Kentucky life in the 1930s was a lot different than what it is nowadays. Everything was simpler, yet harder at the same time. Most work was done by hand and tool, and automobiles were for the wealthy. The middle class and poor utilized horses, mules and donkeys with wagons, or they walked. Things looked a lot different too, and many places and tools existed that can likely only be seen in photographs or museums now.
Here are 27 photos of what life in Kentucky looked like during the 1930s and 1940:
During these uncertain times, please keep safety in mind and consider adding destinations to your bucket list to visit at a later date.
This was a gathering of parishioners from the Primitive Baptist Church in Morehead. The minister was in the river baptizing a member of the congregation. No fancy baptismal rooms for this church.
This is the focal point of Bardstown during 1940. The town’s people gather with excitement to prepare for the annual St. Thomas picnic. This was a favored event in the area, just as many Catholic Church picnics still are.
25. Barn advertising
In the 30s and 40s, it was common to see advertising on the sides of barns or a barn roof, especially near frequently traveled roads. This is a fine example of marketing in the era.
24. Courthouse social
People used to enjoy going to the local courthouse and would often do so just to socialize. This image portrays some farmers and townsmen gathering for conversation and games of Chess or Checkers.
23. Famed attractions
The attractions at the fair were a lot different in the 1930s and 1940s. Today’s fair crowds tend to come for the food, concerts, wild rides and shows, as the age of freak shows died out long ago.
Fishing will always be fishing for most of us. Some people get fancy and buy lots of props and gear. Others are content just to sit on the bank with bait, a pole, a drink, bucket for fish and a comfortable chair.
21. Fresh wheat
These are sacks of fresh wheat in the field ready to be taken to town and sold to make flour and bread. Making it from scratch is not easy, but the taste is well worth the labor. If you have never had fresh grain made bread, you don’t know what your missing.
20. General store
This General Store in Knox County is common for its time. This simple wood structures carried the basic necessitates for survival, grain, flour, cloth, rope, seed, etc. Anything fancy, (such as lace), had to be special ordered and could take more than a month to arrive.
19. Healthy baby contest
Instead of a cutest baby contest, the county fairs use to have a “healthiest” baby contest. This event that is unheard of today, took place at the Shelby County Fair and Horse Show for many years.
18. Itinerant repairman
Traveling for work was not uncommon, even in the case of repairmen. This image shows what was known as an Itinerant repairman, who traveled around from farm to farm seeking work. Instead of leaving a family at home, many took their wives and children with them on the road. It was cheaper than paying bills both on the road and in the home.
This was Louisville, circa 1940. This was a big, busy downtown area in comparison to the more rural areas, though not as busy as today.
16. Memorial meeting in Jackson
Some families gathered at specific times during the year to honor their dead in a “Memorial Meeting”. These gatherings were usually good sized, as seen, and took place in the family cemetery.
15. Midway at the carnival
This was the midway at the local carnival in Shelbyville. It s hard to imagine this serene scene in comparison to the bright lights, crowded walks, noise and scantily clothed patrons seen at local fairs today.
14. One room schoolhouse
This doesn’t even look like a school compared to the classes we see today. In the 1930s and 1940s one room schools were considered common. It also wasn’t uncommon for children to drop out early and work at home to help the family.
13. Picnics were encouraged.
Picnics were actually encouraged back in the day. People would grab their sack lunches or picnic baskets, gather in public spots, eat and enjoy good conversation. This was even encouraged at events like the local fair, such as in this image.
12. Swinging bridge
This swinging bridge was the only way many people crossed over the Kentucky River. Bridges still get us across, but they are made a lot differently now. Crossing all those years ago could almost count as an adventure.
This riverboat isn’t just a pleasure cruise. It was actually carrying cargo down the Ohio, as many riverboats did during the early 1900s. This was the primary mode for delivering and receiving goods in the port towns like Louisville and Newport.
10. St. Thomas fish fry
The church fish fry is still popular today, but it has changed a great deal over the decades. This was taken of the men frying up fish and sides near Bardstown.
9. World Series ticket dealer
There was a World Series ticket dealer in Covington Kentucky. Not that we have a major league team anymore.
8. Soft drink parlor
Young men and women used to gather at the soft drink parlor in Central City, Muhlenberg County. John Prine probably had a coke or two at one of these traditional shops back in the day.
7. School lunch
The school lunch program consisted of the child bringing lunch from home in a pail or sack. A lot of kids traveled quite a ways to attend class, so sustainable foods like bread, dried meat, fruit or cheese were common. Whatever was available at home was what they ate. Lunch time did not happen in a defined area, like a lunch room. Children sat and ate wherever they were comfortable.
6. Talbott Tavern
The famed Talbott Tavern was actually a tavern, coffee house and diner. The ole’ timers would sit, sip and chat amongst themselves for hours. It has changed a lot over the years, but the Talbott Tavern, in Bardstown, still exists.
5. The Great Flood
There was a enormous flood in 1936 that had people boating down the streets all along the Ohio.
We think our mail is slow now… Imagine if we were waiting on this poor soul who actually did travel in rain, snow, sleet or shine. These mailmen were the real deal.
3. Triple A
There was no Triple A back in the day. If you had an accident, flat tire, lose a crank, or got stuck… you were on your own. Fortunately people would pitch in to help a neighbor out in situations like this one.
2. Two horse power
There were more mules and horses used for transportation than there was motorized horse power. Wagons like this were common means of travel, especially in rural areas.
1. Water cooler
The water cooler, or a big barrel as shown, were very common at picnics, in fields, factories and other places people gathered for work or play. Everyone gathered for a sip of cool, clear water.
Life was hard during that era, but people were a lot more self-sufficient. They often sewed their own clothes, grew or traded for food, and knew how to work the land. Kentuckians were more familiar with the land and how to live on it because we were a poor state, for the most part. I love looking at pictures from the era of my parents and grandparents and envisioning stories they tell. If you could look back in the 1930s, what part of that life would you want to see?