Fayette County

New book captures history and love of small-town Kentucky

Mike Grimes stood in front of the old hotel in Pleasureville on Jan. 11.
Mike Grimes stood in front of the old hotel in Pleasureville on Jan. 11. cbertram@herald-leader.com

In 2002, Mike Grimes left the bright lights of the big city of Louisville to live in the one-stoplight town of Pleasureville.

He fell in love with the place and has compiled and edited an extensive history of the community, population 918, on the border of Henry and Shelby counties.

His 332-page book, The Pleasureville Connection: 1784-2015, captures Grimes’ passion for small-town life, which is slowly vanishing across America.

Grimes acknowledged that Pleasureville has had its stronger days but maintains that it’s not dying and its people remain significant.

“He’s done a great service for Pleasureville and every small town with his book,” said Rodney Young, the town’s mayor since 1976. “Every little town needs someone like him to be sure the people remember their history.”

Grimes, who turns 50 in April, said he produced the book because he wanted to learn more about where he lived.

He said he was working in his garden when he first moved to Pleasureville and found Indian arrowheads and artifacts.

“It puzzled me how they got there and what the people who originally settled this place and the people over the generations were all about,” he said during a recent lunch at the town’s Main Street Cafe and Bakery.

Grimes also recounted how upset he got when he read a remark on a Kentucky travel blog that Pleasureville was headed for ghost-town status.

“That’s how my book came about,” he said.

Bill Brammell, the city attorney, said, “Small-town folks from anywhere can identify with this book. Mike has compiled interviews of several residents, and they give the flavor of small-town life.”

The book is Grimes’ first jump into publication.

He grew up in Henderson and was an all-state honorable mention in high school football. After getting a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Kentucky Wesleyan College in 1988, he started working in 1990 for state government in Louisville as a counselor for delinquent boys.

Grimes and his wife, Terri Grimes, moved to Pleasureville in 2002 when he became adoptions program manager for the state in Frankfort. Also that year, he received his master’s degree in social work from the University of Louisville. Grimes retired in 2011 and now runs a produce business, selling vegetables to area stores.

“When we lived in Louisville, we had gotten robbed. That was the last straw. I always was a country boy and had to get out of the big city.”

He moved to a town that originally was settled about 1784 by Dutch followers of John Calvin, who believed all things are governed by God. They came from Pennsylvania.

Grimes learned that in its heyday, Pleasureville had a hotel, train depot, newspaper, several grocery stores and a library.

“It has changed, even over the last decades,” said local Darrell McAlister. “Downtown used to be a bustling place, especially on Saturdays and Christmas season.”

Grimes relied on local historians, including several in their 80s and 90s, to share with him information and photos about the community. He haunted libraries for any and all information about his town. He visited several businesses in town, including the colorful Bond’s Pool Hall, which some say offers “the best cheeseburger you have ever put in your mouth.”

It “allows women but you never seen any in there,” said Grimes.

Grimes recites in his book events that made many small towns in Kentucky — like Pleasureville — even more isolated.

He mentions President Eisenhower’s Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, which created interstate highways.

The opening of Wal-Marts in the 1970s signaled doom for many mom-and-pop operations in small towns, he said.

School consolidation hurt small towns — Pleasureville’s high school closed in 1961 — and the end of federal tobacco price supports in the early part of this century also hurt. Tobacco basically became a way of life gone with the wind.

But Pleasureville always was and remains a vibrant place, said Grimes.

Some people say the town got its name from a bordello in the community. But Grimes said the name came from a conversation at a tavern when a visitor suggested calling it Pleasureville because its people were so pleasant.

The town was first known as South Pleasureville and Bantatown. It became a popular stopping-off point for visitors when the railroads came in the 1850s.

Grimes said some of the most important events in American history involved people of Pleasureville. He writes of town residents’ roles in the nation’s wars from the Revolutionary War to World War II and recounted how President Lincoln sent a telegraph to Pleasureville during the Civil War about the handling of Confederate prisoners.

“Many of the people in the book from Pleasureville may not be famous people, but many were involved in famous events,” he said.

Grimes started the book last February and got it published in November. He said he hopes it brings attention to his town.

“I’d like to stay here until it’s over for me and then be buried here, if my wife doesn’t take me someplace else,” he said recently while standing in front of the old, grand hotel that now is used for apartments.

If he had his way, Grimes would never stray far from Pleasureville.

“I don’t care all that much about going to big cities any more,” he said. “Even nearby Shelbyville is almost too big.” Its population is 14,558.

Grimes is now researching a possible book about a game in 1921 between “town” teams Shelbyville and Pleasureville that featured seven Centre College players who weeks earlier upset nationally ranked Harvard. He is also working on a photo book about Pleasureville.

The town’s history is “really all about the people. Always was and still is,” Grimes said.

“The people. The slower pace of life. People are very friendly. Generally in a larger town, people are in a big hurry. It’s quiet here. The country atmosphere I just love.”

Jack Brammer: (502) 227-1198, @BGPolitics

Buy the book

To obtain a copy of Grimes’ book, email him at grhymes@outlook.com. It costs $37.10.