HISTORY OF CHRISTIAN COUNTY KENTUCKY
charles m. meacham
HISTORIC PERIOD FROM 1850 TO 1875
The Discovery of Gold in California; The Constitution of 1851; The AnteBellum Period; The Old-time Fairs; Later Fairs; The’ Pennyroyal Fair; Street Fairs and Carnivals.
What may be called the beginning of the county’s second half century, ushered in a stirring era that revolutionized conditions as they existed after the Mexican War.
The country as a whole had been increased in area by the addition of the vast empire extending South to the Rio Grande and Westward to the Pacific ocean. The discovery of gold in California had started the conquering of the West with hostile Indians again hindering the progress of the Anglo-Saxon race, until the last bloody battle to the death, in which the entire army of Gen. Custer was exterminated in the wilds of Dakota. This story is national history, but, as usual, Christian County played a part by sending many of its sons in the pilgrimage across the Rocky Mountains to the Western El Dorado.
Here in Kentucky a new constitution was adopted in 1851 and there began another period of prosperity and internal development. Hopkinsville was greatly benefited by the establishment of two boarding schools for girls, making the town quite an educational center. The movement for better roads gained force and began to bear fruit. The production of tobacco became a leading industry, the tobacco being prized in hogsheads, hauled to the Cumberland River and shipped by boat to market. The population steadily increased and the county became one of the most progressive, prosperous and cultured communities in the State. Within the first ten years much advancement was made, the landed estates became homes of comfort and refinement, the sons and daughters were given college educations and in a word, Christian County blossomed like a rose. In this decade the first fair association was organized. This will be discussed more at length on other pages.
Then came the war clouds that broke in 1861, divided a happy and contented people for four years into warring factions, and plunged the county into a vortex of bloodshed and sorrow. Death stalked abroad, happy homes were broken up; fortunes were swept away and the county was set back for 20 years in its development. With the defeat of Clay in 1844, the Democratic party was in the ascendency. The election of Taylor in 1848 restored the Whigs to power. Taylor had died and Millard Fillmore had finished out his term. In 1852, Pierce was elected President and Jefferson Davis, a son of Christian County, entered the new cabinet as Secretary of War and in 1857, entered the United States Senate. In 1856, the Democrats again triumphed in the election of James Buchanan and John C. Breckinridge as President and Vice-President. At the end of their term, there had been a new alignment of parties. The Whig party and one faction of the Democratic party formed the Democratic party that no longer had power to win elections. The newly organized Republican party was made up of what was left of the opposition parties and a part of the Democrats. With the untried new party suddenly given national control in the great war that had convulsed the country, it became the dominating power in the county. Democrats, however, were able to elect some of their popular candidates until the enfranchisement of the liberated slaves a few years after the close of the war, all of whom were at once identified with the Republican party, and gave that party an ascendency that has existed ever since. Christian County’s population contained and still contains a higher percentage of negroes than any other county in Western Kentucky. 1 This has made the county staunchly Republican except when the colored voters fail to vote their party ticket. With hardly an exception t’ sy register as Republicans, but the Republican leaders have found it hard to control them in some elections. In fact, the county is regarded as doubtful in all local elections and many county offices have been filled by Democrats. With most of the adjoining counties reliably Democratic, districts of more than one county, electing State senators, circuit judges, commonwealth’s attorneys and other district officers, have usually chosen Democrats, in the districts including Christian County as one of the counties. This has been made possible by Democratic control of the General Assemblies arranging the districts.
