Discovering Paducah

I found myself discovering the western Kentucky of Paducah a couple years back in what was my first (and only thus far) trip to the Purchase. As you travel westward in Kentucky from the Bluegrass toward the Purchase, you realize the vastness of Kentucky (though, as a state we are only 37th in terms of square miles, and thus not particularly vast). Though it takes little time to traverse Kentucky from its southern border with Tennessee to either Illinois, Indiana, or even Ohio, the trek from “Pikeville to Paducah” is a easily a six-plus-hour drive.

Looking west on Broadway Street in downtown Paducah, Kentucky. Author’s collection.

But Kentucky’s vastness is not just in that east-west distance, but in the variety of terrain experienced across the landscape. Louisville is often carved out as not being particularly Kentucky-like, but the hills of eastern Kentucky couldn’t be more different than the open flatness of the Purchase. Here, the region is defined by water with the convergence of the Tennessee River into the the Ohio River, which in turn flows into the mighty Mississippi. These waters have huge impacts on commerce, culture, and the land itself.

Here in Paducah one encounters, I claim, an agreeable blend of Western kindliness, and Northern enterprises, superimposed upon a Southern background. Here, I claim, more chickens are fried more hot biscuits are eaten, more corn pone is consumed, and more genuine hospitality is offered than in any town of like size in the commonwealth.

Author, journalist, and native of Paducah Irvin S. Cobb
Historic Marker on the Paducah Riverfront, Paducah, Kentucky. Author’s collection.

Port Paducah

The city of Paducah itself is separated entirely from the Ohio River by a series of flood walls. Without, the city would be vulnerable to constant flooding. The flood prone city experienced natural disaster with regularity, but none like the Great Flood of 1937. This natural disaster began with eighteen inches of rain which put the river more than 10 feet above flood stage. The river stayed above flood stage for nearly two weeks, the earthen works having been a total failure. Following this flood, Congress called upon the Army Corps of Engineers to build the existing flood wall system.

An earlier flood in the 1884 brought the founder of the American Red Cross, Clara Barton, to Paducah where the organization (founded in 1881) conducted its first flood relief operation. The organization assisted the nearly 30,000 refugees from the 1937 flood as well.

A historic marker on the outside of the flood wall highlights three historic events which occurred at Port Paducah:

  • Gen. George Rogers Clark visited this spot, 1778
  • Gen. Ulysses S. Grant landed here Sept. 6, 1861 to occupy Paducah for Federal Union.
  • Capt. Jack B. Sleeth laid first successful submarine cable, 1847. It reached from Campbell St. to Illinois shore.

A City and its Hall

The land on which the city of Paducah was laid was purchased for by General William Clark as part of an acquisition from the estate of his brother, George Rogers Clark. The purchase price for the 37,000 acres? Five dollars.

The majority of Paducah’s buildings do not reach the heavens with the exception of one building in the Tudor style and the magnificent Catholic Church of St. Francis de Sales.

Church of St. Francis de Sales in Paducah, Kentucky. Author’s collection.

I would suggest that a significant reason for this is that municipal functions were located on the edge of town in the middle of the 19th century and that trend was continued into the 20th century. In 1825, the first courthouse for McCracken County was built at Wilmington, Kentucky, before being located to Paducah in 1832. In 1861, the courthouse was moved to its present location then at the “edge of town” with the current courthouse having been built in 1943. (Wilmington was about two miles west of Paducah, but the county seat was moved due to persistent flooding.)

Closer to the Ohio River but not far from the courthouse is the city’s municipal building which was first opened in 1964. It is arguably the most significant city hall in the entirety of the Commonwealth.

The City Hall building was designed by Edward Durrell Stone who was one of the most significant architects of the 20th century. His mid-century municipal building was described as being in the New Formalism design and was completed in 1964. In 2015, Janice Rice Brother penned the following article as the city of Paducah was determining what to do with this architectural landmark.

Edward Durell Stone and Paducah’s Vision for the Future: What Now?

Fortunately, the City Hall was rehabilitated and my visit to Paducah occurred as the renovation was underway. Following the completion of the structure’s restoration, it received multiple awards and accolades. It was also placed on the National Register of Historic Places. (Source: City of Paducah)

My time in Paducah was limited and ill-timed in the cold of winter when the sights and tastes I most wanted to experience were closed due to my Sunday-Monday timeline. Even so, I caught a glimpse of another Kentucky community with a lot to offer.

