Where in the World: Chronicles of Lower Howard’s Creek

Published 10:50 am Friday, August 17, 2018

By Harry Enoch

These chronicles continue with two more stories gleaned from the Clark County Public Library’s obituary database by searching for “Lower Howard’s Creek.”

In the latter half of the 19th Century, water-powered industries began moving away from Lower Howard’s Creek. Steam power made it possible for them to locate closer to important transportation routes — railroads and rivers. New saw mills and flour mills sprang up in Winchester and on the Kentucky River.

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Then, as white families moved off the creek, African-American families moved in. By the turn of the century, the creek valley had largely become a long narrow African-American community.

Our stories involve members of that community. The first concerns George Grigsby.

George married Patsy Ann Reed in 1873 at Providence Meeting House. The marriage took place shortly after the meeting house, which we now call the Old Stone Church, was deeded to “trustees of the colored Baptist Church.”

The original white congregation had moved to a new location on present-day Old Boonesboro Road. The black congregation still worships today at the historic church beside the creek, now well over 200 years old.

In the 1900 census, George, age 82, was listed as the head of a household composed of his wife Patsy, 56, son Charlie, 21, and grand-nieces Josie and Mary Hampton, 19 and 7, respectively.

We also learn George was a farmer and owned his own home. Patsy took in washing and Charlie worked on the farm.

George died in February 1908. The unfortunate circumstances of his funeral were reported in the Winchester Democrat.

“Shocking accident. Saturday Jerry Taylor, the colored undertaker, was conveying the body of George Grigsby, an aged colored man from his home near the Boonesboro pike to the old stone church on Howards Lower creek for burial.

“While going down the road leading from that pike to Howards creek a short distance above the church one of the horses of the hearse team stumbled and the vehicle, team and driver were thrown over the precipice on the lower side of the road. The hearse was badly demolished, the box containing the coffin was smashed and the coffin damaged. Neither the driver nor team was seriously injured.”

If you have been down Old Stone Church Road, then you know where the way gets steep and the road edges the cliff. Try to imagine driving a wagon and team down before it was paved and without guardrails.

Jerry Taylor may have been Winchester’s first black undertaker. He was certainly the first to be listed in the city director (1911).

Taylor had a livery stable on Kerr Alley north of Broadway (now Hopkins Lane), a grocery store on East Hickman and residence on North Highland. He died in December 1913, and the local newspaper published his obituary — a rare exception for a black resident at that time.

“Jerry Taylor, a prominent colored citizen, undertaker and liveryman died in this city Tuesday night of a complication of diseases. He is survived by a wife [Belle] and three children, a daughter [Isabelle] who is a teacher in the city schools, and another [Willie] attending the State Normal at Frankfort, while his son [Rook] is associated with him in business.

“His funeral will be conducted by the Rev. Joseph Small at Clark’s Chapel M. E. Church of which he was an honored member.

“Taylor was among the oldest colored business men in the State and was also a member of the Colored State Undertakers Association for a number of years. He will be buried under the auspices of the Benevolent Odd Fellows and Good Samaritan Lodges.”

Our last story concerns the descendants of Joseph Murray Sr. whose families lived on Lower Howard’s Creek in the late 1800s. These included Wesley, Newton, Joseph Jr., William and Moses.

In 1881, Newton, Joseph Jr. and their brother-in-law, James Johnson, acquired a lot on the creek to establish a Methodist Episcopal church, which would be known as “Murray’s Chapel.” The church stood less than a half mile downstream from the Old Stone Church.

All the brothers were property owners on the creek, except Moses. In the 1880 census, Moses, age 48, is shown living with his brother Newton and is listed as “insane.”

Apparently, his family was able to cope with his disability until 1895, when the newspaper reported that “Mose Murray, an old colored man who lives on Lower Howard’s Creek and who has been crazy nearly all his life, was sent to the asylum.” This was the Eastern Kentucky Asylum for the Insane in Lexington, later known as Eastern State Hospital. Moses was a patient there for seven years.

He died in the summer of 1902 and was interred on the grounds of the hospital.

In 1984, the city of Lexington discovered the remains of patients buried in unmarked graves, which resulted in the re-burial of more than 4,000 bodies. Before the old hospital was demolished in 2013, Dr. David Pollack of the Kentucky Archaeological Survey oversaw the discovery and re-interment of additional remains on the property.

Some think there may have been as many as 7,000 burials on the grounds. Sadly, all but three lacked headstones.

Harry Enoch, retired biochemist and history enthusiast, has been writing for the Sun since 2005.