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Louisa-Lawrence Co, KY

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January 13, 2018

Growing up in Louisa – Good Manners!  

 Weekly feature . . .by Mike Coburn

During this recent Christmas season, the mail brought us what I thought was another batch of the ‘usual’ greeting cards we get from friends we barely see or hear from, but when I saw a particular envelope, my complacency was shattered. I had received a card from someone I totally didn’t expect. There was a time when we got a huge number of Christmas cards and those updating writings that summarized a given family’s past year. They were a way of staying in touch and keeping up with friends too rarely seen. I must admit that our sending of cards has fallen off, and that the pile of cards received is significantly less than in prior times. Part of the reason is a faster lifestyle and the accessibility of instant communication through texting, Facebook, or via other social platforms. “Snail Mail,” whether the government knows it or not, is a dying industry. Most of the mail remaining is commercial and governmental, with very few personal letters except for older generations.

This ‘wake-up’ call sent my mind racing to another time when certain formalities, such as sending ‘thank you’ notes, was the order of the day. It was simply polite and a real social affront if not done in a timely manner. It was back in my days of growing up in that little Kentucky town when I overheard a lecture that a neighbor was giving her recently married daughter. “What do you mean you haven’t sent out ‘thank you’ cards?!” I wasn’t a member of the family, so it was a little embarrassing that I was within earshot of the lady correcting her procrastinating daughter.

 Like an instant replay, my memory brought back a mental picture of when my grandmother reminded me that a ‘hand-written’ note of appreciation for a host, guest, benefactor, or close friend was never out of order, and should be considered as ‘required.’ Not sending such notes showed either that we didn’t care for the person or the gift, or that we were wholly untrained in the social graces. I was taught that all forms of etiquette showed whether we were polished, or ‘finished.’ They rose out of the desire to be polite and have a good reputation. While rare today, such actions were what people of good character took special care to make happen.

My Great-grandmother spent hours trying to train this hickish yokel about the ‘important’ things of life, which reflected upon one’s upbringing. There was a long list of courtesies that I was expected to remember. That list seemed to grow every year, so that I once accused her of making things up. She patiently told me she never gave me more than I could handle, but there was always more to learn. ‘Now where have I heard that?

I learned that a gentleman ALWAYS walks on the outside when traversing down the street with a lady. That goes back to the days when a horse-drawn carriage might track a little close and hit, or throw mud upon the two pedestrians. The idea was that the man must protect the woman. It reminds me of the gallant man placing his cloak over a mud-hole that the lady might pass over the offensive puddle without getting mud on her shoes. When I see men and boys on the inside I feel a shiver and have to look away. To this day, my wife could tell you, I simply cannot stand not being on the inside.   

Perhaps looking for an escape, when I was told how to treat a lady, I remember asking how I could know if a woman was a lady. The answer was, “Every woman is a lady until she proves herself otherwise.” That made it clear enough. My mind went to the movie, Gone with the Wind when finally, Brett Butler read the clues and decided that the manipulative Scarlett O’Hara had proved she wasn’t a lady. He therefor, didn’t ‘give a ****.’ That reminds me of the day when men simply didn’t cuss in front of women out of respect. If something slipped, they would apologize at once. Times have changed so now rather than showing respect, we are equally disrespectful. I’m old enough to think something is wrong with that picture.

It wasn’t just about walking on the outside next to the curb, but opening doors for others (everyone, but especially women) or rising to my feet when someone respected entered the room. That respect, which is the operative word, should be provided not only for ladies, but elders and most anyone else you should show deference. This is repeated throughout life. This is expected for people such as a ranking military officer, a grandparent, the preacher, or maybe even a politician. Well, at least some politicians. This article isn’t about women being proclaimed the ‘weaker sex,’ but rather that all people, should be shown absolute respect. There’s nothing wrong in being polite and showing deference to others.

