Everything is the same. Well, almost everything is the same. The coal stove, the phone booth, the wooden booths, the pool table. There is real history in the building, and yet, history is still being made there. It’s a fixture in the community, and yet so many have never been there. Wait. This story is going in circles. Let’s start at the beginning.
In August of 1888, Mrs. Ada Smith purchased a parcel of land in Jasper Township, Fayette County, Ohio. A building was erected on the property in 1890. The property transferred from family member to family member. It was once known as Hooker’s Billiard’s and Renting Rooms. Minnie Smith Hooker and her husband Charles were the owners. Minnie was the daughter of Mrs. Ada Smith.
On July 5, 1944, Mr. Arnett Kelley purchased the property and promptly named it Kelley’s Tavern. In 1944, there was still a jail in Milledgeville. Once a booming community, Milledgeville was slowly being reclaimed by the surrounding agricultural fields.
As Hooker’s, the business had been a raucous enterprise. Mr. Arnett had his family living with him in the tavern and after a number of years, finally got a handle on the rowdiness that would inevitably end with the front windows being broken. After one such incident, instead of replacing the windows, Kelley just boarded up the front and it has stayed that way.
It is a family place. It was the original convenience store. You could buy bologna, bread, ice cream, soda pop and candy. You could get a decent lunch and make a phone call, and always there was someone you knew in the tavern. And, it was the best place to stop on Halloween. For the past year, Mr. Tom Payton (Center United Methodist Church) has been holding church services at the tavern on Monday nights. Just another example of how the tavern is still in the business of being part of the community.
Kelley was always generous to his community. He made donations to the schools and the churches. He might even be seen delivering groceries to home bound neighbors.
After 61 years of tending his tavern, Kelley died in 2005 at the age of 90.
Daughter, Nina Kelley, has always lived in the tavern. As a child, she was never allowed in the tavern. She remembers as a child people coming and going. She remembers her father always being open to the public, 365 days a year.
Nina remembers her father closing the bar for an hour on Thanksgiving and Christmas so the family could celebrate together. Her father lived and breathed his tavern. “I think it’s what kept him alive all those years.” Nina remembers, around the age of 12, begging and pleading with her father to close the tavern for Christmas, “Do it for me, pleeeasse,” she remembers asking. Kelley gave in to his daughter. Nina smiles at the memory, “He lasted until about noon and then went into the tavern and threw open the doors. He couldn’t stand it. He needed to be open.”
Upon Kelley’s death, Nina took over the business. She had been an integral part of the business for years, so there were no surprises. The hours have changed, but the coal stove still needs stoked regularly.
The wooden booths are still where they were built and the community still comes in, sits down and chats, just like always. The phone booth is still near the stove, but the phone has been long gone. The billiards table is still in the back and the pool sticks still hang on the wall and everywhere there are beer signs. Nina says, somewhat quietly, “The tavern has never been mine. It’s just like it was when Dad died, except for the TV, it’s color now.”
This is not a point of contention with the current owner. Nina loved and respected her father. Nina also loves the tavern. She has her own way with the community. If someone is in need, it may be Nina leading the effort to alleviate the situation. Nina is a walking history of Milledgeville and everyone who comes through the door is still family.
However, time has taken its toll. Health and financial issues are a reality. This article is Nina’s notice to all: the tavern will close this weekend.
“I thank everyone for being so good to my family. It has been a good go. If I were younger and healthier, I would stay!”
Nina will continue to live at the tavern. She has yet to decide about the contents of the building and still is not sure on which path she will find her future. But she knows it will be in her community.
Just as her father’s business became a pivot point for the community, so has Nina become a driving force for keeping the village together as a family.
Everything is the same….well almost. See ya, Nina.