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Owen Historical Society News: Hot weather no stranger to Owen County farmers

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By Bonnie Strassell

“Knee high by the fourth of July.”

So goes this old saying that supposedly determines whether a corn crop will be plentiful for the year. However, many factors contribute to the success of raising a good corn or any other crop, and weather is one vital part of the equation.
As drought conditions prevail across Kentucky, Owen County farmers will tell you that droughts are no stranger to them. Many recall the years when thirsty plants withered under parched earth; and the ensuing crop failure resulted in a dire financial situation for farmers.
Lela Maude Hawkins reminisces about hard times during the Depression when for two years straight she and her husband totally lost their tobacco crop. One year was due to flooding and the following year a drought settled in. Their tobacco, which looked so promising in the spring, died out in the sun-scorched fields.
Dry, hot conditions also had an effect on people, especially before the age of air-conditioning. Even when the portable cooling units were introduced, Owen countians were skeptical. They preferred to seek a cool, shady spot in the yard; and on long, hot nights, many an Owen County mattress found itself outside in the yard where families would bed down for the night and try to catch a breeze.
In July of 1932, workers were laying concrete on Ky 22 when 11 were overcome by the heat and one man died.
In July 1942, W.J. Lusby of Twin Creek succinctly described the hot spell that year. He declared, “95 degrees in the shade with hot winds blowing.” 
On July 1, 1965, Owen County welcomed a heavy rainfall which gave relief after several months of drought, but in August of the same year, the water level fell so low that water conservation was ordered in the county “because of prolonged drought.”
Fires were a big concern if drought conditions prevailed, and a spark from any source could have devastating effects. In June of 1917 a disastrous fire destroyed 10 buildings at Poplar Grove; almost obliterating the town. Many other early communities of Owen County have also suffered greatly from fires. In 1864 New Liberty was gutted by fire from Bonds store to the Gayle House, and in 1904 a livery stable owned by Mike Hanlon burned, taking with it a whole block of the town.    
For years flooding from the Kentucky river or from the many creeks that wind their way throughout the county has taken lives and destroyed crops. In July of 1866 Mr. Noel and nine members of his family drowned in a freshet in Brush Creek and in 1872 Eagle Creek was higher than ever recorded.
Whether from insects, floods, or droughts, the damage or loss of crops did not deter the determined people of Owen County to pick up the pieces and rebuild their homes and their lives. That fortitude served as a foundation for the future and was the back drop of family stories to be passed from one generation to another.
This year is the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War. Many Owen countians served in this conflict and their service is recorded by their descendants. George Robertson from Pennsylvania recently visited the Historical Society Museum and donated his family history which included a Civil War soldier. His great, great grandfather, Samuel Robertson, a resident of Owen County, served in the Confederate forces under Captain Foster. He was captured and sent to a prison camp in Ohio, but in December of 1862 Samuel was included in a prisoner exchange. Later he enlisted in Jessee’s Battalion Kentucky Mounted Rifles. If anyone would like to donate information on an ancestor who fought in the Civil War we would be delighted to include it in our research room files.
Roy Miller has donated a 1962 set of encyclopedias to the museum. Because of our limited space Roy is willing to give these to anyone who would appreciate their timeless value. If interested please call the museum at (502) 484-2529.
The historical society has several major projects well underway. The installation of a new mantle, from donations in memory of Lori Powers, is nearing completion, and Jarl Lee Harris and Darrel Baker are preparing the side of the building owned by McDonald and New Funeral Home to paint a mural of the Falls City Riverboat. Wallace Bush kindly donated fencing upon which a new concrete driveway will be poured, and we are in the process of trying to raise money to fix the bathroom floor, repair the exterior of the museum, and fix the rock wall in the side yard. If anyone would like to donate to one of these causes, please send your contribution to: Owen County Historical Society, 206 N. Main St. Owenton, KY 40359. We thank you in advance for your support.
Join us July 12 at 7 P.M. at the I.O.O.F. hall when Cincinnati Museum Riverboat specialist, Charlie Moorman, takes us on a  steamboat journey along the Ohio and Kentucky Rivers.