It was shortly after I left Louisa when I had an occasion to meet a young lady of refined background. Not only was she pretty, but she was clearly from ‘good stock.’ Before you get offended, that was the language of the day and did not mean she was at all an animal. Rather, breeding meant that she was from a good family, perhaps including parentage of success, or great wealth and/or public standing. After meeting her parents, I was taken to see her grandmother who had a fine estate on the James River in Richmond, VA. The driveway was lined with flowering trees and was at least a half-mile long and bordered grand, well-maintained formal gardens. When we arrived at the Tudor mansion, we were let in and briefly parked while the grandmother was advised we had arrived. She descended the grand-staircase as we were announced. I felt totally uncomfortable and out-of-place, but the lady immediately put me at ease and made me feel at home. We were given a tour of the public rooms and were shown the photographs of the family that were on the grand piano. They grandmother excelled at being a good host. My grandmother would have loved to have been there.

I remembered that ‘comfortable’ as defined by my great-grandmother was the most critical responsibility of a good host. It isn’t just the ‘tea and crumpets,’ but how the guest is put at ease. Making others feel at home was an art, that in my case, had to be cultivated. Thinking of others was a new kind of focus for me, but in the end, I could see that it was by far a better way to live.

As this article wants to testify, I had not totally forgotten granny’s lessons. Later, when I had left Richmond, I hand-wrote a card thanking the grand-mother for her hospitality. My granny would have liked that. A second note went to the girl’s parents. I heard later that they were impressed by the note, as well. Sadly, it didn’t work out with the girl, but I found someone even better. Shhhh.

I never understood all the details, but even in grade school the teachers told us about the old practices of gentlemen formally ‘calling’ on others, including sweethearts. There was a way to place a ‘personal card’ on a tray, perhaps with a certain corner bent up signifying something I’ve forgotten. The act of turning certain corners up meant this or that, but I didn’t take good notes and really don’t remember. I doubt others would understand, anyway. I never had an engraved personal card until a box was ordered for me just prior to my graduation from Louisa High School. Those were to be included in graduation invitations/announcements. Afterward, I was placed at a table and told to respond to each gift with a note of thanks. Today, with email, Facebook, and Twitter, I doubt younger generations know how to hold a pen. Certainly, they don’t use a fountain pen and never took classes in penmanship. In the end, I felt embarrassed because sending out invitations was like ‘asking for a gift.’ That didn’t seem right, no matter that everyone were expected to do this.

Granny used to meet me at the door to be certain that I removed my baseball cap, once indoors. The military taught me also to wear the appropriate hat/cap when outdoors, lest I be out of uniform. They also required the hat/cap be removed when indoors. Today, I try to take my darling wife out every week or so to various restaurants for a date. While there, when I look around the various dining rooms, I find it amazing how many men are sitting at the table still wearing their caps. My grandmother would have boxed their ears!

 We also were to at least ‘tip’ our caps when passing others, especially ladies, or to remove them until we passed. I think this action is reminiscent of a military salute and may have come that practice. We also had to remember to use polite language such as “yes, mam,” or “no, sir.” Some of my friends had to ask to be excused from the table at the end of a meal. My kids were taught that, too. It kept them from running off to play and leaving food uneaten. Finishing my meal with kids running amok wasn’t fun for me, especially when the crash of broken glass is heard.   

I was taught that when on a date with a lady it was my job not only to show her every courtesy, but to protect her from any embarrassment, or outside threats. She was to be returned to her home safely and to be shown an enjoyable, fun evening. Trying to be a gentleman, it was my duty to treat her as important, and to ensure she’d have no cause to regret her time with me.

I remember when ladies would dress up to go downtown. They would never just dart out the door, but rather would put on nice dresses, fluff up their hair, and put on ‘their faces.’ If I had to, I’d button up my shirt and if really pushed, I’d tuck the shirt in my pants. When going to larger cities the women would wear a hat, white gloves, and carry their best purse. Why, they’d even break out high heels and wear hose! Big box stores aren’t so formal, are they? Society has changed. We now suffer with folks not caring how they look when they go out. I know I’ve seen pictures taken at Walmart of people of all shapes and ages showing their lack of concern for personal hygiene or appearance. It is no surprise they don’t send cards. I’m not sure if they simply don’t care, or never received the training. They appear to be unfocused today as they walk along through life focusing on sending text messages or playing electronic games.

 It seems to me that each generation loses a bit of the past; good with the bad. While most of that occurs by lack of training, some are driven by the lack of care of the greater population. All I can say is that the young man or woman who cares to learn etiquette, and takes care to apply those lessons, will rise in the esteem of others, and will gain self-esteem and confidence. It is time to put out a call for everyone to show respect to others, and teach those behaviors to our children and grandchildren, lest they be gone forever.

