January 24th, 2007 by The Lexington Herald-Leader

Name sounds like 'each way' and a highway runs through it


The Crossroads Market opens at 4:30 a.m. because that's when working people need nourishment for the drive ahead, the day beyond the drive and the drive home. Tommy Lykins, the guy who is behind the counter to serve anyone at that hour, knows that the first guy in the door is going to be Scott Wilder and he's going to want things for his lunch later at the sawmill and hot coffee for the road.

The Crossroads is the kind of place where they sell A-1 steak sauce in the gallon jug, few vegetables, no end of Oreo choices and home-canning equipment.

Helechawa is the kind of town where, says native son Ben Easterling, "most of the people from here work someplace else. There's not enough country to farm and not enough people to log or mine."

Ben says the old church down the road -- the white one without any discernible denomination attached -- is the place where folks set up shop when they decide it's time for serious religion. The church, which way back when was the one-room schoolhouse, has been a Church of God, a Church of Christ, a Holiness Church and Helechawa Community Church. He's not sure if it's anything now but it could be again any time, should the spirit move.

He's been here all his life, lives now in his grandparents' house but defers on the local history lesson to one-time one-room schoolhouse teacher Cleta Gullett.

Pressed, he thinks the town got its name from an Indian princess. "It's a pretty name."

Cleta, when found, isn't talking. She might have already had enough of people from somewhere else, what with the Bert T. Combs Mountain Parkway slicing the town in two and carrying traffic over the Helechawa overpass at every imaginable hour.

Truth is, the town is so close off the parkway that you can smell the Crossroads Market's biscuits baking as you whiz by.

JoAnn Elmore has been cooking biscuits, gravy, eggs, bacon, sausage and fresh pork tenderloin since 4 a.m. "They come all the way from Floyd County asking for it," she says of the Crossroads' tenderloin, whose secret ingredient is, apparently, salt and pepper and whatever all those years of honest grilling have left flavoring the grill.

JoAnn's up at 3 to wake her 4-year-old daughter briefly for the ride to the baby sitter's ("she goes right back to sleep") before she and her sister, Linda Finch, start rolling out the 4-inch wide biscuits that will be "run through the pizza oven" to get that perfect brown finish that protects the flaky buttermilky insides. Linda slices one of those biscuits and piles a good half-pound of bacon on it before lowering the biscuit lid and wrapping it for a customer. Linda's been cooking here for 12 years and is sure, with her husband working nights and she working early days, she has the nearest thing to a perfect marriage.

"We see each other an hour each day," she says, adding that that's probably a good thing because "I smell all the time like bacon or a big cheeseburger."

Next door, Ron and Mike's Meat Processing is housed in a bleach-smelling blue building that currently is home to a wicked band saw, dozens of knives, a meat grinder, a meat slicer, a tenderizer and one dead hog. The hog is split in half and hanging in the walk-in freezer and there's a pile of fresh bandages on the desk which meat-cutter Drayton Kendrick is in general need of, he says.

He works alone in the claustrophobic, nippy room with the sharp instruments and the constant threat of mortal danger, except in the busy deer season when somebody comes in to help.

No one is ever really alone at the Parkway Express, the other major establishment in town. It's the beer store and they do not open until 8 a.m., perhaps to the dismay of some early risers. The service, walk in or drive through, is divine. The conversation inside is riveting, leaning as it is toward past sins, current sins and things that really shouldn't be sins.

The taste of the town runs to Bud or Bud Light and given that Helechawa is in one of those enviable real-estate corners -- with the very dry Morgan County on two sides of it -- the beer store is busy.

It is also a warehouse full of walking truth. Helechawa, to be sure, is a closed mountain community but it is one that, perhaps, could be internally cleaved into the more devout and the more interesting.

The more interesting, such as they are, do not mind telling you that this very small burg is the home of Sheriff Lester Drake, who died in the penitentiary after being convicted of running drugs through this very town. They do not mind telling you they know "preachers who purchase" at the beer store. They do not mind telling you that they keep a law book under the counter so they can, at all times, comply.

And they do not mind telling you that this business about an Indian princess giving her name to the town is pure hogwash.

"It's Hell-Each-a-Way," says Jimmy Thornberry, native of the town and confident of his story.

Jimmy's doing some carpentry at the beer store and is less specific than one would hope, but the Hell-Each-A-Way story has something to do with frontiersmen and a stop in the road and this was it and they noted then and for all eternity that if you looked around, it was hell each way.

The beer store may be located at that very spot because the road out back was the original road to West Liberty, though the store was smack dab in the midst of swamp and cattails until very recently, says Audie Banks.

It is hard to argue with any of this. And harder still to set the record straight. According to Kentucky Place Names, by Robert M. Rennick, the town was named in 1900 by the president of the Ohio and Kentucky Railroad -- a New Yorker, no less -- who wanted to please his daughter, Helen Chase Walbridge.

Outside the two stores, people live in this town that is, more or less, a mile long and deeper than that into the foothills. There are houses that could predate Boone. There's a horse with crystal clear eyes. There's karaoke at the Cover-All store on Saturday night.

And hanging from the weeds in the creeks that branch off the river and squeezed out of the exposed cliff shale are solid icicles of varying lengths.

For better or for worse, for now but not always, Helechawa has frozen over.

One Response to “Helechawa: Been there. And back.”

  1. Helen Chase Walbridge was my grandmother. The town Helechawa was named after her. My great grandfather was William Delancey Walbridge, President of the Ohio/Kentucky railroad. JoAnn