By Arthur Dixon
The Mountain Eagle
WHITESBURG, LETCHER COUNTY, KENTUCKY.THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 27, 1969
Walk Down Main Street in Whitesburg and See in Memory the Families Who Lived There--
The Fraziers, The Brashears, The Crafts, The Richmonds, The Strongs, The Pollys, The Lewises
Heretofore we have mentioned from time to time a little about the beginning of the county seat of Letcher County - the town of Whitesburg. In this article we shall try to go more in detail with such information as we have.
You will recall that the first courthouse for the country was a large two-story log building located near the mouth of Pert Creek, just back of where Jerry’s Tire Service is now situated. Three Commissioners were appointed by Nathaniel Collins, the first County Judge, to select a site for the seat. Hiram Hogg, who had built the first house in what is now Whitesburg, offered to donate ten acres of land for the town. The offer was accepted and the county seat located where it is today. This was in 1842.
Nathaniel Collins also was supposed to have laid out the town and sold the first lots. The first thing the surveyor did was to lay out a parcel of land in the middle of the plat for the courthouse and jail. This done a main street was laid out about forty feet wide, the whole length of the town, and lots about one hundred feet wide were laid off to be sold to the public.
The sale of these lots were very slow as there was no incentive for a farmer to leave his home and buy a town lot unless he wanted to start a business of some kind. Hiram Hogg owned the first house in the old town but Drew Adams, a son of John Adams, one of the very first men to settle in Letcher County, lived in the house for a while.
Before going into detail about how the town made its material progress, suppose we digress just a little and state that a few persons dropped in from time to time from the adjoining counties and occasionally a stranger would come in from Virginia, Tennessee or North Carolina.
There were no doctors or lawyers for some years. Eventually Dr. Martin Wetzel settled here for the practice of his profession. Then came some lawyers, as J. B. Fitzpatrick, J. E. Sarver, J. P. Marrs, James Hagins, James C. Harris, John Burns and others.
The first merchants in the town were W. H. Nickels, Marion Hall, Walter Nickels, J. Nathan Richmond and Isaac Davis. These merchants dealt almost exclusively in gensing, leather, pelts, feathers, beeswax, wool, wheat and corn. For these items they exchanged coffee, cotton, sugar, clothing, cloth, leather and a few farming tools.
Money was by no means a necessity for the farmer produced from his farm or the woods about everything he needed for the household. The woods were full of wild game and the streams of water were teeming with fish. Honey was readily obtainable from wild bees, and deer and bear skins were used for clothing and the heavier hides for shoes. The women invariably wove and made their own clothing and knitted their own wollen stockings, as well as wollen sox for the men folk.
There were churches, too, in the old days and they were of the Regular Baptist order. Some of the first ministers to come to the county were Simeon Justice, William Salsberry, Electous Thompson, John Dixon, John A. Caudill, and J. D. Caudill, followed by many others. The Indian Bottom Church of Regular Baptists was established in 1810; the Sandlick Church in 1815 and the Ovenfork Church in 1820, they were well established by the time the county was formed in 1842. It may be truthfully stated that the first settlers came to this county with a Bible under his arm and a flintlock rifle on his shoulder.
The beginning of the building of the county seat in this fourth and fifth generation is almost dead and forgotten, but the old street is here yet, and the old lots and ground along it on which stood log cabins and log homes, the places of chivalry and romance are still here and to a few still sacred. The new county seat was on the bank of the old North Fork of the Kentucky River and only fourteen miles from its source at Payne Gap.
Whitesburg’s Main Street in the Early Part of the Century, Before...
And After Sidewalks. Top photo from the collection of Mrs. Rachel Adams.
Bottom photo from the collection of Yarletter Swisher.
(Photos copied and shared by Frank Majority).
Quoting now from an unnamed author and an undated article in the scrap book of Mrs. Sam Collins, Sr., we learn more about the real beginning of the old county seat:
“The first house really erected after the street was established was a single room long building on the south side of Main Street where the Jim Frazier brick building now stands. (The present site of the First Security Bank. This building was owned and occupied part of the time by Hiram Hogg, who donated land for the county seat.) It was erected by Robert Brashear, the grandfather of the late Robert 0. Brashear, who at the time lived at the mouth of Leatherwood Creek in Perry County. Just before the Civil War another room was added to the building Two rooms were made up stairs and the whole building weatherboarded with lumber cut at a saw pit on the Watt Long Branch. The late Stephen J. Caudill did the carpenter work. This house was torn down many years ago to make room for the Jim Frazier brick building. The original building was put together with wodden pegs, and shop-made square nails held the weatherboard in place. The house was built in 1843.