City Hall in Paducah, Kentucky. Author’s collection.

A Coup in America

Cape Fear Memorial Bridge in Wilmington, North Carolina. Author’s collection.

I’ve had the opportunity to visit the Port City – Wilmington, North Carolina – several times over the past few years. It offers a busy and vibrant downtown, is the home of the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, and has nearby some beautiful beaches. Wilmington is nestled between the Cape Fear River and the Atlantic Ocean.

Wilmington also has a most troubled history. As a southern town, it almost goes without saying that the early economy of New Hanover County prospered because of slave labor. As a major port, railroads crossed North Carolina toward Wilmington where goods were exported around the globe.

Following emancipation and during Reconstruction, Wilmington continued to grow in prosperity. During the latter half of the nineteenth century, Black Republicans and their Fusionist allies saw the election of the city’s multiracial government. But underneath the success of progress, the sin of racism festered.

The Coup & Killings of 1898

White supremacists sought to defeat the elected multiracial government at the ballot box and to remove Blacks from power in Wilmington altogether. They threatened actions “by the ballot or bullet or both.” For months, the local newspaper had published misleading and outright lies in an attempt to divide the community and to incite white Wilmingtonians to fear their Black neighbors. On November 8, 1898, Democrats took every action imaginable to suppress the Black vote. Ballot boxes were stuffed with new ballots to the point where ballots far outnumbered the population.

But it was two days later, November 10, 1898, that the worst of the violence occurred. The Black-owned newspaper, the Record, was burned. Shots were fired in cold blood: at least sixty Black men were killed. Thousands more fled their homes and livelihoods; many were threatened to never return to the Port City upon threat of death.

I cannot even begin to fully lay out all that took place leading up to November 10, 1898, what took place that day, or what ensued for decades to come. I highly recommend David Zucchino’s Wilmington’s Lie: The Murderous Coup of 1898 and the Rise of White Supremacy to better understand this terrible chapter in our American history.

A report prepared a century after the coup concluded that the events of 1898 led “directly to strict residential segregation in Wilmington, decades of Jim Crow discrimination, and the disenfranchisement of the state’s black citizens.” Wilmington’s Lie at 341.

A Memorial to 1898

Even after several visits to Wilmington, I knew little of what had taken place here in 1898. (Which is why I took Zucchino’s book with me on an early trip there in 2020.) And I did not know that there stood a memorial to what had taken place.

Wilmington’s 1898 racial violence was not accidental. It began a successful statewide Democratic campaign to regain control of state government, disenfranchise African-Americans, and create a system of legal segregation which persisted into the second half of the 20th century.

It would take Wilmington a century to recognize and begin the effort to memorialize “those who suffered as a result of the violence of November 1898.” An 1898 Foundation was established and, a decade later, the memorial was dedicated near the site where some of the worst violence occurred.

A plaque at the memorial reads:

These six bronze paddles stand as a memorial to those who suffered as a result of the violence of November 1898. The paddles refer symbolically to water, an important element in the spiritual belief system of people from the African continent. They believed water to be the medium for moving from this life to the next. Water is also incorporated into a diversity of beliefs throughout the world to symbolize purification, renewal, rebirth, forgiveness, cleansing and wholeness.

For this city that grew up beside the waters of the Cape Fear, these paddles symbolize a type of passage as well. The memorial stands here on the banks of this river as a testimonial to a community that, one hundred years later, strove to acknowledge injustices of the past and worked to move forward together towards a society of greater justice and inclusiveness for all its citizens.

We believe these slender yet strong paddles, though rooted in this soil of past memories, rise skyward to the future in a spirit of reconciliation and hope.

Members of the 1898 Foundation, 8 November 2008
The 1898 Memorial in Wilmington, North Carolina. Author’s collection.

I visited the 1898 Memorial and learned about this horrible tragedy during the summer of 2020 while America again reeled from the killings of Black men and women. In the wake of these tragedies, Americans have again examined the importance of which people and events are memorialized, honored, and glorified. In Wilmington, North Carolina, police officers were fired after for “brutally racist” language. News of this broke as I departed Wilmington; when I returned home to Kentucky, two Confederate monuments were removed albeit for “safe keeping” in order to comport with laws passed by the North Carolina legislature to protect these kinds of monuments. And as with other Confederacy-glorifying monuments, the future of the two in Wilmington remains unclear.

