By Don White, CV&T Staff Writer
The Telephone Man’s daughter has finally found her calling.
After stints selling everything from grass seed to guitars, and working for newspapers, a school system, a college, and even a few years as a clown, Barbara Napier has found happiness in the inn.
Her bed-and-breakfast inn at Snug Hollow Farm is far from the beaten path, sitting in a peaceful valley off Red Lick Valley Road, and at the end of McSwain Branch Road.
The farm was the long-time residence of Hubert and Pearl Johnson.
Since being featured in Southern Living magazine some eight years ago, guests have flocked year-round to the 300-acre retreat, turning what once served as a personal place of refuge for her and her two sons into a booming business.
Famous authors have come here to find inspiration for their books, and not so long ago, the farm was visited by a film crew from the Oprah Winfrey Show.
But life wasn’t always this good.
Born 62 years ago in Breathitt County, Barbara had a middle-class existence as the daughter of a banker mother and a dad who installed phones. He was known throughout Breathitt and Lee counties as the “Telephone Man.”
She often accompanied her father on his sojourns into the hills, but her favorite trip was to her grandmother’s home along a river bank in rural Bell County.
Sometimes she would help her grandmother hand out food to the hobos who passed along the railroad tracks running behind the house.
It was an early lesson in kindness toward others than would serve her well later in life.
Typical of many mountain girls, Barbara dropped out of high school before graduating, had a baby and moved to her husband’s native Ohio.
After the birth of a second son, the young family moved back to eastern Kentucky, settling in Irvine where an older sister, Brenda Terry, and her physician husband, were residing.
In the 1970s, she and her husband took over operation of Estill Farm Service, selling everything from seed to furniture. Eventually, guitars were added to the inventory.
“At one time we were Kentucky’s biggest distributors of Martin guitars, and our customers included Ricky Skaggs and Emmylou Harris,” says Barbara, a self-taught picker herself.
As is often the case in many teenage marriages, Barbara’s ended in divorce, and she struggled to keep the business open while raising her two sons, Todd, now 45, and Michael, 44, both still Estill County residents.
After being forced into bankruptcy, it was necessary to sell the business and the farm she had first fallen in love with in 1976.
She had been raising her boys in a small 135-year-old cabin on the farm and was dreading having to leave the place they had called home for 20 years.
As things turned out, she didn’t have to. The Telephone Man’s daughter learned she had some strong and valued connections.
Family and friends pooled their money when the place was put up for auction to buy back Snug Hollow for her.
And, in 1998, after she had worked at Berea College and gotten back on her feet financially, it was some of those same family and friends who helped her realize her dream of establishing a bed and breakfast on the farm.
Friends, old and new, along with some people she didn’t even know, showed up to help her build the rustic, two-story structure that has been open as an inn and served as her residence since 1999.
The inn, sits across from her cabin home, which has also been converted into guest quarters.
Her first guest was a man she saw sitting inside a restaurant in Berea, studying a map. He was on a bicycle trip she knew would take him along Red Lick Valley Road, so she invited him to spend the night, free of charge.
“I told him I just wanted to see if I knew how to operate the business,” she recalls.
Soon, she would have an attractive website that prompted an increase in business, plus word-of-mouth advertising from satisfied boarders.
Among the many writers to spread the word has been Gwen Rubio, author of The Woodsman’s Daughter.
When her first novel, Icy Sparks, was chosen as an Oprah’s Book Club selection, she brought the show’s TV crew to Snug Hollow to show them the location that had inspired her to write.
Being around Rubio, a frequent guest, and other writers has inspired Napier to start writing herself.
Hot off the presses and fresh from being among the top sellers at the annual Kentucky Book Fair in Frankfort is Hot Food & Warm Memories, the Snug Hollow Farm Cookbook.
The hardcover 123-page book is filled with recipes, artistic photos taken by Barbara, and an overview of her struggles to regain her farm, plus heart-warming tributes to those who helped along the way.
Barbara is proud of the fact the book was published by another Estill resident, Bob Dundon of Dundon’s Press, LLC.
“We certainly do have a lot of talent in this community,” she says.
By Don White, CV&T Staff Writer