Small Town Life Is Okay!
Springfield, Washington County, Kentucky
The other day I happened upon a list of historical populations for Washington County, Kentucky. Since more of my family is from Washington County than any other county in Kentucky, it has always been of great interest to me. This list included the populations of Washington County from 1800 to 2010. In 1800 there were 9,050 individuals living in the county. Hm, how many of those am I related to? Quite a few I would venture to guess! By that time my Carrico, Spalding, Edwards, O’Bryan, Smith, Cusick, Moran, Lyons, and Montgomery ancestors – with their huge families – had been in Washington County for several years, most arriving about 1795 from St. Mary’s County and Charles County, Maryland, a few from Loudoun County, Virginia.
In ten years, 1810, the population had grown by half again, to 13,248. Although Captain John Linton was not in Kentucky at this time, a few of his sons and many of his wife’s sisters and brothers had made the journey to this new land.
By 1820 there were an additional 2700 souls in Washington County. This now included the captain and wife, Ann Mason Linton, all their children and numerous grandchildren. Also by this time my Coulter, Crow and White families were part of the 15,947 in the county.
By 1830 the county’s population had doubled to 19,017. This was the ‘red letter’ year for Washington County. With people arriving from Virginia, Maryland, the Carolina’s and other places Springfield was a booming town! This was the pinnacle.
In 1834 Marion County was formed from Washington County and a little over half of the inhabitants were in that portion of the county, becoming Marion County citizens. Strange as it may seem, all my families were still in Washington County! The 1840 census shows 10,596.
After a surge of 1600 in 1850 to 12,194, the population keeps steady for the next 20+ years. There were many who ventured on to Missouri during the 1850 to 1870 time period. My 3rd great-grandfather, John Cotton Taylor, was one of those. He moved his family to Cape Girardeau County in Missouri, leaving only his eldest daughter (and my great-great-grandmother) in Kentucky. Life was not as easy as they thought, most of the family dying until one son and his three young children, a daughter and the widow came back to Washington County about 1870. Many others found the move to Missouri to their liking, others continued the westward movement every further from their old Kentucky home. My Hill family moved from Garrard County to Washington County during the late 1850’s, rounding out the full frame of both my paternal and maternal lines – all in one county!
After a stagnant two decades the population of Washington County increased by 2,000 by 1880. For the next 40 years it varied very little. The 1930 census shows a decline of 2,100 – with 12,623 living in the county. And a steady decline over the next 70 years, until the turn of the 21st century, gives a total of 10,916 for the county.
What can be reason for this decline? Springfield and Washington County have remained the same small town and rural outlying area for at least 150 years. When visiting my grandmother, Mary Alice Montgomery Carrico, in Springfield in the 1960’s, I remember the small, home-town appeal Springfield held for those who visited as well as those who lived there. Robertson’s and The Louisville Store on Main Street were where locals shopped for clothing. Restaurants were small establishments with names such as The Snappy Grill and Cecconi’s. I remember my aunt talking about men putting a nickel tip under their ten cent coffee cup! Ritchey and I ate at Cecconi’s a few years ago – it’s a small ‘hole in wall’ restaurant, but the food is still marvelous! The Snappy Grill is long gone, but in the back room there was more enjoyed than the food – the local poker games were well known for their $20 antes!
My mother’s uncle, Edward Montgomery, ran a movie theater. She helped make popcorn and sell tickets on the weekends. This was in her younger days in the 1940’s. By the 1950’s everyone went to the drive-in on Friday and Saturday nights – which happened to be just across the street from where my grandmother lived. On the Fourth of July they always had fireworks, and we sat on grandmother’s front porch and oohed and aahed at the beautiful colors and sparkles! We were so close to where they shot them off that we heard the great boom and whoosh rushing into the sky – then the boom of explosion!
There were two grocery stores, my grandmother using the one who delivered – I can’t remember the name but I believe it was Joe something – named after the proprietor! She called in her order and it was delivered within a couple of hours. It was safe enough that we were sent to the small market about a mile down the road for cookies or ice cream for dessert – which my grandmother had to have! She used saccharin tablets religiously in her coffee, but there was always room for dessert!
In addition to my grandmother, and sometimes my Great-Aunt Lil who moved between Lexington and Springfield for her last twenty years, the attraction to me was the Washington County Court House! After getting my license at 16 year of age, many summer afternoons were spent there – down into the dungeon as I affectionately call it – the smell of old ledgers and books, shelves filled to the brim (and sometimes overflowing), filing cabinets about to burst and Miss Olive Walker sitting at a small desk, with sunshine coming in the two small, rather dusty windows at the very top of the wall – just a hint that there was an outside world! But why go outside when everything I was interested in was within those four walls! Marriages, deeds, wills, lifetimes of many Washington countians who were long gone, but never forgotten! It was there I honed my genealogy skills under the tutelage of Miss Walker – and will always be grateful that she helped turn a passion into a life-long glorious experience! So perhaps a small town is not bad after all!