Henderson history: Tales of old days highlighted modern shortcomings

When Jack Hudgions sat down in 1947 to write about the old days he felt obliged to preface his remarks to lessen the sting.

Hudgions was born May 29, 1921, and died of a heart attack Oct. 23, 1959, at age 38. He was working at The Gleaner before World War II and returned there after the war. But his greatest community contribution was not as a journalist – although he did yeoman work in that capacity. It was his role as a local historian.

Before he died he put together a manuscript history of Henderson County, which is on file at the Henderson County Public Library. The index is on the library’s website. Maralea Arnett relied on it heavily in writing her 1976 “Annals and Scandals” history book.

Having been born in 1921 I doubt Hudgions witnessed all the things he wrote about in his article that was published in The Gleaner June 22, 1947. For instance, he mentions the appearances of vaudeville stars Lillian Russell and Eddie Foy Sr. here. Russell died in 1922 when Hudgions was barely 1 year old and Foy died in 1928 when Hudgions was only 6.

“Gone are the days when Hendersonians enjoyed the vaudevilles in the old opera houses and shows with such performers as Lillian Russell and Eddie Foy making personal appearances of long standing in the city.”

But before I delve too deeply into Hudgions’ article I ought to at first let you see the editor’s note that preceded it:

“The following article is not written to discredit Henderson, but merely to tell of the forms of entertainment Henderson had at one time. It is believed, however, that many Hendersonians will enjoy recalling the ‘good ole days.’ Neither is the article written to brand any current movement, but merely to tell of their difficulties.”

The article asks, “has Henderson moved forward? That’s a debatable question, many say.” It then jumps into the paragraph about Lillian Russell and Eddie Foy Sr.

Much space was given to activities at Atkinson Park and the old fairgrounds on South Green Street, which was located on the east side of Green Street about where Fair Street intersects. Fairground Lane that joins Sand Lane is also a reminder of the facility.

The old fairgrounds dated from 1856 and was “one of the most envied spots in Kentucky,” according to Hudgions. (It was demolished in 1933 so that Barret Stadium could be built there in 1934. Barret Stadium lasted until razed in February 1984.)

“Those good old days of the annual county fair are practically forgotten. Moms and Pops and Granmas and Granpas tell the youngsters about those days. We still use the phrase ‘Fair Grounds’ but that’s all….”

People “flocked from miles around to attend the annual showings in Henderson. Its seating space was filled again and again, time after time.”

(I’ll have a jingle about the lemonade sold at the old fairgrounds at the end of this column.)

Atkinson Park, meanwhile, hosted gatherings for the Fourth of July that drew thousands of people “to swap yarns, enter into contests of strength and beauty, stuff themselves on barbecue and fried chicken, listen to lengthy orations, and have an all-day affair of fun.”

Other activities that had died out by 1947 (although some have been revived) include marble tournaments, kite derbies, and types of fun such as roller rinks and dance halls. Some of the dance halls stayed open all night.

“Occasionally today the high school band conducts a concert in Central Park. But they are lightly attended. Try and recall the days when the concerts in Central Park drew hundreds on a Sunday afternoon. The music – well, it wasn’t a bit better. It could be, though, that Hendersonians of today aren’t the lovers of music they were in yesteryears.

“Outings by fraternal organizations, which use to draw practically the entire citizenry, no longer are circled dates on calendars. The bathing beauty contests are to be remembered – no longer seen.

“The style shows which were held on an annual basis are written in pages of bygone history. And the womanless weddings didn’t die until several years back.” Womanless weddings? That’s a new one on me. But fraternal lodges have been known to engage in a bit of silliness now and then.

Also, he wrote, “How many can remember the old medicine shows which used to be held on Clark Street between Center and Washington? Maybe the medicine wasn’t worth a hoot, but the ole boys certainly put on a show.”

