A 1940 Walking Tour Of High Bridge

The famous High Bridge was opened in 1877 by the Cincinnati Southern Railway. The 275-foot tall bridge crosses the deep gorge of the Kentucky River between Jessamine and Mercer counties. Being, at the time, the highest railroad bridge in the world, High Bridge at once became a tourist attraction. Its popularity was at a peak during the first 20 years of the 1900s. In 1911 the bridge was rebuilt. About 80 years ago the large twin towers were also torn down, and its popularity slowly faded.

Editor's Note: Just before World War II, High Bridge was a typical village located along the Kentucky River in Jessamine County. Of course the huge bridge brought much fame to the community. It was a community of about 250 people. In the 60 years since 1940 many of the residents have died, others have moved, and still others remain in High Bridge. Clyde E. Major lived in High Bridge in 1940, but the war took him away from his home, and he never lived there again. However, in his memories, he recalls High Bridge and its people as they were in 1940. Below he has mapped out the whole community; surely a worthwhile and valuable project.
By Clyde E. Major - 2000

My grandfather would always recollect when he had a bunch of us grandchildren together, telling us stories of his younger days. Now, I am the grandfather, and I would like to recollect and tell you about my hometown of High Bridge, Kentucky, introducing you to my friends and neighbors from 60 years ago.

In 1940, High Bridge had a population of about 250 people. Approximately 100 children attended a three-room school. There was no running water, and we had to get water from a large cistern. We had no inside restrooms, only two large "privies," one for the girls and another for the boys, spaced several hundred feet apart. We had some of the best teachers who taught the three "Rs". When the occasion arose for discipline, they were not afraid of using the paddle.

The work industry consisted of a large stone quarry, with approximately 25 men employed; a railroad section gang with 12-15 men, farmers, and trades people. My father, Willie Major, ran the Shaker ferry, transporting many cars per day across the Kentucky River.

High Bridge is located five miles south of Wilmore on State Highway 29. The hill entering High Bridge is called Renfro Hill. In those days we really entered the town proper, when we went under the railroad through an underpass. High Bridge did not have a main street. There was a new road and an old road, which led to High Bridge Park. The new road was considered the main road, because it had four grocery stores and a Post Office. The old road mainly consisted of residences. The tourist trade was quite a boom to our merchants and High Bridge Park. (Remember, High Bridge is said to be the highest bridge in the world across a navigable stream. Many years ago this caused the bridge to be famous, and curiosity seekers walked across the bridge, throwing rocks into the river.)

Now that I have told you a few things about my hometown, I will try to introduce you to some of my friends of 60 years ago. You must remember in 1940, I was 15 years old. Sixty years is a long time. I may not have everything correct, so forgive me if I make some errors. So much has changed.

Now, we will take a walking tour through the High Bridge of 1940. I will introduce you to the many families who resided there, and try to tell you a little something about each of them. I will number (refer to The Map) each residence as we go along.

(1) At the beginning of Renfro Hill is the Robinsons, and before that, the Hobart Howard family. The Robinsons had a son nicknamed "Peanuts."

(2) Across the road lived a lady by the name of Matt McKey. She was the first lady in High Bridge to own and drive a car. It was a Model T with solid rubber tires and holes around it for elasticity.

(3) The rock quarry had three houses on its property, used by some of the quarry's employees. Tommy Underwood lived in the first house. (4) Betty Alford lived in the next house. (5) The Goforth family lived in the last house on the property.

(6) Going left, we would next come to High Bridge Depot. This is where the mail came into town, and we could catch a ride to Wilmore for ten cents.

(7) Across from the depot is a large hole in the ground, where billions of tons of rock were loaded, trucked, and shipped out by railroad. Most roads in Jessamine County, and surrounding counties, have a base of High Bridge rock.

(8) Down from the depot are two section houses, one for the section gang foreman, who was Bill Buxton.

