Tucked behind the bright lights of the midway at the Kiwanis Ogeechee Fair, the Heritage Village offers fairgoers a chance to walk back in time and visit our agricultural past as a community. A mainstay of the village is the Old Store, run for nearly 30 years now by the family to whom it once belonged.
Father-son team Carlton and Mike Bowen are both longtime members of the Statesboro Kiwanis Club, and during the fair, you'll find one or both of them selling bottle Cokes (always with peanuts!), MoonPies, candy, and other old-fashioned delicacies in the store.
The store building itself was constructed by Mr. Delmas Rushing, Sr., in 1928 and operated by him until 1948. It was located on Sinkhole Road in the lower end of Bulloch County, and his son, Delmas Rushing, Jr., donated the building to Kiwanis in 2001.
All the furniture and fixtures inside are where the Bowen family comes into the store's story. Mr. Carlton's father (and Mike's granddaddy) Bertie F. Bowen operated the store in Adabelle from 1929 to 1962. (The Old Store resided in the Heritage Village's log cabin prior to the Rushings' building being donated in 2001.)
"It was our grandparents' store, and then our parents were instrumental in bringing it to the Fair," Mike shared. "It's near and dear to our heart, and we hope to keep this going for as long as we can."
The elder Bowen is 92 and has stepped back from his post some this year, though his daughter, Sherri Bowen Groover, has joined the store crew in his place. Mike and Sherri's mother, Vivian Phillips Bowen, was also instrumental in running the store before her death in 2017, making it a true family affair.
"Mom ran the store, too," Mike shared. "We miss her. She was very active and did a lot of the decorating and chose a lot of the items."
Mike recalls that he and Sherri would play shopkeeper in the original store after hours when they visited grandpa's farm as kids, and now they've certainly come full circle, as they share those memories with fairgoers each year.
"People stand and look in the doors and say, 'You don't know how this brings back memories,'" Mike said.
Mike recalled how small country stores like this one were true hubs of their communities, back before there was a Walmart or a Dollar General on every corner. People gathered in these stores, and relationships were built inside those wooden walls.
There's a checkerboard in the Old Store now, where people can take a break from their rides and funnel cakes to play, and it harkens back to that strong sense of community the store once held.
"People can sit and play checkers like the farmers used to do in the 20s and 30s," Mike said. "They'd sit around the potbellied stove and talk farming. It was a thriving community store back in the day."
Mike says a personal favorite pastime of working the store each Fair week is watching kids learn how to open old fashioned Coke bottles -- a skill not too many of them have these days. From Cokes to checkers to the vintage items behind the counter, it's a wonderful opportunity to bring our collective history alive.
"It's a great exhibit and great for educating the younger children on how things used to be," Mike said.
Mr. Carlton has been instrumental in helping the Heritage Village to thrive, not only through the Old Store but also in his help with bringing the blacksmith equipment and working windmill to the fairgrounds.
"Daddy has a passion for the Heritage Village," Mike said. "On any given day, you'll find him fixing up something old. He has an eye for the beauty of those things."
So this year, make sure you take a few minutes to stray from the modern, fast pace of the midway and stroll back to a simpler time. Head up the old wooden steps of the Bowens' store, grab a Coke from the counter, and pull up a chair by the potbellied stove.
Then sit ... and stay awhile! Enjoy the beauty in the history that these Kiwanians have worked so hard to share with us all.
Other Sites to Visit in the Heritage Village
The Bee House
You’ll find the newly renovated Bee House in the Heritage Village. Bobby Colson and the Bee Keepers Association educate patrons on the benefit and joys of bee-keeping. The Bee House is in the log cabin that originally housed the Old Store fixtures.
The Poultry Barn
Also in Heritage Village is the Chicken (Poultry) Barn. There you will find flocks of chickens awarded to local young people to raise and show, as part of the Kiwanis Livestock & Poultry Project. The project became popular under former Kiwanian Jim Phelps, and Alex Grovenstein has since taken the reins from Jim.
"Years back, Mr. Jim Phelps started this program for kids. He poured his heart and soul into it," Grovenstein said. "Though there are others, the program specifically targets kids who couldn't show a lamb, goat, hog, or cow because of space, money, or time. I was that kid. I consider it an honor and a responsibility to do my best to carry on the tradition that Mr. Jim started."
The Aldrich House
Another place to gather and share experiences of the past is the Aldrich House. Kiwanian Connie Saunders and her crew have researched the family and house. The shotgun style house contains items from the late 19th and early 20th century. A working Victrola, Cotton (or Southern) spinning wheel, and furniture graces the living room.
Coming Soon: A new working blacksmith shop!
The original blacksmith shop in the Heritage Village was recently torn down after falling into disrepair, but the club is working to construct a new shop that will feature a working blacksmith during the fair.