1914 View of Owenton
It has not been my pleasure to sojourn in Owenton (Owen County) so long, as during my recent invalid visit, since the winter of 1854, when I worked in the store of John J. Forsee on Adams Street, and boarded at the home now owned by Miss Nora Hackett, where Creath Chambers kept a boardinghouse, the principal one in town. I have known the town as a nearby country boy and as a man since 1840. That year my father moved from Carroll County and took charge of the new county poor house. I well remember the new, large, log house; its size, quality, and style, but somehow, though only five years old, I soon became familiar with Owenton.
There were three things that particularly impressed me. One was Jim Brown's tavern (not hotel). In those days everybody made the tavern their loafing place, so I would stand around and listen, hearing many things not proper for boys.
The next drawing place was Billy Bower's store, kept where Mrs. Sullivan's house is now located. It was the first store I was ever in, so it was charming to a green country boy.
Next was the jail standing next to the lot now occupied by the Kemper-Ransdall drug store. It was made of hewn logs. The inside wall laid horizontal and was notched, chinked and pinted. The second wall was also hewn logs, but in perpendicular or standing form. The outside wall was laid as the inside wall. The windows were handmade, heavy iron bars. The jail was kept by Dr. Farmer Rees, the grandfather of our Dr. J. F. Rees.
The first prisoner I remember was a Negro named Sam, accused of murdering his mistress, who was an invalid named Estes, living near Greenup Fork meetinghouse. The writer cannot say if he was ever tried in Owen county, but his case was moved to Williamstown, where he was tried, condemned and hanged. He declared his innocence all the time, even on the scaffold.
Alas, more than 70 years of ups and downs has brought us to the Owenton of today. Only two men, and maybe two women, then living, are still with us, and not a house then standing still survives. Some have been torn down, and the old material put into new ones. The last one was razed by Miss Lizzie McRay for the building of the nice, modern cottage she occupies.
Owenton today, with the few exceptions, is the most up-to-date inland town of its size in Kentucky. The three banks, which are strong, active, and accommodating, gives the town life. The large dry goods stores; clothing and furnishing emporiums; the immense and numerous groceries; the two live, active and popular weekly newspapers; the lawyers; doctors; and the host of other businessmen, including the hustling, sober, moral, and polite county officers make the town a fit dwelling place for a prince.
During the tedious hours I sat, all helpless from a broken leg, by the large window at the west end of the hall of flats owned by the First National Bank, and, for a change, on the east porch, I looked and meditated. I was impressed, first, with the large number of lame people. Before I was crippled I never noticed them. Now I see 20 percent are lame, go on crutches, a cane, or limp. What a difference in my viewpoint. Then I was impressed with the way people walk. The sick, the poor, those trained mentally, the ignorant, young, the old, the white and the black; all have different gaits, in step, erect walking, slinging their hands, and so forth. But the most self-composed and wisest-looking man is the commercial traveler. He alights from the automobile without looking at anyone, takes a bee course to the hotel, sometimes direct to his trade, to supply in a hurry the demands of town men. He does look wise, but not intentionally.
I am also impressed by the large number of women dressed in black, indicating that sadness has come into nearly all homes. I am impressed with the sober aspect of the town, not a drunken bloat among its citizens; all appear sober.
More than that and above all, I am deeply impressed with the kindness and large heartedness of the people in the town and community. Whether I die soon or live long, I will always with a glad and fond memory cherish the valuable tokens of esteem I received without regard to church lines and other distinctions. A book would not hold an account of the expressions of brotherhood, Christian kindness, and profound respect shown me during this affliction. All I can do is to give expressions of my profound gratitude and to say from my heart of hearts that I have more faith in the race than before.
from the 1914 Owenton News-Herald, by J. W. Waldrop