Family Stories

William B. Spears – Local Newspapers Good Source for Genealogy

One resource that may often be overlooked when conducting genealogy research is old newspapers, and particularly if they are a small, hometown newspaper – every little happening during the week is listed as news.  I found an article written by W. B. Spears before his death and published the week afterwards.  Through his writing and memories, he became such an interesting character that I wanted to know more about him.  Simply following the copies of The Springfield Sun and News-Leader publications online from the University of Kentucky I feel as if I know William Spears very well.

The Springfield Sun, Washington County, Kentucky

Thursday, October 14, 1915

Recollections of W. B. Spears

I was born in Springfield, Kentucky, on the 5th day of April 1825, in the house where Mrs. Peters now lives.  My father was David H. Spears, my mother was Elizabeth Betsey Gibbins.  My father came to Springfield about 1820 from Pennsylvania, my mother came here with her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Arthur E. Gibbins, about the year 1820.  Mr. and Mrs. Gibbins engaged in the hotel business and conducted a hotel on the site where the old Springfield Hotel burned in 1901.  I remember the hotel, which was a brick building, it was known as the John Wade hotel, Wade having kept it before my grandfather, it was afterwards kept by George W. Wornald who built the brick addition.  Mr. George J. Sansbury also kept it later.  It was afterwards kept by Mr. Stark.  After the war Mr. John Smith and sons conducted it, then Craycroft then Crouch, and the hotel with the additions was the same that burned in the year 1901.  Mr. John J. Bosley was running the hotel when in 1854 when the first case of cholera broke out, also the first case of cholera broke out there in 1833 when Aunt Maggie, a colored slave, contract the disease.  At the time the cholera broke out I was about 8 years of age; I remember it distinctly.  At that time Springfield was a small place, nearly all the buildings on Main Street were one- and two-story frame, the residences in a great many cases were right out on the street.  In my earliest recollections the well on the Robertson-Claybrooke corner was there as was also the well near the Clerk’s office.  On the corner where Mr. W. C. McChords house now stands, there was a hotel, a large frame building, the same which burned in 1896 where then was a great fire in Springfield which burned several houses and a livery stable.  This hotel was known as the Calhoun House.  This was a very old house and was not run as a hotel in my day.  Under it there was a large spring, which furnished water for a great number of citizens in town.  Mr. James Cunningham was living in the house when I first recollect it.  My brother-in-law, James Muratta, bought the property from Cunningham, Muratta was a cabinet maker and undertaker, he made a great deal of furniture, among other things the large desks in the Clerk’s office and the County Judge’s office.  He also made corn planters, many of which are still in use.  In the undertaking business he made most all the coffins used in the county.  My father learned the jewelers trade and watch-makers trade in Danville, and when he had finished, started on his way to Huntsville, Alabama, and on his way stopped at the Gibbins Hotel in Springfield, and there was where he first saw his wife, and he was so pleased with her winning manner that he never got any further than Springfield.  He shortly thereafter married her then bought out a man by the name of John Benbridge, who was then running a silversmith business where Hertleins store now stands.  He conducted his business in the same stand for sixty years or until his death.  Ed Russell conducted the old shop in the same stand for a while.

While I don’t remember the hotel, it has always been my information that the earliest hotel (called taverns at that time) in Springfield was where the Russell residence now stands and was in the building which was recently torn down to make room for the present residence.  It was known as the Blackwell house; I cannot say that he conducted it as a hotel.

Probably the next oldest hotel was the building which stood where the Walton Hotel now stands and was torn down to give place to the Walton.  It was a two-story brick building, with fairly good accommodations and was regarded as a very good tavern.  In my earliest recollection it was known as the Hugh’s Tavern.  The large livery stable which stood where the Springfield Hotel now stands was built for the use of the hotel.  It was built by Hughes by my uncle, Nathan Spears, a carpenter, long before the war.

