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JIM: Russell County in 1900, as seen in Adair County News

In a nod to the Russell Springs Fair (August 14th-17th), the mid-August 1900 edition of the Adair County News devoted nearly one-half of page three -- the main news page at the time -- to community newsletters from Russell County. A brief side article stated that "We made an effort to have all the post-offices in Russell County represented in the News this week. A few failed to respond, but we are thankful for the reports sent in."

By Jim

Sixteen correspondents responded, several of them from communities now long-since fully submerged by the waters of Lake Cumberland. A few of the correspondents gave thumbnail sketches of their community or some of the characters therein.

Jamestown reported a light rain had fallen recently; Mr. and Mrs. C.H. Murrell and daughter Katie of Columbia had visited the G.F. Jones family (the families were related through Mrs. Murrell); the school was progressing nicely with a large bump in attendance anticipated with the advent of cooler temperatures; and the aforementioned Mr. Jones was doing a good business in the drugstore he recently had established in Jamestown.


The reporter from Wesley apparently mistook the call for news as the call to preach. About three lines were devoted to community health ("generally good") and the Fair ("the talk of the week"). Then came a lengthy paragraph stating that several brandy distilleries would commence operation soon, but (with unstated but obvious relief) none would be near town. "It would be much better for the people in a moral sense if they would dry their fruit instead of turning it into a liquid that will ruin young men of the country...Parents with young boys should use every effort to keep them from the still-house. They are trap-doors to hell, and he who visits them will sooner or later land in a country where ice is badly wanted and none is made."

In Denmark, Capt. Bill Payne, late of the Mexican War, was in delicate health, "yet he delights in entertaining his friends." The local mercantile house, Edward Aaron & Bro., was doing a good business, and the point was made that "They are first-class citizens and deserve the trade of this section."

Another local character, Mr. Hudson Blankenship, well-known to many Adair Countians and "quite an old man," (he was about 78), freely dispensed wholesome advice to any who cared to listen. "[I]f he lives he will be at the polls election day, vote Democratic, a laudable habit he fell into when he reached his majority, and which he has kept up ever since."

The "news" from Lula (in southeastern Russell County, near Wayne County) consisted mostly of a brief sketch of how the community got its name:

"I am not positive but I think this place was named for Miss Lula Stone, a beautiful and accomplished daughter of Judge W.S. Stone, cashier of the Bank of Jamestown. She died many years ago, but during her life she spent much of her time in this place, her parents sojourning here at that time. She had a lovely disposition, and so popular was she when the village was established it was named in her honor. It is situated in Smith's Bottom, one of the best sections of the county. There are a number of farms in this locality worth from five to eight thousand dollars, and not an owner anxious to sell."

In other news from Lula, Mr. William Smith, local merchant, was doing a good business in his general store.

The correspondent from Horseshoe Bottom included a brief background, stating

"This place gets it name from a bend in the [Cumberland] river. It is located four miles from Jamestown, and has been a business point for many years. It is a boat landing, and there is doubtless more shipping from this place than any other in Russell County."

(Until several years into the 20th century, most manufactured goods came into Russell County via the Cumberland River, either upriver from Nashville; or down river from Burnside, to where the goods had been shipped by rail from Cincinnati or Louisville and occasionally from Saint Louis.)

The talk of the town was that come gathering time, corn wouldn't bring as much as a buck-twenty-five a barrel. There was also "some talk of building a pike from this place to Jamestown," with the note that the citizens of the Bottom would liberally subscribe to the cause.

Mr. Reuben Dunbar, the Bottom's best-known citizen, merited singular mention. Then in business with his son and a nephew, he had been "a leading merchant at this landing for many years."

(Mr. Dunbar put Abe Lincoln to shame in the honesty department. On one occasion, Captain Ryman, a well-known river man, accidentally handed "Uncle" Reuben a five dollar gold piece, thinking it was a nickel. The mistake wasn't discovered until boat and captain had departed, and Captain Ryman wasn't back for some two years. Immediately upon his return, however, the first thing Mr. Dunbar did was to hand him the gold coin and explain what had happened. The Captain was so impressed that when the new steamboat he had under construction was completed, he named it the "R. Dunbar" in honor of Uncle Reuben.)

