From The Vault: How Rabbit Hash got its name

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RABBIT HASH, Ky.  – What do you know about Rabbit Hash? Not the food. We mean the town.

You probably figured out that the two are connected, but there are several versions of the story about how Rabbit Hash got its name.

Thanks to its colorful moniker and dog-eat-dog elections – Where else does a four-legged pet become mayor? –  the whole world has heard of Rabbit Hash on the web.

But the iconic General Store was the thing that always drew thousands of visitors from the Tri-State and beyond to the little hamlet, population 320, about 20 miles south of Cincinnati on the Ohio River. 

It’s been one year since the 185-year landmark almost burned to the ground on Feb. 13, 2016, but the good news is it’s almost ready to reopen, officials say. Thanks to proud and caring townspeople and generous Tri-Staters, the Rabbit Hash Historical Society (which owns the store) oversaw a complete rebuilding.

WATCH a WCPO reporter's Ode To Rabbit Hash in 1983:

 

The Historical Society was able to keep the store’s National Registry of Historical Places designation by stripping wood and other materials from nearby buildings it owned or bought, according to RHHS President Don Clare.  Experts from Rivertown Construction Inc. made sure the façade satisfied the NHRP requirements, Clare said.

SEE photos of the rebuild in progress.

Starting in 1831, when the General Store was the first building and centerpiece, it drew wagons and steamboat-loads of people selling goods along the river, according to Clare’s history of the town. The steamboats would stop across the river in Rising Sun, Indiana. In modern times, the General Store has drawn buses, cars, motorcycles and bicycles of outsiders with its old charm, hospitality and live music.  

It's as American pie as Mayberry.

At its outset, Rabbit Hash was called Carlton (or Carleton, depending on the source) because that was the magisterial district name, presumably named for an early family settler, Clare says.

According to RabbitHash.com, a post office was established with the name Carlton on Jan. 3, 1879, but people quickly confused it with nearby Carrollton, so they renamed it Rabbit Hash.

Why Rabbit Hash? Here are several versions of the story:

SEE what's so interesting inside the General Store in 1989:

 

Clare’s history says a short story from the late 1800s, written by William H. Nelson, a local teacher and newspaper publisher, was entitled “The Buried Treasure: A Rabbit Hash Mystery.” An addendum explained how Rabbit Hash got its name:

It was Christmas time 1847. A number of residents were watching a flood wash buildings, livestock, lumber, trees, haystacks and crops down the river. As they lamented the great destruction and their losses, the topic turned to what each family would have for their holiday dinner. Some said goose, a fat hen, fresh pork. Finally, Frank, the local comedian, spoke up as he watched the floodwaters drive the low-dwelling wildlife upland. Frank said it looked like there would be plenty of rabbit hash. And the name stuck. 

RabbitHash.com offers another version of that story, as it appeared in the Kentucky Times-Star in 1923. It ends differently, with one of the people in the group asking Frank what he’s having for holiday dinner, and Frank answering succinctly:

“Rabbit hash.”

That story is repeated, in another time frame with different characters, in Robert Rennick’s book, “Kentucky Place Names.” Rennick refers to A.M. Yealey’s “History of Boone County” from 1960.

“During the flood of 1816, two travelers were looking for something to eat ... they were told that because the flood drove so many rabbits into the hills, there were plenty of rabbits available to make hash.”

A completely different explanation appeared in The Kentucky Times Star in 1955. It reported that the Boone County Historical Society recently learned how Rabbit Hash got its name in a letter to Scvhuyler Lockwood of Florence.

The letterwriter, Millecent Pratt Floyd, said she used to live near Rabbit Hash and her uncle, Robert Platt, worked on a ferryboat that ran between Rabbit Hash and Rising Sun near the turn of the century.

He knew a doctor who liked hunting rabbits. As the story goes, the doctor came back with a full bag one day and hung them up while he made his calls. The uncle swiped the rabbits and invited the doctor to his home for dinner. The uncle served the doctor’s rabbit, but he never told the doctor.

As the story spread through the community, the doctor became known as the “Rabbit Hash doctor” and the name spread to the town.

But that could be hogwash.

The dog elections have been a 21st century phenomenon, with voters paying $1 to pick their favorite canine and proceeds going to a local cause. Money from last November’s election went to the General Store rebuild. The winner, a 3-year-old pit bull named Brynn (short for Brynneth Pawltro), was feted at the Indawguration Ball in January.

(Don’t fret, Lucy Lou fans. The previous mayor,  a popular red and white border collie elected as the town’s third canine mayor in 2008, retired with the distinction of the first not to die in office).

SEE other video and stories about Tri-State history in our "From The Vault" series.

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