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PAYNE HOLLOW, Ky. (November 2005) In
his 1974 book titled, Payne Hollow: Life on the Fringe, Harlan
Hubbard tells how he came to settle down in this narrow, rocky valley
beside the Ohio River in Trimble County. He was trying to decide how to
end his book as he speculated about what might be said of him and his
home years after he was gone.
Perhaps I shall not write a definitive ending, either of the
book or of our occupancy of Payne Hollow, Hubbard wrote. It
may be written by a bulldozer swooping down to wipe out this remnant of
wilderness in the name of progress, or we might simply drift away with
the ever passing river, leaving Payne Hollow to work out its future destiny
Some memory of our stay here will possibly remain and we may become
a legend of Payne Hollow, distorted by time and repetition. In a distant
future, someone may relate, if anyone will listen to him, how his grandfather,
as a small boy, used to go down into Payne Hollow when it was still a
wilderness. There on the riverbank, in a house which they had made out
of rocks and trees, lived a couple all by themselves. They planted a garden,
kept goats, ate weeds and groundhogs and fish from the river, which in
those days was full of fish. They never had to go to a store. The man
worked with ax and hoe, without machines. He painted pictures of the old
steamboats and made drawings of the life they lived.
Three decades after that book was published, people
are still recalling memories of their visits to
provided by Paul Hassfurder
Hassfurder (left) is pictured
with Harlan Hubbard during the time
when he worked at Payne Hollow.
Payne Hollow how they traveled either by boat or by foot, hiking
down a mile-long path that takes them from their bustling lives into a
simpler, serene world below. Even today, 17 years after Harlan Hubbards
death, Payne Hollow offers visitors a magical experience with the sort
of life they may envy but admit they could never have for themselves.
As the memories fade for those who once traveled here or simply enjoyed
reading Harlans books and viewing his artwork, younger generations
are growing up never having known anything about the homesteading couple
or their legend.
I had never heard of the Hubbards or Payne Hollow before taking
this class, and I dont think anybody else in the class had either,
said Kim Teeter, 18, of Georgetown, Ky., who was among a group of seven
Northern Kentucky University honors students who journeyed to visit Payne
Hollow by foot Oct. 4 as part of their Utopias class trip.
I like it here, said student Loren Fishman, 20, of Columbus,
Ohio. Seeing it for real makes life here seem more attainable than
when reading about it. It seems so romantic.
NKU philosophy professor David Bishop led the group and says such places
are important because they illustrate just how far society has developed
from those simpler times when man could live more in touch with nature
Bishop himself lives in a somewhat remote area of Boone County, Ky., in
a rustic home made from a barn that once stood in Switzerland County,
But we are in no way close to living like the Hubbards. Im
too much of a sports fan and could not do without watching sports on television,
he admits. Bishop occasionally makes presentations on Utopian lifestyles,
including the one the Hubbards experienced at Payne Hollow.
Jesslin Frohlich, 24, a 2003 Hanover College graduate and Bishops
stepdaughter, accompanied the group to Payne Hollow. You can read
about this place and think you understand it, but you really cant
appreciate what it would be like to live here until you actually come
here and see it. I couldnt do it, but I appreciate that someone
provided by Paul Hassfurder
and Harlan Hubbard
are pictured at their home
of nearly 40 years in Payne
Hollow. She died in 1986;
he died in 1988 at age 88.
The Hubbards created this idyllic place in 1952 and lived there for nearly
40 years, subsisting off the land, foraging for scrap materials and putting
them to good use. They labored with their bare hands and primitive tools
to keep heat in their fireplace and put food on their table. They did
it all gracefully, however, combing the beauty of their natural surroundings
with classical music and literature, and their devotion to each other.
Anna Hubbard died in 1986, and Harlan died two years later, at age 88.
The couple had no children or close living relatives, except for nieces
and nephews. So in his will, Harlan left his 60-acre property in Payne
Hollow including the rustic home and studio to
Paul Hassfurder, who had worked for the Hubbards for 71/2 years and had
become close to Harlan in his latter years of life, especially after Anna
Today, Hassfurder, 56, divides his time between Payne Hollow and his home
just across the Ohio River in Madison, Ind. And after 17 years of ownership,
Hassfurder has retained the integrity of Payne Hollow, much like it appeared
when the Hubbards lived there.
But as the years go by, many Hubbard loyalists wonder what will ever become
of Payne Hollow? Or what should become of it?
becomes a personal mission
Ever since Harlan Hubbards death, Paul Hassfurder has wrestled
with the dilemma of owning a piece of history. Harlan chose to leave Payne
Hollow to Hassfurder because they both agreed he was the type of person
who could continue living there in a similar fashion as the Hubbards.