From the northeastern part of the county, Irvin's Store chimed in with a nice thumbnail sketch. Penned the correspondent:

"This is one of the oldest post-offices in Russell County. When I could first remember, and I am not in the gosling stage, I knew [of this post office]. It was here that Judge John Irvin, now a citizen of Kimble, made the greater portion of his wealth. For many years he sold goods at this point, and he sold them too. If you refused to give his price he took yours. Other merchants in the county thought he was selling below cost, but the judge knew his business, and when he retired to private life he had a splendid estate... The community is morally and religiously inclined. The people go to church and pay their debts."

(In February, 1901, Judge Irvin's daughter was at the center of a huge scandal in Kimble, also known as Russell Springs. Suffice it here to say the goings-on involved a faithless wife and a recently widowed physician shot by the cuckolded husband.)

Otherwise, Dr. Roe (James Monroe) Blair reported no serious illness in the neighborhood, and the bottom had fallen out of the stave market.

The village of Felix was anticipated being nearly deserted, as everyone was expected to attend the Russell Springs Fair that week. (One of the drawing cards was the Liberty Brass Band, said group having been employed to furnish the music.)

However, the store of I.A. Wilson & Co. would remain open. "They do extensive business, and when their home customers leave, others come in."

The correspondent went on to state that "The business men of this place do not make large pretensions, but they are perfectly satisfied with their trade."

Over Esto way, Dr. A.V. Neathery had a light case load, as there was no serious illness in the area. Mrs. Oris Barger (later of Columbia) who had been down for some months was improving, and Esto was growing, with several new houses built in the recent past and others to come. Many residents were expected to attend the big Fair, Esto being but five miles from Russell Springs.

A sketch of the town read, in part:

"Outside of Jamestown perhaps there is not a more noted point in Russell County than Esto. It is located on the Columbia and Jamestown Road, three miles from the latter place, and been a mercantile point for a great many years. It was here that 'Uncle' Daniel Barger lived and died. He was a very intelligent man, and no better citizen could be found in all the country. His advice was generally taken, and many a man profited by listening to his admonitions."

(Without a doubt, the Esto correspondent had to endure scurrilous accusations of "getting too eager to reach conclusions.")

From down Kendall way, "On the beautiful Cumberland River, situated five miles above Creelsboro" (not far removed from present-day Wolf Creek Dam), the reporter stated that in season, Kendall was "a great fishing point, and every year some very large cat[fish] and salmon are caught here." He (or she) also noted that while a few small boats were then making their way up and down the river, it would be fall before the "tide" (depth of the water) would be sufficient for anything larger.

Not to be outdone by the Felix correspondent, care was taken to point out that the people of Kendall were unpretentious and that "They rise early in the morning and pursue their labors, thank Providence for their lot, and vote Democratic at every election."

Particular homage was paid the most prominent family of the community:

"Lester & Sons sell goods at this place, and do a splendid business. They carry an immense stock and their trade is far reaching. The head of the firm also owns a valuable river bottom farm which will produce thousands of barrels of corn. He also threshed a large wheat crop and harvested many bushels of oats. He grows an abundance of all other kinds of product."

At Creelsboro, it seemed that politics and barrel staves were the topics of the day. The writer expressed great relief that the several Democrats who had opposed William Goebel in the gubernatorial race the previous year had set themselves aright and planned to vote for Beckham.

(Mostly by hook and crook, Goebel had been handed the governorship but served only three days before succumbing to an assassin's bullet. Lt. Gov. Beckham was then elected governor in the special election of 1900 and re-elected in 1903, serving in all just weeks short of two full terms.)

Two of the staunchest Democrats of the lot, merchant W.J. Armstrong and Gus Holt, a trader and farmer, "will stop business any time to engage in a little political 'bout.'" Both were of the Democratic suasion, and "a Republican stands but little showing in front of them."

