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Shelbyville Tidbits

Research by Heather Cecil. Shelby County Historical Society member and SCHS Facebook group administrator.

A Dust Storm Approaching Stratford, Texas.

The Dust Bowl

The Dust Bowl of the 1930's was not isolated to the panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma. Atmospheric conditions and soil erosion affected agriculture all the way to the eastern seaboard. Ben Allen Thomas, Sr. wrote about the impact to Shelby County farmers in, "As I Recall It", and the shift from crops to milk production as a result of poor farming methods on the Great Plains.
"1930 was the year of the great drought. Western states had been concentrating on wheat and plowed much land that should not have been plowed and when a big wind storm came, we had mud on our automobiles when a shower followed a dust cloud. The 1930 tobacco crop was rather heavy and of below average quality and it sold at a record low price. The very top price was about 12 cents a pound in contrast to 45 cents a pound which was paid in 1928. Many baskets of tobacco were sold for $1.00 a hundred which just paid the warehouse commission. Under these conditions many farmers felt that dairying was one way to get a monthly income, and quite a number of new dairies were started."
The National Bank of Kentucky, as well as many country banks closed their doors the same year, as the hardships of the Great Depression were just beginning. 

Milk Bottle

Milk Bottle from Maple Grove Dairy on U.S. 60, west of Shelbyville. Owned by William H. Hopkins, the dairy plant was destroyed by fire in 1955, along with the Maple Moo Restaurant and Ice Cream Bar. Donated to the Shelby County Historical Society by Charles and Lucy Long. 

The Old Sexton's Story, from "Where Silent Tents Are Spread", 
by George Lee Willis, 1932

"The man who knew most and could tell most to one searching among the seven thousand mounds [of Grove Hill Cemetery] for history, has himself passed on. He was Frederick Moesser, the remarkable personage who was sexton for the forty-four years from 1884 to 1928, and whose headstone shows that he died June 11, 1929, age ninety-six years.
In December, 1883 the old sexton, Patrick O'Brien died and it became known that the board of trustees were hunting for a fitting incumbent for that very important office. An educated German, a little odd of speech, of dress, and in appearance, had recently moved into the county from Indiana. He sent in an application for the place, together with papers showing his experience in his home country, where, while a laborer among the priesthood of the church, with which he never affiliated, he nevertheless had received a rarely fine education. This was Mr. Moesser. 

The Board of Trustees had him come before them, and among the first questions asked was his age. He told them that he was fifty-one years old. Several of the nine trustees who were themselves vigorous, active local citizens, in the prime of life, demurred a little to this and expressed the fear that he might be getting a little old for the large amount of hard labor that the sexton and his assistants had to perform. However, the objection to the applicant's age was finally waived and he was employed. Long years after Mr. Moesser, if one were his intimate friend, would modestly, but smilingly tell of this incident; of how he had buried all nine of those directors, of how he had buried all nine of the trustees who succeeded them, of how he saw three of the nine who succeeded the second nine buried, and of how he himself after forty-four years in active service and at the age of ninety-five was then still laying out lots, surveying and performing all other duties of sexton, never quitting nor resigning until a year before his death; almost if not actually dying 'with his harness on'."

The Tick Creek Massacre

Bland Ballard

Bland Williams Ballard had an adventurous life. He fought in the Revolutionary War as a teenager and served as a Scout in numerous expeditions with George Rogers Clark, when Ohio was still a territory and Kentucky was an extension of Virginia. He was an escort during the Long Run Massacre, and he fought in the battles of Fallen Timbers in 1794 and Tippecanoe in 1811, being noted as a "reliable spy". He continued his military service into his early fifties, during the War of 1812.

Ballard settled near Tyler's Station in a log cabin on Tick Creek in the 1780's, after he was given land grants by Patrick Henry, presumably for his military service during the Revolution. On March 31st, 1788, fifteen to twenty Delaware Indians attacked Bland's little cabin just six miles east of Shelbyville.

Depending on the storyteller, Ballard killed anywhere from three to seven of the Indians that day, but not before Bland's father, step-mother, a brother, and two sisters were murdered. One younger sister was scalped in the attack, but she amazingly recovered and lived to a ripe, old age. Bland had quite a reputation for killing Indians, and even displayed some of the scalps he had acquired over his fireplace.
Historian, Vince Akers, described Ballard as, "One of the bravest and most daring spirits in the early history of Kentucky." Blandville, KY and Ballard County KY are both named in his honor.

By Bland Williams Ballard's death in 1853, there were no remaining Native Americans in the area. "The Chief of Tick Creek" is displayed in the Shelby County Historical Society Museum. All of the points were found in Shelby County.

Professor Joseph Winlock

Professor Joseph Winlock was born in 1826 in Shelby County, and earned his primary education in a small school on the farm of Thomas V. Loofborough, near Finchville. Winlock attended Shelby College, and after graduating in 1845, he stayed on to teach Astronomy and Mathematics. He later taught at the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland and became a Fellow with the American Academy of Arts & Sciences.

In 1865, Professor Winlock was named Director of the Observatory at Harvard University. In those days, Harvard's Observatory was not very well equipped. In fact, the Observatory at Shelby College was far superior. It was home to one of the three most advanced telescopes in the United States, and came with a price tag of $4,000. Over the next ten years, what equipment Winlock could not procure for Harvard, he invented himself. He is credited with the invention of many measuring devices, including the Hygrophant, a device that indicates the level of humidity in the air. After Winlock brought a contingent of scholars to Shelbyville to observe the 1869 Solar Eclipse, he developed a longer telescope that allowed more light into the chamber to allow clearer pictures of the heavens. He traveled to Spain to study the Eclipse of 1870, and became the first to photograph the sun's corona at the point of totality.