“About this time, 1843, Noah Reynolds was starting to erect the first courthouse for Letcher County. He burned the bricks on the vacant lot between the Presbyterian Church and the county jail.
“The second house in the old town was built by Noah Greer, on what is now the Jim Sarver or Judge Baker property. (the present site of the Do11ar General Store. ) Hardy Graves from Russell County, Virginia, bought the lot where the Dawahare Store now stands and built a house on it. This home stood until after the Civil War, and the late Dr. Joe McCreary then built a very modern building where the old one was torn down. There were a number of vacant lots between this building and the old ‘K-Y’ Hotel, a prominent stopping place in the old days. (The K-Y Hotel stood where the R. H. Hobbs Dime Store is now located. ) Before the Civil War a man named Tom Strong built a good log residence on the lot where the Daniel Boone Hotel now stands. John A. Craft, formerly a prominent Baptist minister, and at one time County Court Clerk of Letcher County, built about the first modern home on the lot. This home was later moved down on Eagle Street and was occupied at one time by Jim Stamper, the deputy jailer. It is still standing.
The Daniel Boone took the place of the old Craft home. The corner building on this lot is now occupied by Family Drug Store. This brick building was built by Jim Frazier and for many years he operated a general store there. )
“Passing by courthouse square we cross Jail Street to where Jim Frazier had a metal covered store building. On this lot away back Jonathan Richmond, once a leading merchant of the town, built a long store building with a residence in connection with it. (The present site of Main Street Service Station. ) Just below it someone else made an addition to this building which reached down to the corner of the Mart Lewis beautiful brick home (now Blair Funeral Home). Before the war a good two-room log building was erected on the site of the Mart Lewis home and Henry Polly, the first elected Jailer of Letcher County, lived there. It was afterward occupied by W. B. Nickels. This old monument of the town gave way to a nice home erected by the late Sam C. Tyree, and was afterward sold to the Lewis family.
“From the R. 0. Brashear ancient building (now the Kentucky Power Company property) clear down to the North Fork of the Kentucky River, lay a stretch of vacant lots known as the Ezekiel Brashear or Aunt Minerva property. Down next to the river and facing Main Street, Ezekiel Brashear built a good hewed-log house. Soon additions were made to it until it became the best known and most popular home and plantation in the town. This home stood until about 1908 when Dow Collins built the now Steve Frazier residence on it. (Now the Alpha Frazier property.) An old log barn, which the writer remembers seeing, stood between this building and the Kentucky River.
“Now we trace our steps back up to the upper end of Main Street to the Judge Baker property. Finally Joe Cooley built a home which stood for many years on the property now known as the Federal Building or post office lot. After the Joe Cooley building was razed, the late R. B. Bentley built the Dave Hays home on it. On the lot now owned by Wilson Fields (now Craft Department Store) soon after the Civil War Uncle Solomon Yonts, then Clerk of the County Court, built a log home. On the same lots Sam Tyree also built a small home.
The ‘Upper Bottom’ before it was developed by Judge Harvey and Sam Collins
into Whitesburg’s top subdivision. Photo from collection of Woodford Webb.
(Continued to Page 14)
“In time these all gave way to other improvements. Farther down the north side of the street stood the Hiram Hogg log house, the Wesley Hogg house, a store house and other small buildings. In time these gave way to the First National Bank Building (now the Bank of Whitesburg), and the Lewis Brothers’ brick store building as they now stand.
Early Whitesburg ... (from Page 3)
“Along back before the Civil War a man of prominence and wealth, William Henderson Nickels, came over from Virginia and became the owner of the property on which the old brick home of Jim Frazier stood. He built a home on the property and a store house about where the filling station now stands. Mr. Nickels was one of the county’s wealthiest men, and in about 1878 he built the old brick building on it, the first brick building in town except for the courthouse. (Mr. Marion Hall, an uncle of Mrs. Jesse Holbrook or Kona, built this fine brick home for Mr. Nickels.) Mr. Nickels lived in this home until the property was sold to Uncle Jim Frazier. The store building built by Mr. Nickels on this property was removed to Webb Avenue. (I think this was formerly the Major John A. Webb store building until he built the new brick store building on Main Street in 1925.)
