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Saving Sherman Tavern

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Volunteers work to save Sherman Tavern

By Jamie Baker-Nantz

Edna Cummins has been on a mission to preserve Grant County’s historical sites one brick at a time.
Cummins, of Crittenden, has worked to save and restore old cemeteries and the Lloyd’s Welfare House, but her latest labor of love has been saving Sherman Tavern.

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She, and a group of volunteers, have been working diligently for the last five years holding bake sales, yard sales and dinner on the grounds to raise money to restore the tavern on U.S. 25, in front of Sherman Elementary.

While the name tavern may conjure an image of an inn or an old-fashioned saloon, it was a stagecoach stop between Covington and Lexington that offered weary travelers a place to sleep and get a hot meal, as well as a place for stock handlers to feed and water their animals.

Cummins and the rest of the Friends of Sherman Tavern’s mission is simple. They’re not going to let another historical site vanish without a fight.

“Too much history has already disappeared out of the county,” Cummins said.

“There used to be mills to grind wheat and corn and most of our younger generation knows nothing of how houses were built 150 to 200 years ago,” said Clay Parks, a volunteer who has also put in many hours to save the tavern.

The crew has also cleared the building of trash and debris, scraped paint from the wooden shingles, painted the inside rooms and just about any other task associated with remodeling a 200-year-old structure.

Sherman Tavern now has new windows, siding and roof.

The volunteers hauled four dumpsters of trash from inside the house, but they also discovered some treasures including old linen, old newspapers and books among the garbage.

They also discovered examples of workmanship like hewn logs and construction techniques that don’t rely on concrete or rock for support.

Parks demonstrated how plumb the fireplaces are inside the main house by laying a level on the top of it.

“You can see it’s within the bubble or being straight,” he said.

To maintain the historic accuracy of the house, the friends scavenged siding and flooring from four other old homes.

“We wanted to use materials as near the age of the tavern as possible,” Cummins said.

The project started when the volunteers toured the home and decided they wanted to preserve it. They contacted an architect from Louisville who visited the site and gave them possibilities.

Cummins already had non-profit status as part of the Grant County Preservation Board so the group, which many are also part of the Grant County Historical Society, set their plan in motion.

They approached the Grant County School Board about their idea.

“We realize the difficult position the school board was it because it might have been the easiest thing for them to tear it down, but we appreciate that they let us have a shot at restoring it,” Parks said. “It’s been a true partnership because they’ve been willing to help.”

First was the hurdle to raise money to start the project. That’s where the bake and yard sales and dinners come in. As the group needed money for a certain part of restoration, they worked hard to get it.

Friday, Sept. 23 will be their biggest fundraising effort – a fried chicken dinner or the grounds for $25 in advance or $30 that night. Dinner is at 6:30 p.m. followed by music by the James Family at 7:30 p.m. For more information call 859-824-9202 or 859-428-2181.

To date, the friends have raised and spent nearly $25,000. Most of the work has been done by the volunteers, but they did hire professionals to install the new roof, which has been their single largest expense.

“It’s slow because of the money, or the lack of,” said Parks. “We had hoped for grant money, but it’s not been forthcoming. We do accept donations and they are tax deductible.”

“There’s ever so much more we’d like to do, but without money, it’s just slow,” Cummins said.

There have been countless in-kind donations from the community and the volunteers, which number about 20, have logged more than 4,000 hours on the project.

Most Tuesdays, except in winter, they can be found working at the site.

“That’s what we know of, but we’re guessing it’s even more,” Cummins said.

They’ve been lucky in some areas such as using inmate labor from the Grant County Detention Center. One of the inmates was a brick mason. He was able to restore all the chimneys at no cost, which saved the friends about $10,000.

There have also been other setbacks along the path.

The tavern had all its original windows of wavy glass until juveniles broke in and broke all but 10 panes.

The restoration project is about 50 percent complete. When finished, Cummins sees a museum upstairs with items they’ve unearthed at the site, as well as others that have been donated.

One of the largest items found inside the tavern was a piano that will be given a prominent place. Cummins sees one of the front rooms set up as a history room with books and photographs.

Portions of the ceiling will be left exposed so people can see what hand-hewn log beams look like. Some of the original plaster, which contains horse hair, will also be left unfinished.

“Kids need to know a little bit about the way it used to be because you have to know where you came from to know where you are going,” Cummins said.

Despite the slow progress, the group plans to keep on until the project is complete.

“This is my passion,” Cummins said. “I want to save old things and there’s still so much here that I haven’t had time to get to – yet,” she said.

The group hopes to organize Pioneer Days.

As for the immediate future, more fundraisers and more sweat equity are on tap. Eventually the group hopes to organize Pioneer Days with demonstrations to show how people lived years ago.

“My vision is to have weddings, family reunions and eventually a children’s program like at the Dinsmore Homestead,” Cummins said. “It’ll be just like you’re stepping back in time.”

“We think this is going to be beautiful when it’s finished, a lot prettier than a flat bulldozed lot,” Parks said.