There are books written about Greenup County’s history. You can turn the pages and find out what life was like away back then in Kentucky.
You don’t have to turn any pages at Bryson’s General Store. It’s a living history – not only about what life was like back then, but also as it now unfolds day by day.
On frosty fall and winter days, the big pot-bellied wood-burning stove in the rear of the store, with the perpetual pot of coffee brewing on top, has always been a gathering place for loafing and the telling of tall tales. The Bryson family has operated the store continuously for going on 103 years and shows no signs of stopping.
Inside the store today, along the neat aisles and well-stocked shelves, are items shoppers never would be able to get at Wal Mart – washboards, horseshoes, horse collars, wicks for oil lamps, and galvanized wash tubs suitable for the Saturday night bath, just to name a few.
A. H. “Huse” Bryson and his wife Elizabeth opened the store in 1910. The present block building replaced the framed structure with the big front porch in 1952. Huse Bryson died in 1960 and Elizabeth in 1973. Their son Jim (or “Jimmy” as most people knew him) and his wife Gladys took over operation of the store after his father’s death.
The pair worked together in the store until April 2002. Jimmy, who was 89 at the time, fell into water over his head while fishing at a pond on a neighboring farm and drowned.
Gladys continued on alone for 10 years, coming down from their house on the hill overlooking the store to open it faithfully six days a week until her death on July 26, 2012. Currently, the store is open only one day a week, on Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
“We hope we never have to close this place. We want to keep the tradition alive,” said Bonnie Bryson, 59, who, along with her brother Bob Bryson, 61, took over operation of the store after their mother’s death. A third sibling, Betty Bryson Carr, 63, a retired surgeon, is also involved but lives in Indianapolis. “Bob’s son Joe who is 31represents the seventh generation and is standing by,” Bonnie said.
Bonnie is a retired park ranger and research biologist and Bob is a retired schoolteacher. Both live within a stone’s throw of the store. Bonnie continues to work part time as a data management specialist through a contract with an Alaskan company, Bowhead Science and Technology, LLC. Bob works part time as an assistant coach of the girls’ varsity basketball team at Raceland-Worthington High School.
In addition to the store, through the years, the Bryson family also maintained nearby farmland. Jimmy Bryson at one time raised beef cattle and quarter horses on the 280-acre farm that surrounds the store and the Bryson homes. “About the only thing we do with the farm now is to sell hay and walnuts,” said Bob. “Lots of walnut trees here.”
In the store, stovepipe is a big seller in the fall and garden hose and hand tools in the spring. The store also carries a signature line of stoneware.
But, the store is more than just a place to shop. Customers get a history lesson in the process. The memory board, a collection of photos depicting life in the area, adorns the front of the meat case. Shoppers soon learn that the store also served as the Walsh Post Office for many years. Elizabeth Bryson was the postmaster until 1956 when the United State Postal Service discontinued the office. In 1969 it served temporarily as the Letitia Post Office with Gladys Bryson serving as interim postmaster. The caged structure with its cubbyholes for mail still stands in a corner of the store, looking much as it did in its days of operation. There also are photos from Western Greenup County’s Bicentennial Celebration was held in and around the store in 1974-75.
A huge bulletin board on a wall near the rear of the store, referred to as the “McKell Section,” features photos and newspaper clippings about the former McKell High School, where all three of the present owners graduated.
Visitors will also find a running account of baseball games played by the Schultz Creek Bearcats. Bob Bryson founded the Bearcats in 1967 after laying out a diamond in a pasture field along State Route 784 (Schultz Creek Road) across from the store. He works on the field each spring, dragging and raking and seeding, keeping it looking as good if not better than some high school baseball fields. He has been the determining force that’s held the team together for going on 46 years. Over the years he’s played every position, including pitching and catching. He can quickly check his records from the scorebooks and tell you how many hits, runs batted in, doubles, homers, and pitching victories he has and what his lifetime bating average is.
“Age is catching up with us. It’s getting more and more difficult to find enough players to make up the team, as well as finding teams to play against,” Bryson said. “I’m hoping to keep it going four more years to make it an even fifty.” The average age of Bearcat players of late has been somewhere between 50 and 60.
On guard duty out in front of the store is Ralphie, the fearless 11-year-old part golden retriever that some motorist dropped off as a puppy on Christmas Day 2001.
“He barged right in and made himself at home,” Bob said. “There was no running him off even if we’d wanted to. We named him after the boy in the movie, “A Christmas Story.”
From the days of the horse and buggy to the days of the SUVs that frequent the parking lot, Bryson’s General Store continues to turn the pages of history in the Schultz Creek Valley of Western Greenup County.
Bryson’s General Store
2378 Ky. Route 784
South Shore, Ky. 41175
Open Saturdays 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.
103 Years of Living History
Story and photos by G. SAM PIATT