A couple of things had seen improvement, however. “Instead of kids and adults having to take dips in the polluted Ohio River now they may take a safe swim in the municipal pool in Atkinson Park.”

The other improvement was what the Jaycees had done in reworking “Goodfellow Field” at Sixth and Ingram streets, which had opened June 12, 1947. “That shows initiative on the part of at least one group of young men.” That park has been known as Kimmel Field since 1993.

For the most part the baseball news was less than stellar. Probably the biggest loss, Hudgions wrote, was the disappearance of a functioning local team in the Kitty League. The K-I-T League played professional ball at the Class D level. The letters stood for Kentucky, Illinois and Tennessee, although in some years Indiana was substituted for Illinois.

Crews work to set up for the fair.
Crews work to set up for the fair.

The league operated on and off between 1903 and 1955; Henderson fielded a team only sporadically for roughly the first dozen years, I believe. (The Henderson teams, by the way, were the Hens and the Blue Birds.)

Two baseball squads “strictly amateur but yet semi-pro” were trying to play on a regular basis at Barret Stadium in 1947. “The teams gain little or no support. The only true reason the teams exist at all is because of the players’ hearts. Their love for the game calls them to the makeshift field.”

Furthermore, Hudgions noted, “In the county several independent nines slug it out on Sunday afternoons, usually performing before a crowd that is mediocre in attendance.”

But the baseball fans could hardly be blamed, he said. “A baseball fan attending one of the tilts is forced to use unfit seating facilities, and at the same time subject himself to the hot rays of old Sol – unless it is a cloudy day.” One of the teams out in the county, however, boasted of a large shade tree the audience could stand underneath.

But I promised to take you back to the fairgrounds before I ended this – and this is also how Hudgions ended his article.

The fair used to feature “a circus, carnival, trotting horses and all of the rigamarole that goes with that sort of thing.

“But what the kids liked best was the chant of the soft drink man when he was preparing to close shop” and wanted to get rid of his leftover wares.

“How did it go? They said something like this:

“’Lemonade. Lemonade. Made in the shade and stirred with a spade. Here it is. All you can drink for a nickel.’”


Daredevil Arthur James declined to climb what was then the Ohio Valley Bank building because the “considerable crowd” he had gathered refused to contribute enough money, according to The Gleaner of June 23, 1922.

The “human fly” wanted at least $15 to perform the climb. The most the crowd would contribute was $3.

“An announcement that he could not afford to take the chances for such an insignificant reward sent the crowd away, somewhat disappointed, but not critical of the ‘Fly’ for his refusal.”

Failure to raise James’ fee “was attributed by some to the fact that the building-climbing entertainment is becoming antiquated in this country.”


The only dredging detachment in the U.S. Army was on training maneuvers here in 1972 when the 211th Engineering Detachment arrived from Texas to dredge the Ohio River bottom, according to The Gleaner of June 18, 1972.

The 62 members of the Texas National Guard were housed at the Holiday Inn. They were using a paddle boat 24 hours a day to dredge sand and silt near Long’s Landing just downstream of Geneva. The sand was deposited on the Kentucky shore with an eye toward creating a new beach.


The internet was a boon to genealogists around the world, according to a package of articles written by Features Editor Donna Stinnett that appeared in The Gleaner June 22, 1997.

Direct access to historical information was available immediately from such places as the website of the Henderson County Historical and Genealogical Society. Sarah Ligon of Barrow, Alaska, was an immediate convert after she contacted the society.

“I check in with the Henderson County GenWeb page at least twice a week,” she said via email. “It’s one of the better pages because it is current and there are always new items being added.

“For example, since last fall the 1850 and 1860 Henderson censuses and the death records from 1911 to 1921 have been added. This is really good stuff.”

Readers of The Gleaner can reach Frank Boyett at YesNews42@yahoo.com or on Twitter at @BoyettFrank.

This article originally appeared on Henderson Gleaner: Henderson history: Tales of old days highlighted modern shortcomings