“On the corner of Main Street and Webb Avenue for some years has stood a costly brick building known as the State Bank Building. (The old First State Bank was located in this building.) It was erected by the late Judge Ira Fields in 1916. The first building erected on this corner was built by the Bob Brashear mentioned above, who built a two-story log building for his son, Bill Brashear, to be used as a residence and store house. This building stood until about 1885, when it was torn down and a large store building built on it by Monroe Webb. In the years following various persons and business firms sold goods in it. In 1913 it, with other valuable property near it and down the street, was destroyed in a very disastrous fire. A store house and post office structure merely escaped destruction. The law office of the late P. D. Fields was also lost in the fire. After this, Mr. Fields who was a man with much money and influence, built the strong stone store building now standing and belonging to W. E. Cook and S. T. Frazier. (The W. E. Cook part of the building is now occupied by The Mountain Eagle.)
“Away back a man by the name of Tom Cassady came to town and built the home on the lot now known as the S. E. Holcomb lot. The residence stood until about 1913 when it, too, was destroyed by fire. Mr. Holcomb following this, built the house now owned by the Johnson Funeral Home, which is occupied by his daughter, Mrs. Cordelia Hall. (Now Johnson Motel.) On the lot now occupied by the Johnson Motel, William Helton once built a house and lived in it for many years.
“The lot on the corner of Bentley Avenue once had a small residence on it, built by a man whose name is not remembered. He lived alone in it until one night he died. For years the old house was known as the “Haunted House” and no one would go about it. James P. Marrs, a lawyer, who must have been braver than the others, built a neat, modern home on it. About 1909 the late R. B. Bentley became the owner of the lot and all the lands back of it and had the neat residence now occupied by his widow, built. (This building is now an apartment house belonging to Archie Craft. The said R. B. Bentley was Circuit Court Clerk of Letcher County for many years.)
“All the stretch of land lying from the Bentley property to the Northfork including the Mrs. N. W. Webb lot was owned by Carter Collins and his wife, Aunt Susan, known as Sookey. Before the war Mr. Collins built a good log home on it, where he lived until during the Civil War, when he was shot and killed. His widow occupied the house for long years after the war. The old house was greatly improved in the years after it passed from her possession and up until 1909 a great number of persons occupied it. In that year it was bought by the present owner, N. B. Webb, and is still in his possession. The old Collins homestead was razed in 1923 and the present stucco building erected in its place. The George Zimmerman home stands on a part of the same property (now the Mother Craft residence).
“I have said in this article that there were no lawyers in the county before the Civil War. There was no use for them. And, there were no doctors in the sense that we have doctors in these days. Soon after the way, however, these began to drop in and ply their professions. If any of these rubbed against college walls there is no account of it. Dr. M. B. Taylor was the first of this profession that anyone now living can recall, although there was a Dr. Cox who went over the country concocting herbs, roots and barks, for the healing of the sick. Nearly ninety five years ago (this article is not dated) John Collins, Sam Breeding and Thomas A. Cook, young men at the time, got enough funds ahead to enter medical college and became regular practitioners. Dr. Joe McCray, a brother to Mrs. Ballard Salyer (the mother of Raphael and Alene Salyer), residing in the town, was another of these, although he died early. (I stated in an article last week that Dr. McCray was the father of Mrs. Salyer. It seems I was mistaken.)
“And speaking of lawyers, James B. Fitzpatrick, the father of the late Judge Dr. John D. Fitzpatrick, James E. Sarver and Judge Burns, seem to be the first lawyers who established regular practice in the old town. The first two spent most of their lives here. In the period from 1866 to 1885 the names of numerous lawyers are recorded as practicing here and having to do with our courts. Among these were Judge Randall, Judge Granville Pearl and Bob Boyd, who were here frequently from London; Tom Sawyer from Somerset, Frank Finley from Williamsburg; Tip Farmer from Pineville; John Dishman and his son, Ben, from Barbourville; Giles French from Harlan Courthouse; David Little from Manchester and James P. Marrs from Pike County, who for over thirty years made his home here. Of course, all the men mentioned above have long since passed from the scenes of life.
“There is much more to be written about the old town, the old days and the old ways, but at this time space forbids. The story of the new town for the past dozen or more years, if written, would make a big book.”
Letcher County, KY, Genealogy