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JIM: The story behind an old picture


The following article appeared on page one (jumped to page four) of the April 7, 1937 edition of the Adair County News.

Photo Shows Town Years Ago

An old picture, containing faces of only a few men yet living and showing a portion of the Public Square as it appeared nearly 30 years ago, was shown us last week by Col. L.B. Hurt, genial ex-sheriff of the county who has done much to keep alive local history.

The picture was taken December 1 [1], 1908 on the east side of the Public Square and shows townspeople gathered excitedly about members of a posse from Russell County who had trailed Elmer Hill, alleged murderer of a little girl, into the county.

The story, as related to us by Col. Hurt, is that the posse, on horseback, tracked the accused killer to a point near the present residence of N.B. Kelsay [2], Jamestown Road. The party, carrying long rifles and led by sheriff Uriah Selby of Russell County, lost the trail there and rode into town. It was then that the picture was taken by J.W. Coy [3], who lives on Burkesville Street.

Among the familiar faces pointed out to us by Mr. Hurt include James H. Young, now one of the oldest men in town; the late James T. Page, and the late Steve Knifley. Sherd Hatcher, now deceased, is shown mounted on his grey horse, which was a familiar figure thirty years ago. Jim Ed Bomar and Woodson Baker, local Negroes, can also be located in the crowd.

One man, with his back half to the camera, has been called Mr. Hurt by a number of people who have viewed the picture, but he is not sure about it, although he was in the crowd. Another figure bears a great resemblance to Judge James Garnett, now of Louisville, but Mr. Hurt is not sure about that.

A careful study of the picture reminds us of the great developments which the past quarter-century have seen.

The Isenberg house, [then] occupied by a restaurant operated by Bob Hudson, stood on the spot now covered by Lerman Bros.' Store. Across Jamestown Street from the restaurant stood the Jeffries Building, which then boasted only two stories. [4]

In case you've wondered what became of the murderer who was responsible for this picture having been made, he was finally arrested and taken to the Monticello jail for safekeeping. A mob from Russell County went to Monticello, seized the hapless prisoner, returned him to the county where the crime was committed and hanged him at the mouth of Greasy Creek.


1. December 1, 1908, the date given for the photo mentioned (but not imaged) in the article is of a necessity incorrect, as the murder and rape of Nannie Womack, the crime with which Elmer Hill was charged, didn't occur until December 8. Likely. the typesetter dropped a "0" from the date, as an article in the December 16, 1908 News stated in part, "The dogs followed the trail through Russell county and into Adair and finally lost the scent at Long View, two miles from Columbia... about 11 o'clock Thursday a.m. [December 10]."

2. The Nathan B. Kelsay place, noted in the article as the locale where the posse lost the trail, is on Highway 55 South (then called Jamestown Road), between Rte. 704 and the Marvin Jones Road, nearer to and on the same side of Hwy 55 as the latter. This well matches the ". . . Longview, two mile from Columbia" location noted directly above.

3. James William Coy, born in Nelson County, Ky., in 1868, "came to Columbia when a young man and opened a photographer's studio and followed that profession until his retirement several years ago." -- from his obituary, Adair County News, April 9, 1941. He was in Columbia at least as early December 1897.

4. From the description in this paragraph, the crowd apparently assembled near the intersection of Jamestown Street and the Square, as the two buildings mentioned as visible in the photograph are the Isenberg House (razed in 1909 to make way for the Russell & Co. Building) on the entry corner of Jamestown St. and the Square; and the Jeffries Building, across the street on the exit corner. The third story of the latter wasn't added until the early 1920s.

This story was posted on 2020-07-11 16:44:31
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