Disaster Strikes Rabbit Hash

One Saturday night in February 2016 at around nine o’clock, the sound of fire engines cut through the cold, wintry Kentucky air. By the time rescue teams arrived at the scene, the small town’s beloved general store was engulfed in flames. By the break of dawn on Sunday, Rabbit Hash General had been reduced to ashes.

small town, general store on fire
GoFundMe/Restore Rabbit Hash General Store

It was a tragic situation, and the worst disaster in Rabbit Hash since a flood over eighty years ago. Back then, the waters nearly wiped out half of the town save for Rabbit Hash General and some of the other old buildings on Main Street. Now, faced with a seemingly impossible situation, the people of Rabbit Hash knew that there was only one option.

The Center Of Town

They would have to rebuild. Established in 1837 and in business ever since, Rabbit Hash General was a haven for townsfolk, a niche tourist destination, and even a cute wedding venue. This general store truly was the lifeblood of the town. There was no way that the residents would let their local landmark go up in smoke.

Small town general store, circa 1937
Cincinnati Museum Center/Getty Images

More than that, the store is a genuine piece of American history, and is professionally regarded as the best-known and most well-preserved country store in Kentucky, not to mention one of the most classic small town general stores in the whole country. It was such a pristine example of Americana that it was given a distinguished honor.

A Historic and Cultural Landmark

The Rabbit Hash General Store was added to the United States National Register of Historic Places in 1989. Fourteen years later, in 2003, the entire Rabbit Hash Historic District was added to the list, with all of its old buildings dating back to the same time period as the old general store.

small town, Rabbit Hash, Kentucky
Instagram/chaos68

If there’s one thing that Rabbit Hash residents can agree on, it’s that they’re proud of their small town, and they’re passionate about preserving its history. But things had taken a turn for the worse when Rabbit Hash General Store was destroyed. All of the residents were at a loss at what to do.

A Tried And Tested Community

Certainly, they had been through worse before. Some of the old timers still remembered the floods that were a constant threat to the way of life in Rabbit Hash. The usually tranquil Ohio River had a tendency to act up in the winter, and at times water threatened to overtake most of the buildings in the small town.

Small town, flooded store
Facebook/The Rabbit Hash General Store

But the people in Rabbit Hash endured, and an old blacksmith who used to live there even came up with a way to secure the buildings back in the 1880s. The system he developed still holds the buildings in place today. It would take a creative approach like the one the old blacksmith developed, in order to address the problem of the day: rebuilding Rabbit Hash General. But there was one glaring problem.

Short On Cash

In order to begin construction, Rabbit Hash needed money. Something like that doesn’t come so easy in a small town with under four hundred residents. It was clear that the surrounding county and state of Kentucky were not going to bail out the people in Rabbit Hash by writing them a check to rebuild the store.

small town, meeting in store
Instagram/thehandshakedeals

Some of the town’s leaders got together and decided that a fundraiser would be necessary in order to finance construction for the new building. The project would cost thousands of dollars, and would require help from the entire community. It would take an organized effort to be able to raise enough money.

A Call To Action

The key question was how to motivate such a small group of people to action. The residents of Rabbit Hash are humble people, mostly living and working nearby. But what the community lacked in resources it made up for in good spirits. After all, this small town is also known for being able to throw a good party.

Small town, old man waving flag
Facebook/Rabbit Hash Kentucky

The group finally composed a plan that they thought would raise the required funds for the general store. After considering several options they had made their decision. But the move would be risky. And to make matters worse, it would involve meddling in the town’s local elections.

Unsavory Politics

While Rabbit Hash might be famous for its historical general store and buildings, it’s also well-known for its unusual political system. Some of the stranger elements: being a citizen is not required, bribery is encouraged, and getting tipsy at the polls is half the fun!

small town, woman holding sign
Sarah Rice/Getty Images

And while it may be frowned upon in the rest of the country, in Rabbit Hash, voters are allowed to vote as many times as they like. In fact, it’s encouraged! To everyone’s surprise, the results have been nothing short of spectacular, turning out consecutive city leaders that are universally adored by all residents. But how does it work?

Voter Fraud Is Highly Encouraged!

In order to raise as much money as possible, it was agreed that there would be a monetary cost to vote. Each vote costs one dollar and is collected upon casting a ballot. To maximize the returns, there is no limit on how many candidates can run.

small town, ballot box
Jessica McGowan/Getty Images

Voters can even vote for multiple candidates if they like (provided that they pay for each ballot). During pressing times, like in 2016, when the general store caught fire, more candidates stepped up to fill the needed role as the town’s mayor, and ultimate leader. It would end up being the most daunting task of any mayor in recent memory.

The Rabbit Hash Mayoral Election Of 2016

After all of the ballots were counted, Mayor Lucy Lou was defeated by the incumbent, who inherited the dubious task of rebuilding the general store. Voters, knowing that Lou’s old age could have affected her ability to lead the project, elected a fresh candidate with zero political experience.

small town, election
Facebook/Jim Krinker

Running on the campaign slogan “To promote and keep peace, love, and understanding in Rabbit Hash”, candidate Brynneth Pawtrow won in a landslide victory. She won the most amount of votes, and thus raised the most amount of money for the community. Her win officially made her the youngest mayor in Rabbit Hash’s history at the tender age of three.

