By Nita Johnson
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — The drive home from the city to my homeland country home is a glimpse into history. The scenic countryside that welcomes me home is each evening and wishes me well en route each morning is a reminiscent trip to my childhood and to my ancestors who settled here in the 19th century. Regardless of the route I take, the many changes that have moved into landscape and lifestyles of the people of this county are abundantly obvious. Former crop fields have become subdivisions and strip malls, rural post offices and depots have disappeared and are now only recorded in pictures and print, and the rural country stores that marked family business ventures have largely been replaced by franchise stores both in the city and county.
My own ancestry traces back to hard-working people who struggled to raise their families, living primarily off the land and seeking employment by whatever means was available. My maternal grandfather died young, leaving my grandmother with four young children to raise. She cared for the land she received as an inheritance from her father, with a small creek serving as the property division from her homeplace. Prior to marriage, she had worked as a housemaid for wealthier families in the area, providing housework and assisting with the children. My mother followed suit, staying with and working for some of the prominent families of London during her high school years, providing childcare and housekeeping in return for her school expenses because rheumatic fever at age 13 damaged her heart and rendered her unable to walk the three miles to the main road to ride a school bus to Hazel Green High School.
I was raised in the same house that my grandfather began building for his family - an outdated and unpainted house that my grandmother lived in until her death. Today I reside on the property given to my grandmother, farming and gardening the land that marks my own history.
The county details a legacy of hard work and perseverance of the people who settled in the area, from those who migrated from the eastern states to those immigrants whose struggle in the new world is documented in the history books of our county.
While never comparable with the Battle of Gettysburg - the bloodiest battle in American military history - the Battle of Camp Wildcat and the Battle of London show the turmoil confronting the citizens during the War Between the States. From the railroad tracks that mark the coal mining era to the new information technology buildings that will bring increased prosperity to the area, Laurel County is abundant in opportunities for upcoming generations. We have evolved from a primarily farming community to an industrial site where companies are proud to locate due to the hometown spirit that has prevailed throughout the generations.
As the Laurel County Homecoming kicks off this week, take a moment to reflect back on the history of the area we call home.