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This is the 100th column that I have written for The Sentinel-News during the past six years, and during that time I have introduced readers to a long list of characters in Shelby County’s history.
I thought it might be an appropriate time to look back over that list and revisit those individuals’ contributions to Shelby County’s development in the past 221 years.
This is not to be seen as a list of all of the prominent persons in that history but simply a recounting of those whose exploits I have described in some detail and whose stories have been the backbone of two books.
That said, here are more of those characters.
Gist, Christopher (1706-1759)
Relating journals and maps of the early explorers to present locations is a difficult task at best, but it is probable that Gist was the first white man to enter Shelby County. Noted Kentucky historian Willard R. Jillson has stated that Gist, representing the Ohio Company in 1751, ascended Drennon’s Creek into what is now eastern Shelby County.
Harrod, Rufus (1912-1989)
Rufus Harrod, a local historian born at Allen Dale Farm, where his father was a manager, retained a great love for the farm and respect for Sue Henning, the owner, who encouraged his education. He recalled being driven to school in Henning’s limousine by Ernest Powell, a key Allen Dale employee, taking care not to dispel the envy of schoolmates. He described the experience of entering the gate at Allen Dale in those days as coming into another world, "like visiting Disney Land."
Henning, James Williamson “Will” (1863-1925)
Will Henning was the son of James Williamson Henning Sr. of Louisville, who was partner in the real estate business with his brother-in-law Joshua Fry Speed, Abraham Lincoln's closest friend. In 1887 he and his family and intimate friends traveled in a special rail car from Louisville to Shelbyville, where he married Sue Thornton Meriwether, only child of Bettie Meriwether. The wedding was held at the handsome home of the bride’s mother at 934 Main Street. This house still stands, beautifully maintained by it owners, Charles and Lucy Long. Henning established a highly successful brokerage firm on Wall Street and became a very wealthy man. However, he had over-speculated, and as a result of the San Francisco earthquake of April 1906, which was followed by a big slump in the stock market, he lost his fortune. Henning built the fieldstone residence at Allen Dale Farm in 1904, at a cost of $25,000, but I have found no evidence that he ever lived there. An incompatibility had developed in his marriage, which eventually led to divorce in 1915.
Henning, Sue Thornton (1866-1933)
Descendant of Ann Allen, who had brought her family to Kentucky in 1795, and wife of James Williamson Henning Jr. Building upon the Jersey herd established at Allen Dale Farm by her mother, Bettie Meriwether, she developed a nationally renowned herd. In 1914 her “Allen Dale’s Raleigh” became the Grand Champion Bull at the National Dairy Show. Henning in 1912 became the first and only woman to serve on the national board of directors of the American Jersey Cattle Club. One article appearing in Sunday supplements throughout the country, featuring Sue Henning and her farm, was headlined, “Can She Teach Japan How to Grow Taller Men?” (I found the Japanese in World War II to be tall enough – and very tough!). She bitterly opposed the marriage of her daughter, Susanne, to a French nobleman, the Marquis de Charette, expressing her objection in the following terms: “If there is one thing in the world that I have always thought I could be without in the family and economize was a French Marquis.” Following the failure of her husband’s brokerage firm on Wall Street, she fell upon hard times, compounded by the expenses of showing her Jerseys in regional and national cattle shows. She ultimately was dispossessed of her farm and forced to leave it, a bitter disappointment to her. In a chapter of my Kentucky and the Bourbons: the story of Allen Dale Farm, I have described her as “a woman ahead of her time.”
Friend and hunting companion of Squire Boone, Hinton was captured by Indians while bringing a 4-horse team with salt to Boone’s Painted Stone Station. He died in captivity.
Hornsby, Joseph (1740- 1807)
In his youth, Hornsby, emigrated from England to Williamsburg, Va., where he became a prominent and wealthy resident. In the latter part of 1797 or early 1798, he brought his family to Shelby County, making his home on his 2,499-acre tract, which he called “Grasslands,” near present Simpsonville. Here, as a successful farmer and public-spirited citizen, he became a founding trustee of the Shelbyville Academy. He kept a detailed “Planter’s Diary,” now in the archives of the Filson Historical Society, which provides a remarkable narrative of his life in Shelby County.
Kalmey, John (1924- )
John Kalmey, at an early age, was encouraged to participate in farming by his father, who in 1933 had bought 114 acres of bottom land on the Ohio, near Kosmosdale. During his prize-winning 4-H career, he won five Kentucky dairy championships. In the Great Flood of January 1937 the Kalmey farm totally was submerged, except for a knoll where a few cows were rescued before the waters engulfed it, too. Following the death of his father in 1948, Kalmey sold the Kosmosdale farm and came to Shelby County, where he purchased his present farm on Zaring Mill Road, one of the most successful dairy farms in Shelby County.
Knight, Dr. John (1748-1838)
In 1782, Dr. Knight, a surgeon serving under the command of Col. William Crawford, was captured along with his commanding officer by the Delaware Indians. Crawford was tethered naked to a stake and obliged to walk barefoot on red-hot coals until he collapsed on the burning embers and was covered by shovelfuls of coals. Knight, forced to witness this torture, was able to escape before suffering a similar fate. Later he became a practicing physician and public-spirited citizen in Shelby County. There is no indication that he suffered stress after this frightful experience. Inner strength was a common characteristic of those who chose to live on the frontier of an expanding nation.
Long, Robert Alexander (1850-1934)
During the Great Depression, my family moved to Longview, Wash., a city with a population of 10,000. It had been planned and built in 1923, literally from the ground up, by Robert Alexander Long, millionaire lumber baron. There were wide-open spaces, and many streets with sidewalks and utilities had been laid out enclosing still-vacant lots. Long had not planned on a depression. There were, however, the modern Robert A. Long High School and the spacious Monticello Hotel, donated personally by Long, and an elaborate railroad terminal, with no rail connections. Working summers during my college years in the planer mill of Long’s Long-Bell Lumber Company, the largest lumber mill in the world, I was proud to earn 50 cents an hour, 5 cents above the basic wage! How could I have known that my indirect benefactor, Kansas City tycoon Long, had been raised on a farm in Shelby County?
One of the first justices of the peace of Shelby County. He incurred the ire of Nicholas Meriwether, a candidate he defeated, who, in a front-page letter in the Kentucky Gazette, called him a “felonious hog thief.”
Matthews, Robert (1923-2010)
On Oct. 20, 1944, USS Preserver, a rescue and salvage ship, was en route to Leyte Gulf in the Philippines, where U. S. forces had landed to initiate the battle for the liberation of the Philippines. Among her officers was Lt. j.g. Robert F. Matthews Jr. That day, the fan in Matthews’ stateroom suddenly stopped, the ventilation system went dead, and all was quiet. He called the engine room to complain about this outage, only to learn that a bomb had penetrated the ship, flooding the power room and causing loss of power. Fortunately for ship and crew, including this future attorney general for the Commonwealth of Kentucky, the bomb had not exploded, and there were no serious casualties.
Part 3: The final names
Ron Van Stockum’s latest book, Remembrances of World Wars, may be purchased at Terhune Style Shop, 14 Village Plaza Shopping Center or from Amazon.com.