Articles & Stories


This old scene recalls the appearance of the east side of Hodgenville Public Square in 1884. In 1929 the livery stable, the home of the horse, was replaced by the garage, the home of the horseless carriage. The last house shown in the photo was torn down by Marshall O'Brien. The side of the square was occupied by C. N. McGill's store, Chenaults Garage, and later occupied by the rooming house and restaurant of Marshall O'Brien. The double-rig coach in front of the livery door was ready to start to Elizabethtown to meet the train to pick up the mail. The man holding the lines is George Thurman, not visible in the photo. The man in shirt sleeves holding the horse is Carter Woodson. Jim Howard stood in front of the white horse and buggy. On down the line, l-r: Frank Sympson, with cane in hand; William Vaughn; Sylvester O'Brien; Thom Robinson; S. G. Elliott; O. T. Petty; John Nallia; and G. W. O'Brien. Close by the window is Ben Burba and over the horse's back is Mike Hargan. One by one these buildings have been replaced with others, and one by one the men in the photo have departed with the drift of time.

A Look At Old Hodgenville
And Larue County, Kentucky

A History Of When The Area Of Hodgen's Mill Became Hodgenville

Author's Note: It has been a pleasure for me to arrange and write down some of the main facts in the history of Hodgenville and Larue County, which I have been able to gather from time to time, during a period of several years. As some of the sources of information are not easily accessible, and many of the facts have never been recorded, I think this story should be preserved. Most of the people now living in Larue County and hundreds living elsewhere might trace their ancestry back to one or more of the men whose names are mentioned in these pages. I shall be obliged to anyone who will make any correction of any statement.
O. M. Mather
Hodgenville, Ky., March 29, 1920