(9A) The second section house was occupied by Henry Pryor and his wife, Anna Bell, two daughters, and one son, Charles. Irene was the youngest. I had the privilege to graduate with her from High Bridge School and Wilmore High School.

(9B) As we trace our steps back to the main road, John Barnett lived on the right.

(10) Then under the railroad to High Bridge town limits proper. The first house, which was formerly owned by Sam Hanks and family, was occupied by Nina Beckum.

(11) A grocery store, owned and operated by Nina Beckum.

(12) Across from store was a fine lady by the name of Lydia Blake. She had two sons, Lawrence and Carl.

(13) Between Nina's store and the Blakes' residence is School House Lane. As we travel down the Lane, we will come to Hedge Horn's house. Hedge had several children. Her son, Harry, was my very best friend. We started and finished both grade school and high school together. As we continue down the lane, you will come to the Pentecostal Church, High Bridge School, Mr. and Mrs. McPherson and sons, Ernest and Sam, Mary Jane Rue, Wallace Johnson, the Marshalls at the end, and some other houses that my memory fails me.

(14) Down the new road Hanson Lands, bookkeeper at the quarry, lived on the left.

(15) Across the road, in the forks, were a store and the home of "Snow Ball" Lancaster. I never knew his real name. During Halloween, being young and mischievous, some of my friends and I would get together and throw rotten eggs on his porch.

(16) Across from "Snow Ball" Lancaster's property was a farm with approximately 40 acres, which belonged to Dorman Field. He must have been a nice person, because he let us use some of his land for a ballpark.

(17) Sam Corman's house was next. Sometimes Mr. Corman would cut hair.

(18) Connor's home. Mrs. Connor lived there with her son, J. P., who was very vocal.

(19) Bear Rue's Store and home. Mr. Rue had a son, Hisel.

(20) Mrs. Josephine Ison's residence. Mrs. Ison had one of the few telephones in High Bridge. When we needed a doctor, day or night, she was always ready and willing to make the call for you. Also, on Sundays, she served a buffet lunch from a revolving center on the table. Each customer would fill his plate from the revolving center, as it came around to his place at the table. (I understand that Shakertown, Inc., now owns this table.)

(21) Mahan's residence. This home sat a distance off the road. The Mahans had several children. The ones that I remember are: Irvie, Gene, Cecil, Myrtle, Edith, and Christine Anderson.

(22) Now we will travel up the road and come to the community center, a grocery store, and post office. Mrs. Florence Strunk was the postmistress. The post office area became very congested around 10:30 a.m. each day, because everyone ordered clothes from Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward. Mrs. Strunk's husband, Fred, owned the grocery store, and with only one arm, could slice and weigh a pound of bologna faster than anyone. Fred Strunk also owned a farm and ran a junkyard. Fred and Florence Strunk had two children.

(23) Directly across the road from the Strunks was a small dance space, with a jukebox and a counter, where we could buy sandwiches, beer, and Cokes. Lark Fain built this. It did not make a go of it, and was later made into a residence.

(24) Behind the Lark Fain building was where the Ed Sallee family lived. There were four boys: Arty, "Hotshot," Bonn, Kenneth, and two daughters. Ed was the High Bridge Quarry superintendent.

(25) Next was a big two-story building where "Little" Bill Winkle and his wife, Rosie, lived.

(26) Then walking up the road, we will come to a house where Sally Ann McPherson lived with her son, Ralph; her daughter; and a grandson, Merrill Eggers. Merrill was the sign painter for the area. Sally Ann was someone we could depend on. She carried the mail from the depot to the post office every day, rain or shine.

(27) Let's backtrack a short distance to a lane that went in right above "Little" Bill Winkle's property. On this lane was housing for some of the section gang employees. As we turn into the lane, the first house was the home of Bill "Bird" Smith. Mr. Smith had a son, Bill.

(28) Gene Moore's residence.

(29A) Mr. and Mrs. Carl Wright and daughters, Marie and Thelma.

(29B) Mr. and Mrs. Ora Smith and daughters, Virginia and Evelyn.

