November 7, 2013

Traces of Laurel: Laurel County loses a friend

By Jan Sparkman

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — This has been one of those weeks I would love to rewind and start over. Everyone has them, I know.

Three times since last Monday I’ve had news of the death of someone I loved; first my niece, then my friend, and then my cousin. I’ve really not had my mind on this column for the past few days. But when I thought of my friend, Nellie Taylor, of her connection to Laurel County, her long and productive life, it seemed that this column would be a good place to recognize her outstanding qualities.

Nellie was born on March 26, 1917, in a little log cabin on the sandy bottom along Laurel River in southeastern Laurel County. She was a writer who wrote about “the land and the people who lived in the Laurel River basin long before the lake water came in and swallowed it all up.”

Nellie married at 15, bore four children, and, as it turned out, reared her children alone. She moved the family to Detroit during WWII and made a life for them there, but she returned to Laurel County whenever she could. It was, and would always be, her home.

After her children were grown and Nellie had retired from her job in Detroit, she began to write of her past. As her editor, I became acquainted with her history and of how it fit into the history of Laurel County. In “Dandelions in the Turnip Patch,” she wrote of living just across Laurel River from Whitley County when there was no Laurel Lake, of who her neighbors were, of the rural schools and churches she attended. In “Land Under the Lake,” she tells of when Laurel Lake was built and the changes it brought to her old stomping ground. These books tell lovingly of a time long forgotten by many and totally unknown by many more. They tell a part of Laurel County’s history in the voice of one who lived it.

Nellie also wrote two books of fiction set in the Laurel River valley, as well as a story for children. Over the past few years she had turned to writing about the Detroit era in “My Chrysler Years” and “This Old House vs. The Probate Vultures.” The final one (“This Old House …”) is currently at the printer and my heart aches that Nellie will not get to see it in its finished form. She worked so hard on it. Only a week or so ago she told me of her plans for her next book.

Nellie was a strong woman who lived her life as ethically and responsibly as she knew how and who loved this place of her roots through all her 96 years. She was a joy to know and work with and I will miss her always. Her niece told me, “Aunt Nellie died as she lived - gently and quietly.” Her strength and character and her love for her old home are Nellie’s legacy.

I think it’s a priceless one.


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The historical society is still seeking interviews with Laurel Countians who are over the age of 80 who would be willing to leave a record of their life in the society’s archives. Subjects are only asked to answer a few questions about their childhood and youth and their connection to Laurel County. 

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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