Wednesday, June 9, 2010



I was standing on a hill overlooking the quaint village of Paint Lick when I took this photo of their commercial main street a couple of winters ago. Paint Lick is but one of the many small towns in Kentucky that strive to flourish under ongoing changing circumstances.

This village consists of a very small commercial area (the proverbial main street) which serves the rural residents of the area. Of course, in today's economic world such small main streets can only provide limited offerings. Many of the small towns and villages in Kentucky keep glued together by being located fairly near an urban city that can provide much of what rural residents cannot get locally. However, small places such as Paint Lick offer what many folks are looking for: low crime, neighborliness, strong community, family ties, heritage, and the strong intangibles that these factors imply.


The combination of access of an urban area and strong community spirit attract some new people while sustaining the existing residents. Residents learn to work with what they don't have in terms of services. Paint Lick doesn't have a gas station but it does have a car repair garage, bank, post office and until recently a cafe where the locals would converse about various subjects such as farming. Unfortunately the cafe recently burnt down.


In 1939 a book was published titled the WPA Guide to Kentucky. It was part of Roosevelt’s New Deal program to provide employment for writers under the Federal Writers Project. He commissioned writers to publish state guides of discovery for tourists as well as for residents to become more knowledgeable about their state.

Where am I going with this information? Well, I have a 1996 re-published edition of the 1939 edition of the WPA Kentucky Guide wrote and researched by the Federal Writers Project. I wanted to get their definition of Kentucky in 1939 as well as that of Paint Lick. The writers felt that their writings should be more than about history, that it should, “capture the spirit of the land, mostly rural, indefinable but very real."

This is what I wanted to hear -- writers that looked at the soul of a place.


Although Paint Lick was limited to a very short mention they were able to write something significant that I had not been able to find elsewhere in my research -- that of the Indian symbols. Here is the short mention of Paint Lick: . . . a hamlet near the site of Paint Lick Station, which was established in 1782, and so named because the first settlers found Indian symbols painted in bright colors on trees and stones along the creek and around the near-by salt lick."

Web Site Source: PAINT LICK Garrard County, Kentucky

Paint Lick is a small town that manages to stay afloat because of its proximity to an urban area. It still has its small town flavor while growing incrementally. It has faced many challenges since its first days of settlement. One example is the tragic fire in the above main street photo. It has experienced population shifts mainly in the 40s through the 60s to the Midwest for manufacturing jobs. Presently rural farmers are experiencing a change of their farming culture -- from growing tobacco as a prime cash crop to now finding new crops to provide continuing farming opportunities. It appears that staying viable for small towns and villages is an ongoing process that takes stamina of the rural population.


Website Source: PAINT LICK, Garrard County, Kentucky

At one time Paint Lick consisted of mainly wooden buildings pre 1908. Its tenacity to the land provided the impetuous to remain a slowly growing village. In 1939 the population was 250 (WPA Guide to Kentucky), 2000 the population of Paint Lick was 2,084 (city-data.com) and in 2007 the population had increased to 3,293 (city-data.com).


Source: City-Data.com

One of the factors that is important to look at is the age of the residents. Age diversity indicates a viable population. The graph above shows that Paint Lick has citizens of all ages. Some for delight such as young children, many for working power such as the middle ages, and several in the older ages to hand-down proven ways and wisdom.

Paint Lick has the tools to survive as a rural village.


  1. Our nearest town (and the county seat) looks quite a bit like Paint Lick -- a tad bigger and in the throes of being restored but still a lovely little town!

  2. Interesting. But Paint Lick? That's a name to remember.

  3. barefootheart and Vicki, Kentucky has some very homespun names. Maybe someday I will do a post on them. So nice to know that buildings are being restored in your area Vicki. Thanks to both of you for your comments -- barbara

  4. Wonderfully research and presented, Barbara. I truly believe that small towns are the way of the future. In our little --now completely rural--neighborhood, we originally had two grocery stores, a post office, a Christmas store (only open for the Christmas season)and a couple of churches and a cemetery or two or three. (way back when....!) Life needs to shift back to local. We should not be driving 75 miles to "shop." We should not have to go forever to get health care. And with the Internet and better living conditions, locally grown food, in rural America, malls need to become obsolete. They are wasteful resource hogs. Small town America, I believe, will rise again and become the norm, with the demise of the consumer-based economy. I would suggest a glance at the Venus Project in the Zeitgeist Movement for starters. Go to
    www.thezeitgeistmovement.com In addition, if you get a chance to buy a copy of their DVD called Zeitgeist Addendum, do. Then loan it to everyone you know!

    Great post, Barbara, as usual!


  5. Very interersting research! Especially interested in how the name Paint Lick came about. I agree with Elora in that buying local is the way to go and that small town American will see a resurgence when we shift back toward buying local.

    I myself buy local as much as possible and find the relationships I build with independent shopkeepers much more satisfying than those in corporate America.

    I enjoy reading your blog and hearing about your area.

  6. Elora - I checked out the Venus Project and the Zeitgeist Movement. There was so much information that it will take time for me to digest it all. It does sound intriguing. My vote is for small town revitalization -- it probably will have a somewhat different face than previously. Will read more on your recommendation when my daughter and granddaughter leave to go back to Utah. Have a nice weekend -- barbara

  7. Darcy, Sounds like you and Elora are on the same wave length. I hope that this trend toward consuming locally grows exponentially! Thanks for the nice comments -- barbara