Friday, April 10, 2009

Kirkmansville's Rise and Decline

Some history of Kirkmansville, KY

Road signs at the intersection in Kirkmansville, KY

The little village of Kirkmansville, KY, is located at the intersection of Highways 107 and 171, in the extreme northwestern corner of Todd County. It's an outpost in the borderlands -- less than two miles from both the Muhlenberg County and the Christian County boundaries.

Kirkmansville was incorporated in 1882 by an act of the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.  In 1900, the population of Kirkmansville was 126.

According to the Todd County, KY, Family History, compiled by the Todd County Historical Society, Kirkmansville was a thriving little village in the early 1900s.

Early in the twentieth century, Kirkmansville was an active community. There were four churches, one to three doctors, a hotel, a bank, a post office, a garage, a flour and feed mill, a grist mill, a blacksmith shop, a funeral home, a restaurant and pool-room, a jail, four general stores and a school.  Also near the community, where the Edwards Bridge crosses Pond River, the Thomas Parker Sullivan Tobacco Factory and Warehouse served the area farmers. When Mr. Sullivan died in the early 1900s, the establishment closed.

Source: Todd County, KY, Family History

By 1928, the population had reached 200, and a school building that accommodated grades 1-12 had been built. In the early 1930s, a gymnasium was constructed for sports events. However, the school's enrollment dwindled despite efforts to bus in students, and it was closed in the spring of 1938.

The closing of the school was the beginning of a period of ill fortune.  Within a few years, the school building and the gym were both destroyed by fire. Then, in the winter of 1944, a major fire destroyed the bank, a garage, the post office and a house. Residents fought the fire with a bucket brigade until help finally arrived from the Greenville Fire Department.

More fires followed:

During a 25-year period, the bank, the school, a garage, the post office, the jail, a Negro church, three store buildings, and ten residences burned. Most of them were not replaced. A succession of tragedies almost had transformed a small progressive community into a ghost town, with little except memories to remind the citizens of Kirkmansville as it was 40 years ago.

Source: Todd County, KY, Family History

103 years after its establishment, the post office in Kirkmansville closed permanently on March 10, 1967(Source: Kentucky Place Names by Robert M. Rennick). Today, Kirkmansville is a crossroads with a handful of houses, a couple of churches, and a little store and restaurant.

I wonder why so many fires occurred in Kirkmansville. Was there evidence of deliberate fire-setting? Were there recurring coincidences of time, place and person? Many dark scenarios can be imagined -- maybe a parent, spouse, neighbor, or friend knew something about someone, but kept it a secret.

The Todd County history book doesn't say that an arsonist or pyromaniac was at work, but I think it's possible -- and even probable. Certainly, as the little town endured its era of fires, citizens must have hoped that their buildings wouldn't be next.

Other interesting scraps of Kirkmansville history:
Bids to carry the mail once a week from Kirkmansville to Elkton, a trip of 19 miles and 5 hours in 1876.
Shenanigans at Kirkmansville during 1912 revival meetings
A Kirkmansville doctor's account of a tumor that caused the stillbirth of a baby

Related posts:
Helen's Place in Kirkmansville, KY
Seen at Kirkmansville, KY

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CONTENTMENT: Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry, live simply, expect little, give much, sing often, pray always, forget self, think of others and their feelings, fill your heart with love, scatter sunshine. These are the tried links in the golden chain of contentment.
(Author unknown)

IT IS STILL BEST to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasure; and to be cheerful and have courage when things go wrong.
(Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1867-1957)

Thanks for reading.