HISTORY OF CHRISTIAN COUNTY KENTUCKY
charles m. meacham
The Last Decade; The Industrial Foundation; Dark Tobacco Growers Organized; The First Radio; The End of the Chapter.
THE LAST DECADE
The year 1920, following a year of readjustment to an era of peace, brought problems great and new. The greatest of all was prohibition, referred to ten years later by the President of the United States as “a noble experiment.” This is no place to discuss this problem, now a part of the country’s constitution, further than to say it came as the greatest historical event of the decade.
Another great problem was the League of Nations, the ideal of Wood-row Wilson, to make war impossible. It was an issue before Congress, and the country elected to remain out of the League. The presidential campaign was bitter and hard-fought, and the country, for the time being, turned its back upon the ideals for which the soldiers had fought and died. The President collapsed and died in the hour of his defeat, and the people turned once more to the walks of peace.
Following the war, there came the next few years, an era of inflated values and wild speculation in lands and other property. There was temporary abnormal prosperity that could not last. When the relapse came, it brought disaster in its wake. Land values dropped to ruinous figures, fortunes were swept away, and a crisis produced that has ever since become a nation-wide problem. Christian County is essentially an agricultural county. Its fertile lands and verdant fields were intended for happy homes and growing crops, and grazing cattle. Crushed and despondent for a while, the people suffered in silence, and then pulled themselves together, and adjusted themselves to new conditions. Christian County is the same great county it has been for a hundred and thirty years. Agriculture will recover from its depression. Hopkinsville will catch the step of progress, and city and county together will fulfill destiny and march onward and upward to greater and grander heights of success.
THE FIRST RADIO STATION
Early in the year 1927, the Acme Mills established, under new management in 1913, utilized a portion of its grounds for the erection of a studio for a radio station, the second to be established in Kentucky. It was a well-equipped plant, and was capable of rendering the very best service. The station was given the name WFIW, and was formally opened February 11, 1927, with imposing ceremonies. Gov. Wm. J. Fields was present, and made the dedicatory address, and other prominent men present were Dr. W. M. Elliott, superintendent of the Western State Hospital; James Breath-itt, Jr., afterwards Lieutenant-Governor; Circuit Judge Ira D. Smith, County Judge Lorenzo K. Wood, Senator John L. Thurmond and President A. H. Eckles, of the Planters Bank and Trust Company, all of whom made addresses. Mrs. Fred Jackson, who was made director of talent the first year, sang a solo, and Mrs. William Rutherford Wicks, a local vocalist, rendered “Lo! Hear the Gentle Lark,” and “Kiss Me Again.” The station at once entered upon a successful career, and is still doing good work. On December 1, 1929, it took an advance step, and became a part of one of the great national broadcasting systems, with its headquarters in New York City.
THE KENTUCKY-TENNESSEE LIGHT & POWER CO.
No public utility in Christian County is more necessary to the prosperity of the county, or contributes more to the comfort and welfare of its people, than the great corporation that supplies power, lights, gas and water, not only to the city and county, but to other cities within a radius of many miles. While one great system controls the various branches, they are operated as distinct and independent units. The Kentucky-Tennessee Light & Power Company, as its name indicates, supplies light and power to many points in Kentucky and Tennessee. Its central plant, located in Hopkinsville, is shown herewith. Its directing genius is Albert Wettstein, a young executive of superior ability and ample training to be at the head of such an enterprise. His biography appears in another department.
HOPKINSVILLE INDUSTRIAL FOUNDATION
In recent years the industrial development of the South has been gathering momentum. While the greatest growth has been in cotton manufacturing and allied lines, other industries, such as furniture making, iron and steel manufacturing, paper making, oil refining and diversified manufacturing generally, cover a broad scope of the South’s industrial development.
The value of the manufactured products of the South in 1923 was $9,450,000; this total does not take into count any plant producing less than $5,000 annually. Most people have an idea that the South is mainly a farming region or a great cotton field with a few cotton factories, but the South’s nearly nine and a half billion dollars of manufactured products and the more than a billion and a half paid out annually in industrial wages show its growing importance in industry.
In 1923 the average number of wage-earners employed in Southern industry was 1,619,000. Primary power installed in Southern manufacturing plants in 1923, amounting to 6,316,000 horse power, showed a gain of 10 per cent over 1919 and 34 per cent more than in 1914.
Excepting the industrial centers of the East and Middle West, the South today is producing more manufactured goods than any other region of the country and it must not be forgotten that the industrial development of this section has just begun. For some time there has been a tendency of large industries to get away from congested centers and to establish plants where labor and other conditions offer better advantages, and these advantages are found in the Southern states in a superlative degree. Manufacturers are awakening to the value of the new market created by the increasing population and wealth of the South, and manufacturers are seeking Southern locations to supply this territory.
New England is accepted generally as being a manufacturing region, but the value of all manufactured products in New England in 1923 was only 68 per cent of what the South produced that year.
These figures show that, for various reasons, including increasing population, cheap power, propinquity to raw materials, etc., there is a general tendency toward industrial expansion in the South. That community which is not thoroughly awake to this situation is neither progressive nor is it likely to have the growth commensurate with its opportunities.