(30) Gene and Foster Woods.

(31) On the right, coming out to the main road, lived Brigham and Dolly Freels and children: Claude, Helen, Richard, Eddie, and Ella Mae. Claude Freels has been a lifetime friend of mine.

(32) Now we are facing High Bridge in all of its glory. The road leads under the bridge, with a large concrete wall on the right, as we enter High Bridge Park. This area consisted of approximately 50 acres. The park was owned by Southern Railroad and leased to Mr. and Mrs. Roberts. As we enter the park, we will come to a food stand, where we could purchase hamburgers, hot dogs, and the best ice cream we have ever tasted. Then we will see two gazebo's, made out of cedar poles, two rope swings, and two outdoor toilets. There were two residences, Mr. and Mrs. Dave Chism and family; Dave, Jr. and Clarence occupied one, while Mr. and Mrs. Roberts occupied the other. Then the main attraction: "The Dance Hall." This was the finest outside pavilion in the country. There was always a big dance every Saturday night with a country band. The rest of the week, we could dance by a jukebox. The Fourth of July was a really big celebration with a well-known band. All day long, there were all kinds of contests: greased pigs, greased poles, biggest liar contests, and fiddling contests. A lot of factors went into making this park a success, and the person responsible for that was Dave Chism. He kept the grounds in shape, sold tickets for boat rides, fried the hamburgers, and scooped the ice cream. The park stayed open from May 1st until after Labor Day. The 271 steps down the hill were really a work of art, besides the convenience they gave people who lived in the river bottom. They also led to the boat rides to Dix Dam.

(33A) Now let's retrace our steps out the park gate, turn right, and follow the old railway bed to a section house, lived in by Mr. and Mrs. Elbert "Sprout" Horton and their large family. I will not try to name all of them, except the ones near my age: Eldon, Billy, Bobby, Tommy, and Maretta.

(33B) Walter Hazlett, who also worked on the railroad section gang.

(34) Retracing again to the park gate, turn right, and follow the park fence. This is where Uncle Billy Alcorn lived. His job was running a pump on the river to fill the water tank, so the locomotives could fill up. He also ran a passenger boat called the "Star," taking passengers to Dix Dam.

(35) "Red" Alcorn and family.

(36) Jim Gibson and family. At one time, this residence had been a church.

(37) Farm owned by Mr. Rogers.

(38) Directly in back of the park was a house that used to be occupied by the sawmill manager. In 1940, my Uncle George Major and his wife, Lola, and three children: William, George Morgan, and Martha, lived there.

(39) Near this house was the old saw mill office, where I was born in 1924. Then the home of Mr. and Mrs. Feather Cal.

(40) Back-tracking to Gene and Foster Woods' home (#30), go left on the old road; all of the left side is a cliff. All houses will be on the right, beginning with Morgan and Christine Anderson. Morgan was a musician and ball player. He worked at the rock quarry. They had two children, Leroy and Joe.

(41) Store building below Andersons (#40) home. I do not remember who operated the store.

(42) Mr. and Mrs. Howard Anderson and family. Howard was a brother to Morgan, and also, like his brother, was a musician. The Anderson's had several children. The ones that I remember are Shirley and John.

(43) Coming to a "Y" in the road, we will go left at this point. The first house we come to was the home of Charley and Net Johnson and sons.

(44) A couple hundred feet down the road, a driveway leads to the right. This was the home of Mr. and Mrs. Johnny Alcorn and family. The two children that I remember were Junior and Opal.

(45) We continue down the hill, which was referred to as "Lock Hill," with cliffs on both sides. We come to the Lock #7 gate. On the left lived Mr. and Mrs. Lewis Rue and sons: Earl, Allen, and twins, Tommy and Dubbie. The twins were born with a birth defect and could not talk or learn easily. But the one thing that they were able to do was to open the lock gate for people to go through. Upon entering the gate, people would give Tommy and Dubbie a nickel or dime. If anyone else tried to let people through, they were treading upon dangerous waters.

