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Owingsville leaders hope saddle maker's legacy will have them riding high

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OWINGSVILLE, KENTUCKY (WDKY)-- Many Kentucky towns are proud of a famous citizen. Of course, Hodgenville is happy to claim Abraham Lincoln. Corbin has Colonel Sanders. Maysville has Rosemary Clooney. And Owingsville has Eugene Minihan.

Eugene who?

He's not exactly a household name, but in the late 1880s through the 1920s, the saddle maker was perhaps the town's most celebrated citizen.

People came from all over the eastern United States and Canada to buy his Kentucky Spring-Seat Saddles.

"No matter what size frame you had, you could come and he would custom build your saddle just to fit you," said mayor Gary Hunt. "That made it more comfortable for both the rider and the horse."

The hand-made Minihan saddles were expensive for the time, selling for 20 dollars or more. Sears advertised a machine-made version for about 14 dollars, but true riders said it couldn't compare.

Minihan's creation was flexible like a shock absorber and padded with sheep's wool.

Now a group of history buffs hopes to resurrect Minihan's former fame and draw some tourists off I-64 in the process. It was a non-resident who first brought the idea to city leaders. Langley Franklin of West Liberty noticed the city didn't have any markers or exhibits to recognize Minihan. He told them he would like to help remedy that.

The group would like to raise $15,000 to make a bronze statue of the saddle. Double that and they can add a likeness of Minihan too. Sculptor Sam McKinney of Rowan County made a model with just a newspaper photograph to go by.

"It's fuzzy but I could get his stature and what he wore and the structure of his face, " said McKinney. He hopes to cast the full-size statue soon.

The committee wants the statue of the saddle to be interactive, hoping people will hop on for selfies. They envision putting it in a small park by the courthouse and perhaps opening a museum in the building that housed his saddle shop. It still stands a block off Main Street. But before either of those things happen, there will be an exhibit featuring Minihan memorabilia in the courthouse.

Locals have collected not only saddles, but Minihan's business journals and other handmade leather items, all marked with Minihan's hand stamp.

"We're finding many more people have them in attics, basements and lofts and I think it's exciting for them to pull them out and tell the history behind them," Hunt said.

An original Minihan saddle in good condition could sell for $4,000 these days, but not many people will part with them.

Betty Bailey, a committee member, has one and said she hopes to keep it in the family for generations.

The committee will begin raising money for the project by selling miniature versions of the saddle statue that could be used as a paperweight or decoration on a shelf. For more information about the project or to make a tax-deductible donation, write to: Minihan Statue Project, City of Owingsville Tourism Commission, P.O. Box 639, Owingsville, KY 40360
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