In 1926 a few business men in Hopkinsville conceived the idea of being prepared to take care of any offer for the location of industrial plants in the community and organized what is now known as the Hopkinsville Industrial Foundation. They made a drive for subscriptions which were taken to be paid in ten equal semi-annual installments, begining July 1, 1926. The result of this drive was a subscription of $125,000, to be placed in the hands of a board of directors, who have full authority to conduct the business of the corporation. The purpose of the corporation is to advertise, promote, advance and develop the city of Hopkinsville and its vicinity industrially; to advertise, promote, encourage and develop the natural advantages and resources of the city for manufacturing and industrial enterprise of every kind—to this end and to accomplish this purpose the board of directors have full power, right and authority to subscribe for, buy, exchange, deal in, hold, sell and transfer stocks, bonds and securities of every kind, in any industrial or manufacturing enterprise, company or corporation which may be established and located in the city, and to make donations to any such enterprise, company or corporation, as an inducement to it to locate and conduct its business in Hopkinsville.
Among the incorporators were B. C. Barnes, H. A. Keach, G. W. Crenshaw, H. L. Bass, R. E. Cooper, Louis Ellis, S. L. Cowherd, R. L. Woodard, W. T. Tandy, J. E. McPherson, A. H. Eckles, Ed L. Weathers, J. G. Gaither, Sam Frankel, Douglas Bell and T. C. Jones.
At the first meeting of the stockholders held May 18, 1926, fifteen directors were elected, viz.: Ed L. Weathers, Douglas Bell, 0. L. Bass, Sam Frankel, W. T. Tandy, J. E. McPherson, A. W. Wood, George W. Crenshaw, A. H. Eckles, H. A. Keach, B. C. Barnes, R. E. Cooper, S. L. Cowherd, and T. C. Jones. At the first meeting of the board of directors H. A. Keach was made president; R. E. Cooper, first vice-president; Douglas Bell, second vice-president, and T. C. Jones, secretary and treasurer.
The Foundation has been instrumental in locating several industries in Hopkinsville, one of which has been the establishment of a whole milk plant and which has resulted in stimulation to the dairy industry in Christian County. It has a working agreement with the Chamber of Commerce in all problems relating to the welfare of Hopkinsville and vicinity.
Its financial status at the present time is such that should opportunity be offered to secure new enterprises upon a business basis that the funds would not have to be raised, as the Foundation now has enough money on hand to handle almost any condition that might present itself to the best interests of the city for the location of a new enterprise.
It is said Hopkinsville is the smallest city in the United States to have attempted on so large a scale any such enterprise.
THE DARK TOBACCO GROWERS’ ASSOCIATION
There was a period of prosperity following the war’s close and land values advanced to the highest figures ever known in the county. There was much speculation in real estate. Prices of farm products were high and many owners of small farms sold their holdings and made first payments on large plantations at the high values at which they were placed upon the market. The inflated values in a few years passed away and investors in real estate lost heavily, and many were utterly ruined. The conditions thus brought about have greatly hindered the development of the county, but a gradual improvement has to some extent restored a f eeling of confidence in agriculture as a source of prosperity. We have seen new lines of activity on the farms. Instead of adhering to staple crops only, the farmers have turned to live stock, poultry, fruits, vegetables and dairy products as profitable side-lines and have even tried out new main crops. About 1925 a number of prominent farmers decided to try cotton and enough of the crop was raised to justify the establishment of a gin in Hopkinsville. An experiment of two or three years did not result in any general movement toward cotton raising. About the same time, the growing of Burley tobacco in a district that had been devoted to the culture of dark tobacco only, was tried with much better success. The tobacco proved to be of good quality, was produced at less cost than the dark, and has been sold at much higher prices. The crop of 1929 amounted to 4,500,000 pounds in the territory contiguous to the Hopkinsville market, being sold for nearly $1,000,000. Burley tobacco must be regarded in the future as a profitable crop in the county.
There had been no attempts of the growers of dark tobacco to organize following the troubles of 1908 until 1922, when a new association was organized in twenty-six counties, of which Christian was one. It was called the Dark Tobacco Growers’ Association, and Hopkinsville became its headquarters. The farmers went into it with enthusiasm, and contracts were signed by some seventy thousand of them for a period of five years. The association bought warehouses, organized upon a big scale in many cities and towns, and began business. The organization, however, did not last, but began the winding up of its affairs at the end of the five-year period. The buyers left unsold a great deal of the tobacco, held by the Association, declining to buy at the prices fixed. Foreign countries hastened to experiment with raising their own supplies rather than pay increased prices, and new growers, not in the association, raised enough to keep the market in an unsettled condition. At the present time there is no co-operative association of tobacco growers in Christian or adjoining counties.
Christian County is an agricultural county, and when agriculture is depressed, other lines of business necessarily suffer. There has been little development or building in Hopkinsville or the county for several years. Certain industries have, of course, prospered, such as the sale of automobiles, of radios and the like, but the mercantile business generally has been affected by radical changes, here as elsewhere in the country. There have been mergers of small concerns, a rapid increase in chain stores and a tendency to consolidation in all directions. The country school districts are being consolidated into fewer and larger units. The country doctors, once found in every neighborhood, are nearly all moving into the towns and with better roads and automobiles are serving the public upon new and improved lines. The country churches have also been greatly weakened by these modern changes, good roads making it possible to drive from anywhere in the county to Hopkinsville or other towns in a few minutes, and the good roads themselves make pleasant drives a disadvantage to church attendance in many cases. These problems, however, are not peculiar to Christian County. They are the same all over the country. The times have changed. We no longer travel in oxcarts but in airplanes.
THE FISCAL COURT
The Fiscal Court of the county is composed of eight Justices of the Peace, elected for terms of four years, from eight districts into which the county is divided. The Fiscal Court is presided over by the County Judge and holds meetings twice each month. The present members were elected for terms expiring January 1, 1934, as follows: R. G. Anderson, Clarence Babbage, T. Fowler Combs, J. L. Daniel, George N. Duffer, J. B. Fuller, Ed P. Harned and L. D. Rogers.
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