February 14th, 2007 by The Lexington Herald-Leader

Long-gone hotel gave town its name


BACHELOR'S REST -- As far as can be figured, there are two bachelors left in town: 18-year-old Otis Blivens and 93-year-old Stanley Johnson.Otis is an open book, a high school graduate with a job working construction these days in nearby Ohio. Not looking for married life right yet. "I'm just 18," he says, his eyes wide with incredulity at the notion. "I have my whole entire life," he says. And with that, there is no further discussion to be had on the damage Valentine's Day has done to bachelors, resting or not.

It is 17 degrees out. Otis is without a coat and is drinking a nice cold Coke. He lives in the general vicinity of a large barn that holds an 8-month-old horse named Jubilee who is complaining about his water bucket being frozen over, all the while being gently menaced by a bevy of cats -- free to a good home -- and dogs named Superman, Tyson, Cricket, Angel and Duke who are staying put.

And while that's interesting, the elder bachelor in town has a better saga. Hard of hearing now, his story is told by the two Browning boys. They have just finished stripping last year's tobacco crop in the kerosene-heated part of another big barn in town, this one holding not only some hand-tied tobacco but a baby cow whose mother just died, and two chickens who were spared until they got "crock-pot-sized."

Will Browning is the one guy who has made it his business to know the history of the town. Married with four kids, he is only 30, but he is the keeper of all the stories now that everybody else is getting up in age.

According to Will, the town was once the very crossroads of Pendleton County life. His mama's mailbox now sits in the exact locale of the once-busy post office. There was a tobacco warehouse as well, plus a livery, two stores that competed for much business, a blacksmith, a milliner, an icehouse, the Palestine Baptist Church, Wright's Chapel Methodist and Oakland Christian Church, a doctor's office. And there was a hotel that was home to working men -- bachelors, you see -- who hired out for days or just stopped on their way to and from, via stagecoach route, no less, the thriving metropolises of Milford and Falmouth.

There is nothing left but the Oakland Christian Church and the crossroads itself, the Browning family home on one side of the road, the Crawford family home on the other.

"If you go back far enough," says Will, speaking of the town's heritage, "the whole thing boils down to a few families."

You can include the Powells, the Kings and the Johnsons in that, says Will, though the Crawfords seem to have been here first, and the Brownings can trace back to just after the Civil War.

Soon, things were in full swing. In fact, in 1909, in what is now Will Browning's mother's dining room, an appendix was removed in the town's first real operation.

Which, somehow or the other, brings us around to the 93-year-old bachelor, Stanley Johnson, who stayed at home while the stories grew around him and the population swelled and ebbed.

Town lore says Stanley was a boxer who used to lift railroad ties for weights. That a calf fell down a well and Stanley went in to get it, and climbed out of the well with the calf around his shoulders. That he used to walk his 250 acres of land every day until a few years ago, when he had to give that up. That he rarely eats meat, and the secret of his long life is that he eats no grease and thrives on tomatoes and beans.

It's late evening now, so Mr. Johnson's help has gone home and no one wants to frighten Mr. Johnson with visitors. So others tell the story of his first cousin, Shumbert Ramsey, who has provided much of the dark allure of Bachelor's Rest since he disappeared into thin air in 1981.

Story goes that Shumbert was a bachelor, too, who lived in one of the town's old houses but kept all his money in peanut butter jars in the floorboards of his pickup. One day in '81, the house burned down but the truck survived. No body was found in either, though, and the money was gone.

"We walked the hills with dogs and metal detectors looking for clues," says Will, but nothing turned up.

Alma Crawford says there used to be houses all up and down Willow Creek, and cattle and horses all over the hills. There are cattle still, the errant deer, the friendly dogs.

Growing up was easy here, says Will's brother, Paul.

"There were always a lot of kids around. The Crawfords had 10."

Alma says most of them still live close but not in Bachelor's Rest proper, "though there are two grandsons I can't seem to run off," she says, and smiles.

Still, in the dying pink light of a bitter cold February day, most of Bachelor's Rest's 6-inch blanket of snow remains undisturbed by man or beast. Powell Road, once the heavily traveled Milford-Falmouth Turnpike, is quiet.

It is not to be lamented. Bachelor's Rest got city water just last year. The Oakland Christian Church still packs in 175 people in two services each Sunday. The Crawfords' barn is painted red, like it always has been, though Alma, now 83, says she's been told that "barns are obsolete."

Still, she talks about how it needs some repair.

Maybe the grandsons can see to it come spring.

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