THE OLD FASHIONED FAIRS
The Legislature of 1856 granted a charter for the organization of the Christian County Agricultural and Mechanical Association. The Commissioners, or incorporators, were Isaac Lewis, Jas. S. Jackson, R. T. Torian, James M. Foard, Wm. T. Moore, Jas. H. Lander, Dr. E. R. Cook, Dr. J. C. Whitlock, J. W. Wallace, H. B. Owsley and John Stites. On February 2, 1857, a meeting was held and the following officers elected: Thomas Green, president, and Isaac Lewis, J. P. Thomas, Jas. S. Jackson, C. E. Merriweather, Jesse McComb and Rice Dulin, directors. The board elected John C. Latham, secretary, and J. S. Phelps, treasurer, and G. B. Long, marshal. Grounds were purchased from J. H. Caidwell and Dr. Montgomery just outside of Hopkinsville; buildings were erected and the first fair was held that fall. Prices for admission were: Adults, 25 cents; on horses, 35 cents; buggies, 40 cents; carriages, 50 cents; children and servants, 10 cents each. The fair was a success and three others were held annually until they were stopped by the war.
The grounds were located in the northeastern suburbs beyond Hays’ field, now the colored section of the city, and its annual fairs in October were the crowning events of each year. The grounds consisted of a circular amphitheatre enclosing a Judges’ stand in the center and a floral hail on one side displaying agricultural products below and a department for the handiwork of the ladies on the second floor, built on a level with the promenade in the ampitheatre. Seats for thousands were provided between the promenade and the show ring. And everything was shown. The farmers vied with each other in producing crops, showing specimens of every description and live stock of all kinds. There were driving rings, riding rings, boys’ riding rings and even ladies’ riding rings. In the floral hall there were baby shows and displays of cakes, pies, laces and art work. On the outskirts there was a half mile race-track and the afternoon programs were concluded with races of every kind, fast horses, slow mules, harness races and sometimes foot races. They were free-for-all with no red-tape restrictions. The fairs were all-day affairs. The co’intry people came early and stayed late. They brought their lunches them, dinners, they were called then, and ate them wherever they cared to spread them. No one thought of leaving until after the races. It was in later sars fifty cents to get in the gate, and no one complained of not getting his money’s worth. Skin games, tent shows and hawkers were unknown. It was the annual reunion of the county, and it is a pity the fairs passed away. After 15 or 20 years, the fair company went the way of others of its kind and the grounds were soldand platted into town lots. Some years later another company was formed, grounds were leased from W. J. Withers on West Seventh Street, just outside of town, and there was a series of horse shows and races. They were never very popular, in fact, there was increasing prejudice against horse-racing and after a precarious existence this company also went out of business. A good many years later still another fair company was formed and under new conditions was operated with success for a decade or more. Its grounds were located south of town on the Palmyra road, but its history belongs to a later period.
In 1858 the officers were: Thomas Green, president; John Berry, John T. Edmunds, J. K. Gant, R. G. Henry, G. W. Killebrew and Jas. S. Parrish, directors; John C. Latham, secretary; Thomas S. Bryan, treasurer, and John B. Gowan, marshal.
In 1859 the officers were: James S. Phelps, president; James W. Fields, James Wallace, L. W. Withers, Dr. J. C. Whitlock, Chas. M. Tandy, and A. D. Rodgers, directors; H. A. Phelps, secretary; John P. Ritter, treasurer, and John W. Breathitt, marshal.
In 1860 the officers were the same as the year before.
This was the last fair held until 1869. It was characterized by some historic features. Vice-President John C. Breckinridge was present and made a speech discussing the exciting issues that were rapidly pushing the country into war. Mr. Breckinridge was then a candidate for President,
representing one faction of the Democratic party that had split wide open and made possible the election of Abraham Lincoln.
In the year 1859 another memorable incident was a feature. The family of Thomas and Rebecca Brown was the largest in Christian County. Mr. Brown had died in 1855, but Mrs. Brown, followed by ten grown sons, rode around the ring, the sons mounted on white horses. They were Andrew, Absalom, Gravener, John, Augustus, Robert, William, Thomas, Samuel and Milton. The daughters living at that time were Nancy, Sarah and Jane. Two children had died in childhood.
