NOVEMBER 1, 2015
Growing up in Louisa – Memories in Focus
Weekly feature . . . by Mike Coburn
I’ve been straining my mind all week trying to come up with some of my earliest memories of growing up. I’ve used J. Lynn’s Old Louisa, as a resource manual, and have looked at numerous Scarlacks, in hopes of stirring up something fresh. Let’s face it, I spent the first eighteen years of my life pounding the narrow streets and roaming the low hills around the little town. Things were radically different then, somewhere I think between pioneering days and modern, post WWII. I claim the older because of all the ‘left-over’ things that were still part of the town and households, even if past their routine usefulness.
An examples is hurricane lamps, or oil lamps that were still gracing the mantels and occasionally put to use when those not too infrequent power outages occurred. Most of the ones I saw were cut glass, or more likely pressed glass, with a kerosene reservoir and a wide, woven wick that could be raised or lowered to increase the amount of flame. Too much, and the chimney would be smoked up, and sometimes the ceiling, as well. I learned this lesson the hard way, just as most people. I got to trim the wicks by cutting off some of the carbonized end and cranking it up so only a small amount of the fresh ribbon was showing. I learned by watching others that while a passing breeze would do little more than make the flame dance, you could cup your hand on the other side of the neck and blow out the light. The same action was repeated for candles, but to turn gas lights off, one had to close the valves.
I remember some houses still had ‘tying posts’ suitable for visitors and family alike to tie up their horses when visiting. While they were very rarely needed, the device remained for a while. I am not sure whether it was at the courthouse, or maybe along in front of the hotel or stores downtown, but somewhere there was a horse trough. I seem to remember a commotion where one school of thought suggested it was ‘old fashioned’ and not needed anymore. Others said it bore mosquitoes. Of course there were the traditionalists that wanted to keep it because it had always been there. Frankly, many around town hated change and fought to keep the old ways.
Well, cars and trucks had taken over and the young men had seen the big cities and been places around the world. The older folks were dying out and modern ways were taking over whether they liked it or not. Just before my time the ‘new’ high school building was erected next to the Kentucky Normal College, and a new post office graced Madison and Lock Avenue. The grade school had a block addition in the rear to include an indoor bathroom and cafeteria. Things were happening.
I remember the excitement when a new motel was built just as you came into town. It had its own restaurant and a number of rooms to let. It was high living when you went to have Saturday night dinner there. Later, we graduates would have one of our reunions there. That was the last time I saw Bill Cheek and several of my friends.
I remember when C.B. Wells put up an appliance store down near town hall, and was selling TV’s, refrigerators, and other appliances. He married Opal Lyon and lived next door to me. I think others were selling appliances as well, so I’m not sure how well the business did. Anyway, the marriage didn’t last and he left town. The point is, life was changing as many of us finally had John Camron Swazi giving us the news every night on television. New ideas and new perspectives were invading our lives. They were also changing the way we thought and our ideas of acceptable behaviors.
We listened to Patti Paige, Rosemary Clooney, Perry Como, and Frank Sinatra. We saw Cid Caesar, Red Skelton, Jack Benny, Amos and Andy, Alfred Hitchcock, and the Hit Parade. Life wasn’t horse and buggy, and the hitching posts, buggy steps, and troughs went away. Some went to the dump, some to the salvage yards, and some were tossed over the hill.
Still we treasured the old depot, the old courthouse building with its bandstand, and the Brunswick Hotel and Corner Store, the Garden Theater, the Rexall Drug, or “Doc Skagg’s,” and all the little family groceries.
Looking back is nice, but looking forward should be good, too. A most major event occurred when a tanker truck was struck by a train at the Madison crossing. The resultant fire killed a man and destroyed a big part of the town’s history. Other things also had a negative effect on the old town. Box stores and two highway diversions absolutely removed traffic from downtown. With that, faster connections to nearby cities made downtown more irrelevant.
So what’s next? For too long next has been nothing. A time for rehabilitation and redevelopment has gone unattended, perhaps because of a lack of money, or perhaps because of a lack of vision. The Good Book says that without a vision man fails. I write about the past, but my intent isn’t just nostalgia, but about the concept that go can’t leave for where you’re going until you know where you are. It’s fun to remember, but it should be equally exciting to drive toward new goals.
I’m thinking it is time to give up on living in the past and turn to providing for the future, even if it’s for future generations and not us. We should strive for new ideas to bring development and fresh income to the community. Those ideas should finally give reason to give people to live, visit, and share in a more relevant way. The answer isn’t thrift shops or boarded up structures, but a total clearing of the past so demolition can give way to a brighter, prosperous tomorrow. Whether new building are theaters and entertainment, unique shopping experiences, and nice restaurants, or all of those, what is needed is a vision and some folks willing to take on the risk. I’ve seen it work in other places, and find that the newly developed communities are better than they ever really were in the past.
Frankly, it would have been nice to come home on visits and see those things I knew as a child. That’s not going to happen. My second choice would be to come home and see a busy, prosperous and happening place jumping with new life. An open plan and the foresight to work with developers could bring Louisa into a grand place worth visiting and maybe coming home to. I have more old memories, but I wonder if we shouldn’t be about building new memories. The old ones were ‘new’ once but they are, after all, just a page in the past. Our children’s lives are the future. Write me sometime.