I will not include photographs in this post of the two Confederate monuments which, for now at least, are in an undisclosed location. I bring them into this discussion only because, for a decade, they stood in Wilmington near the 1898 Memorial honoring completely two different things.

But as it states on the plaque to the 1898 Memorial, we ought to “move forward together toward a society of greater justice and inclusiveness for all its citizens.” It is a long, slow, but important road. And as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

On the “I Love Kentucky” Podcast

Peter Brackney being interviewed by Barry Gary for the I Love Kentucky podcast.

With just a couple weeks until the September 28 release of my latest book, A History Lover’s Guide to Lexington and the Bluegrass Region (co-authored with Foster Ockerman, Jr.), I had the opportunity to virtually sit down with Barry Gary on his podcast I Love Kentucky.

Check out the episode by listening below or by clicking here:

ON AIR: The Land Between the Meadows Podcast

I recently had the chance to record a podcast episode via Zoom with Jameson Cable. He’s a Kentucky high school teacher who hosts a great podcast called The Land Between the Meadows. He had me on as a “Kentucky Spotlight” and we discussed my books Lost Lexington and The Murder of Geneva Hardman, as well as some general Kentucky history.

If you listen all the way to the end, you’ll even hear me miss a question on his quiz. Dang it! Check out the episode and subscribe to Jameson’s podcast if you are a podcast listener and interested in Kentucky’s history (which I’ll presume you are — since you follow this site). His podcast is a good one! Anyway, here’s the episode – enjoy!:

Fitchburg Furnace

Fitchburg Furnace. University of Kentucky Libraries.

Nestled in the heart of the Daniel Boone National Forest is the Fitchburg Furnace – once the largest iron furnace in the world. Also known as the Red River Furnace, its twin stacks operated only from 1869 to 1873.

The Furnace and Fitchburg

In 1791, the first ironworks began operated in Kentucky. By the 1830s, Kentucky was the third-leading producer of iron in the United States. Throughout the commonwealth remnants of these furnaces dot the rural landscape. But the Fitchburg Furnace was significant if for no other reason than its scale.

The furnace at Fitchburg is constructed of sandstone – its base forty by eighty feet. The structure stretches sixty feet into the heavens. Sixty feet may not seem like much, but the scale of this structure (150+ years old) in a rural part of Estill County is stunning. Although the furnace is all that remains of the iron-production operation, a powerhouse once flanked its rear while a casting shed stood in front.

The complex of the Fitchburg Furnance. United States Forest Service.

The Furnace consisted of two twin stacks, while most Kentucky furnaces had only one. The stacks were named Blackstone and Chandler: each was fifty feet tall and 12.5 feet across on the inside. Together, the furnace could produce 25 tons of pig iron each day. Pig iron is an unfinished iron that requires further time in another furnace before becoming a usable product like wrought iron, cast iron, or steel. The pig iron forged at Fitchburg was shipped via flatboats to iron manufacturers in Cincinnati and beyond.

Brothers Frank Fitch and Fred Fitch developed the furnace when, in 1866, they established the Red River Iron Manufacturing Company. In 1867, Frank Fitch was quoted as saying that “I will design a furnace such as has never been seen before in these parts.” To accomplish this aim,

A furnace, however, does not stand alone. The power house and casting shed, too, are only a small part of the operation. At its height, over 1,000 people made up the community of Fitchburg to work at the furnace and to work in industries supporting, feeding, and taking care of those workers and their families. The community, of which today there is no physical evidence, once included stores and churches. It had a jail, a doctor’s office, and a hotel. In 1870, Fitchburg, Kentucky had approximately the same population as Nicholasville, Kentucky.

Fitchburg, Estill County. Filson Historical Society.

Panic and Ore

At this time in American history, railroads would begin to cross the nation. The first transcontinental railroad was finished by the driving of the golden spike at Promontory Point, Utah, around the same time as Fitchburg opened. Railroad companies and others invested in furnaces like Fitchburg and most of the iron from the furnace would have been utilized to produce rail and wheels for this industry.

Only a few years after the Fitch brothers opened their furnace, the bubble burst for railroad speculation. With that, the price of iron dramatically fell.

And if you’ve ever been to Birmingham, Alabama – the Pittsburgh of the South – you’ve undoubtedly see the statue atop a mountain to the Roman god of the forge, Vulcan. In the early 1870s, quality ore deposits were discovered in Alabama. It became far more efficient, and less expensive, to extract and forge iron in Alabama than from the hills of eastern Kentucky.