(46) On down the road, about a half-mile, we come to two homes owned by the federal government to house the lockkeeper and the assistant lockkeeper. Mr. Simpson was the lockkeeper. He and his wife had a daughter and two sons, but had the misfortune of losing one of the sons, due to polluted spring water. The other son was Garnett.

(47) The assistant lockkeeper was Mr. Combs. He and his wife had three children: Charley, Lydia, and Ida. The girls graduated from grade school with me, but did not attend Wilmore High School.

(48) Backtracking through the lock gate, turn right toward Shaker Ferry. The first house we will come to, on the left, is J.D. and Addie Hicks. J. D. was crippled and walked with crutches. He must have drawn some kind of pension.

(49) The next house was a ferryman assistant, Arthur "Jarhead" Alcorn, and his wife, Lucy.

(50) Mr. and Mrs. Willie Major and family. Mr. Major was the ferryman, and my father. I had one sister, Gladys. My father was on duty seven days a week, 24 hours a day, at $1.25 per day.

(51) The roads end at the Kentucky River, where the ferry docks. During this time, the ferry was busy. The biggest day was the Fourth of July, when it carried 400 cars across at fifty cents (.50) per car; six month's salary for most men in 1940.

(52) Now we will backtrack back to the top of the hill by walking up paths made through the cliff, to a point beginning at the "Y," at a point between #42 and #43. Making a 90-degree turn on the old or lower road, on the right side of the road was a house, and I'm not sure who lived there.

(53) Located here is a church that was built on solid rock, but remained unused.

(54) Across the road was a store run by a lady named Mrs. Chiterster. She also had an apartment that she rented out.

(55) Mr. and Mrs. James McLaughlin and family, James and Gladys. This house sat on a steep hill.

(56) Mrs. Anderson's residence. This house was first built to house a barbershop, but was later converted into a home. Mrs. Anderson was an elderly lady, who had raised a large family. All of her family lived in or near High Bridge. This house hung out over a steep hillside.

(57) Mr. and Mrs. Tillett and son, Harold.

(58) Across the road was a small house occupied by Mrs. Caddie Gay. I had the opportunity to visit in this house several times, and she always had a big delicious cake baked and shared it with me.

(59) Walking on up the road, on the left, setting pretty far off the road, was the home of Dorthule Horn. Her granddaughter, Alene, lived with her. Sometimes her sons, Amos and Jerd, lived there, also. Jerd stayed in trouble a lot and spent some time in prison. He painted me a picture of living a hobo's life and traveling over the country by rail. I was almost sold on the idea, but thank goodness, my better side decided different, and I stayed put. At one time, this house had been a beautiful home, but was now in need of a large amount of repair.

(60) Will Alcorn and wife lived in the house that was below the road. This was in their later years, and all of their children had left High Bridge for a better living, except Arthur "Jarhead" Alcorn, who was mentioned in #49. Arthur "Jarhead" Alcorn left sometime later for Dayton, Ohio.

(61) Follow me a few yards to a driveway, leading to a house up on the hill, to a home occupied by the Hardins.

(62) Then a fellow I knew as Punk Wilson, and adjoining this house, was one lived in by Herbert Winkle and wife Ellie, daughters, Mabel and Marie. At this time, Herbert had a fatal disease and died sometime afterward.

(63) Turning left, down a lane that I will label as Houp Lane, the first building is an unused church, turned into a dance hall and drinking place called the "Blue Moon," owned and operated by Snowball Lancaster. He did not operate it for long, due to a lack of customers.

(64) Mr. and Mrs. Stevenson and children: Halley, Vernon, and Hazel.

(65) Across the road lived the Gullette family. Roy, Sr., and wife with two boys, Roy Jr., and Ed, and a daughter, Gertie.

(66) Dudley Alcorn and family.