As most people know there is a tradition that Springfield received its name from a large spring, this is partly true, the difference being that it has always been my understanding from infancy that it was so named because of the fact that there were a large number of springs where it now stands, the first one mentioned is where Mr. W. C. McChords house now stands, besides that there was the Spring shown on plat of Springfield in Deed Book of the Washington County Clerk’s office near where Brown Case and Anderson Livery stable now stands, which is today represented by the well on the sidewalk at that place.  This spring was back eastward from where the well now is and was a spring unimproved and not walled up when I first recollect it.  The first improvement made in it was when the well was dug below the spring and the spring drained into it by a rock drain.  Shortly below this across Main Cross Street, back of where the warehouses of J. L. Barber now stand was another spring, which may still be seen.  On the spot where the L & N Depot now stands there was another spring, and in digging the mill pond for Jarboe Mill which originally stood there, there was dug up a tin can, doubtless used as a cup at the spring.  The Mill Pond was in the low spot just south of the depot.

When the Civil War broke out W. B. Spears joined with the Confederacy.  He enlisted with Company A, 6th Volunteer Infantry, in October 1862, and served during the rest of the war.  He was arrested and imprisoned at Chattanooga, paroled at Washington, Georgia, and taken to Nashville where he took the oath of allegiance to the United States and was released, and returned home to Springfield.  We also have a description of Mr. Spears – dark complexion, dark hair, hazel eyes, height 5′ 7″.

After the war William married Mary J. Hundley on January 23, 1876.  He was 52 years old; she was 40, born and raised in Marion County.  Marrying at such a late date there were no children born to the couple.

William became an auctioneer after the war and was evidently very good at his trade.  There are many notices in the newspapers.  One from April 29, 1897, from the News-Leader reported, ‘The following sales were reported by W. B. Spears, auctioneer:  19 head two-year-old steers at $24.00 per head; one Jersey cow and calf $16.25; two cows with calves at $22.50 each; one sorrel mare and mule colt $25.00; one silver watch American works $2.75; 30 acres of land commissioner’s sale $151.50.’

On August 25, 1898, W. B. Spears auctioned the farm of my great-great-grandfather, William P. Montgomery.  Evidently the price didn’t suit because my grandfather made the last bid of $3,025.

In the census records of 1850 for Washington County I found David H. Spears, 52, silversmith, with wife Elizabeth C., 49.  Children listed were William B., 24; Maria, 19; Rebecca, 17; John T., 15.  James Muratta, 33, a cabinet maker is living with the family – he married the oldest daughter Mary A., 27.  They have one daughter, Anna, six months.  Alva Covington, 28, is the local school teacher living with the family.

In 1880, four years after their marriage, William is 55, Mary J., 48.  His widowed mother, Elizabeth Carter Gibbins, 80, lives with them.

From 1897 on there are reports of W. B. Spears traveling to reunions of Confederate veterans.  He visited Nashville, Dallas, Birmingham and several other cities.

Mr. Spears was also a Mason, as was his father.

In 1907 W. B. Spears ‘brought two coins in the form of paper money to The Sun office – Continental bills, one calling for sixty dollars the other for thirty-five.  The bills are numbered in red ink, one bearing the number 111202, the other 312516.  On is signed by J. C. Masoner and John Graff, the other by J. N. Gather.  They were issued in 1778.’  His grandparents were Jacob Spears and Abigail Huston.  Jacob was a Revolutionary War soldier and the money was evidently handed down through the family from so many years ago.  Jacob and Abigail Huston Spears moved to Lincoln County, what was then Carpenters Station, now called Hustonville – after Abigail’s family.