In 1861 the fair grounds were used as barracks by a regiment of Mississippi troops who had a great deal of sickness among them and during the winter, 101 died and were buried near by. In 1887 these bodies were removed to the new cemetery and an imposing monument erected to the then unknown soldiers. Many years afterwards, in the archives of one of the banks, the list of the names was found and made public. Soon after the soldiers left the grounds, the buildings were burned. The origin of the fire was never disclosed.
In June, 1869, the old stockholders were called together to reorganize and elected B. T. Ritter, president; Dr. J. C. Whitlock, John C. Latham, Wm. T. Radford, Jas. A. Wallace, Samuel G. Buckner and George W. Lander, directors; John C. Latham, Jr., was secretary, and John P. Ritter, freasurer. A committee appraised the grounds at $2,600 and new buildings were at once erected at an expense of $8,200. Joseph F. Foard was elected marshal and in its new buildings the fair was held for four days, beginning October 20. A “balloon ascension” was a big drawing card that year. The fairs were then held regularly every October for many years. The presidents were: W. T. Radford, 1870; James S. Parrish, 1871; Thomas Green, 1872; Samuel G. Buckner, 1873; W. F. Cox, 1874; Dr. James Wheeler, 1875; Col. E. A. Starling, 1876; John T. Edmunds, 1877; Jas. M. Clark, 1878; Col. L. A. Sypert, 1879; Col. E. A. Starling, 1880; Dr. E. R. Cook, 1881; Chas. F. Jarrett, 1882; Col. L. A. Sypert, 1883. In those days the marshals were the imposing figures. The marshal wearing a conspicuous sash rode around the ampitheatre to announce the awards. This position was filled by Col. Joe F. Foard for the first six years. Others who served were M. H. Nelson and William Cowan.
In the premium list of the fair in 1871, a pamphlet printed in colors contained 38 pages of advertisements of the enterprising merchants of the day. James 0. Ellis was secretary and the following appeal for patronage was on the first page:
“The grounds of the Association are beautifully situated within the corporate limits of the city of Hopkinsville, and on the line of the Evansville, Henderson and Nashville Railroad, containing about twenty acres, well laid off for driving and stock yards.
“The Pleasure Grounds are disconnected from each of these; beautifully laid off; well set with grass, and shaded with trees and shrubbery.
“The Amphitheatre is constructed after the latest style of architecture, combining both strength and beauty, with seats raised one above the other, and capable of seating eight to ten thousand persons. Around the entire seats of the Amphitheatre is a capacious promenade, twelve feet wide, from which visitors can have a fine view of the ground and Arena.
“In the center of the Arena is the Pagoda, three stories high, built in the most tasteful and ornamental style.
“Upon the grounds, in a grove of shade trees, is a new, neat and tasteful cottage, with well-furnished rooms for the sole use of the ladies.
“This cottage will be supplied with polite and attentive waiters, whose duty will be to supply the wants of the guests. There will be an ample supply of good water on the grounds for all purposes.
“The Pagoda will be occupied by a magnificent Brass Band, who will enliven the occasion with stirring music.
“The entire buildings are new and securely constructed, and it is the determination of the Directory to spare no trouble or expense to make this, their Seventh Annual Fair, the largest and most successful ever held in this section of Kentucky.”
The prices of admission showed a material increase over the antebellum days. Each department had special superintendents. In domestic manufactures, R. I. Martin and G. V. Campbell; household articles, J. S. Jesup and J. W. McPherson; fruit, V. W. Crabbe and W. H. Howe. These articles, poultry, sheep, cattle, a pacing race, a pigeon shooting and a baby show made up the program for the first day.
The baby show was a free for all, no entrance fee, both sexes. The prize was a toilet set valued at $30.00 and given by Dr. D. M. Foster.
The program for the second day was “products of the soil”; jacks and jennets, horses and mules, concluding with a racking race, and gents’ and boys’ riding rings for $10 prizes.