The Site Today

Even faster than it appeared, Fitchburg disappeared. The formidable stone furnace remained. By 1895, only the furnace and power house seemed to remain. In 1968, a US Forest Service employee began researching the site. Five years later, descendants of Frank Fitch donated the site – consisting now of only about two acres – to the United States Forest Service. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places the following year, 1974.

It was not until 2001 when there became a focused effort to restore the deteriorating structure. Reports indicated that the furnace itself (the only remaining structure) was within five years of a total collapse. Over the next decade, significant work was done to preserve this important piece of Kentucky’s industrial past.

Fitchburg Furnace. Author’s collection.
USFS Signage at Fitchburg Furnace. Author’s collection.

Relocate the Jessamine Confederate Monument

The scaffolding has recently been taken down from the courthouse in downtown Nicholasville as the Jessamine County structure’s significant renovation nears completion.

Part of the renovation included a complete restoration of the Lady of Justice statues which again stand atop the courthouse holding in her hand the scales of justice.

But the courthouse renovation should be viewed as incomplete. There remains one more item that requires completion: removal of the Confederate Monument.

A renovated Lady Justice before installation atop the courthouse. Doug Fain.

Jessamine’s Confederate Monument

The Confederate Monument standing on the courthouse lawn in downtown Nicholasville is significant and imposing. The seven-foot tall soldier stands upon an even taller 11-foot base. It is, by far, the largest monument at the historic courthouse.

Jessamine Confederate Monument. Author’s collection.

The courthouse lawn, like the capitol in Frankfort, is a place where we honor and glorify. These are places where laws are written and enforced. Because we, as a nation, believe in equal justice under the law it is not right for our symbols in this important spaces to honor and glorify bias or prejudice.

So what does the Jessamine Confederate Monument honor and glorify?

Its base contains various inscriptions which memorialize that ‘Lost Cause’ telling of history. Among the most offensive is this one: “Nor braver bled for brighter land nor brighter land had a cause so grand.” The words do nothing but glorify the South and the systemic racism with which our nation still struggles.

It does not belong on the lawn of a county’s seat of justice. It does not belong on the lawn of my county’s seat of justice.

Inscription on the base of the Jessamine Confederate Monument. Author’s collection.

Most curiously, the statue was originally that of a Union soldier to be located in an Ohio town. That town, however, could not raise the necessary funds. The Jessamine County association purchased the statue from the stone company for $1,500 and the belt buckle was modified from ‘USA’ to ‘CSA’.

As the largest monument at the courthouse, the glorification of the Confederacy (which fought against the United States) diminishes others who are honored for their service in the Revolutionary War. Other conflicts in which Jessamine Countians fought for the United States are not recognized by monuments on the lawn. Yet, those who fought against the United States receive oversized glory.

A Lynching at the Monument

The Confederacy stood to retain an economic system that enslaved Black Americans. Jim Crow kept a knee upon the necks of freed African-Americans after Reconstruction hurriedly ended with the Compromise of 1877. The Ku Klux Klan intimidated. Justice was denied and unequally applied. It is a stained history that America has not overcome.

One of the worst symbols of this systemic mistreatment exists at the end of a rope thrown over the branch of a tree. Six years after the Confederate Monument was dedicated on the courthouse lawn and only feet away from that monument, a lynching occurred. The date was February 6, 1902. A 19-year-old black man, accused of assaulting a white woman, was seized by a mob of some 200 people from the local jail. On the courthouse lawn in the shadow of the Confederate Monument, the mob lynched Thomas Brown in Nicholasville, Kentucky.

Newspaper Headline. EJI.

Relocation or Removal

When the monument was dedicated in 1896, it was done to memorialize the Confederate soldiers who had been disinterred from Camp Nelson and reburied at Maple Grove Cemetery just down Main Street in Nicholasville. It would seem altogether fitting for the statue to be relocated there to the cemetery.

Such a move would follow what happened in Lexington with the relocation of the John C. Breckinridge and John Hunt Morgan statues from the courthouse lawn to the Lexington Cemetery. As a result, the monument could still tell a history (hopefully one that has been appropriately contextualized), but in a place that does not cause the monument to function as a state-sanctioned glorification of the Confederacy.

