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Owen County Historical Society: At one time, stage coaches criss-crossed county

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By Bonnie Strassell

The ride was not for the fainthearted.
At times it jarred the bones and rattled the teeth and the constant swaying was sure to cause motion sickness in some. Depending on the time of year, one could be covered with a fine film of dust or mired in knee-deep mud. However, despite the setbacks, travel by stagecoach was part of the American scene.
The first stagecoach in service (1772) made the trip from New York to Boston in just one week. Soon stage lines crisscrossed the entire eastern United States, and by the early 1800’s stage coaches were kicking up dust all over Kentucky.
The R.L. Polk & Co.’s “Kentucky State Gazetteer and Business Directory for 1895-1896” listed several stage coach lines in Owen County communities.
In Gratz a daily stage made a run to Owenton and Sparta with the stage fare listed at $1 for the journey to Owenton and $2 to Sparta. Monterey’s stage traveled daily to Owenton for a mere .75 cents and charged $1.75 if Sparta was the destination.
The stage in New Liberty ran twice a day to Sanders for a fee of 50 cents, and Owenton had daily stage communication with Sparta and Warsaw. Travel from East Eagle to Owenton by stage occurred semi-weekly with the fare posted at 75 cents, and the daily stage from Harrisburg (now Long Ridge) would deliver passengers to Owenton and Sparta. Ball’s Landing provided another point of departure for stage coach travel as it offered the trip to Owenton tri-weekly, and the community of EP sent a daily stage to Owenton for a fare of .50 cents.
According to Sidney Gano, a resident of Sparta, stage coaches played an important role in our history. The March 23, 1950 edition of the News-Herald carried an article written by Sidney. It seems the stage coach from Warsaw to Owenton had to cross Eagle Creek by a ford. One night the stage made the crossing after most were in bed and suddenly screams for help were heard from an island in the middle of the ford. Running to the creek some men from Sparta discovered sudden flood waters descending upon the coach. The stage itself was whirling around and the frightened horses, unable to pull the coach, were struggling to free themselves from the vehicle.
A Sparta resident, Mr. Johnnie Bond, had a gentle horse that was a famous swimmer and not at all intimidated by high water. With no time to arouse Mr. Bond, one of the men ran to his barn, bridled the old gray and plunged into the roaring creek. The rescuer was able to retrieve a man, his young daughter, and the driver from certain drowning, but the stage and horses were sweep away by the churning creek waters. The grateful passenger handed a $10 bill to the man and asked him to give it to the owner of “the horse that had saved his life.”
During the final years of stage runs, Sidney Gano gave a vivid description of a stagecoach’s arrival at the train depot in Sparta. “There was still the old stagecoach, a relic even then, coming in every evening from Owenton. As he came through the covered bridge across Eagle Creek, the driver reined the horses heads high and as he came out onto the crossing, he cracked his whip and the four horses dashed up to the side of the depot with a great flourish. While the horses were being changed and waiting for the train, the children gathered about the coach sometimes venturing inside to sit on the red velvet seats and play they were traveling.”
A common sight on stage coach roads were the inns which offered travelers respite from the journey.
On the old Frankfort-Cincinnati stagecoach road at the intersection of present-day Highways 607 and 227, Haydon’s Stand provided these weary stagecoach passengers a much-coveted hot meal and bed. The inn, constructed of 12-inch squared poplar logs, was a six room building with two “dog trots.” It is believed that Owen countian Ray Sidebottom, a War of 1812 veteran and jailer of Owen County 1821-1822, built the inn. Later it was owned and operated by Benjamin Haydon, another Owen countian who served in the War of 1812. Benjamin also served six terms in the Kentucky House of Representatives. At times travelers were so numerous that cots had to be set up in the halls to accommodate all guests.
In 1903, Haydon’s Stand was torn down by Ray Sidebottom’s grandson, Tilden Gibson. During the excavation, a soft spot in the ground was discovered beneath the old kitchen. Digging down through the dirt a quantity of bones was discovered. Several were taken to a doctor at Stamping Ground who stated they were the forearms of three different people. Perhaps they were the hastily buried remains of victims of the dreaded cholera which killed in a matter of hours. A tavern would be avoided if it were known than an epidemic had struck there. Maybe they were victims of highwaymen who made their living by robbing and killing travelers. Whatever the case, it may never be known who these people were or why they were buried in such an unusual place.
The advent of railroads rang the death keel for stagecoaches. For many years, stages had been a necessary and vital part of American history, but steam and steel paved the way for faster, cheaper, and more efficient means of travel. Owners of stage lines were bitter opponents of the railroad, forseeing their businesses ruined by this new enterprise. As out of work stage coach drivers wandered aimlessly around empty stage barns, one fellow, referring to the railroads, emphatically declared: “20 miles an hour it goes. I say no good will come of people shooting around the country like sky rockets - give me horses!”
I’m sure everyone is aware that the mission of the Owen County Historical Society is to preserve the history of Owen County. We strive to set goals to accomplish this mission and we need the support of everyone in the county to achieve these goals. The society and museum is run completely by volunteers, and their help is vital in keeping the museum open. Our volunteers work in all areas. Some cook and serve at our fund raiser dinners. Others work in research, writing, and helping in the museum itself. As is true with all organizations some may put in more hours than others. However, it is necessary to realize that no one job is more important than another. We all work together for the common good of not only the historical society but of all our communities whose history and traditions need to be preserved for future generations.
May I take this opportunity to thank all members who volunteer time and resources, and offer an invitation to all Owen countians to join us in our mission. We always need help and appreciate any assistance. Donations are also gratefully accepted as the running costs of the museum have escalated. Please address any gift to: The Owen County Historical Society, 206 North Main St., Owenton, KY 40359. All donations are tax deductible and if you want to designate any fund toward a particular project of the historical society please do so on the memo line.
Our research room is becoming more popular as many from out of state are making inquiries. Recently a 10-year-old girl from Ohio wrote to us requesting information on ancestors who were born and raised in Owen County. Our special thanks to Christie Kennedy who is our resident family researcher and spends Wednesdays from 10-3 at the museum.
A #4 old antique dinner bell was donated by Robb Chaney and family in honor of Dean Riddle and in memory of Robb’s mother, Anna L. Riddle. This old bell has been in the family through five generations and was erected in the back yard of the historical society by Darrel Baker and Jim Acton.
It’s things like this that help to make the historical society what it is today. President Jeannie Baker and society appreciates all that the public does for the society in helping to preserve the history for future generations.