By O. M. Mather - 1920

The settlement of the present town of Hodgenville dates back to the time when the pioneers abandoned the fort which was built in 1780 or 1781, one-half-mile north of the location of the town.
Collins, in his History of Kentucky says, "John Larue, for whom the county was named, emigrated with a considerable company from Virginia, and settled in Phillip's Fort. When they left the fort, Larue bought and settled the land on which Hodgenville has been erected."
How long the fort was occupied, I do not know. That it must have been practically isolated during the entire time it was inhabited would appear from the following order of the Nelson County Court of which county our territory was a part from the year 1784 until December 15, 1792, when Hardin County was organized. "At a court continued and held for Nelson County on Saturday the 13th day of March 1790. Present: Isaac Morrison, Benjamin Pope, Gabriel Cox, and Joshua Hobbs Gent. Ordered that Phillip Phillips, Jacob Vanmeter, Patrick Brown, and Robert Hodgen; or any three of them, do view and report to this Court on oath the nearest and best way for opening a road to lead from Phillip Phillip's lane, near Hodgen's Mill, to Capt. Jacob Vanmeter's Mill on Valley Creek."
This was evidently the first move toward the establishment of the road from what is now Hodgenville to what is now Elizabethtown, and if the settlers of the fort, which had probably been abandoned prior to the date of the above order, had any public road as an outlet prior to this time, it must have been towards Bardstown, their county seat. The Phillip Phillips mentioned in this order, and for whom the fort was named, was a Pennsylvania surveyor. In the year 1789 he was Sheriff of Nelson County.
Another interesting road order found in the Nelson County Court records is dated December 14, 1790, and is as follows:
"Ordered that Conrad Walters be appointed overseer of the road from Hodgen's Mill to the Widow Countryman's in the room of Solomon Cassinger, and that the same tithables assist him in keeping the same in repair that assisted Cassinger."
Who knows now where the "Widow Countryman" lived 130 years ago. At least 10% of the population of Larue County should know that the man who was appointed overseer of this road, wherever it extended from Hodgen's Mill, was their great-great-grandfather, Conrad Walters. He was one of the occupants of the fort, and after it was abandoned, he settled two miles further north on the North Fork of Nolynn on the farm now known as Amos Walters' place. My guess therefore be that the "Widow Countryman" lived somewhere north of the Amos Walters place on the road which is now called the Shepherdsville Road.
A full list of the inhabitants of the fort from the time it was built until its abandonment, possibly eight or nine years later would be of interest, but it cannot now be given. Besides those already referred to, Phillips, John Larue, Robert Hodgen, and Conrad Walters, all doubtless with families, there were Ashcrafts, Friends, Enlows, Kastors, and others whose descendants are among us to this day. When we recall that the first settlement in the vast wilderness which later became Kentucky was not made until June 1774, only six years before Phillip's Fort was built on Nolynn Creek, we may have some idea of the loneliness of the lives of the hardy pioneers who occupied the fort. When the danger of Indian raids had passed, the population rapidly increased and new towns and counties came into existence. The District of Kentucky in June 1792 became the state of Kentucky. In December of the same year, Hardin County, including the territory now embraced in Larue, was cut off from Nelson County. Robert Hodgen was one of the three justices of the first court in Hardin County which met in July 1793.
On the rugged limestone monument in the graveyard at Nolynn Church where Robert Hodgen's family is buried, the following inscription appears:
"Robert, born in England, July, 1742, died Feb. 5, 1810.
"Sarah, born Larue, born in Virginia Aug. 1757, died June 25, 1825."
When Hodgen and his family left the fort he selected as the best site for his new home the hill on the south side of Nolynn Creek, within easy reach of the spring which has long been known as "Gum Spring." Not only did he build a residence for himself, but he established a saw mill and a grist mill. As we have seen from orders of the Nelson County Court, Hodgen's Mill was well-known as early as the year 1790. It continued to be only Hodgin's Mill until eight years after the death of Robert Hodgen. Abraham Lincoln was born February 9, 1909, almost a year to the day before Robert Hodgen died. That he remembered well the locality of his birth is evident from his own statement in his autobiography: "I was born in Hardin County, near Hodgen's Mill."
It is probable that not a building, except Robert Hodgen's dwelling and mill and slave quarters was anywhere on the land now occupied by the town of Hodgenville, prior to the year 1818. Robert Hodgen's will is dated February 1, 1810, and it was probated in Hardin County Court on May 14th of the same year. In this will he gave to his wife, Sarah Hodgen, "the plantation where I now live, together with the grist mill and half of the saw mill, with stock of every kind; farming utensils, household and kitchen furniture, and such other tools as belong to me, to her own proper use and benefit and for the raising and schooling of our children in a Christian manner." His sons, Isaac and John, were named as his executors.
On February 7, 1818, John Hodgen, one of the executors of the will of Robert Hodgen, and Sarah Hodgen, widow, petitioned the honorable justices of Hardin County "that it having been heretofore repeatedly suggested to them by the good people of the vicinity that it would inure to their benefit to procure the establishment of a town on said plantation (of Robert Hodgen) they have caused, agreeable to law, notification to be made in the Bardstown Repository of an intention to make application to your honorable body for that purpose during the present February term, the town above mentioned to be contained within the following limits, viz.: Beginning at the southwest corner of said (plantation) house, thence running N 83 E 12 poles and 12 feet, thence S 7 E 63 poles 13 1/2 feet, thence N 83 W 49 poles 1 1/2 feet, thence S 7 E 12 poles and 12 feet to the beginning, containing 27 1/2 acres, as the plan of said contemplated own hereto annexed more fully appears."