An article on his father, David, appeared in the May 22, 1902 edition of the News-Leader:

Another industry in Springfield that interested me when a boy was watching Uncle David Spears, father of W. B. Spears, making silver spoons out of silver dollars and taking watches apart and putting them together.  He would melt the dollars, run them into a rough mould, when cool take it out, hammer and file it getting it into a proper shape.  He would hammer it over with a good-sized hammer, then he would take a small hammer and hammer out the impression the large one had made, then he would file it first with a coarse file and then a finer one.  He would then take a still smaller hammer and it seems to me he would strike it a thousand times before he would get it all right.  He was considered the best silversmith and watch repairer within fifty miles of Springfield, consequently there were watches being brought to him every day to be repaired, not one in five that was worth repairing.  He didn’t like to tell them so, but would take it, hang it up and tell them he would fix it when he came to it, that there were a great many ahead of him.  In that way they accumulated on him, and in the course of twenty or thirty years he would have a hundred or more hanging in his shop window, some valuable watches but a third not worth five dollars each.  They looked so tempting, so many of them hanging in the window, that in the course of time a band of robbers broke in one night and stole every one of them and everything in the shop of any value.  He spent a small fortune in hunting them down, succeeding in landing some of them intact, but I don’t think he ever succeeded in putting any of them in the penitentiary.  Uncle Davy set his watch by a mark that he had in a stone step, and when the shade of the side of the door got to the step it was twelve o’clock.  He considered his time set by this mark to be more accurate than any other time in the state, and if a man would tell him he hadn’t the right time it would irritate him very much.

William’s wife, Mary J. Hundley Spears died about 1900-1902.  He continued living in Springfield, auctioneering, enjoying his membership as a Mason and traveling to reunions of Confederate veterans.

In 1912 he was one of the first to have an application for pension for Confederate veterans heard at the county court.  In addition to Mr. Spears, William C. Mudd, S. A. Mudd, John W. Burnett, John T. Craycraft, J. H. Carter, Mrs. Amanda Cokendolpher, John E. Stevenson and Mrs. Nannie Simms had their day in court.  From the newspaper – ‘The new pension law is one that is calculated to do great good to these brave men who are both true Kentuckians and true Americans.  All of the above are meritorious cases and we believe all will succeed in getting the desired relief under the act.’

William B. Spears passed away Monday, October 4, 1915.  Due to old age he had been living at the Masonic Home in Shelbyville.

News-Leader, Springfield, Washington County, Kentucky

Thursday, October 7, 1915

Oldest Resident Dies

In the death of Mr. W. B. Spears which occurred at the Masons Home at Shelbyville last Monday morning, the oldest native citizen of Springfield has gone to his reward.  Mr. Spears father, Mr. David Spears came to Springfield about the year 1820, and married Miss Elizabeth Gibbins and Mr. W. B. Spears was born here April 5, 1824.  In the year 1846 Mr. Spears became a member of the Masonic Fraternity and at the time of his death was the second oldest member of the order of the state.  He was a man of high character, and pleasant manner.  When the civil War broke out, he enlisted in the Southern Army being a member of Company A Sixth Kentucky Infantry.  He served through the entire war and a member of the famous orphan Brigade, so named from the fact that so many of its commanders were killed in action.  He was distinguished for his fearlessness in battle and for his devotion to the cause which he believed to be just.  After the war he returned to Springfield and was married to Miss Jane Hundley, who died about 15 years ago.  He is survived by one sister, Mrs. Marie Ball of Ft. Madison, Iowa, and a number of nieces and nephews, among whom are Mrs. G. D. Duncan and Mrs. A. C. Kimball of this place.  He was a strong believer and member of the Methodist Church and in the early history of that church in Springfield, he was its principle supporter.  In his early life he took the business of auctioneering, in which occupation he continued through his life.  He was a very capable auctioneer and some years ago every big sale for miles around was carried by Mr. Spears.

He was a good conversationalist and possessed a wonderful memory.  His early recollections of Springfield and the county were up until his death very vivid.

His remains arrived here Tuesday on the noon train, and funeral services were conducted at the Methodist church by Rev. R. E. C. Lawson, at which the Masonic Fraternity and the daughters of the Confederacy took charge of the remains and conducted services at the grave.

Thus, a life ended – but not his memory.  Two days ago, I did not know this man, today I feel I lost a close friend.

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