Samuel Bigstaff

A Mover and Shaker Little Remembered Today

From an article by Jim Reis in Pieces of the Past, Volume2, pages 60-63 and reprinted here with the author's permission.
 

Samuel Bigstaff was a prisoner when he arrived in Northern Kentucky at the age of 17.  When he died some 50 years later, Bigstaff was one of the most respected men in Northern Kentucky.  Among the projects Bigstaff had a hand in were the Ft. Thomas military post, The Central and Shortway bridges and the expansion of the streetcar lines.  He also was involved in resort hotels and new home construction in Ft. Thomas, the development of the Cote Brilliant are in Newport and construction of the first gold course.

Bigstaff was born December 1, 1845 in Sharpsburg, Bath County, Kentucky and his ancestors were from Scotland.  One of them, Jacob Staffe, had a son named Bicker and it was from the son that the family name Bickerstaff was derived, modified to Bigstaff.  The Bigstaffs settled in Culpepper County, Va. then moved to Kentucky.  Samuel's father Odd Samuel Bigstaff was born in Madison County in 1802.

O S Bigstaff as he was known, was a self-educated, cultured and respected man in his community.  He moved his family to Bath County in 1833.  Samuel's mother, Fenton Bean of Mason County, was in her late 20s when she married O S Bigstaff.  By that time she had been widowed twice.

Children of O S Bigstaff and Fenton Bean

1. Sarah
2. Richard-born 1838

3. Odd Samuel Jr.-born 1 Dec 1845 died 18 Aug 1912 m-Mary Alice Webster 16 Oct 1865
4. Benjamin
5. James

 When the Civil War began, Samuel ran away from home and joined the 2nd Kentucky Confederate Cavalry in 1861, under the command of Gen. Basil Duke.  At age 17, after having been captured and escaping back to Morgan's Raiders, he fell into enemy hands again after being shot out of the saddle at the battle of Snow Hill and left on a Tennessee battlefield with a bullet in his left leg.  He was sent to a Union prison camp in Nashville, then transferred to a camp in Louisville. In 1863 he was moved to the Newport Barracks, where his outgoing ways and winning personality so ingratiated him to the garrison's officers that they extended him privileges at their mess.

Bigstaff's interest in escaping waned after he met Mary Alice Webster, born Apr 1848, oldest daughter of F M Webster, a New York native and prominent Newport lawyer and Unionist, and Anna E.  He married her after his release and settled in her city; after a stint in the iron business, he became a lawyer.  His war experiences presaged a real-estate career, in which he never allowed setbacks to continue for long without turning them to his advantage.

Children of O Samuel Bigstaff Jr. and Mary Alice Webster

1. Nazzie W-born Mar 1867 died 19 Feb 1953; never married
2. Frank W-born Mar 1869

With the help of Campbell County Judge Charles J Helm, Bigstaff began attending law school in Cincinnati; he joined Helm's Newport firm in 1875.  He began to dabble in business ventures and became manager of the South Covington and Cincinnati Street Railway Company.  That company developed the Northern Kentucky streetcar system and he became a company vice president. It was Bigstaff who enabled northern Campbell County to share in the growth coming from Cincinnati by promoting residential development and mass transportation for commuters.  As executor for the Taylor estate in the 1880s, he opened up much of the Mansion Hill and eastern neighborhoods to new homeowners.  He created the Cote Brilliante and Ingalls Park subdivisions that Newport annexed after 1900.

Bigstaff acted decisively to ensure that Campbell County would remain home to a major military installation after demobilization of the Newport Barracks.  He had been involved with Eli Kinney in developing the area of the Highlands into subdivisions.  He had acquired a large tract of land in this district and personally convinced Lt. General Philip Sheridan to build a post there capable of maintaining a full regiment.  By honoring Major General George Thomas, a hero of the Union Army from old Virginia, Sheridan wisely found a name that northern Kentucky's Democrats and semi-reconstructed rebels could find acceptable.  It was the crowning iron of this event that no one benefited more from relocating the U.S. military installation than Samuel Bigstaff, an ex-Confederate cavalryman from Morgan's Raiders. 

Using his streetcar connections, he personally walked out the route fro a streetcar line from Newport to Ft. Thomas.  Called the Cincinnati, Inverness and Ft. Thomas Electric Railroad, it ran along the route basically covered by Memorial Parkway.  In 1888 he was a backer of the Grand Avenue Turnpike, which runs today from Tenth Street in Newport to South Ft. Thomas Avenue in Ft. Thomas, just north of the old military post.  The road opened hundreds of acres of land in Newport and Ft. Thomas for residential development.

Bigstaff led the way to transform the Highlands into a major city.  He laid out numerous subdivisions within a 250-acre tract bounding North Ft. Thomas Avenue and Memorial Parkway.  He founded the Inverness Country Club, northern Kentucky's first golf course and only the second in greater Cincinnati.  He ranks as the father of Ft. Thomas; he created the conditions enabling it to emerge by the 1940s as Kentucky's wealthiest city and home of the state's best school system.  He also stimulated Bellevue expansion southward by laying out the Bonnie Leslie tract bordering Woodlawn.

He was a leading shareholder in the company that built the Shortway BridgeHe raised the $200,000 needed to build the toll-bridge.  He deserves much of the credit for inducing the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad to construct a passenger line to Ingalls Park.  In the early 1890s the Inverness Country Club was laid out in Ft. Thomas on part of the Inverness subdivision.  It was the first golf course in Northern Kentucky.  The nine hole course was located across from the Newport Waterworks.  The clubhouse burned in 1913

Samuel Bigstaff found the outskirts of Newport virtually unpopulated, but managed to propel northern Campbell County into the forefront of expansion within greater Cincinnati by the late 1890s.  Bigstaff was the architect of greater Newport's transition into a modern, prosperous, suburban community.  Recognition of his contributions came at a testimonial dinner honoring him in July 1892, when he was toasted by the mayor of Cincinnati and Governor John Y Brown of Kentucky. 

He moved from Newport to The Highlands in 1905 when he bought the Shaw house.  He and his son, Frank had law offices in the house.  In August 1905 he announced The Altamont Hotel project.  A 60 room hotel it cost $100,00.  He also built the Shelly Arms.  The hotels closed in 1909, but the Altamont reopened later as the Altamont Springs Hotel.

Bigstaff died August 18, 1912 at his home in Ft. Thomas.  An Episcopal service was held at his home on August 20 and he was buried in a family plot at Evergreen Cemetery.

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To see photos of Ft. Thomas, The Altamont Hotel and the Shelly Arms, please visit Northern Kentucky Views

 

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