A Surprising Result

Okay, technically she is twenty-one years old in doggy years. That’s right! Since 1998, the town of Rabbit Hash has elected consecutive canine candidates to lead their city. The first, Goofy Borneman-Calhoun, an adopted puppy with an unknown lineage, was inaugurated to a four-year term, until he fell ill while in office.

dog and child
Facebook /Rabbit Hash Kentucky

Sadly, Goofy passed away after serving three years as the mayor of Rabbit Hash, and he remains the oldest dog to hold office at seventeen years old. After his passing, the mayoralty lay unfilled for three years until the next election finally took place in 2004. At that point, the town made a key decision.

A New Tradition Is Born

From that point on, Rabbit Hashians decided that their little city would be officially represented by one of their town’s beloved pets. In the 2004 election, Junior Cochran, a black Labrador Retriever was elected, but controversy arose over an incident at the general store. Apparently Junior’s newfound fame went to his head, and he was not treating the citizens with respect.

mayor booth
Facebook/Rabbit Hash Kentucky

After several residents filed complaints against him, he was banned from entering the General Store, and thus lost his foothold in the heart of Rabbit Hash’s political scene. On May 30, 2008, local news reported that Junior had died in office, aged fifteen. Residents were starting to wonder if being the mayor of Rabbit Hash came with a curse — their past two mayors had both passed away while in office.

Ruff Politics Pay Off

Nevertheless, they acted quickly to fill the vacancy. Lucy Lou, a Border Collie, officially became the third canine mayor of Rabbit Hash. During her tenure, she attracted public attention to Rabbit Hash from the surrounding area by taking on an onslaught of media and public appearances.

small town, dog in American flag bandanna
Facebook/Rabbit Hash Kentucky

She was interviewed by journalist Bill Geist on CBS’s Sunday Morning, earned a $1,000 stimulus check from Reader’s Digest, served as grand marshal of the Covington Paw-Rade, and even placed three years in a row on a list of “Best Elected Officials”, winning first place in 2013. On September 7, 2015, Lou announced that she would be running in the 2017 Presidential election, a first in US history.

A Political System That Works

Before she could realize her dream of being the first dog-President of the United States, Lucy Lou was defeated by current mayor, Brynneth Pawtrow, a Pitbull who still holds office at the time of writing this article. To take the seat, she earned $3,367 at the polls — the most of all the canine competition.

small town, three dogs
Facebook/Mayor Brynn

To give an idea of just how serious Rabbit Hashians are about their elections (and how effective it is for raising money for the community): the runner-up, an Australian Shepard named Bourbon, raised $2,336. Third place, a border collie named Lady Stone, raised $1,621. But one candidate out-shined the competition.

Mayor Pawtrow

As sad as the town was to see Lucy Lou go, especially since she was the only dog-mayor to survive a full four years in office; they were happy with their newly elected mayor, Miss Pawtrow, and with the financial results of the 2016 election. The new Pitbull would provide a much stronger presence in office, and the residents of the small town hoped that she would lead the construction project forcefully.

small town, dog and owner
Facebook/Mayor Brynn

With the stakes as high as ever in the history of Rabbit Hash politics, the residents’ plan had succeeded, and they had enough funds to begin rebuilding the historic general store. They raised an impressive $8,965. But before they could begin construction, there was something that they needed to do first.

A Pawsome Inauguration

They needed to inaugurate Mayor Pawtrow and celebrate her victory. The loose rules of the electoral system certainly helped her win. It’s also worth noting that not only canines are eligible to become town mayor; the position is open to all members of the animal kingdom, provided that they’re a current resident of Rabbit Hash, of course.

parrot
Facebook/Rabbit Hash Kentucky

Some of Pawtrow’s formidable opponents included Bossy the hen, and Higgins the donkey. These guys weren’t just politicking on their asses, they worked all day long, evaluated on their appearance and ability to win public support for Rabbit Hash. In the end, the proud pit bull was donned with the formal mayoral medal. But that didn’t mean the work ended for the rest of the candidates.

A Lot Of Work To Do

In the Rabbit Hash mayoral election, second and third place runners-up serve formally as ambassadors. In the event that the sitting mayor cannot attend a ministerial hearing or event, they are required to take their place. Fortunately, there are also the pups’ owners, just in case any legislation needs to be drafted and passed through committee.

small town, dog and written letter
Facebook/Mayor Brynn

Don’t be mistaken into thinking that this is all some kind of big joke. As recently as June 2020, Mayor Pawtrow has featured on the Disney channel with Bill Farmer, who has done the iconic voice of Goofy for the past thirty years. Even with so many obligations, the mayor still has some time to just be a regular, old dog.

