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Swift shares old stories of Johnson County

By:  Jack Swift

County Historian

At 78 and a native of Johnson County, I have seen many changes in the county. I have seen a transition from old country stores to the modern supermarkets. With a number of markets in or fairly near, shopping for food is not the worst task we could imagine. For some people grocery shopping may be a choir, but to others it is an enjoyable time. Sometimes we run into an old friend or acquaintance and talk for a spell. But it’s for sure that the choices we find in the modern supermarkets are many and varied. It is a testimony to the ability of the farmer to provide food and fiber to folks.

As a native of this area, I have had the privilege of visiting many of the old country stores located in the county. A few I can remember, but there are some I never visited or have forgotten about. Some I remember were fairly close such as S. L. Harbin Store, Dayton Fenner’s Store, Doe Valley General Store and Pleasants Store. Those were once popular stores on Hwy. 67. There were probably others that don’t come to mind at this time, but I would mention W. S. Stout’s Store. Mr. Stout’s original store was located in Butler, but he moved the store to a site not far out of Butler on 67. More recently, the store building was moved near to the Butler Museum in Butler. Others I remember but visited less often were John Smith’s Store and Wright’s store. Wright’s store was located on Route 91 toward Laurel Bloomery. The rock building is still standing but is in a state of disrepair. If anyone remembers others, please let me know by regular mail or email.
The stores I remember most were the S. L. Harbin Store and Fenner Store. At different periods of time, high school students were let off the bus to wait for another bus that went straight to Mountain City. Sometimes I would grab a R. C. Cola from the old fashioned cooler at the Harbin store. They were a dime for a 16-ounce bottle. Yes, you read right, a dime.
Mr. Harbin stocked about anything a farmer would need. The store wasn’t square. It was shaped more like a trapezoid due to the way Harbin Hill road and Highway 61 came together. There was a huge plate glass windows on each side of the front door. Hardware items were stored in the back stockroom. Shelves were on the right interior side wall of the store. Some shelves were very high and Mr. Harbin used a long stick with a crook at the end to drag items such as cereal off the shelf and catch it. Anyway, it is interesting to me to look back and remember some of the stores of yesteryear even though we like the variety and convenience of the modern markets that now are in or near our county.