December 12, 2013

Traces of Laurel: Politics as usual

By Jan Sparkman

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — In August of 1881 Emily Smith was elected Circuit Court Clerk of Laurel County to succeed her deceased husband, W. E. Smith.  When I read this in Dyche’s history I cheered, though I didn’t understand how a woman could be elected to office when she didn’t even have the right to vote.  And then as I read further I saw that her election came with strings attached:  she would not be allowed to serve unless she agreed to appoint her brother, Achilles B. Brown as her deputy.  This was obviously a special election with special rules.

In a booklet titled “Glimpses of London and Her People” printed by the Mountain Echo in 1895 and edited by Charles W. Kellogg, the information on Mrs. Smith’s term in office is dropped into a long and flowery piece about Achilles B. Brown who went on to succeed his sister by appointment of Judge H. F. Finley upon her resignation in 1885.  Why she resigned is not mentioned.  She probably got tired of doing all the work and getting none of the glory.

At any rate, her brother was re-elected to the office for several more terms and was highly lauded by Kellogg: “To say that Mr. Brown has made one of the best Circuit Clerks Laurel county has ever had, would be but a mild way of expressing his efficiency.” You’d think he could have spared a few words of praise for Emily who, after all, did serve for four years.

Over the next few weeks I’m going to be using Kellogg’s booklet to introduce today’s readers to some of Laurel County’s prominent men (and one more woman) from the past.              “Glimpses of London and Her People” is to be treasured for the historical information it contains, even if it is biased in favor of men.  The original booklet has wonderful pictures of people and old buildings with accompanying text, too, but they can’t be reproduced here.

Another resource I plan to tap for the history of our county is The Logan Ewell Stories, a column that appeared in the Sentinel Echo for several years.  Mr. Ewell’s roots were deep in Laurel County and he wrote eloquently of the past and the people of the area.

You may want to visit the historical society and look through the hundreds of pictures, books and journals the society has collected.  It is not something that can be done in an hour but it will be well worth your time.


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Interviews with Laurel Countians over the age of 80 have begun.  Subjects are only asked to answer a few questions about their childhood and youth and their connection to Laurel County.  If you or someone you know would like to participate, contact the society at 606-864-0607 during library hours, or 606-224-3767 at other times. Email the historical society at or Jan Sparkman at


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The Laurel County Historical Society is located at 310 W. 3rd St., London, (formerly the Laurel County Health Department).  The library is open on Mondays and Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and on Saturdays from 9 a.m. until 12 noon.

 For further information, contact 606-864-0607 during library hours, or 606-224-3767 at other times.  Email the society at or Jan Sparkman at