Walking Tour highlights Shake Rag’s history, future

Published 3:58 pm Monday, February 19, 2024

By Justin Story, Bowling Green Daily News

BOWLING GREEN — Several dozen people braved cold temperatures Saturday to take a step back in time and a leap forward, embarking on a walking tour of the historic Shake Rag neighborhood.

Community organizer Chasity Rodgers coordinated with the George Washington Carver Center to create the tour of Shake Rag, which was a thriving Black community during the early and mid-20th century during the days of segregation.

Rodgers said the tour was meant to highlight the neighborhood’s past, present and future.

“You have to know where you came from to know where you’re going,” Rodgers said just before the tour. “We want to preserve as much history as we can within this area. Even though things are changing, the history and the people are still here and we want to highlight everything in the neighborhood.”

Touchstones of Shake Rag’s past that were spotlighted on the tour were two neighboring State Street houses in the 400 block, one of which served as the city public library branch for Black students kept by Bessie Woods and the other operated as Alice’s Beauty Shop.

Hallmarks of present-day Shake Rag included on the tour were State Street Baptist Church, White Squirrel Brewery, Shake Rag Barbershop, Prince Hall Masonic Temple and The Healing Spirit wellness store, with community leaders and proprietors talking about the role of these institutions in the neighborhood.

“This place was like a beacon,” Bowling Green City Commissioner Carlos Bailey said while standing on the front steps of State Street Baptist Church, where he was baptized at age 6. “We know that the church was a focal point, especially during segregation. The hope we had at State Street was making sure the community was together.”

At Shake Rag Barbershop, owner Chris Page spoke about his business’ role as a gathering place for people from all walks of life.

“We’re the most diverse barbershop in terms of clientele in Bowling Green, hands down,” Page said.

Several stops on the walking tour called attention to the future of the neighborhood.

The first stop of the tour was the old State Street High School gym, which is owned by Derrick and Deserea Huff, who plan to transform it into a restaurant, wine bar and retro-style speakeasy called the Mustang Club, in acknowledgement of the State Street High School Mustangs.

“We have big plans for the building to revitalize it and bring back the beauty of this building,” Derrick Huff said. “It’s going to be a classy, upscale place for adults to enjoy.”

Real estate developer Desmond Bell spoke about his plans to restore the old Southern Queen building, which served as a hotel for Black travelers during the days of segregation but fell into disrepair over the years it sat vacant.

The property was acquired in 2021 by the city, and Bell said he hopes to reopen in 2025 as an events center.

Housing Authority of Bowling Green Executive Director Abraham Williams talked up the small business accelerator that is slated to open in the near future at the old Save-A-Lot building on College Street, currently undergoing renovations.

The city, Houchens Industries and HABG nonprofit Live the Dream Development teamed up on the $3.6 million project, which is slated to house minority-owned small businesses and operations affected by the 2021 tornadoes.

Bettie Turner of the Carver Center said the tour is important to give emphasis to Shake Rag’s history and to consider the possibilities for this community’s future.

“We’re trying to preserve and let people know there was something in this area,” Turner said. “The buildings might be gone, but we’re remembering everything.”