Traces of Laurel: James Mullins, colored Civil War soldier

I want to start with a query we have received. Do you know the name of a business located on Fifth Street between Main and Broad in the early 1950s? There was the drug store on the corner at the intersection of Main and Fifth. I think Lucy’s Restaurant was beside the drug store. The place I am trying to recall was probably between Lucy’s restaurant and maybe the Sentinel Echo. It may have been a saloon type at one time. I am not sure about all of these names. If you can possibly identify this place please let us know so we can tell this person.

I hope you had pleasant holidays and that 2021 will be better than 2020. I am looking ahead to a brighter future. In 5 years Laurel County and the city of London will be celebrating our bicentennial. The county was established by the state legislature December 21, 1825. At that time the governor appointed the government officials; so a few months passed before those people were chosen and sworn into office and the county and city began to officially operate. The first “minutes” of the Fiscal Court were in March 1826 and are recorded in Court Order Book A. Unfortunately the city records were destroyed in a fire on November 1, 1910, so we don’t have any documentation for when the city began operating. According to the census report there were only 4 families with 15 people living in the town of London in 1830, so I doubt London had any political offices in 1826. The county officials would probably have been the “administrators” of London but that’s just a guess.

In 2026 our nation will be celebrating 250 years. I don’t know what that will be called. When I looked online I saw three options: semiquincentennial (1/2 of 500 years), quartermillennial (1/4 of 1,000 years) and sestercentennial (2 ½ times 100). Regardless, 2026 will be a milestone year for us in London and Laurel County as well as the United States. Looking forward I think we need to begin developing plans on how we will celebrate all three historic events. One thing I would like for our historical society to do is print a book listing the appointed and elected officials of the county and town. At this time, that is just a dream since I am the only one working on this project and there is a lot to do.

A few years ago I realized we didn’t have complete lists with the names of those officials. We still don’t. I did find some incomplete lists for Laurel County in our files. These were typewritten lists. I do not know who made them or how they gathered their information. I suspect the most comprehensive one was made in the 1980s when Dr. Thomas D. Clark was writing the history of our county. The compilers probably looked at Russell Dyche’s history of the county to get most of their information and then updated it. To make my lists I used the ones I had found and looked at Clark’s book which really did not have what I wanted. I then went back to Dyche’s history for a comparison and used it to make lists for the city council and mayor which had not been mentioned in the original typed lists.

Dyche wrote about the city and county officials in a narrative and I am confident he used old editions of the newspapers to write it. He probably looked at those newspapers which reported election results which is a really good method. I also used that strategy to update my lists after the 1980s. The big problem with using newspapers is that occasionally some people were elected to office but never sworn in or they died while in office or resigned or were removed from office. My recent series on the jailers provided three examples of this. Dan Lovill was temporarily removed from office and replaced by Sam B. Warnack; Layton Vanhook resigned and was replaced by his son Wilmer; and Robert W. Dyche died in office and was replaced by his wife Marguerite. I had no clue about those three replacements until I wrote that series.

To get the most accurate information for a book one would need to read the Court Order books and city minutes which is time consuming. Fortunately we have almost all of the records for the county; but sadly, as I have already told you, most of the town’s minutes were destroyed. Since we had no newspaper in Laurel County until 1873, I have to look at Court Order books for information on years prior to that.

In the next few weeks I am going to provide you with my incomplete lists. Hopefully someone can help me with additions and corrections. All clues are beneficial. Even one such as, “I always heard my great grandfather John Doe was the county attorney (any office).” I will especially need a lot of help with the London officials.

Another area in which I need help is naming the types of offices. For example I know Laurel County was first ruled by the fiscal court composed of magistrates appointed by the governor. The 1850 Kentucky Constitution established the office of county judge and required the magistrates and judge be elected. Over the years the state legislature would make additional changes. For example the office of county judge was eliminated in the 1970’s. That office was replaced by a judge-executive and district(?) court judges.

At one time East Bernstadt and Pittsburg had elected officials. I have read the names of a few of them in the newspapers. I have not even made a list for them but I know it is going to be scanty unless I find some treasure trove of information. Yet I would still like to include them in the book. I don’t want the book to be just a collection of lists. I would also like to have photos and brief biographies of the public officials. As you can see this is a huge undertaking. If you are interested in assisting please contact me.

Due to COVID-19 and the age and health of the volunteers our library is open by appointment only. Patrons will need to adhere to CDC guidelines by social distancing and wearing masks correctly. To schedule an appointment you may call us at 606-864-0607 and leave a message or contact us through e-mail at laurelcountykyhistoricalsociety@yahoo.com. We plan to periodically check messages and hopefully respond to them in a timely manner.

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