Meanwhile, if you see me getting lazy or ignoring proper etiquette, call me on it. I never want to be rude, uncaring, or untrained. That would reflect negatively on the heartfelt efforts of some very nice people and their good breeding. To start this ‘new/old’ trend, gentlemen show some respect, walk on the outside and take off those hats!     This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.



January 9, 2018

The original toll bridge that was constructed to connect Louisa and Fort Gay, WV (originally called Cassville, WV) was known as the Louisa-Fort Gay Bridge.

Louisa-Fort Gay Bridge was officially opened to the public at 4:00 p.m. on Wednesday, June 27, 1906 with Flem McHenry as bridge-keeper...Louisa-Fort Gay Bridge was officially opened to the public at 4:00 p.m. on Wednesday, June 27, 1906 with Flem McHenry as bridge-keeper... 

It was officially opened to the public at 4:00 p.m. on Wednesday, June 27, 1906 with Flem McHenry as bridge-keeper. The original toll charges were three cents each for pedestrians (two cents to go to or from the Point Section) and 15 cents for a car and driver plus three cents for each passenger.

The bridge reportedly was featured in Robert Ripley's "Believe It or Not,"syndicated to hundreds of newspapers around the world. The span was considered unique because it crossed two rivers, connected two states, two counties and two towns and had three exits-entrances. A common local joke in giving directions was to tell someone to "Drive to the center of the bridge and turn right." Such a turn carried a traveler from Louisa to the Point Section between the Forks of Tug and Levisa.

The final tolls were collected on Thursday, September 30, 1971 from Governors Louie B. Nunn of Kentucky and Arch A. Moore, Jr. of West Virginia. The old narrow bridge has been replaced by a wider, more-modern bridge.

The bridge from Louisa, in eastern Lawrence County, to Fort Gay, West Virginia is something of a geographic and architectural oddity. The quarter-mile concrete span spans two forks of the Big Sandy River, connects two states and has a right turn at its halfway point, which connects traffic to the Point Section neighborhood of Louisa.

Louisa, the county seat of Lawrence County, KY, lies at the confluence of Tug and Levisa Forks of the Big Sandy River, on a two-thousand acre tract of land surveyed by George Washington in 1769, the corners of which were well-marked with Washington's initials. Settlement was attempted in 1789 at The Point, between the forks, but it was abandoned. A settlement called Balclutha existed for a short time afterward west of The Point. The settlement that became Louisa began about 1815.

The Forks of Big Sandy post office opened in 1819 and the Louisa post office opened in 1822. In 1823, a court house was erected in the center of the public square. The building was a two-story frame house, 35x30 feet, weatherboard side, and a wood shingle roof. The first story was 12 feet high, with sleepers 2 feet apart. According to old records, there were "two 12 light windows in the end of this large room." The second story had two partitions forming three rooms. Each room had "one 18 light window in the side." The old town pump was located near the court house, on the corner of Main and Main Cross Streets.

By 1830, Louisa had 87 inhabitants. In 1846, the town contained a court-house, church, post-office, four stores, two doctors, two lawyers, and several mechanics' shops. River traffic opened up in 1837 with the first steam boats chugging down the Big Sandy. Push boats and flatboats were still in use, especially when the river was low. The steamboat landing in Louisa was located near the end of Main Street. Many of the boats would go as far as Pikeville when the river stage permitted, which was often in the spring of the year. They would be heavily loaded with supplies and return with local products for markets east, such as ginseng, feathers, wool, beeswax, chestnuts, as well as dried apples and peaches.

In 1843, Daniel Bayless Vaughn moved from Wood Co. VA to Louisa where he kept the "Big Hotel" and pursued his trade of merchant tailor. He was a steamboat man from 1852 to 1860, running the "Tom Scott" on the Sandy River. He built 5 large steamers, and 4 smaller ones to run on Sandy.

In 1860, Archibald Borders, an influential businessman and first Lawrence County judge, built the famous steamer "Sandy Valley". Judge Borders owned a large brick house which stood at the grade and was facing Main Street. The house was built before the Civil War. Also situated on the property were the Borders Servants Quarters. Archibald Borders owned half the block between Main and Madison Streets.

