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“Owen Countians, Then and Now” was the title of a column featured in the News-Herald for several years. In a 1975 and 1976 issue, Herbert G. Gibson and J. L. Samuel shared poignant memories of Sparta in the early 20th century.
The Eagle Creek Valley where Sparta was built was settled in the spring of 1780 by Jacob and John Carlock, William Swango, Jacob Walters, Sr., and John and Dave Alcorn. Grist mills sprang up on Eagle Creek and there were more in this area of Sparta than on any other stream of its length in Kentucky. Cotton and hemp were the crops of choice, and hemp still grows wild along the creek.
When large land syndicates bought thousands of acres in Kentucky and sold them to farmers for homesteads, several early Sparta settlers lost their claims. According to C.N. Varble’s “History of Sparta” these early pioneers included George Jackson, William Holbert, William Swango, and Joel Alcorn. As counties were formed and grew, Sparta was divided between Owen and Gallatin counties with the Owen County side designated as Old Sparta and across the creek New Sparta located on the Gallatin County side.
In the 1800s Sparta was home to a tan yard, distillery, mechanic shop, shoemaker, several coopers, and a tavern where farmers on their way to deliver livestock to the port at Warsaw would stop for a meal or overnight stay.
Herbert Gibson was born at Pleasant Home in 1893 but remembers living in Sparta. His father taught school and every morning the children would walk to the schoolhouse along the bridge over Eagle Creek. One particularly bad winter Eagle Creek froze solid and according to Herbert, “some of the larger school children and grown people skated to Glencoe about three or four miles. When the ice broke up in the thaw, it hit the dam and piled up below about 10 to 12 feet deep. It was a sight to see.”
Occasionally children from the community would meet a train from Louisville and buy bread at five loaves for .25 cents.
Perhaps the fondest memory of Sparta for J. L. Samuel was the days of Colorado Grant’s Wild West Show. He recalls one rainy time in October of 1907 when the wagons drove up to the old red schoolhouse. The lot opposite the school had been reserved for the show but the owner said the ground was too wet to allow all the ponies and wagons to drive on it. J.L. described Colorado Grant as he kindly told the owner he would lay down straw and not hurt the land. “He was a very tall man with leather boots, chamois strapped on his legs, two pistols buckled on his sides, a red bandana tied on his neck, and a western hat on his head.” Colorado was quite the colorful character, his shoulder length hair flying as he galloped around the arena on his palomino and performed tricks. His wife and his friend, Jim Dalton, amazed the crowd as they executed shooting stunts with rifles, and the 30 ponies paraded about the ring dressed up in tassels and bells. Although he had plans to move south, Colorado decided to stay in the area and bought a farm in Old Sparta from Morton Baker and another across the road from Jim Wood.
While performing in Taylorsville, Colorado was shot and killed by a man who was angry with him. His body was brought back to Sparta and he was buried in Owenton Cemetery without a marker.
When J. L. Samuel wrote about Colorado in 1976, there was a movement in Sparta to buy a tombstone for this unforgettable Wild West entertainer. I was unable to determine if this undertaking was successful.
Spring has come to the I.O.O.F. hall window as birds are choosing their summer homes in a variety of bird houses featured there. Society board member Darrel Baker constructed the unique domiciles, and president Jeannie Baker added finishing touches and arranged them in a lovely condo setting. For further information about residences for our feathered friends, contact Jeannie at 484-2041.
The other window at the hall is reserved for hunting and fishing. Anyone with old fishing gear including tackle, rods, reels, and bait or any old hunting accessories you would like to lend for display, please drop off at the museum or contact us at 484-2529. If anyone has old camouflage clothing, T-shirts, pants, etc., which they do not want and would like to donate we have several projects to put the clothing to use. We appreciate all your support in helping us display a bit of Owen County history.
Our thanks to volunteer genealogist and historian, Christie Kennedy, who works at the museum on Wednesdays from 10-3. She has donated several family genealogies to the museum. They include: The Arnold Family Book, Milton Craigmyle Book, William Webster Family Book, Hazard/Perry County Combs (Owen County Combs are in this book), William Ackman Family, Smith Family of Owen County, and Quisenberry Family Notes. Christie has also donated many articles on families of Owen County which she has collected over many years of research.
Everyone is invited to the dedication of a state highway marker in memory of the Karsner Airfield and Harry Clark Karsner. The event will take place May 26 at 10 A.M. in front of Old Cedar Baptist Church. The Owen County Historical Society is sponsor for the marker and several historical society members will be in attendance.
Also don’t forget the special 1812 event June 1-2 in the backyard of the museum. Flyers are posted around town and the event includes: an artillery demonstration, Kentucky militia of 1812 including mounted militia, flint knapping, bow making, Indian artifacts, children’s games, with entertainment by John Harrod, Ron Devore, and Dr. Joy Morgan.
There is a special historical society board meeting Thursday 6:30 p.m. at the I.O.O.F. hall. It is important for all board members to attend and committee members are also welcome.
Please keep board member and financial advisor, Ella Robinson, in your prayers. She had a complete knee replacement May 22. President, Jeannie Baker, is still recovering from this same type of surgery.