A Message From Mayor Brynn

On her official Facebook page, managed by her human, local residents are encouraged to bring gifts to the mayor. Mayor Pawtrow’s favorite kind of treat: a tennis ball! Staying true to her campaign platform, the duo have been working diligently to promote peace and tranquility in Rabbit Hash.

two girls holding t-shirts
Facebook/Mayor Brynn

According to Jordie Bamforth, Pawtrow’s owner, all are welcome to pay the small town mayor a visit. “[Mayor] Brynn has declared to be peaceful with any human or animal that comes through Rabbit Hash, especially the cats. Brynn does like to chase the cats around here, but has pledged to refrain from it as much as possible,” she said in an interview with the Cincinnati Enquirer.

Mission Accomplished!

Most importantly, Brynn has fulfilled the most essential duty at hand: rebuilding the beloved general store. Almost exactly one year after a fire burned it to the ground, the reconstruction process was finished and it reopened on April 1, 2017. But how did the new building look compared to the vintage, historic beauty that came before it?

 construction on general store
Facebook/Rabbit Hash Kentucky

By using a combination of original material and donor lumber from other period correct structures around the area, the Rabbit Hash General Store was able to maintain its historic distinction, thus preserving the building for locals and tourists alike for generations to come. It’s just one of several reasons to stop through Rabbit Hash.

A Special Place

Visiting this small town is more of a state of mind than anything else, and very few places like it exist in the United States today. The current proprietor of Rabbit Hash General, Terrie Markesbery, said that she moved to Rabbit Hash from the surrounding Boone County because it’s a slower pace of life and it’s one of the last places where a true community exists.

small town, general store
Instagram/beenthere8that

She has added a variety of Rabbit Hash memorabilia to the store so that visitors can buy a souvenir to remember the quaint little town. Besides the laidback vibe, Main Street in Rabbit Hash is one of the last places that still looks like the America of the Old West.

Restore Rabbit Hash General Store

In an effort to raise more funds for the construction of the new general store, Markesbery took to the Internet to crowd source donations using the popular website GoFundMe. Though she was born a couple of miles away, Rabbit Hash is a special place for her and the General Store was her source of income.

small town, general store
Instagram /all_morgan

In total, the campaign raised an amazing $65,352 from over one thousand donors. That’s over three times the amount of people who live in Rabbit Hash! The online fundraiser provided the extra boost that this small town needed to rebuild their beloved store.

 

Respecting The Past

For Don Clare, the Chairman of the Rabbit Hash Historical Society, preservation is the ultimate goal. “The mentality of people today is to knock the old thing down and build a shiny new metal one…[Rabbit Hash] is a cultural reminder of our history and who came before us.”

small town, man with fiddle
Instagram/mattyherbie

In the words of Clare, “People today don’t take time to appreciate abstract things. And abstract things are also part of a quality of life and they are a part of our history and our heritage.” Rabbit Hash can definitely serve as a tranquil getaway from a fast pace lifestyle in the city. And lately, more people have been coming to visit.

Inside Rabbit Hash General

Just remember, if you’re visiting Rabbit Hash, make sure that you don’t forget your wallet. If you need an I.O.U. at Rabbit Hash General Store, then your name goes onto the infamous Wall of Shame, on display for all to see. Fortunately, it’s easy for shoppers to be distracted by all of the vintage items for sale in the store.

small town, general store
Instagram/rabbithashky

There’s no chance that you can walk out of the store without purchasing something. Even visitors who have been in the store thousands of times say that there is always something new that they’ve never noticed before. Plus, locals are always creating new T-shirts and other souvenirs to offer a little piece of Rabbit Hash remembrance.

The Center Of The Universe

Of course, if you’re visiting, then it is an absolute must to visit the mayor. Paying respect to the mayor is customary in Rabbit Hash. Even though there’s certainly a whole lot of licking going on, at least in this small town, it’s always with the best intentions.

small town, gas pump
Instagram/cincymyrtle

And you can rest assured knowing that the affection will be reciprocated in kind! Talk about an exemplary relationship between mayor and citizens; and one that other cities should strive for. After all, the locals in Rabbit Hash do refer to it as the center of the universe.

The Old Hashienda

Rabbit Hash has its own meaning to its residents and visitors. For those that are passing through, room and board is available at the Rabbit Hashienda, which comes complete with a host of modern amenities like: running water, plumbing, and electricity — yes, those are amenities in this small town!

small town, dog on porch
Instagram/xanderstone12

In reality, Rabbit Hashienda stacks up to any modern boutique hotel. There’s also the luxury of kicking your feet up and enjoying a cool drink while watching the river boats pass by on the Ohio River. It’s even possible to book a stay online through AirBnB.

Plan A Visit

For those who might be looking for a mix of fun along with the tranquility of their stay, there are several nearby national parks: Red Wolf Sanctuary in Rising Sun, Indiana and Big Bone Lick State Park in Union, where you can still see roaming buffalo.

small town, Rabbit Hash General Store
Facebook/The Rabbit Hash General Store

Whether or not you ever set foot in Rabbit Hash, it’s important to reflect that places like this still exist, that a slower pace of life is possible, and that traditional Americana is still appreciated. The name is contagious, the atmosphere is therapeutic, Rabbit Hash is not just any old river town, it’s a state of being.

Sources: Rabbit Hash Historical Society, Southern Living