Hassfurder himself admits he can never fully live like the Hubbards, but
he has managed to continue making Payne Hollow a home in his
own way. The problem for him is, everyone else still regards it as the
home of Anna and Harlan Hubbard.
Im trying to carry it forward in my own way. But its
my home, and even though the Hubbard touch is everywhere, its not
a shrine or a museum.
Robert Rosenthal, a philosophy professor at Hanover College, has been
taking groups of students down to Payne Hollow for 30 years. He knew the
Hubbards well and he has become close friends with Hassfurder over the
years. He sympathizes with Hassfurders situation but also realizes
the historical significance of Payne Hollow and the need to preserve it.
The future of Payne Hollow is all up in the air right now,
Rosenthal said during an October interview at the college. The crucial
factor is, what does the owner want to do? Thats ultimately Pauls
decision to make, and I know hes wrestled with this for some time.
He feels an obligation to Harlan to preserve it, while also making it
his home. I dont envy the difficult position hes in.
Rosenthal, 67, for years has been a sort of intermediary between Payne
Hollow and the outside world. He is the main contact for the loose collection
of people known as The Friends of the Hubbards, which formed two years
after Harlans death in 1988, and has even published a few newsletters
over the years for the group.
is, what does the
owner want to do?
Rosenthal was the primary organizer of the Harlan Hubbard Centennial
Celebration, held in January 2000 at Hanover College to mark what would
have been Harlans 100th birthday. The day-long event featured several
speakers, including noted Kentucky author Wendell Berry, who wrote one
of the definitive books on Harlan Hubbard. In all, The Friends of the
Hubbards have sponsored three events but have been inactive since the
2000 Centennial Celebration.
Rosenthal said as he nears retirement, he has often thought about pursuing
a personal goal of helping Hassfurder preserve Payne Hollow from deterioration
or possible loss to future development.
He has had preliminary discussions with Hassfurder and officials of the
newly established Rivers Institute at Hanover College about possibly creating
a non-profit organization that could raise private donations for use in
maintaining the property. Money could also be used to pay Hassfurder enough
to live there full time without him having to leave to take various jobs
in town, as he does now.
Rosenthal said such a nonprofit entity, if created, would allow for fund
raising, open the door to possible educational and cultural programming
by Rivers Institute or Hanover College, and let Hassfurder retain ownership
and live there. He added that several Friends of the Hubbards
already have indicated they would be willing to donate money or materials
to such an organization for the sake of preservation.
Were not talking about turning Payne Hollow into a tourism
site because that would destroy the very nature of the place. We could
have programs here at the college and maybe take small groups over to
Payne Hollow on an occasional basis, Rosenthal explained. Its
something Ive thought a lot about but have not done anything to
pursue it. But I think this is something that is likely to fall to me,
if it is to ever happen, and Im not afraid to take it on. But it
would require Pauls willingness to explore it further.
Rosenthal praised Hassfurders efforts to make Payne Hollow a livable
place. Paul has done a marvelous job, given his limited economic
resources. And he does a nice job of interpreting the story of Payne Hollow
to visitors effectively, I think, and he wants to continue doing that.
But hes a single person; he needs external income. And hes
a social person. It would be difficult for anyone to live alone there.
The place needs work; it needs basic maintenance. No one wants it to become
a sort of hunting lodge or fall into disrepair. The question is, how do
you go about preserving it with respect to Pauls wishes and property
Rivers Institute officials said they had not gotten far enough in discussions
with either Rosenthal or Hassfurder to comment on the issue. Their new
executive director, Dennis Wichelns, only took over at the institute last
June after having moved to the area from California.
When asked about the idea of forming a nonprofit entity to support preservation
efforts at Payne Hollow, Hassfurder said he had not discussed it to any
great length with anyone and was not willing to sign anything
unless he fully understood its ramifications to his rights as the owner.
Its my home; its where I live, even though evidence
of the Hubbards lives may be everywhere.
Hassfurder said he has agreed to talk to Rivers Institute at some
point, but that no meeting had yet been scheduled.
I dont really think much about the future of Payne Hollow,
I think about living there now, Hassfurder said. Its
not something Ive made any plans for way out in the future.
up to expectations
by Don Ward
Hassfurder (center) shows
Northern Kentucky University students
(from left) Ben Cassell, Loren Fishman and
Meagan Goodwin an old story published in
National Geographic about Payne Hollow.
Although he still receives many calls and letters from people wanting
to visit Payne Hollow, Hassfurder said he does not actively seek out visitors.