His son, A. P. Borders shipped goods on the steamer to various ports along the Big Sandy Valley. A freight bill, dated Dec. 18, 1860, for a shipment to J. Richmond, to be delivered "at the Port of Louisa, KY," shows every product imaginable that was taken up the river, such as crockery, yellow ware, sugar kettles, grass rope, stoves, hats and shoes, liquor, cheese, fish and specifically herring, black powder and German steel, raisins, paper, soda, pepper, coffee, indigo and madder, etc.

The steamboats also represented the main means of transporting passengers to and fro the Big Sandy Valley until the advent of the railroad in the 1880's.

A stage coach line to Mt. Sterling, a distance of 103 miles, connected Louisa with the interior of the state. Weary travellers could rest at the Gallup Hotel, acquired by George W. Gallup in the summer of 1860 which stood on the banks of the Big Sandy River, near the steamboat landing, on Main Street in Louisa. The hotel keeper was Henry S. Bussey. A ferry, operated by George R. Miller, crossed the river at the end of Main Street just below the mouth of Levisa and Tug to Cassville, Virginia [now Fort Gay, West Virginia].


Daryl W Skaggs

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January 6, 2018

Growing up in Louisa – SNOW!   

Weekly feature . . . by Mike Coburn


As I write this, the east coast is under a winter storm warning. Blizzard conditions are possible and even expected in parts of my region. No doubt, based upon predictions, we will soon have heavy snow and wind to deal with. This ‘mother of all storms’ is forming off the coast of the southern states, which will turn into a frenzy that more resembles a hurricane or blizzard than a mere winter snow event. Making matters worse is that the good people of my region are not used to driving in, or dealing with significate snow. In fact, a dusting around here causes shutdowns and sends some into panic. What we may expect tonight here in the Mid-Atlantic States will be much more than a dusting. Predictions are that all of New England and ‘down-east’ Canada, will suffer even an even greater impact since they will experience the full fury of the flurries. (Please excuse me for that sad play on words.)    

Watching the national weather maps I see that Louisa may dodge most, if not all, of this storm. A small front may bring you a wintery mix, but that one will likely be short-lived. I wish the best for you and rejoice that ‘lucky you’ may dodge another bullet. I’m very aware that slick roads are bad anywhere, but far worse in the mountains. You will completely escape, but get an arctic blast of bitter cold. It is winter, you after all, so we’ll just rack this one up as a ‘normal’ event when compared to the history of Januarys past.

I remember many snow storms during my high school years there on the banks of the Big Sandy. One, in particular, was so heavy. It left the little town looking very much like a Currier and Ives print. The branches of evergreens were loaded and weighted down with a fluffy layer of white. This storm had sneaked up on me that night. I was with my girlfriend in the northern end of Lock Avenue at the time that outside conditions worsened. I enjoyed the distraction of my visit with this sweet young lady, but found that when it was time to go home, the walk was to take place in a nearly pristine and deep blanket of white snow. I don’t remember the peace being broken by any automobile traffic, and I didn’t see another living soul. I was alone, but somehow warm and altogether happy. Snow had coated the telephone cables, street lights, the bare branches of the wintering trees, and had created drifts covering bushes, porches, and sidewalks. It would have been easy to read the footprints left showing where I had been that night. It was quiet and lovely, but it took a while longer getting home since many of my steps sank deeper when I stepped from sidewalk to street. I used caution to avoid ditches, although in town, only the drains along the gutters were likely to cause serious problems if encountered.

I remember another storm that took me out of my home when the town’s fire alarm sounded. I grabbed my gear, ran and met the truck on Madison Street. I clambered aboard not knowing where there was a fire, but the other firemen holding themselves down on the bed of hose, told me what they had heard. The trip was along the tracks where a house was fully engaged in flame not far from the newly opened laundromat, but across the tracks. We sprayed the house with water that immediately froze, making beautiful designs of ice, much like frozen waterfalls. Even our ‘turn-out’ gear, jackets and helmets, were coated with ice. At some point, we had to break down the firehose that had been laid across the tracks, because a train was coming from the south. The break in the action ensured that there was little hope to save the house. We watered down neighboring homes in hopes the fire wouldn’t spread.   