(67) Next a lady who came from Sweden. Her husband, Ed Winkle, was killed during the building of Dix Dam. They had a daughter, Esther, and a son, Andy. Andy was unable to walk, but was able to go anywhere he wanted in a red wagon. The boys at High Bridge were ready to pull him, and someone was always at his disposal.

(68) Across the road was a farm owned by Mr. and Mrs. Pete Beckham. Mr. Beckham was my good friend, Harry Horn's, grandfather. Harry used to ride with his grandfather on his wagon, and he looked like a speck beside of him.

(69) Look back across the road, and you will see Bill Sewell's house. He was a good baseball player; worked at the quarry.

(70) Down a small hill was the home of Henry Houp. He had several children.

(71) Brock family with several children.

(72) In one of these houses lived a man by the name of Bob Houp. He was the only Civil War soldier that I was ever privileged to know; He had passed away by this time.

(73) Backtrack to the Blue Moon and turn left. The first house is George "Ducky" Anderson and Bessie and family: Eleanor, Carl, and Jimmy. This family was special to me, because in later years, when I lived up on the river, and we would come in late from school activities, they would take me in and provide for me as one of their own. Big "Ducky' was the welder at the rock quarry, and he would repair our bicycles when we broke them.

(74) Next, the most active church in the community, called the Union Church, an all-denominational church, usually pastored by an Asbury College student. This church, which is now over 100 years old, is still in operation today.

A lot of good High Bridgers lived outside of the town limit. Mr. and Mrs. John Horton and a large family lived at the foot of the park steps. John and his boys were fishermen, and we could always buy fresh fish from them. They were blessed by several children: James, Bill, John, Harold, Layton, and Irene.

Up the river lived Bill Winkle, the owner of all the High Bridge Lumber Company property. He had four houses, but chose, that year (1940), to live on the river. He was the area game warden. Bill, better known as "Big Bill," and wife Rhodie had three children: son, little Bill; daughters, Flora and Mary Lillian.

Across the river, where the Dix River flows into the Kentucky, lived Roy and Evelyn Hicks and two children, Kenneth and Betty.

Up the Dix River lived John and Amanda Hicks. Up the Kentucky River, on the Garrard County side, lived "Maw" Major and her two daughters, Kate and Nannie Major.

Across the river, in Jessamine County, lived Mollie and Floretta Green. Also, Jessie and Bernice Green with their son, Raymond.

All these people were true blue-blooded High Bridgers, who received their mail, purchased their groceries, and attended to all of their affairs in High Bridge.

Ira McKinney lived across the bridge in Mercer County. He had several children: Hargus, Gilbert, Hester, Helen, Hisel, and Irene. Mr. McKinney and his sons were turn-lathe souvenir makers of High Bridge. Their souvenirs and handy work ended up in many far away homes. A train killed Mr. McKinney in later years.

Mr. and Mrs. Albert Waldrop and family also lived in Mercer County, but they too were true-blood High Bridgers.

There are a few that I didn't know exactly where they lived in 1940. I will list them here: Mr. and Mrs. Earl Lands and son; Mr. Cecil Hardin Gertie Gullette; Mr. Pete Hardin (Ruby) Pete worked on a boat; Mr. and Mrs. Walter Houp and family; Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Houp and family; Mr. and Mrs. Jim Shyrock and family; Mr. and Mrs. Josh Baker and family; Mr. and Mrs. Wes Houp and family; Mr. and Mrs. Jess Savage and family; Mr. and Mrs. Dave Savage and family; Mr. and Mrs. Fred Waldop; Jesse Lee Houp and family; and Chester Gullette.

Editor's Note: Clyde E. Major, 1856 Curdsville Road, Harrodsburg, KY 40330, enjoyed 22 years as a resident of High Bridge, but after returning from World War II, went to work for Kentucky Utilities Company and moved to Mercer County. Although he still lives within a mile of High Bridge, as the crow flies, he doesn't get to visit very often, but it still remains in his memories, as you can tell. Mr. Major kindly shares his story with our readers.