By Jan Sparkman
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — This week’s featured Laurel County historical figure is J.T. Hatcher. I chose him because the description of his occupation in Charles Kellogg’s “Glimpses of London and Her People” made me think of old western movies with cowboys at the end of a long trail ride looking for the nearest place to wash off the dirt.
J.T. Hatcher was a barber. Kellogg introduces him this way: “At the present time London has only one barber shop of any consequence, and that is the one owned by Mr. J.T. Hatcher, and it is certainly the best equipped one in Eastern Kentucky, having the latest improved barber chairs – the “Columbia” – and all his tools, such as are generally used in a barber shop, are up to date. Mr. Hatcher runs, in connection with his barber shop, two bath tubs, which are always kept bright and shiny, where one can bath with great enjoyment.”
Kellogg says that Hatcher’s barber shop was first located in the Wren property, “one of the oldest business houses in town” and in the beginning had only one chair, “a home-made kitchen chair fastened on a soap box with the back legs of the chair placed lower in the box than the front ones, in order to give the chair the required slant.” In those days, Hatcher supplemented his barbering business by acting as the village cobbler, mending shoes between shaves. “One only has to take a glance at Mr. Hatcher’s shop now,” writes Kellogg, “to see what great progress he has made at his trade.”
By researching J.T. Hatcher in the writings of Russell Dyche, Thomas D. Clark, and the old Mountain Echo excerpts, I find that he was born June 27, 1846, on a farm four miles east of London. He enlisted in the Army on August 13, 1862, where he served as a teamster during the Civil War. On March 2, 1880, Hatcher married Martha Stillings and soon after that opened his barbershop in London.
In 1884 and again in 1892, Hatcher was elected Town Marshal by the Board of Trustees. This would have been in addition to his work as a barber – it may even have been an unpaid position, but one taken seriously by those who served in that capacity. The writer in the Mountain Echo, in 1892, said about Hatcher’s election: “Hatcher will enforce the laws of the town and the unruly ‘kids’ and stray hogs may tremble at his coming.” There is obviously a special meaning to the word “kids” since it is in quotes, but I don’t know what it is.
Kellogg wrote his sketch of Hatcher in 1895. On July 5, 1896, Hatcher died of kidney disease. His obituary in the Mountain Echo does not mention his profession but describes his final illness and adds: “He was a member of the Baptist church. His funeral was preached by his pastor, Rev. Mahoney, after which his remains were laid to rest in Masonic honors on Cemetery Hill in the presence of hundreds of sorrowing friends. He leaves a wife and one daughter to mourn his death who have the sympathy of the entire community.”
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. Visit the historical society’s website at www.laurelcountykyhistoticalsociety.org.