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Memories, Mussels and Moonshine – A family remembers growing up on Brush Run and Floyds Fork

| Bob Hill

     Joe Morsey Jr. and his sons – and then Anna Rose Shibley Meines  – had a lot to say about growing up in the 1940s and 50s at the rustic, rural and occasionally water-soaked intersection of Brush Run and Floyds Fork (near what will be Turkey Run Park when it opens in late 2015).

      There was the two-room Seatonville school house, and the inevitable failure of the Seatonville golf courses – an upscale golf complex where all the Morseys once worked that had been built on a foolish dream in the middle of nowhere.

    There was the pulling of mink, muskrats and fresh mussels out of the Fork for fun, food and some profit; muskrats then sold for from $1 to $1.50 each.  There was the iron and concrete bridge Morsey and his father-in-law built across Brush Run with $100 worth of metal salvaged from General Electric; the bridge connecting to the house where he still lives more than 60 years later.


   And you’ll want to hear about Aunt Willoughby Haag’s Heirloom German Tomato that Morsey’s been growing in his garden with gastronomical success for more than 60 years.

    And Anna Rose – related to Morsey by marriage – had some great stories about her father’s moonshine operation along Floyds Fork, an operation he began to save the family farm and closed when the mission was accomplished. She also told of a moonshine still near Pope Lick, an operation, as it turns out, not far from the present day administration offices of The Parklands of Floyds Fork.

So let’s just begin at the beginning

     Morsey, 85, was born in Beuchel where his dad, Joseph Morsey Sr., drove a dump truck for a coal company, then began milking cows for a farmer named Masters on Seatonville bottomland that would become one of the failed golf courses.

     Morsey’s family credentials in the area are impeccable:

  “My great-great-great-grandfather, his name was Pound; he was a captain in the German Army. They brought him over here to train soldiers during the Revolutionary War. And they give him a land grant of 640 acres. So we’ve been here about 240 years.”

    And a mile or so up Brush Run Road, high on a cluttered hillside on the VanMeter farm and almost lost to history, is his old family cemetery, the “Pound” name etched in decaying gravestones that date to the early 1800s, the older stones dissolved  into the earth.

                            

      Seatonville had boomed early in Kentucky pioneer history. In 1900 – and still a full day’s wagon ride from Louisville – it had about 75 residents, two stores, several blacksmiths, grist and saw mills. As it faded into the 1930s Great Depression, Morsey’s parents along with his two brothers, Leo and Marvin, moved in with an uncle who lived a few miles from Seatonville. Later his father brought a small place on Brush Run just across from where Morsey lives now.

     Brush Run is special. With a broad, flat, rocky creek bed lined in places with hand-stacked stone walls rising four-to-six feet high, it tumbles steadily downhill towards Floyds Fork, creating a series of waterfalls as it flows.

     The land along and around it has been developed into mini-farms – new and old houses perched high on wooded hillsides – but  it was all still native when the Morsey family moved in more than  80 years ago.

  “It was rough,” said Morsey. “There wasn’t no food stamps and you ate what you could raise or shoot – rabbits and squirrels. We ate a lot of potatoes and cornbread.”

   He and his brothers attended the old Seatonville School; grades one through eight divided between two teachers with a principal named Myrtle Hildenbrand. There were about 32 kids in the school – about four to a grade; students had to wait their turn in class. Recess meant going outside in nearby fields to play some baseball or tag.

    “They were some good teachers,” said Morsey, “and they would teach, I guess, about an hour each grade…I learned arithmetic and writing. Wasn’t none of this fancy stuff.”