Two days later the following order was entered:
"At a court began and held for Hardin County at the courthouse in Elizabethtown on Monday the 9th day of February 1818. Present: Christopher Miller, Samuel Martin, George Helm, and Denton Georghegan, Esquires,
"On motion of John Hodgen and Sarah Hodgen, executors of Robert Hodgen, who presented in court their petition thereto to annex, a town is established on lands of Robert Hodgen, deceased, on Nolin, agreeable to the said petition and plan which is ordered to be entered of record, to be called and known by the name of Hodgenville. Whereupon they entered into and acknowledged their bond, that is to say, the said John Hodgen, for himself and as agent for Isaac Hodgen, the other Executor of said Robert Hodgen, deceased, and also agent for Sarah Hodgen, in the penalty of $100 conditioned as the law directs, with Horatis G. Wintersmith and Joseph Vertrees their securities. It is further ordered that Joseph Kirkpatrick (Sr.), William Brown, William Cessna, Samuel Hodgen, and Abraham Enlow be appointed trustees in and for said town of Hodgenville.
And so, on February 9, 1818, 102 years ago, Hodgen's Mill became Hodgenville.
The plan of Hodgenville which was filed in court by Robert Hodgen's executors and which is of record in Hardin County, and also in the first deed book of Larue County, shows the streets in the central part of the town and the public square just as they are today. The trustees of the town proceeded to sell lots. Two churches, a schoolhouse, half-a-dozen store buildings, brick hotel, and perhaps 25 or 30 residences were built before the place became the county seat of a new county. All the buildings were within two squares of the location of the present courthouse. The first churches were the Presbyterian and the Baptist. The Presbyterian church was on the same lot where the present building of that denomination stands. The first Baptist church in Hodgenville was on the spot where Charles F. Creal's residence is at this time. It continued to be used until about 40 years ago, when the congregation bought the lot where their present building stands.
The first school house in the town was near the big oak tree on the Gore lot, now owned by T. S. Hargan. This was used until a county seminary was established in the year 1849, when a two-story building was erected on the seminary where the residence of A. V. Kennady stands now. The Hodgen Mill, which later had a wool carding machine at tached, was located on the spot where the Lynn Mill now is. The first hotels in the town were on the corner of Main and Water streets. One was on the northwest corner, where the Home Telephone exchange is now, and was run by Lewis Brown. The other was where the Ford Hotel now is and was known as the Naylor Hotel for some time before the county was organized. Later, another hotel was built on the southwest corner of Main and Water streets, where Berlin's store building now stands. This building was burned about 60 years ago (1860).
When the directors of the Farmers National Bank had to choose a name for the modern building known as the Lynn Hotel, they thought they had fallen upon a new and original name, but the writer has in his possession a faded, yellow clipping from some old but unknown newspaper, with the following advertisement:
"Lynn Hotel, Hodgenville, Ky., Jos. Hill, Propr. The proprietor having taken charge of and refitted the hotel, formerly known as the 'Tarpley House,' is now prepared to furnish the public with accommodations."
It was many years after the town was laid out before all the lots even within the distance of two blocks from the public square were built upon. I have heard my grandmother, Sarah Castleman, who was born in 1808, say that she well-remembered when all the space back of where Stierle's bakery stands was an apple orchard.
About 25 years after Hodgenville was established as a town, that is, probably about the year 1842, the celebrated Ben Hardin, a resident of Bardstown, who was then a candidate for Congress, made his famous speech from the steps of the Naylor Hotel in Hodgenville. A writer telling the story of his speech says: "The Browns, Barnes, Beelers, Burbas, Brownfields, Creals, Castlemans, Collins, Cessnas, Easters, Enlows, Friends, Gannaways, Goodins, Gores, Hayes, Handleys, Hargans, Kennedys, Kirckpatricks, Larues, Millers, McDougals, Nicholas, Phelps, Rodmans, Thurmans, Thomases, Wilsons, Wades, Williams, Walters, and others were all Whigs, and all were for Ben Hardin, and John L. Helm, then (acting) governor, looked kindly upon the new county proposition. In his speech he said:
"My fellow citizens of Hodgenville, I am glad to see that you are in earnest for a new county. You ought to have it. Bardstown does not object, as you do not propose to cut off any of Nelson County, and you can count on their support. Nobody in Elizabethtown objects except Circuit and County Clerk Samuel Haycraft, who is afraid he will lose some fees. My son-in-law, Gov. John L. Helm, says that two-thirds of the county will be north and south hillsides and the other third barrens, and the loss will not hurt Hardin County. All the Larues and Walters are related to him. Now, about your county seat. You have a town with public square already laid off and dedicated by the liberality of Isaac Hodgen, whose prophetic eyes in 1820 saw that this was to be a county seat." Then he follows with his humorous demonstration that Hodgenville is the center, not only of the state of Kentucky, but of the United States. He said: "Washington is now on the border, surrounded by malarial swamps. I have no criticism to make on Washington and our fathers who placed it there. We revere their memories. They were wise in their day. With the lights they had before them they thought Washington was the center of the Union, which it was then. Their vision was bounded by the Alleghenies; they knew little of Louisiana or Texas or of Oregon. They had never heard of Hodgenville or of this favored region.