The third day was mostly horses, driving rings, trotting races and a slow mule race.
The fourth day was more harness rings, the bare-back riding ring for $10 and the worst turnout for a similar prize, the object being to send everybody home laughing.
The premium list of the “Christian County Fair Company” of 1891, 20 years later, contained a list of 23 other fairs beginning in August and running for three months with dates arranged to avoid conflicts. The times were changing and strings of horses and herds of cattle made the rounds, the exhibits no longer confined to the county. That year J. R. Caudle was president and J. B. Gaibreath, secretary and treasurer. The president assured the public that no gambling would be allowed on the grounds. It was still before the “skin games” appeared. The directors were Hunter Wood, James C. Moore, R. H. Holland, Lyman McCord, C. F. Jarrett, M. V. Dulin, C. W. Ware and Wm. Jesup. This company ran from 1890 to 1894, with the same management. A floral hall had been built and much emphasis was placed on exhibits in that department. Baby shows had been discontinued. They proved to be unpopular features because all the babies could not win.
THE PENNYROYAL FAIROn February 11, 1913, the Pennyroyal Fair, the last one in the county, was organized, thirty stockholders being present. The articles of incorporation were read by Geo. E. Gary. The following directors were elected:
S. L. Cowherd, Dr. T. W. Blakey, J. H. White, J. W. Riley, B. P. Eubank, J. J. Metcalfe, M. C. Forbes, Vitas L. Gates, Odie Davis, Dr. M. W. Wilhams, Holland Garnett, Eugene Kelly, R. H. McGaughey, C. C. Carter and John W. Garnett. S. L. Cowherd was made president and B. Gordon Nelson, secretary; Dr. M. W. Williams, vice-president, and Dr. T. W. Blakey, treasurer.
A commodious grandstand and other buildings were built on leased grounds just outside of town on the Palmyra road. The first fair was held early in October. Ben S. Winfree was marshal and the directors voted him one share of stock for his efficient services. The fair was such a success that the stock was increased and 110 more shares taken by farmers and business men of the city. With but few changes in the management, fairs were held in 1914 and 1915. In the summer of 19Th, John W. Richards succeeded Mr. Nelson as secretary. Mr. Cowherd continued as president. The fairs grew in interest and box seats were built in front of the grandstand, the grounds were lighted and night shows were held that became great social events. The third year there was an automobile show with much competition. The vehicles were decorated and filled with pretty girls. Racing grew in popularity and regular races under the State racing law were held. After the 1916 meeting, S. L. Cowherd retired as president and Holland Garnett succeeded him. The directors that year were:
S. L. Cowherd, Alex Wallace, Jno. W. Garnett, M. C. Forbes, Dr. T. W. Blakey, Jno. H. White, Jno. J. Metcalfe, V. L. Gates, R. H. McGaughey, Lee Ellis, J. M. Neblett, Norton Garth, B. 0. McReynolds, W. M. Hancock. Mr. Wallace was from Trigg and Mr. Garth from Todd.
In 1917 John J. Metcalfe became president. Holland Garnett was again elected in 1918 and was re-elected each year until 1924. John W. Richards served continuously as secretary after his first election in 1915. The old Directory underwent only such changes as were made necessary to fill vacancies. M. A. Mason, R. H. Holland, P. C. Sallee, B. S. Winfree, M. E. Boales and J. J. Robertson served one or more years. The last fair was held in 1924, the ten-year lease on the grounds having expired. Once more the buildings were torn down and the grounds platted and sold. Thus ended the succession of fairs. The Agricultural and Mechanical Association from 1859 to 1884; a lapse of two years and then the Christian County Driving Park from 1887 to 1889; the Christian County Fair Association from 1890 to 1894; another interregnum and last the Pennyroyal Fair from 1913 to 1924.
In the intervening years, there were several “street fairs” with a group of tent shows spreading their tents for a week in certain streets.
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