Two weeks ago when I listed the doctors who practiced in Laurel County I told you Dr. James A. Acton was one of those doctors. At that time I had found a James A. Acton living in Pulaski County, but since Census reports did not list him as a doctor I had no information on him.

His granddaughter Sweetie Smith called me this week and gave me enough information to verify that he was the man living in Pulaski County. I then found a biography written about him by his son and grandson. That biography said he moved to Laurel County in 1906 so I was curious as to why I did not find him on the Census reports. When I looked at the transcribed books published by the Laurel County Historical Society, his family was here in 1910 and 1920.

Why didn’t I find him? I had used for my research. I went back to Ancestry with the additional information I now had and found that Ancestry had transcribed his name Alton and Auton instead of Acton. The point of this story is is a wonderful tool but it needs to be used in conjunction with local resources.

Unfortunately many people today want to rely only on the electronic sources. Thus causing local historical groups to have fewer and fewer volunteers to locate and maintain those local resources. The Laurel County Historical Society is one of the oldest groups here in the county dedicated to preserving our county’s history. However we have several other groups with the same mission including the African-American Heritage Center, Camp Wildcat Battlefield Preservation Foundation, Camp Wildcat Civil War Re-Enactors, John and Mary Jackson chapter of the D.A.R. (Daughters of the American Revolution), Laurel County History Museum and Genealogy Center, and the Swiss Descendents Club. There are probably other groups, but these are the ones of which I am aware. I know the Laurel County Historical Society relies on volunteers and donations and I suspect the others do also. If you are interested in historical preservation, please consider donating time and money to one or more of these local organizations.

We have just celebrated our nation’s 244th birthday. In six years we will be celebrating a quarter-millennial for the United States. That same year, 2026, Laurel County and London will be celebrating their bicentennial. As a historian I realize the county was established by statute in 1825. Since it was not truly functioning until March 1826, I use that year as the date but technically it is 1825. I am hopeful that more people will not only get interested in preserving our local history but also get actively involved in some of these groups. Prior to COVID-19 I had planned on writing a series of columns featuring each of the groups mentioned earlier plus Levi Jackson Park, the Kentucky Fried Chicken Restaurant and Museum in Corbin and the Boone Trace 1775 group. Now, I want to finish this series on the 1918 Pandemic and then go back and finish the series on the Laurel County Jail and Jailors, and then I want to complete the series on schools in the Colony area. With all that said, I will get back to the 1918 Pandemic and Dr. Acton.

Dr. James A. Acton was born May 6, 1857, in Clarence, Kentucky, a small community in Pulaski County. He was the youngest of the five children of Isaac and Martha Dunn Acton. According to Census reports he was reared in The Glades and Woodstock precincts of Pulaski County.

He married Margaret Elizabeth Graybeal May 13, 1883, in Pulaski County. Eight children were born to this union with four dying at a very early age. The four who survived to adulthood were sons Evert and Obert, and daughters Vessie and Ersie.

James A. Acton was a teacher in the Pulaski County School system for several years. Later he was in the mercantile business in the community of O.K. in Pulaski County. He entered medical school at the University of Louisville in 1889 and graduated on March 13, 1893, with a medical degree. He also took a course in operative surgery and received a certificate which prepared him to do minor surgery. He received a license in 1895.

That same year Dr. Acton was registered to practice medicine at Bernstadt which is near the Pulaski/Laurel line. His family was listed as living in Eubank in 1900. He moved his family to Laurel County in 1906, settling in the Upper Colony section of the county in the Stepping Rock precinct. On May 28, 1915 he moved his practice to Pittsburg, KY. August 2, 1916, he began practicing in London. He then relocated to East Bernstadt August 23, 1917, to practice there and in surrounding territories.

According to his biography he gave up his practice in 1922 and moved to London, ending 30 years of service in the medical profession. The Directory of Deceased American Physicians lists Jan. 8, 1924, as the date he was registered to practice in London.

In 1928 Dr. and Mrs. Acton were spending the summer in Cincinnati with their children where Dr. Acton fell ill. After a brief illness he died there on June 3 from myocarditis. He is buried in Pulaski County at the Eubank Baptist Church Cemetery. [Sources: Biography written by Obert and Herschel Acton, Directory of Deceased American Physicians 1804-1929, Find-A-Grave, obituary, census reports]

If there are any other historical preservation groups in Laurel County which I did not mention, please let me know. I know there used to be a Native American group but I do not recall the name. Due to COVID-19 and the age and health of the volunteers our library is currently closed. We will notify you when we decided to reopen. We will try to schedule individual appointments. Masks will be required. You may contact us through e-mail at The first letter is a lower case l as in Laurel. You may also call the Laurel County Historical Society at 606-864-0607 and leave a message. We plan to periodically check messages and hopefully respond to them in a timely fashion.

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