Winchester’s first citizens of yesteryear

Published 3:15 pm Saturday, February 6, 2021

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...


Sun Columnist

Mayors come and mayors go, and they have been doing so in Winchester since Feb. 8, 1882, when the mayoral form of government began.

Email newsletter signup

I have known mayors dating back to Edsel Jones. While I did not know Jones as mayor in the late 1960s, I had many dealings with him while he was city attorney. Mayors who followed were Charlie Stephenson, Carroll Ecton, Eldon Fox, Clyde Heflin, Gene Kincaid and Dodd Dixon. All these individuals had different and unique personalities but none were as evident at community events than our current Mayor Ed Burtner.

I think it is safe to say you may see Burtner at an elementary school carnival, a high school game or career day, a chamber event or just sitting on Main Street. However, Mayor Burtner is only the second most noteworthy in Winchester’s long line of public officials.

In fact, the most notable, John Edwin Garner, is chronicled in a book.  Simply titled ”Kentucky Mayor.” It is a must read if you have any interest in Winchester’s past. The book, written by W.C. Caywood Jr. and published in 1950, shares the thoughts, wit and humor through Garner’s eloquent speeches and provoking yet understanding philosophy of the time. In many instances his words are even truer today.

First elected in 1886 and through five subsequent terms, Garner quickly became known as Kentucky Mayor and visitors came for all parts just to meet him. Mayor, newspaper editor, grocery and hardware dealer, insurance and realty agent, lumber manufacturer, contractor, trader in oil and wool, Garner found time to be a headline speaker at banquets and statewide conventions for over a quarter of a century.

He participated in major political campaigns and served on dozens of boards of prominence at the national level. One could also find Garner loafing at the fire house or at the Court View Hotel. Garner’s varied knowledge allowed him to speak on any subject. Garner was friends with governors, senators and congressmen even though he often voted against them. Plain yet smart, Garner was comfortably talking at any level to anyone about anything.  Many of his Garnerisms were still being quoted decades later.

After Garner’s short career in the newspaper business, he regularly filled the role of guest editor but often wrote letters to the editor. Many of those letters were on trivial matters yet were the incentive for improvement.

Not only did Garner use his pen to describe Winchester’s limitations, but he also used his speaker’s platform to proclaim Winchester as a leader in many areas of commerce, trade, and enterprise.  So much swo that in 1907 at the International Jamestown Exposition in Jamestown, Virginia, on Winchester Day, Garner shared the podium with President Theodore Roosevelt. Garner’s comments were reported on the front page of the Cincinnati Enquirer and in the Louisville, Baltimore and Washington papers.

So, what is a Garnerism? Here are a few.

• “Statesmen with horse sense would encourage a few more Man O Wars on the turf and fewer on the seas.”

• “A city of six-story buildings and one-story men would neither be great nor a good city.”

• “We won the baseball game four to three. The four was in our favor, and the umpire was in their favor.”

• “They say money talks; the only thing I’ve ever heard it say is good-bye.“

Perhaps he left his best for the last as he gasped his final breath, “What a pity I wasted so much breath all those years when I need it so badly now.”

We have celebrations to commemorate or favorite sons, those who were honored in life and in death. Jan. 11 marked 80th anniversary of Garner’s passing. Perhaps it is time we acknowledge his contributions to Winchester.

Portions of this column were taken from “Kentucky Mayor.”  I wish to thank the late W.C. Caywood for his foresight in compiling the many words and capturing the wisdom of John A. Garner. For if not having done so this bit of Winchester would have gone unnoticed.

Robert Blanton is a magistrate on the Clark County Fiscal Court and former city manager for Winchester.