On the business front, the market for barrel staves had greatly declined from the previous winter and "in consequence of the fall in price, many thousands yet remain upon the river banks. with the market in barrel staves suddenly quiet."

From farther upriver at Rowena came the report that all the Democrats were for Beckham, not a naysayer in the bunch, and, looking farther up the political food chain, Bryan and Stevenson buttons had arrived and were being worn with great satisfaction. (William Jennings Bryan and Adlai Stevenson were the Democratic presidential and vice-presidential candidates in 1900. This was the second of Bryan's three unsuccessful attempts to win the White House.)

The corn crop was expected to be bountiful and prices cheap. On a social note, several members of the younger set had boated a few days earlier to the Pointed Rocks, "six miles from this landing," arriving about noon. Following a basket lunch, "several hours were spent in viewing the beautiful colored rocks at this noted place."

As with the other river communities, the men of Stokes burned white hot for Beckham, chief among then Hon. W.N. Stokes, "merchant of this place." In reference to a schism in the Democratic party, the correspondent pontificated, "The [John Y.] Brown wing of the Democratic party is dead in this locality, in fact, it was never extensively alive."

Cattle could be bought at reasonable prices, wheat was about all threshed, oats and millet were good, and the corn crop was immense.

In the village ycelpt Kimble, news was skase, mighty skase. The Fair had "opened yesterday" with (what else?) fair attendance, and a number of boarders, including Mrs. W.E. Bradshaw of Columbia, had been at the Springs (located at what is now the south end of Main Street, near the intersection of Main and Jamestown Sts.) "for several weeks now," taking advantage of the curative properties of the waters therein.

(The correspondent apparently divined the future in regard to the attendance, as the Fair opened on Tuesday, August 14--the day this edition of the News went to press. However, he or she divined correctly as the next edition of the paper noted attendance the first day was light "but during the remainder of the week the association was well patronized, and evidently made money.")

A number of new houses had gone up in recent months and crops were good despite a paucity of rain. Mr. Geo. Warren was considering surgery for his wounded leg. (Mr. Warren, then about sixty-four, passed from this sphere of influence almost exactly five years later. He had been wounded in the Civil War.)

The Sewellton letter provided a brief glimpse of that community:

"Our little town is out four miles from Jamestown. It is not claimed of Sewellton that it is the second or even the third village in population in Russell county. It is small in size, but her citizens are substantial and industrious, and contended with habitations.

"A good school is in progress, and church building is convenient, and almost every Sunday we are given opportunity to hear a good sermon...

"The land of this section is thin, but most of the farmers have splendid crops."

Mr. Berry McKinley, one Sewellton's "best citizens," had in recent months been bereft of his wife and "some time ago thought seriously of selling out and removing to another State, but I understand he will remain with us."

In the Font Hill section, the citizenry was free of serious illness; "some" cattle recently had been bought and sold at reasonable prices, and, as at Kimble, rainfall was scarce but crops were abundant. Squire M.H. Shepherd was the bane of scofflaws, he being "ever ready to issue warrants for disturbers of the peace."

Particular attention was lavished upon one citizen, a man obviously influenced by the moral uprightness and general rectitude of the residents of the nearby Sacred Triangle:

"Mr. H. McBeath, who is interested with Mr. Smith in the mercantile business, is also a splendid saddler, and turns out very fine work. He is a man who reads his Bible, fears God, and despises sin. No better citizen, morally nor religiously can be found than Hamilton McBeath."

(Mr. McBeath's given name was Hannibal, not Hamilton as stated in the newsletter.)

And finally, from far-flung Jabez, came the sad tale of Mr. John Johnson, a merchant once worth upwards of twenty thousand dollars, whose good nature had led to his financial ruin:

"He is a kind hearted man, and in his efforts to help those less fortunate, much of his money slipped from his fingers."

Dr. Jo Scholl had but few patients to attend, but the correspondent recalled that

"Last year at this time the whole country was infected with with small-pox, and there were several deaths. I understand the county court paid out seven or eight hundred dollars for Doctors and nurses to wait upon the sick." (My God -- socialized medicine!)

By JIM


This story was posted on 2014-01-06 04:30:23
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