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Kentucky by Heart: Video history series offers unique look at Kentucky’s vintage buildings and structures

By Steve Flairty
KyForward Columnist

Our knowledge of Kentucky’s history often comes from what we’ve read in textbooks, articles in periodicals, or what we’ve gathered from talking to a knowledgeable source. That’s a good start, but interestingly, another good avenue is looking at old buildings and other structures—often ones quite close to where we live.

That’s where Satolli Glassmeyer’s video series, History in Your Own Backyard, comes into play. I recently came across this online gem when a link to a covered bridge led me to its web site historyinyourownbackyard.com. What grabbed me was the ample coverage of vintage Kentucky buildings and structures, as well as those of seven other states not far away.

The video durations range from a couple of minutes to over a dozen. The Kentucky counties covered are Boone, Bourbon, Campbell, Carroll, Gallatin, Grant, Harrison, Jefferson, Kenton, Nicholas, Owen, Pendleton, Scott, and Woodford. Each presentation interviews a person well-versed with the location site or is narrated by a HYOB associate who has gathered compelling information to share with viewers.

I took the time to view all of Kentucky’s and plan to see those about other states later.

Here are a few from the Bluegrass state that I found especially interesting. The Boone County Courthouse, in Burlington, was built by the McDonald Brothers Company, who also built similar ones in Kentucky’s Adair and Simpson counties. At the Burlington location, the riveting 1943 Kiger murder trial, of nationwide interest, took place, and according to the interviewee, the building might be “haunted.” A trip to the 200-year-old Anderson Ferry, along the Ohio River at Constance, told a fascinating story of its evolution over time and how it continues to be important today. I’m putting it on my Kentucky travel bucket list!

Satolli Glassmeyer

I felt especially at home with the Campbell County features, recalling places from my childhood growing up there. The story of the St. Anne Convent, in Melbourne, put “skin” on a beautiful place and reminded me of its important part in the movie with Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman called Rainman. The feature on the river town of Silver Grove was fun and educational, and the Shultz Road Pony Truss Bridge, near Alexandria, stirred memories of my rural roots playing in a creek a few miles away.

The excitement in finding HYOBY naturally spurred me to interview Glassmeyer to learn all I could about his work that includes over 400 archived accounts of local heritage. He found inspiration in his Cincinnati youth when he biked the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana tri-state area checking out what he calls “hidden treasures.”

Satolli, who lives in Sunman, Indiana, explained that the project is “a spin-off of two previous businesses and a car club dating back to the mid-1970s.” He had joined a club of American Motors AMX car owners that did road rallies around the Cincinnati area, and on those trips, a “scavenger hunt” competition component was included, with participants looking for specific items and information along the routes. He quickly became interested in the information chase and wanted to expand on it.

“I fell in love with the concept and began organizing the rallies for the club but with my interest in historic buildings, I would include pictures and information in each direction packet about the historic buildings teams would pass along the route,” he said.

Then, in 2003, he turned his hobby into a business called Scenic Road Rallies, and participants began asking for historic building tour guide packets to use since they had little time to stop and explore on the rallies. With that impetus, it opened a new and exciting horizon for this man who loved to study the past.

History in Your Own Backyard hostess Susie Celek and Glassmeyer

“In 2012, I started a new company called Scenic Road Tours where I produced twenty different tour guide booklets that people could purchase and take self-guided tours featuring tons of pictures and information on historic buildings in southwestern Ohio and southeastern Indiana,” he said.

He soon perceived, however, that “most people don’t read much anymore,” and that made it difficult, of course, to sustain his business. In 2014, Sartolli decided to pivot to producing documentary history videos and started History in Your Own Backyard; it was, and is, a success story.

“At this point, I have over 445 videos produced and expect to hit the 500 mark by the end of the year,” said Sartolli, who lives in Sunman, Indiana. He hosts many of the videos, but also often uses others. “Susie Celek is my main hostess, and we have been working together now since June of 2017. She does a fantastic job and basically takes control of these projects when we are out filming. I’m just the guy behind the camera.”

The presentations are widely disseminated to the public. “I post the videos to my History in Your Own Backyard YouTube channel which has over 1.25 million views and over five thousand subscribers. Then that YouTube video is linked up to my website where the videos are broken down by state, county and town.”

Links to videos are also sent to strategic places with local connections: county and adjacent county schools, mayors and council members of the same, and all the historical societies in the region. Along with those venues, they are placed on a Google Maps page where one can click on pinpoints to see videos from those locations and are promoted on over twenty Facebook pages.

Steve Flairty is a teacher, public speaker and an author of seven books: a biography of Kentucky Afield host Tim Farmer and six in the Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes series, including a kids’ version. Steve’s “Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes #5,” was released in 2019. Steve is a senior correspondent for Kentucky Monthly, a weekly KyForward and NKyTribune columnist and a former member of the Kentucky Humanities Council Speakers Bureau. Contact him at sflairty2001@yahoo.com or visit his Facebook page, “Kentucky in Common: Word Sketches in Tribute.” (Steve’s photo by Connie McDonald)

According to Satolli, he reaches out to towns or property owners to film and sometimes they approach him. “It’s interesting as in the midst of this pandemic, over the past week I’ve had five towns and property owners call asking about possible video shoots on their sites. I really didn’t expect to hear from anyone during this period of time.”

Satolli said that “every video shoot has a good story” but one regarding the Rush County Courthouse, in Indiana, stands out as very memorable. “After the interview, one of the employees of the courthouse asked if I wanted to go into the clocktower to see the bell and clock which sat like 90 feet above the third-story office where we were located.”

He agreed, but soon found he got more than he bargained for. The climb started fine with two flights of stairs, but the rest of the way it was navigated via aluminum ladders fifteen to twenty feet long. The reward for the daunting vertical journey was a beautiful view of Rush County, but that proved fleeting, at best.

“Once at the top, I noticed the thick wood floor which featured two-inch gaps between the planks where you could look down five stories under your feet!” explained Satolli. He got the pictures and video before climbing down, but the trip down was worse, he said, “because you had to scoot out onto the ladder hoping your foot connected with a rung. All this with camera gear. Not my idea of fun.” Satolli understandably turned down their request to come back and take more pictures from the high perch.

Looking ahead, he has two major goals. One is to secure a sponsor in order to complete a total of ten thousand documentary videos over the next twenty years; the other is to have those videos archived at the Library of Congress.

“It’s important that we get these buildings and towns on film as soon as possible as we are losing an average of ten historic buildings in this country every day,” said Satolli. “Nothing lasts forever and over the next hundred we will lose up to fifty percent of our historic buildings. Over the next two hundred years, we will lose up to ninety-nine percent. I think it’s very important for people of the future to know what we were so fortunate to enjoy in our lifetimes.”

The series has spurred me to look more closely for the amazing stories waiting to be told about structures built by humans for lasting purposes. And for that, I’m encouraged to put into practice the mantra that is repeated after every HYOBY presentation: “Remember to travel slowly… and stop often.”

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