June 22nd, 2006 by The Lexington Herald-Leader
CBERTRAM@HERALD-LEADER.COM
AWILSON1@HERALD-LEADER.COM

You go to Berea, head for U.S. 421 South and take a right at Kenny's Farm Store. Now skirt Daniel Boone National Forest. Pass cows. Pass a few cemeteries, because though the number of people living in Climax is somewhere between seven (actually seen) and a rumored 25, they are far surpassed by the number of dead in well-kept graveyards.

Which means this place is good enough to take a permanent seat -- although a slow pass-through is plenty pleasing.

Rest assured, if you start out early enough from Lexington, you can reach Climax, in Rockcastle County, by 8 a.m. It will be a quiet journey to a place where you can see woodpeckers pecking, hear babbling brooks so clear they've spawned a bottled water company, and watch as the Holiness church gets real potties and the Christian church new signs.

It's indeed good to know that Climax is wet and holy and fraught with peril.

Virgil Mullins -- who has lived around here all of his 81 years and ran the busy sawmill -- says they've got house snakes as big as 8 1/2 feet long here. Many live in his fruit cellar, which has never been used for fruit because, well, house snakes.

Still, it was part of the original house on his property when he built the new house 42 years ago. He didn't get around to tearing down the old house until "six or so year ago," leaving the cellar and a horse mount last used "by Nanny Johnson, who rode in side-saddle on a mule and had a boy walking beside her."

How long ago was that?

Virgil considers for a minute and says he doesn't know "except that the boy has since been in the Army and is now retired from everything." He is pretty sure "the boy" is still living.

Mullins is a big name in Climax. If anybody knows why this town is named Climax, it's Virgil, who got it from, he says, "Charles Baker, the man that named the town."

Story goes that when the town flooded, there wasn't any way out -- one road was blocked by a river, another by swamps and muck.

At such times the town was, well, destined to be the climax of your trip.

At least that's what Baker said. And no one smirked in an unseemly way. That could have been because the water was so good in Climax. Here is Rockcastle Springs, which barrels down through nature's own filtration system of tiered and terraced sandstone so it's pure by the time it hits town.

Everybody in town has been drinking this water forever. Virgil speaks highly of it. So does David King, who owns King Bottling Co. and who a while back bought the land on which the spring springs forth. He had the water analyzed -- he asked some guy at Perrier to give it a look-see, and soon the famous French water people were on planes to see for themselves. Well, that's when King decided he'd bottle the elixir himself.

King did consider many other names for the mountain mist, even Mountain Mist. But he decided on Climax Water "because it's a competitive world and it would cost a lot to get name recognition, but with this we already have it." The cold clear liquid has sold extremely well -- it's in Jackson and Rockcastle counties and in a few outlets in Lexington but will go wider in a month -- except for that one proprietor who said the name was too ... you know.

"I said, 'It's a community,'" King explains. "'We have two Christian churches there.'"

Still, the guy said no.

Saying yes at the free spigot outside the bottling plant are Freda and Paul Rose, who are filling 36 gallon milk jugs with Climax Water. They live in Richmond but don't like the city's water. They come to Climax three times a year to replenish their supply. They put the containers in the cellar and use the water for drinking.

This is not the only commerce in town. There is a small office at the main intersection for the municipal water outlet.

There is also all the development work at Climax Holiness Church, where the Lunsford brothers of Brodhead -- Tommy and Mark -- are digging indoor toilets. The church is more than 100 years old. Inside, there's all new blue carpet and a tissue box or two on every pew.

Outside, the old outhouses -- nicely decorated for holes in the ground -- are being outflanked by two larger holes for the septic tank.

"It'll be a relief, I'm sure, for the elderly," Tommy, 51, says.

Both Mark and Tommy remark upon the prevalence of snakes in outhouses and mention that in the demolition phase of the potty project, a large reptile exited from under the church.

And we're back to the abundance of snakes in Climax.

Virgil Mullins says the copperheads and rattlesnakes know to stay on the far side of the road. When they attempt to cross, they usually end up as roadkill. When that happens, everybody around here knows to bring the freshly dead snake to Virgil, who will put it, skin on, in his freezer. (Virgil learned the hard way that skinned rattlesnake gets freezer burn.)

Then, come the first Saturday in October, the Mullins family has a big rattlesnake and goat-meat cookout. Virgil cooks the meat in the ground, slow and low over hickory, and feeds 150.

On a bright June Wednesday, Virgil was throwing fertilizer on the sprouting pumpkin plants -- they came from last year's 79-pound pumpkin -- that are now taking over the ground where the Climax Post Office once stood.

The land used to be shaded by a giant red oak that had been hit by lightning "25 times" and was so old and so hard and so dense that it took five hours to get it out. Residents found, to their dismay, that it wouldn't burn. So they buried it.

The postmaster was Evelyn Lou Mullins, Virgil's wife.

That was before the postmaster general "got mean with the people and contrarily said we didn't need these little post offices."

Virgil's been married to Evelyn Lou for 63 years.

"People ask me all the time how we got along all that time," he says. "I tell them I didn't see her but at night, so it worked out fine."

One Response to “Climax: No smirking, please”

  1. Virgil Mullins is my great grandfather. He is a wonderful man to know. It is a honor to be apart of his family. His pig roasts are a huge thing around Climax. Thanks for sharing his legacy with the public. God bless.