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The Women of Sunnyview

From 1903, when Joseph Hampton Gregory first acquired the farm known as Sunnyview, until he died in 1924, Joseph lived there with his wife and family. His wife, my grandmother, Lina Summers Hamm, died December 31, 1926, from stomach cancer, a slow and painful death. She died seated at the dining room table in the old house.

     Less than a year later, on September 3, 1927, my father Nathan married his childhood sweetheart, next-door neighbor, and second cousin Julia Lee Grose. Marrying cousins, especially second cousins, did not then carry the social taboo of today. She was the daughter of Amy Allie Fair Gregory and Charles Grose. Allie was the daughter of my grandfather's older brother, Jefferson Preston Gregory. Julia was six years younger than Nathan, and a cousin who knew her told me that she was "A stunningly beautiful girl."

     In this same general time, exact date unknown, my father built the General Store and gas station known as Sunnyview Station and placed his bride in it to run the store while he managed the farm. I guess he thought this was a good plan at the time.

     From 1927 until about 1939, they worked the farm and ran the store but were never blessed with children. Then, in 1939, Julia became ill and was diagnosed with uterine cancer, perhaps explaining the failure to conceive.

     Nathan moved her to Lexington, where he leased a small restaurant known as "The Dugout" at 149 Rose Street, and they lived in the apartment above, at 147 Rose Street, while she underwent treatment and recovery at the nearby St. Joseph's hospital. Unfortunately, we have little information on that treatment, other than she recovered, apparently having her uterus removed in the process, ending any prospects of children.

     In 1940, they moved back to the farm and resumed operating the service station and farm, but things were not as they had been. Some stories claim that there had been an affair between my father and another woman, a girl hired to help care for Julia during her recovery. My father vehemently denied any such affair took place, I well know. But who knows?

      In any case, the girl did become pregnant during this time and birthed a child, a son, and my father strongly insisted the child was not his. I would dearly love to meet this child, or his descendants, if any, and get a DNA test to settle the question for sure, but I have not been able to determine his identity.

     I do not know whether the alleged affair happened or not, but if it did, perhaps that was a catalyst for events that followed. In late 1943 a young couple moved into a dilapidated house less than a mile south of the service station. The pretty young bride, 16-year-old Minnie McKee, began working for Julia in the store, helping out with customers and cleaning, and such, for small pay. The McKee family was dirt poor, and Minnie greatly valued the small amount she could earn.

     Minnie was the daughter of Charles Otis Stephens and Sallie Fenton Emmons. She was born in 1927 and married Hildreth McKee in 1942. She was age 14, just five weeks short of her 15th birthday.

     Julia began an affair with a fellow who drove the Carnation milk truck during this period. She recruited the "Kids," Minnie, Nathan's nephew, and a few others, to help in the deception. She would close the store when Nathan was away hauling corn or other farm work and take the "kids" swimming at the local swimming hole. Once the pretext for closing the store was established and the kids were preoccupied with swimming, Julia would meet her lover.

     One of those "kids" was Nathan's then 20-something nephew, who recently related the story of this affair and Julia's deceptions shortly before he passed away. I add the disclaimer that these events occurred long before my birth, and I am merely relating the story as told to me by a cousin who was there. I make no claim on the truthfulness or accuracy, beyond adding that it aligns with stories I heard from my parents when I was young.

     This situation persisted for many months. Meanwhile, Minnie was unhappy in her marriage and had also been unable to conceive. The life of an impoverished farmhand did not appeal to her, and she felt she and her husband should move to the city and get a job. Finally, in the summer of 1945, Minnie took action and decided to leave her husband, hoping that he would follow her if she left. He did not.

     She hitched a ride on the milk truck, coincidently driven by another man named McKee, a cousin of her husband, not the man Julia was seeing. She went to Maysville, where she found a job at "Johnny's Sweet Shop" and a nearby sleeping room. Shortly after that, Julia likewise left Nathan. Julia cleaned out his bank account, took many of his possessions, and departed with her lover. She later married the man, but not until 1952, and they ultimately settled in Missouri.

     Nathan was devastated by Julia's betrayal. However, after settling things, recovering from the loss, and finalizing their divorce, Nathan found reasons to drive to Maysville and soon began dating young Minnie, helped her to complete her divorce, and then married her on September 13, 1948. He was age 45; she was age 20.

     However, Minnie did not like the farm, once vowing that she would NOT be a farmer's wife. She had left her first husband to avoid the farm life, and further, she did not like running the same store where she had once worked for Julia. It was a contentious issue, and the family moved away from and then returned to the farm numerous times in the years that followed, leasing the property to tenants and sharecroppers at times and then again living there and attempting to run it at others. Finally, on May 16, 1966, she succeeded in convincing Nathan to sell the property.

     Nathan passed away December 5, 1972, age 69. Minnie passed away May 31, 2017. Sunnyview passed into the hands of another family, where it remained until 2013, when it was again sold. The house burned in November 1983, and the remains of the Station were demolished in 2014 by the new owner.

Julia Lee Gross and Minnie Francis Stephens_edited.jpg

Julia Lee Grose and Minnie McKee ca. 1944

Minnie Frances Stephens on the Milk truck Cropped and repaired..jpg

Minnie Stephens McKee, abt age 17

Minnie in Maysville abt 1948.jpeg

Minnie in front of Johnny's Sweet Shop ca. 1946

Julia Lee Grose Studio Photo - Cropped.jpeg

Julia Lee Grose, date unknown

Nathan and Julia Lee Marriage.jpg

Nathan Gregory and Julia Lee Grose
Wedding photo, Sept 3, 1927

Allie Gregory, Bessie Grose, Julia Lee Grose, Eva Lee Gregory abt 1942.jpg

Allie Gregory (Mother) Bessie Willis Grose (daughter), Julia Lee Grose (daughter/sister) wife of Nathan Gregory,
and Eva Lee Gregory, Nathan's sister. Photo was taken in Lexington, sometime around 1940-1942

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