Recently, I had the honor and pleasure of sitting down with two incredible women who have each lived 100 years in Frankfort. Alice Bacon Blanton and Mary Charlton Hundley Hulette have navigated the Depression Era, Prohibition, WWII and several other wars, new inventions and the daily adventures of life with grace, common sense and humor.
I was hopeful that they would reveal the secret to reaching 100 while maintaining good health and a positive attitude. Neither had a magic formula. What they did have was a wonderful countenance, a sincere interest in the world around them and a gentle spirit. Our time together seemed less like an interview and more like a comfortable conversation. They considered my questions and often found a fond memory tucked away to share, laughing with each other about remembrances of times gone by.
Both Alice and Mary Charlton have lived their entire lives in Frankfort so I asked them about that. “It just never occurred to me to live any place else. This is where I lived and this is where I was going to stay,” Alice says. Mary Charlton added, “I just knew that this was my home from the beginning.”
I got the feeling that to Alice and Mary Charlton, 100 years is just an age that other people have decided is special. They go on with their lives day by day, the best way they know how. Maybe that’s the secret — make each day count, make each day special. These two women certainly have.
By Susan L. Moore
Longtime friends Alice Bacon Blanton and Mary Charlton Hundley Hulette were born in Frankfort in 1918. They entered the world months before WWI ended and two years before American women had the right to vote. On April 10, Mary Charlton turned 100 years old. Alice was close behind, turning 100 on June 10.
“She’s much older than me,” Alice says, chuckling. “But, Alice is smarter,” Mary Charlton responds. “She was always a year ahead in school.”
Turning to Mary Charlton, Alice remarks, “I was stuck in the country and I expected Mother to play with me. So instead, she taught me how to read and write, add and subtract. When I got to Murray Street School my two teachers told Mother, ‘Alice Bacon is just bored to tears and we suggest you let her skip a grade.’ So, I went through school a year ahead of Mary Charlton.”
The two remember meeting as young children while visiting their respective grandparents in South Frankfort. “I met Mary Charlton because my grandmother lived on Conway Street,” Alice explains. “Her grandmother lived on the corner of Conway and Campbell.”
Alice grew up with a distillery as her playground. O.F.C. Distillery (Buffalo Trace) was directly across the street from her home and she describes learning to roller skate there because there was a lot of concrete. Alice’s Uncle Albert Bacon Blanton worked at the distillery and had an apartment on the grounds. He would eventually become the president and master distiller, which, by that time, had become the George T. Stagg Company. Albert Blanton has been credited as being instrumental in shaping the modern face of the bourbon industry. Alice says that his private stock was used to develop Blanton’s, the world’s first single-barrel bourbon.
Coming to town
Mary Charlton’s family lived out in the country and she says they would come to town to visit her grandmother on Conway Street. When Mary Charlton’s family home in the country burned, they moved to South Frankfort.
Alice’s family also lived in what was considered to be out in the country. She has lived all of her life in a home on Wilkinson Boulevard across from Buffalo Trace Distillery. It was built in 1818 by Alice’s grandfather.
“My house sits on what was once called Leestown Road,” Alice explains. She recalls, “When I was a little girl, we used to travel in and out of town on the streetcar that ran down to the distillery (O.F.C. Distillery). When Prohibition came on, there were no longer enough passengers to justify having that line, so they discontinued the street car out there.
“So, Daddy went out and bought three Model T Fords,” Alice says, smiling. “He bought a Ford Coupe for himself, a Ford sedan for Mother and a Ford Touring car for Uncle Joe Lindsey, a man of all work. Well, Daddy had a hard time learning to drive and Mother had a hard time learning to drive but Uncle Joe just jumped right in and took off!”
“My, my. Thinking back — Ladybird was our horse,” Mary Charlton says. “We would hitch her up to a buggy and go. Then we got a Ford, too.”
Both Mary Charlton and Alice graduated from Frankfort High School. “I believe my teenage years were some of my favorite times,” Mary Charlton remembers. “We loved to go dancing. There were lots of dances in Frankfort. We’d go to Sower Hall and the ballroom on the top floor of the Capital Hotel (where Whitaker Bank on Main street now sits). It was elegant!”
Mary Charlton married a “Frankfort boy” named Albert Hulette who was a few years ahead of her in school. “Everyone called him Chick,” Mary Charlton says. Alice chimes in, “He was very popular, very charismatic!”
“Well, anyway,” Mary Charlton continues, “He was in college when we ran off and got married. I was just barely 18 and he was 21, but it worked out. We were married 65 years. We had one son, Ben.”
When Alice and Mary Charlton were 20, a big change came to Frankfort. In 1938, the War Mothers Memorial Bridge, or Capital Avenue Bridge, was built. “I distinctly remember the bridge being built,” Alice says. “The J.B. Blanton Company was in a building right below that area and we had to give them a temporary easement to build the pylons for the bridge.”
The day after graduating college, Alice went to work for her father’s lumber and building material company, helping to keep the books. “Daddy had boats on the river, too, that would pull the fine sand out of the Kentucky River — tugboats, a paddlewheeler and some barges. I worked there until my early 60s when I sold the business.”
During WWII, Mary Charlton was an entrepreneur. “I fell into a little business of making sandwiches for a garment factory and shoe factory,” she explains. “A neighbor friend and I took hundreds of fresh sandwiches that we made every morning to the factories and sold them for eight cents apiece. It got us through the war while my husband was in the service and I do like to cook!” Alice adds, “Mary Charlton is the best cook I know, just marvelous.” Mary Charlton also worked 30 years for Farmers Bank (now United Bank) in the trust department.
Bridge and friendship
The game of bridge has been a part of both women’s lives since they were young girls.
“There was always a card table up at my grandparent’s house, Mary Charlton remembers. “Anyone they could capture would play.”
“I learned to play bridge with my mother, grandmother and grandfather because they needed another player,” Alice says. “They would deal out four hands and have me sort them. I imagine I was a wretched player back then!”
The two friends have become closer as they have gotten older and attribute their friendship partially to bridge. Both Alice and Mary Charlton continue to play on a regular basis and Alice is still teaching people the nuances of the game. According to their friend, Jane Arnold, “They will both be remembered as wonderful bridge players.”
Words of wisdom
Alice says she doesn’t give advice. “I’m not much on giving advice because I don’t take advice very well myself,” she comments. Mary Charlton, after a little thought, passes on these words to live by: “Keep sweet. Keep loving. Be yourself. Be loving and kind.”