The courthouse is a county-owned property and governed by the county’s fiscal court. Maple Grove Cemetery is city-owned. Both would need to consent to the relocation of the statue. And, of course, funding (or donated services) would need to be secured to remove and relocate the statue.

The monument is, however, protected by state law. The Kentucky Military Heritage Commission serves as the gatekeeper against any listed site being “damaged or destroyed, removed or significantly altered” without the Commission’s written consent. Removal of the statue, or relocation to Maple Grove Cemetery, would require approval from the Military Heritage Commission.

My own arc toward justice

First, I must make my own confession. In 2014, I wrote columns for The Jessamine Journal. In one, I recognized the statue without appropriate context. I didn’t fully consider the impact the statue might have on black defendant seeking their own justice. Or of the inherent discrimination standing in front of the very source of our county’s judicial system. The presence of the Confederate Monument on the ground contradicts the existence of Lady Justice on the roof. I should have, but did not, write the column you are now reading in 2015. Then, however, I called for the removal of the statues in front of the Fayette County Courthouse. I should have written a different column in 2014 and I should have written another in 2015; I regret having waited another five years to write this one. But today, I write that the Confederate Monument on Jessamine County’s courthouse lawn needs to be removed.

The article I wrote in 2014 quoted Col. Bennett H. Young. Young wrote the definitive history on Jessamine County in 1898 and was present at the 1896 dedication of the statue. He was a Confederate veteran who found the statue the “handsomest” in the county. Young was leading an effort to tell the story of the Confederacy, and all it stood for, through the innocent sounding ‘Lost Cause’ mantra.

Colonel Young had his own agenda, however. Though he wrote a definitive history for the county, his own past identified him as one who fought against the United States during the Civil War. By glorifying a ‘Lost Cause,’ he was part of the effort to rewrite history. It is now time to make sure that our history is properly told.

Today’s Jessamine County

Last Saturday, a Black Lives Matter protest rally was held in front of the courthouse on Main Street in Nicholasville. This coming Saturday, similar events are being planned in both Nicholasville and Wilmore.

Across the Commonwealth, similar protest rallies are occurring in surprising places. The national and international rage over the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others is being felt here in Jessamine County. There is a sense of urgency to do what is right. In Jessamine County, one step toward righting centuries of wrong is to no longer glorify systemic racism in the heart of our city in front of the courthouse. The Jessamine Confederate Monument must be removed.

There will be opposition, some of it angry opposition, to the statue’s removal. The newly restored statue of Lady Justice must be the symbol of what we pursue in Jessamine County: that simple creed upon which our nation was founded “that all … are created equal.” Some opponents will say that history is being whitewashed by the statue’s removal; to the contrary, the ‘Lost Cause’ sought to revise history a century ago. The statue must be removed from the courthouse lawn because what it represents is not justice.

Black Lives Matter Rally in Nicholasville on 6 June 2020. The Confederate Monument is in the upper-right of the image’s background. Jessamine in the Raw.

George Floyd and Will Lockett

Chalk Drawing of George Floyd (1973-2020). Chalk: by Jada Commodore. Author’s collection.

Throughout our nation, protestors are righteously standing up to police overreach and brutality. Protestors gather in remembrance of the many people of color whose lives have been tragically cut short by legal tactics that have been labeled as a form of modern-day lynching. Protestors gather to remember. They gather to say his name: George Floyd. To say her name: Breonna Taylor.

Earlier this year, my book The Murder of Geneva Hardman and Lexington’s Mob Riot of 1920 was published. In it, I included a paraphrase of a quote attributed to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He said, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” I’ve thought a lot about that quote over the past week because, watching the news, I question how far we have come as a nation.

I could not help but compare (and contrast) what is happening today following the murder of George Floyd with what took place a century ago in Lexington, Kentucky following the arrest of Will Lockett. These two men of color were accused of very different crimes and they received very different treatment. This is especially so given that a century had lapsed between these two events. How has that arc of the moral universe evolved?

The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Crimes Committed


In southern Fayette County, Kentucky, a ten-year old girl – Geneva Hardman – was brutally murdered and quite likely sexually assaulted.


In Minneapolis, Minnesota, an employee at a deli called 911 to report that he believed a counterfeit $20 bill had been used to purchase cigarettes.