Winlock's daughters followed in their father's footsteps. His daughter, Anna became the first female to perform computations at the Harvard Observatory, and her sister, Louisa followed soon after.

Joseph Winlock passed away suddenly and unexpectedly in 1875. The Winlock Crater on the far side of the moon was named to honor him for his contribution to Astronomical Science.
Harvard University has preserved a large collection of Winlock's observations and correspondence, including discussions on astrological and meteorological information. The inventory is as follows, "11 document boxes, 3 flat boxes, 2 legal half-document boxes, and 1 extra-tall document box." His inventions and measuring devices are stored in the Harvard Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments.

Research by Heather Cecil
Shelby County Historical Society member
SCHS Facebook group administrator.

Prisoner of War Camp in Shelbyville

Shelbyville was home to a Prisoner of War camp from 1944-1945.
Surrounded by barbed wire, around 300 (mostly) German P.O.W.s resided in camps set up in Shelbyville across from the current location of Shelby County High School, and in Eminence, at the Henry County Fairgrounds. Most had been captured in North Africa, while serving under Rommel.

There was a severe labor shortage at that time, since such a large number of our young men were fighting in Europe and the Pacific, so the War Department set up these camps all over the country to work the farms and in various factories. The prisoners here were said to have saved the tobacco harvest in 1944, as there was no one else to do it.

POW Canteen Ticket

Map of P.O.W. camps located across Kentucky.

The camp was administered by Fort Knox, and a detail of around twenty P.O.W.s would be dispatched to the fields at a time, under the surveillance of soldiers armed with machine guns. Despite concerns from the community, there were few escape attempts, and there were no other issues reported. Some local residents built friendships with the prisoners and continued to correspond with them after their return to Germany.

Shelbyville, Kentucky from the begining to the point of totality.

Solar Eclipse of 1869

Remember the solar eclipse of 2017, when thousands flocked to Hopkinsville to see it in its totality?

Well, in 1869, Shelbyville was the place to be. Our town was considered the premier viewing area along the path from Alaska to North Carolina. Various railways offered special round trip tickets for around $3.00 each, labeling the route as an “Excursion to the Sun”. Vendors came from miles away to sell their wares, including glasses darkened with ash, which left the viewers’ faces blackened with soot.
Why Shelbyville? At that time, we had one of the most powerful telescopes in the country, housed at Shelby College on College Street, where Northside Early Childhood Development Center stands today. Lead by Harvard Astronomer and Shelbyville native, Joseph Winlock, a team of Scientists studied, measured, and photographed the eclipse from the front lawn of the college and from nearby rooftops. Winlock announced that he could also see a meteor shower between the moon and the sun through the Shelby College telescope. 

The eclipse at totality.

The Solar Eclipse August 1, 1869 Harvard Astronomical Expedition making observations at Shelbyville, KY.

For some, this was a terrifying experience. People reportedly sank to their knees in prayer, or gasped aloud as the sky darkened to its eerie light, and the temperature dropped fourteen degrees. It is said that cheers rose up from the crowd as the sun and moon parted ways, and many breathed a sigh of relief.

Lithographs of the original photos were published in Harper’s Weekly a few weeks later. Harper’s Weekly was the most popular National publication in the 1860’s, and for the first time, all of America got their first glimpse at a solar eclipse, from right here in Shelbyville, Kentucky.

Railroad Disaster on Floyd’s Fork Bridge September 8th, 1881

The train consisting of two coaches, a baggage car, and an engine departed Anchorage station an hour late. At approximately 8:00 p.m., only one hundred feet from the bridge, a cow walked onto the track and into the path of the oncoming train. Frank Honaker, the Engineer, immediately reversed the engine, but it was too late. The train struck the unfortunate bovine and rolled over the animal, causing the derailment. The train skidded along the railroad ties for about fifty feet and then struck the left side of the iron and timber bridge. The bridge collapsed before the engine reached the far side and locomotive, cars, and all plummeted thirty feet into the creek below. Of the one hundred passengers aboard, seven were killed and around thirty people were seriously injured, mostly from Shelby County.

 Among the deceased were Fielding Neel, President of the railroad, and William E. Maddox, Town Marshal. Maddox was escorting an African American prisoner named, Henry Ford back to Shelbyville to face the charge of theft of a pocket watch and chain. While Maddox was killed instantly, the accused was left unharmed. Ford stayed at the scene and assisted rescue efforts, saving several women and children from drowning. The prosecution against him was dropped as a result of his heroism.

The Coroner’s Inquest was held three weeks later. Engineer, Frank Honaker was scrutinized relentlessly. Blind in one eye, he had only been in charge of the train for two days, as his father was the primary Engineer, but had taken a leave of absence. Some said the train was moving at a high rate of speed to make up time, and some said the headlamp was not lit. Others rebuked the railroad for not outfitting the engine with air brakes. Everyone wanted someone to blame and in the end, the jury found, “The deaths were caused by carelessness on the part of the railroad company and their employees.”

Edwin Hubble

This is Edwin Hubble, the famous astronomer for whom the Hubble Space Telescope was named. Did you know he lived in Shelbyville for a couple of years around 1910? His observations proved that there are galaxies.

Edwin Hubble

Hubble Space Telescope 


627 Main Street
Shelbyville, KY 40065

Mailing Address:
P.O. Box 444
Shelbyville, KY 40066 

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