prayer.”
Health issues finally required them – very reluctantly – to move to Hikes Lane about eight years ago. Once there they continued to garden, and give away flowers and plants to their new neighbors.
And in the spring, Anita will still go out and bring home some Dutchman’s breeches from the old neighborhood.
“Just for old time’s sake,” she said.
About the Author
Former Louisville-Courier columnist Bob Hill is a historian for The Parklands of Floyds Fork. He travels Floyds Fork writing of the people, the places and the history of the stream within the 20-mile park system – all of which is to be preserved in the Filson Historical Society. Some of Hill’s stories appear in A Landscape and its Legacy, the commemorative book for The Parklands of Floyds Fork project. Hill has also compiled a Floyds Fork “Places & Faces” presentation that adds imagery to the words.