The Immediate Response


Without hesitation, the focus was on Will Lockett. Lynch mobs began to form with the purpose of hunting down the accused. Police and sheriffs deputies from three counties also searched for several hours before Will Lockett was apprehended by Dr. Collette and Officer White of the Versailles Police Department. In soiled and bloodstained clothes, Lockett was put into the back of a vehicle and transported downtown to the Lexington Police Department’s headquarters. There, Will Lockett confessed to having committed the crime of which he was accused.


Police responded to the scene. Within 17 minutes after the police arrived, Mr. George Floyd was “unconscious and pinned beneath three police officers, showing no signs of life.”* One officer had kept his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds — far longer than George Floyd maintained consciousness.

Protestors Gather


In 1920, the lynch mob did not stop their desire for vengeance. They searched the police station and then the jail, but local and state officials did what they could to protect the confessed murderer. (Was the confession coerced? A valid question and one explored in the book. The justice system of 1920 functioned quite differently than the justice system should function in 2020.) Five days on, Lockett’s trial was held in the Fayette County Courthouse. Outside the courthouse, thousands gathered. Some in the group surged forward, and soldiers stationed around the courthouse responded.

Mob gathered outside courthouse, February 9, 1920. J. Winston Coleman Collection.


The night following George Floyd’s murder, many gathered in Minnesota’s Twin Cities to protest specifically against the police tactics utilized in Floyd’s death and more broadly against the systemic racial inequality that has plagued this country for more than 400 years. These protests have spread across the United States into all fifty states as well as overseas. Although some protests have become violent, they have remained largely peaceful.

Shots Fired & National Awareness


As the mob in front of the courthouse in Lexington began to surge, Lockett’s defense counsel was delivering closing remarks pleading that his client might be saved from execution. Shots rang out in a volley that resulted in the deaths of six protestors.

The murder of Geneva Hardman, the Lockett trial, and the declaration of martial law was picked up by newswires and carried nationally including multiple stories in the New York Times.


Just as shots were fired a century ago in Kentucky, shots rang out at the crowd in the city of Louisville. Though protests in Louisville have been largely peaceful, there have been some incidents of property damage (including the loss of Louis XVI hand) and violence. On June 1, however, David McAtee was shot and killed by police while operating his bbq stand after midnight. It is unclear what precisely took place because police had deactivated their body cameras. Kentucky is once again the focus of national attention for its state of emergency.em

Femi Oyeniran
Lexingtonians seek justice for George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Femi Oyeniran.

Looks like Martial Law


Following the shooting outside the courthouse, martial law was declared in Lexington, Kentucky for about two weeks to ensure no more violence occurred. Although the initial show of force was strong with bayonets fixed marching down Main Street, local officials were permitted to function and life was largely normal. It was a sort of “martial law light.”


Images of police in riot gear across the nation. Clearing areas of peaceful protest even before an imposed curfew. Guardsmen on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Although martial law has not been declared, there is a sense that in part of America that there is at least the appearance of martial law.


There are parts of these stories which are easy to contrast: a crime committed by a person of color and an escalated response.

The events are easier to contrast. Will Lockett was electrocuted a month after his trial, while George Floyd never received even an arraignment for his alleged crime. It is positively clear that Floyd received no justice whatsoever. Though it is questioned by some today, Lockett did receive a semblance of justice particularly given the era in which those events occurred a century ago.

The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice? It is fair to question whether or not it has over the past century when looking at these two specific events, though a broader picture examining Miranda and other advances in due process might still show a forward-moving bend toward justice. In 2020, we can only hope, pray, and demand justice for George Floyd, for Breonna Taylor, for David McAtee, and for so many others. Hopefully, the arc’s progress has a longer path yet to tread.

In Lexington, protests have remained peaceful. In some instances, local police have walked with protestors and taken a knee to honor the lives lost. No curfew has been imposed in Lexington. This sort of peaceful approach makes Lexington a leader among cities (though still imperfect).

In 1920, Lexington was also perceived to be a leader. Civil rights leader W.E.B. Dubois described the local and state response to the riots during the Lockett trial (and the protection of Will Lockett before and during the trial) as “The Second Battle of Lexington” referring to the opening conflict of the Revolutionary War – it was believed to be the first time in the history of the southern United States that local and state authorities had stopped a lynch mob.

When I graduated from law school, I was given a poster with the Hebrew words Tzedek tzedek tirdof. From Deuteronomy, it means “Justice! Justice! You shall pursue!” It is my prayer that we, as a nation, will pursue (and truly achieve) justice.

