Elizabethtown Examiner, Volume 2 Number 53, Elizabethtown, Kentucky 42701, Wednesday, December 31, 1975
Big Springs: Town from
A Nearly Forgotten Era
|By CATHY HARNED
Examiner Staff Writer
There's a common saying in Big Springs. "The town was too big for one county to take care of.'' people say, "so they
put it in three counties.'' Although they wink now, Big Springs, which is located in the extreme north-western part of Hardin County, was once much larger than Elizabethtown.
Actually, only one corner of the town is in Hardin County. The rest of Big Springs is in Breckinridge and Meade counties. A granite marker, erected in the 1950's, notes the spot where the three counties touch. Nearby is a natural bridge. As far as town residents know, it's the only one in the world which has a natural stream running beneath and a paved road running overhead.
Big Springs, however, is unique for reasons other than geographical accident. It is a town from another era, a step into the past. One of Hardin County's first communities, Big Springs was founded in the early 1800's. The sleepy town, once a major trading route, retains its pre-Civil War appearance.
Julius Hodges, 85, is the town's unofficial historian. He and his wife, Bertha, 75, are eager to talk of their home. From them. one learns Daniel Boone once lived one and a half miles northeast of town, at a hunting camp built in 1780 and named "Boone Springs." The limestone base of the cabin is still visible. Abraham Lincoln passed through as a young man, on his way to Illinois and. later. the presidency of the United States.
Unofficial town historian Julius Hodges, 85, rests on the steps
of a former Big Springs hotel. Big Springs is one of Hardin
County's oldest towns. Parts of the community are also in Breckinridge and Meade counties.
In the 1800's, Hodges noted as we toured the town, Big Springs prospered. Its function as an early trading post blossomed into a thriving economy. Several industries began, among them, the distillation of "Big Springs Straight'' whisky. Big Springs
was also the birthplace of Moman's Hog Remedy, still produced by the same family in Illinois, and distributed nationally. Invented on a local farm, the remedy contained fresh herbs. Julius still remembers seeing white vans with the Moman's insignia on the side at the turn of the century.
Just as the now tiny community reached its zenith in the late 1800's, however, a near death blow was struck. Served until that time by the Louisville-Nashville stagecoach line, Big Springs was a major stopover. Three churches, three saloons and two
hotels served visitors. A racetrack attracted fans from throughout the entire state. Saturdays, the residents engaged in horsetrading. And then, economic disaster struck.
"The railroads took over,"Hodges says, with a hint of sadness in his voice. "They surveyed through here, but some way they couldn't get the right-of-way. They went on either side. That killed the town. "
For a while, things went on much as they had before the railroad's advent. Railroad lines were few, and people still relied primarily on horses for transportation. Many local farmers remained customers.
The distillery and saloons did a booming business. "They made it in barrels, and the saloons took it and used it as
they wanted," Hodges remarks. "The county lines goes through what as the saloon. They voted Breckinridge County dry, so
they just moved the bar over on the other side of the room, and went on selling in Meade County!
"They was always fights," Julius recalls. "They'd come in here from these hills, from three counties...Back then, the sheriff
couldn't cross the county line and take -anybody', Anybody that's get in trouble, they'd just cross the street. They'd have to
have all three sheriffs to arrest them! "
On horsetrading Saturdays, the town was crowded with visitors. "They'd have a few fights for fun and swap horses," Julius laughs' "I imagine they was somebody got taken. In horse tradin', they's always somebody getting stuck!"
Famous circuses, such as Barnum and Bailey's and Van Amberg's, Big Springs,also visited Big Springs, once with tragic results. Hodges' recalls a murder which occurred during a circus stop: "A fellow here in Meade County killed a showman one time, an animal trainer. They (the sightseers) was crowding so, pushing up and looking at the animals, and he (the Meade Countian) had to throw one foot over the rope to keep his balance." The animal trainer, misinterpreting the move and made the mistake of striking a blow with his whip.
"He cracked him one under the chin and broke his neck. He was a big, stout man, and he just set on him. And that was
all she wrote. They buried him at Hardinsburg the next day," Julius says with a grin.
The early blacksmith and tinsmith shops are gone now, but the old livery remains, as do two hotels, a doctor's office and
a general store. None are now active. The former general store, which closed eight years ago, has been converted into an
antique shop by Louisvillean Floyd Wheeler. Julius Hodges remembers an active general store, which sold hardware, dry
goods and a little bit of everything. A husband, wife, two children and two clerks tended shop and were continually busy.
It's a little hard to believe now, but when I was a boy," Hodges says, this merchant had his goods shipped in to Ekron (by rail). That wagon made a trip to Ekron every day. That don't look reasonable, now...lt done a lot of business, 'cause they wasn't cars to go other places. All of them was as busy as they could be."
Beneath the store is a limesotne jail. Julius' son, Herb, who whiled away his hours in the antique shop while his father and I toured the town, interpreted its history: "Maybe one (during the Civil War), the South would come through here and they'd lock up their prisoners and do a little honky-tonkying. Maybe then the next night, the North would come through and lock up their prisoners."
Runaway slaves and the town rowdies also saw the stone walls. Herb adds: " Since it was in three counties, they'd have to take
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some of them to Hardinsburg, some of them to Brandenburg and some of them to Elizabethtown."
Julius' own father, Cajabiel Hodges, was on the Confederate side during the War Between the States. At mention of the subject, Hodges eagerly went upstairs to fetch his father's pistol, now proudly installed in a leather holster recently tooled by son Herb.
Cajabiel died when Julius was only two years old, but he remembers what facts his mother told him about the war. "He
(Cajabiel) was just a boy about 16," Hodges begins. "His outfit was overpowered right up above Elizabethtown. I guess they call that Bloody Ridge. Captain Clay Hayes was his captain. He was from Vine ' Grove. Hayes was a recruiting officer. They didn't get through to Jeff Davis."
Uninjured in the skirmish, Cajabiel and his partner were later cut off from Their command. "They hadn't ; eaten for a couple
days," walked up to a house and asked if they had anything a hungry man could eat. " Refused food, Cajabiel noticed the coals were freshly raked, and saw something in a skillet.
At the same time, he also noticed something behind a slightly ajar door. Thinking someone might be hiding in the room, Cajabiel prepared for the worst. "He just stepped around the door," Hodges comments, "and pulled it back. There was a stack of fried pies! He grabbed up about six, and kept three and gave three to his partner. She must have been for the other side," Julius
Antique dealer Floyd Wheeler, a retired airline pilot, also enjoys the quiet country life, although in moderation. "All this stuff's been here since the Civil War...l thought it'd made a good antique shop It looked like a good out-of-the-way antique shop, with not too much business to fool with.