   In the 1940s, when Morsey was in 7th grade, the country schools were consolidated. He began riding a big yellow school bus to schools in Fern Creek. The bus crossed a one-lane cement bridge over Floyds Fork, turned left on Seatonville Road to cross the narrow metal bridge over Chenoweth Run, then passed the elegant Greek Revival home of Abraham Funk, built in 1866, whose family had operated a nearby mill on Floyds Fork from the 1790s. That old house is still there. The old schoolhouse later became a residence for many years

Living off the Land (and Fork)    

    In winters the locals would ice skate on the Fork. The Morsey’s summer vacations from school were period times pieces; nostalgia mixed with more necessity:

   “We picked blackberries and my mother canned them. She put them in quart jars and in the wintertime she’d put a cup of sugar in a quart of blackberries and that’s what we ate for lunch.

  “We’d go fishing in the Fork. When I was a kid it was clean water down there. Caught a catfish as long as my arm, weighed five pounds and you’d make six good sandwiches. And we caught frogs and turtles. We got part of our diet out of that creek.”

     Transportation wasn’t a big issue; they walked, although their father also had a team of horses, a horse-drawn sled and a two-wheeled cart.  They played baseball in the summers in a make-shift field near a curve in the Fork. The whole community would gather on Sunday afternoons to watch games.

     Other days they would walk up Floyds Fork to swim at Blue Bluff, the deepest pool along the river, or wander downstream to Wheeler’s Ford, a more shallow area. There was Ernest Wiggington’s general store in Seatonville where Coke was a nickel, a pack of cigarettes was 11 cents and gasoline was 16 cents a gallon. They could shop another general store up on Seatonville Road owned by the Jean family. Nearby farmers raised tobacco, hay and vegetable crops they hauled to the Louisville’s Hay Market.

     Work always came first. The Morsey boys always had cows to milk – and their Saturday chores. Discipline was strict, but understood; if they were bad they’d be sent up the hill behind the house to cut thorn bushes.

     Joe Morsey’s wife of 66 years – Lillie Katherine Abney Morsey – had been a neighbor; they first met while riding the school bus to Fern Creek. After George Roche Jr., a wealthy New York developer, came to Seatonville in 1960 with his dream of a building a 54-hole golf complex and surrounding housing development, Lillie Morsey worked for a time as a waitress at the Irongate Country Club. She also worked at the Bates Elementary School cafeteria in Fern Creek, basically following her children to school.

   Joe Morsey helped build the greens on the Irongate golf course.

  “We put dirt on them and raked them and sowed the grass seed,” he said. “My wife made good money there…The clubhouse was a nice building. It was a lot of rocks and concrete and glass all around. I used to go down there and eat supper.”

     Morsey bought his 50 acres at 13910 Brush Run Road in 1947 right out of high school for $2,495; a precise price it took a few months to negotiate. He began paying for it with the $30 a week he earned working at a gas station. He moved on from there for 15 years to construction jobs, helping to build area hospitals, then on to General Electric for 27 years. He built their Brush Run home on weekends, moving to the house in 1952 when their youngest son was two months old.

   The bridge Morsey and his father-in-law welded across Brush Run was a domestic necessity; Lillie Morsey would not move into the house until the kids had a way to get to school without wading the creek. Prior to that Morsey had just driven his 1947 Ford through the surging water, pumping the brakes afterward to dry them out.

 “I don’t know how many sets of brakes I put on that thing,” he said.

  He said his wife also soon adjusted to their new home in the country: “After we got here she didn’t even want me to cut a weed.”

   One of their sons, James Morsey, 64, remembered fishing the Fork, trapping mink and muskrat, pulling hundreds of mussels from fresh, clean water, and riding bikes along the winding, wandering roads. The boys hunted squirrel in the woods up behind their house with a single-shot .22 rifle; Wiggington’s Store sold 10 shells for 10 cents; a penny apiece.

  “That’s how we got most of our eating,” he said. “The Old Man would fuss at us if we wasted a bullet.”

   James Morsey and his brother, Tom, both worked odd jobs and caddied at the Irongate Country Club. It had a few successful years and hosted some big events before a shortage of money and the flood-prone presence of Floyds Fork saw it transformed into horse stables.

