Pottery, New Treasure
jugs of yesteryear
PEWEE VALLEY, Ky. James Chilton Barnett sits in the back of his
antique store, greeting visitors with a friendly, Cmon in
and look around!
by Don Ward
in his Pewee Valley
antique store with
of prized possessions.
The store is open only on Sundays, but Barnett is there
every day. He lives in the apartment in back, close to his prized possessions
more than 440 antique stone whiskey jugs that line the walls
of his shop. They range in size from miniatures to 5-gallon.
The jugs, some dating as far back as 1865, were used prior to prohibition.
Customers would buy a jug and refill it each time they visited the general
store or barrel house. Some people used the jugs for holding vinegar,
but most of them contained whiskey.
Each of Barnetts jugs is embossed with the names of whiskey sellers
across Kentucky. Ninety-eight point nine of them are from Kentucky,
he says proudly.
His favorite is an 1882-era Fible & Crabbs jug from Eminences
only distillery. He wont even tell you what its worth, perhaps
because he wouldnt take anything for it.
It took me two years to get it, boasts Barnett, who at 82
years old doesnt seem the type to mark time. The woman I
bought it from finally came around.
But whiskey jugs and their pre-prohibition history are only part of
Barnetts fascination with the past. A longtime member and past
president of the Oldham County Historical Society, Barnett played a
central role in the creation of the Oldham County History Center, which
opened Aug. 1 in downtown La Grange, Ky.
I cant identify any other single person who had more to
do with its success, said Oldham County attorney Kim Snell, who
also serves as the Historical Societys vice president. Hes
put in his time, effort and money hes sort of the guru
of it all.
As the second-largest financial contributor of the project, Chilton
Barnett was not only recognized at the History Centers grand opening
ceremony but celebrated his 82nd birthday on the occasion.
Asked about the centers significance for future generations, Barnett
says simply, We wanted a museum that would pertain to all the
people of Oldham County their ancestors, tools, and the things
they made when they came here. When we started this project, we had
no idea we be able to accomplish what weve done. But with Louise
Head Duncans family trust money to support us, it has all come
Barnett said he hopes others will donate memorabilia to build an even
larger repository of items.
Born in 1917, Barnetts own ancestors on his mothers side
date to the late 1700s in Oldham County. That was before it was
a county, he explains. My people lived around Sand Hill,
what is now Prospect.
His fathers family, meanwhile, settled in the Brownsboro area.
A farmer and dairyman, Barnett tended to milk cows as a young man until
his familys barn burned in 1955. We sold the herd and I
went to work for the railroad.
In 1923, his father sold the family farm. It is now part of a housing
subdivision off Hwy. 22.
Barnett worked in the freight office of the L&N Railroad Co. in
Louisville for 18 years. During that period, he co-managed a Pewee Valley
amateur baseball team, which in 1949 won the Louisville Amateur Baseball
He retired from L&N in 1973 and, a few years later, opened his antique
store. At first, I was in a little store in what is now Pewee
Valley Auto Parts.
He purchased his current building a former doctors office
in 1986. Besides antique whiskey jugs, he has a general line
of antiques and collectibles, including Kentucky Derby glasses and various
bottles, signs and glassware.
Because of his poor health, he doesnt travel to auction much anymore.
Ive got enough stuff in storage to keep me going for a long
time, anyway, he says.
The youngest of three children, Barnett has outlived his brother, John,
and sister, Louise. He underwent prostate cancer surgery two years ago
and in 1995 spent 45 days in the hospital for a stomach block.
Regarding his health, Barnett says, If I was an 8-cylinder automobile,
Id be operating on about two cylinders today. Its just hit
He was honored in 1995 as the grand marshal of the Oldham County Day
parade and is regarded as a key contributor to the countys historic
He was among the early pioneers of the historical society, back
when they just started thinking about creating a place such as the museum,
said Patricia Michael, the societys executive director. Without
his leadership and money, this would not be possible. He believes in
it and he wanted it to happen.
Back to September 1999