Im not wanting to promote it as a place that is open year-round
as a constant tour home.
Yet, they still come some seeking a glimpse into the past or to
relive their early experiences of visiting the Hubbards when they were
alive. Others are just curious to see what is left of the Hubbards
existence there. And to try and imagine if they could live like that and
Its sort of like your grandmother died and left you her house.
You move your stuff in and start living there, but all her stuff is still
there, Hassfurder said. And in his case, grandmas
friends keep showing up at the door.
In the same Hubbard fashion, Hassfurder invites them in, shows them around
and tells them stories about life in Payne Hollow.
Fall is a busy time of the year for me because thats when
most people want to come down to the house, he said. It takes
a lot of work for me to get ready. There are lots of chores to be done.
In summer, many visitors arrive by boat. While most visits are pre-arranged
with Hassfurder, many still come unannounced. They walk around the property
and along the river and come into the house to view the loosely bound
scrapbooks of photos and then sign their names in Hassfurders spiral-bound
notebooks, much like the visitors did when the Hubbards resided there.
Some walk just below the house to pay their respects to the Hubbards themselves
whose ashes are buried on the hillside, marked by a crude gravestone.
was a very
Ive always felt it was a very magical place, said Bob
Canida, a Madison, Ind., dentist who owns perhaps the largest private
collection of Hubbard oil paintings, at least 25. When you walk
in through that portico in the art studio and enter that other world,
to me its like magic dust has been sprinkled on me. It was a world
created by Anna and Harlan a simpler type of living that was a
magical place to be. I was transformed every time I went down there.
Canida and his wife, Charlotte and two children, Christy and Ben, spent
many days at Payne Hollow, visiting the Hubbards and helping with the
chores. When Harlans cancer finally ran its course in 1988, he spent
his final days lying in bed in the Canidas front living room, which
has a beautiful view of the Ohio River.
Canida believes Hassfurder has done a good job in his stewardship of the
Hubbard legend over the years, while also trying to make it his home.
Pauls really tried to maintain the integrity of that place,
Canida said. But its a simple dwelling and I dont know
how much longer it will last, just timber on dirt. No matter what type
of upkeep you try to do, its got a finite lifespan.
Hassfurder tries to explain his emotional attachment to the place but
struggles to find the right words. He cites a passage in Don Wallis
book, Oyo: An Ohio River Anthology, where Harlan describes
in a journal entry how rare it is to meet someone who can appreciate and
understand why he has chosen to live this way.
Harlan wrote: Of all the people who visit us, from the towns and
the farms, not one has a true understanding of why and how we live here.
Will that person ever come who will understand us, honor us for what we
really are, and respect our way of life?
Hassfurder cites this reference in Wallis book as a description
of himself. I believe I am that man.
In Louisville author Wade Halls 1996 book that resulted from three
interviews with Harlan Hubbard between June 1992 and August 1987, Hubbard
mentions Hassfurder by name as the logical heir to Payne Hollow.
Id like to have somebody get it who would enjoy it and live
here and keep it up, Hubbard said. It would take a special
kind of person like me, but Im not sure Ive met him yet.
A few years ago at Hanover College, we met a young artist and carpenter
and farmer someone much like me Paul Hassfurder. He may
be the right person, though Ive made no commitment. He has been
kind to Anna and me and helped a lot with the chores around the place.
He may be the man for this place. Im not interested in making any
money on it. If Paul is the right person, Ill give it to him.
by Don Ward
Hassfurder (second from left) greets
a group of Northern Kentucky University
students during their Oct. 4 visit to
Payne Hollow. Hassfurder gives many
tours for people who want to touch
a piece of Hubbard lore.
Even to this day, Hassfurder cherishes the special bond he forged with
Harlan Hubbard over those seven years of working together, up until prostate
cancer took his life on Jan. 16, 1988.
Hubbard debated his options of what to do with Payne Hollow as he neared
death. He told Hall during their 1987 interview that at one time he had
considered giving the property to a conservancy, similar to the one Kentucky
author Jesse Stuart arranged before his death to develop a house museum.
But I dont think that could be done here because you cant
have a museum out in these woods, Hubbard said. It would be
hard to get to and too expensive to keep up.
Over the years since his death, Payne Hollow has become a relic of the
Hubbards past, both physically and figuratively.
It is still remembered fondly by those who experienced it while the couple
was living, and it is still visited by those who would like to preserve
that legacy or rediscover that magical place even
if it means simply journeying there and sitting for a while on the porch
of the Hubbards house under the shady trees along a remote stretch
of the Ohio River.
Part 2 of 2
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