  “I used to hang out there all the time,” said James. “Tom and I used to go down there in the Fork, get the golf balls out and sell them to the guys. We’d get a nickel or whatever…we were happy with anything we got.”

  On Friday afternoons in the 1950s – with the general stores mostly gone – a small bus would wander the Seatonville back roads bringing milk, bread and candy to the locals – but it was not to be confused with the Good Humor man bringing in ice cream.

  “I remember we’d stand out there and wait for the bus to come to get our candy,” said James. “I never saw any ice cream trucks out here. The only ice cream we got we made ourselves.”

Moonshine Money

    Anna Rose Shibley Deines grew up on a Seatonville Road farm closer to Fern Creek, but spent time in Wiggington’s General Store owned by an aunt and uncle – Joe Morsey’s in-laws – and fishing the Fork back in a shallow raceway where the old mill had been.

    Her father, Bradley Shibley, was a carpenter, helped construct many of the old bridges in the area. He was locally famous as a sparring partner of one Marvin “The Louisville Plumber” Hart, who became World Heavyweight Boxing Champion for eight months in the early 1900s – long before “The Louisville Lip.”

   Bradley Shibley also served in France in WWI. When he returned he learned his parents had mortgaged the family farm to the hilt, were in danger of losing it.

   “So my dad began making moonshine,” she said. “I think it was down there close to the mill stream where we fished. He said ‘I’ll moonshine ‘til I pay off the mortgage and then quit.’ And he moonshined down there on the Fork until he paid it off.

   “I always wanted to know the spot where he moonshined but he never would point it out. He said ‘I never did get caught and I’m not going to show it now.’ “

    Anna Rose said her father also owned some property and a small house where moonshine was distilled on Pope Lick near what became John Floyd Fields in what is now Pope Lick Park – but not always successfully.

     “My dad had a small house, what we called a shack, over there on Pope Lick,” she said, “and he had this friend that laid this real nice hardwood floors in it.

  “And I went over one day and there was this great big white spot on the floor. And I said ‘Well, what happened to the floor?” They said they spilled moonshine on it and it ate the finish all off it.”

    Joe Morsey also was aware of a third moonshine still up on Brush Run in a fold in the hills the locals called “Squeedunk Hollar.”  That business was a success; the operator took the moonshine money and bought 200 acres of land in Indiana.

    Morsey admitted to trying the product himself.

  “Most of the moonshine I drank,” he said, “tasted like dirty socks smell.”

   The better choice of liquid refreshment was an old spring on Morsey’s farm that he drank from as a child, a spring also used to pump water to his Grandmother’s house across Brush Run Road.  Now protected by a white shed, the spring still flows, and he still drinks from it – hauling the water to the house in milk jugs.

   Almost as old are the heirloom tomato seeds Morsey has been growing for more than 60 years. The story goes the seeds were first brought over from Germany by a relative in a shirt pocket – although others joke it may have been on the Mayflower.

   Joe got the seeds from his Aunt Willoughby Haag – a beefsteak-like tomato with pink flesh. Every year he picks the best two or three tomatoes, cuts out the seeds, dries them on a plate and sticks them in the freezer for the next season.

  “I got some in the freezer right now,” he said.

   After 80 years he is thinking of leaving the farm – but the farm will never leave him. His sons grew up on it, cherish it. They will take care of it, mend its fences, work the land, keep it in the family where it belongs.

 

Story by Bob Hill; Photos by John Nation.

About the Author

Picture of Bob Hill

Bob Hill

Former Louisville-Courier columnist Bob Hill is a historian for The Parklands of Floyds Fork. He travels Floyds Fork writing of the people, the places and the history of the stream within the 20-mile park system - all of which is to be preserved in the Filson Historical Society. Some of Hill's stories appear in A Landscape and its Legacy, the commemorative book for The Parklands of Floyds Fork project. Hill has also compiled a Floyds Fork “Places & Faces” presentation that adds imagery to the words.

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