Monday, April 21, 2008
Penn's Store & Privy in Gravel Switch, Kentucky
Penn's Store is the oldest country store in America run by the same family since 1850. The age of the store is not actually known. It can be traced back to 1845 when William Spragens at age 21 ran the store; however, others are known to have run it before Spragens.
Gabriel Jackson "Jack" Penn was the first Penn to own the store. In c.1870 ownership and operation of the store was transferred from Jack Penn to his oldest son, Martin Wilson "Dick" Penn. Dick Penn was born the second child of nine children on February 19, 1852. He married Isabelle May and they had one son, David Martin Penn. Dick and Isabelle lived in a little house next to the store.
Dick Penn was truly a man of many talents. Among his professions were being a surveyor, dentist, druggist, and postmaster. He was the community's first postmaster and Penn's Store was site of the first post office in the area known as Rollings, Kentucky. In c.1910 the post office moved to Gravel Switch to be close to the train, which would stop in the town to get gravel from the creek.
Dick Penn was given a grant by the governor of Kentucky to administer drugs. Penn's Store carried a wide assortment of drugs which Penn sold to the local people. Penn was also known to have a cure for skin cancer and treated many people with such afflictions. He was given the cure by a foreign doctor. It is believed that he came to the area to meet with Dr. Cleaver who had an office near the store. Dick Penn swore to secrecy the formula and never divulged its ingredients. Since no one in the family held Penn's love for medicine, on July 4, 1913, after a hot day of surveying, Martin Wilson Penn died from a heat stroke on the store porch. Thus, the cancer secret went with him.
Dick's son, Martin Penn, at age 36 became the new store keeper. Born March 24, 1877, Martin married Nina Sue Kirkland and they had 10 children. Five boys and five girls: Daisy (b.1899), Evelyn (b.1901), Theol (b.1904), Paulette (b. 1906), Haskell (b.1908), Gerald (b.1911), Jeane (b. 1913), Alma (b.1915), Hunter (b.1919), Miles (b.1922).
Penn's Store looked quite different in its younger years than it does today. There were many buildings that surrounded the store. There was a spirits shop to the right of the store, a poultry coop used to house chickens and assorted fowl that people brought to the store to trade for goods, and a storage building that Dick Penn used to keep his surplus drugs. Dick and Isabelle's house was to the left of the store, complete with a rock walk leading to the store. After Dr. Cleaver left the area, his office and house became the home of Martin and Sue Penn. The store then carried a wide variety of goods. There were shoes, fabric, farming tools, lanterns, and just about any thing that was needed by a rural inhabitant.
Martin Penn, with the help of his five sons, farmed while also tending to the store. However, one day in 1933, while raking hay with a team of horses, the team got spooked and ran off with him. Martin's legs were entangled in the reins and he was dragged along the creek bed near the store. Shortly thereafter he died from massive injuries.
Sue Penn, "Mammy" as she was affectionately called, became the new storekeeper. Along with all of the children she kept the store running. By this time, some of the children were married and had moved to other states, but some of the children had moved nearby and came daily to help. Haskell, who never married, stayed with Mammy to help work the family farm and help tend to the store. Alma, "Tincy", came daily to help with the store and do the "women's chores" around the house. In 1972, at the age of 92, Mammy died in her sleep.
This left Haskell as the next storekeeper, along with help from Tincy, who still would come and do the "women's work" plus stay in the store on occasion. Haskell tended the store for many years. He lived alone in the family house. Penn's Store had changed little over the course of the years. It was still the place to come to in the community and new residents would always make themselves known to Penn's Store. Haskell kept the store open seven days a week, rain or shine.
In 1993, after suffering a stroke, Haskell passed away. He was 84. He passed the store on to his youngest sister Tincy, who kept everything just as it was with little changes. Tincy received help from her daughter and grand-daughters in keeping the store open every day, seven days a week, rain or shine.
In June 2000, one of Tincy's granddaughters, Dava, passed away from a heart condition. In December 2001, Alma 'Tincy' Penn Lane passed away. She passed the store on to her daughter Jeanne Penn Lane and grand-daughter, Dawn Lane Osborn.