It was spitting snow on another night when we traveled on the bed of the firetruck to Blaine. Their high school was in flames. It was to be a long night as we worked hard in our attempts to save the building. I was overcome with smoke while in the building trying to hose down the classrooms. Inside, through an open door, I could see that the floor had given way so we were able to spray water directly into the basement, where the fire seemed particularly bad. Even though I stayed low beneath the level of smoke, I was overcome. My fellow firefighters carried me out and laid me on a little hill. After a short time I recovered and headed back into the fray. At one point, Fire Chief Compton called us out of the building. I looked up and saw that the fire had broken through the roof, which was ready to fall. I remember that a friend had climbed a ladder and was up on the roof. Chief Compton frantically called him down. He had just gotten to the ground when the roof imploded.

 Blaine didn’t have a water system with fire hydrants, so we had to drive the firetruck to the edge of the creek bank, maybe two or three hundred yards away, to reload the water-tank. The bank was too high to use a pump, so we had to use the old-fashioned ‘bucket-brigade’ to refill the firetruck’s tank. The creek was the only water source we had. History will tell you that it wasn’t enough. Even though firetrucks and men from Paintsville, Prestonsburg, and Grayson where there in support of our efforts, the building was a total loss. The heat from the fire melted the snow for quite some ways, so while the fields were white, there was no snow sticking around the burning building. I remember as I huddled down on the hose-bed in our ride back to town that it snowed the whole way, but many of us were too tired and cold to care. I was wet and cold to the skin, black with soot, and ‘dog-tired.’ Chief Compton bought us some coffee, I think at the ‘Hamburger Inn,’ when we got back. It was the first cup of coffee I ever really enjoyed.

Back in the day when snow storms commonly blanketed the area, the school system would not run the buses out on the rural roads. Still, the town-kids would walk to school just as they did normally. Once there, we’d gather around the stove and try to dry our wet socks. We didn’t study or engage in lessons, but just visited and swapped stories. We would break outside from time to time for a snowball fight, but never for any major battles. We’d usually leave school early and tramp home, each in his/her different directions. For some of us it was time to break out the sleds and head for town hill.

I also must mention that a strange thing seemed to happen in certain yards around town. Snowmen magically appeared as if to announce they were somehow in charge. Many were draped with scarves, hats, and had coal or rocks for faces. A week or ten days later their remnants were the last reminder of the snow.  Little mounds of dirty, often nearly black, was all that remained. In thinking aback, the dirt was likely cinders from the many passing coal trains that broke the silence in our little valley. I suppose the soot was less when diesel fuel replaced the steam engines, but even day two after a storm, the sludge on the streets was dirty, already.

One winter’s day I was visiting my mother in Michigan when an ‘Alberta Clipper’ visited overnight. It was the first snow of the season for them, but it was a doozy. I’m sure it was something like two feet deep when I was sent out to shovel the front sidewalk. Once I cut a path through the frozen snow, high mountains were piled making a steep cliff on both sides. My mom and my half-sister were watching me work from the comfort of the living room, noses pressed hard against the crystalized glass. As it would happen, my foot hit an icy place and both feet went up in the air. I ended up sitting in the snowbank with only my feet, the snow shovel, and my arms sticking out. After the ladies enjoyed the sport of laughing at me they finally came out to pull me free. A good bit of the icy material had worked its way under my jacket and into my trousers, so I warmed up quickly while trying to shed the snow away from my uncovered shins. I never had that happen in Kentucky, so I was content to return to the little valley in the foothills. This event may explain my dislike for shoveling snow.

Another day has passed in writing this, so I have to report a phenomenon that so rarely occurs. THE WEATHERMAN WAS RIGHT! We got a little over a foot and are facing several days of very cold temperatures, which means it will hang around for a time. Roads are impassible and many, though not all of us, are out of power. It’s pretty, but has come at a cost. My TV dish is covered with snow and naturally just out of reach of brooms, etc. I have movies recorded that will help us entertain ourselves and the three toddler grandchildren spending their days with us. No cabin fever here, for sure. Just lots of noise and sweet little pumpkins running off their unspent energy. I think I’ll look for a room in which to hide. (So far they haven’t thought of making a snowman. Shhhh…)

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