This post contains excerpts from Peter Brackney’s The Murder of Geneva Hardman and Lexington’s Mob Riot of 1920 (The History Press, Charleston, SC: 2020).

For more information about the book or to schedule an event with the author, click here.

The featured image was taken during the Lexington protests on Tuesday, June 2. On the right is the Fayette County Courthouse where Will Lockett was tried.

Clays Mill

In a conversation with another local historian, I recently learned the location of Clays Mill.

The spokes out of Lexington each head somewhere. Harrodsburg Road goes to Harrodsburg. Nicholasville Road to Nicholasville. Old Frankfort Pike. Well, you get it. If you consider all the springs and creeks around our community, then consider all of the roads with names related to that lost topography and industry that has been covered with residential and commercial zoning and structures.

Armstrong Mill. Or Millpond. Which is close to Spring Run Road. Then there is Higbee Mill. But probably the most significant “mill” road in today’s Lexington is Clays Mill (historically written Clay’s Mill).

Clays Mill Road Today

Google Maps.

Clays Mill Road runs from Harrodsburg Road all the way into Jessamine County where it terminates at Brannon Road. The map above shows Clays Mill Road, in red, from where it begins to the Fayette-Jessamine County line. You can see just south of there where the road now terminates in Fayette County.

The road itself was once two-lane the entire distance until a proposal begun in 2002 led toward the road’s widening. The proposal was opposed by many neighbors because of the increased traffic and character change that would result from the project.

Another oft-mentioned project, once in the state’s six-year road budget, was the construction of an exchange from New Circle Road at Clays Mill. That project was “indefinitely delayed” in July 1985.

Clay’s Mill Road of History

But the Clays Mill Road of today (or even of 35 years ago) doesn’t answer the historical questions of the road. In 2003, it was posed in the Lexington Herald-Leader: “Did the Clay family own a mill for which Clays Mill Road is named and, if so, where was it located?”

It’s a good question. Newtown Pike ended in Newtown. When you drive out Richmond Road, you’d eventually arrive in Richmond. But driving out Clays Mill only takes you to Brannon Road.

The newspaper’s answer: “The Clay family mill was owned by Marston Clay and was sold to Samuel Barkley in 1803. The mill was located in Jessamine County on the Jessamine Creek near what is presently the end of Clays Mill Road where it connects to Brannon Road.”

Whoever wrote the answer for the newspaper clearly didn’t travel out Clays Mill Road. If they had, they’d discover that Jessamine Creek isn’t close to Brannon Road.

Thats because Clays Mill Road was once much longer than we think.

Google Map.

In the map above, the arrows point to a treeline which follow the old path of the Clays Mill Road. At the top of the map is Brannon Road and at the bottom is Catnip Hill Road in Jessamine County (you can see the reference to Chaumiere du Prarie at the very bottom of the map).

But that’s not all folks!

Google Maps

On the south side of Catnip Hill Road is a 1.6 mile road called Rhineheimer Lane. it is a straight shot almost the entire distance to KY-169/Keene Road in Jessamine County. The two yellow arrows in the map above point to Rhineheimer Lane. And the star — well, that is the site of the old mill. The old Clay’s Mill.

Hewitt’s 1861 Topographical Map. Library of Congress.

In the yellow square added to the 1861 map above, you can see the “Mill” adjacent to property identified as being that of Jane Barkley (which matches the newspaper’s account noted above). The small arrow points to another sign: Clays Road.

History Repeats Itself

Yes, I’m a history junkie. But I also like to follow the future growth of central Kentucky. As a result, I tend to read things like the Nicholasville-Jessamine County Joint Comprehensive Plan every time it updates. It was last updated in 2017.

Buried on page 62 is information about a proposed “local connector road” is this potential future addition: “Begin at Clays Mill Road Extension south to meet Rhineheimer Lane at Catnip Hill Road; continue from south end of Rhineheimer Lane south to meet Keene Road.”

This proposed project is identified as “3” on the map below. (Another interesting project, “4” would extend Lexington’s Boston Road all the way to Baker Lane in Jessamine County. With these local connectors planned, you can anticipate a lot of residential growth in northern Jessamine County.

If/when completed, the old course of Clays Mill will once again run its full course. History has a funny way of repeating itself, doesn’t it?

Nicholasville-Jessamine County Joint Comprehensive Plan – 2017.