Enoch: Progress Coming on Athens-Boonesboro Road?

Published 12:00 pm Saturday, April 22, 2023

By Harry Enoch

Contributing Writer

As Clare and I were returning home from Lexington last week on Athens-Boonesboro Road, just before the intersection with Combs Ferry Road, we saw a fresh clearing of trees and brush on the Pat Shely farm. With the foliage gone, we got our first view of the old frame building long obscured by honeysuckle. It was in pretty sorry shape. It is hard to believe that it was a private residence a mere decade ago. The clearing activity suggests that the farm is soon headed for sale and probably to development as rural residential lots. This is sad for me to contemplate on several levels.

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The late Pat Shely was one of Clark County’s most fascinating characters. She had a Master’s degree from Columbia University and became a World War II Civil Air Patrol pilot after teaching herself to fly; in 2018, she was awarded a Congressional Gold Medal of Honor for her service. Pat was a sports enthusiast who excelled at golf and tennis and won a fencing championship in 1956. She may be the last member of the Stevens family to reside on Kettle Springs Farm, land that had been in her family for upwards of 150 years.

In an earlier era, the land had been home to Col. John Holder, one of Clark County’s first industrialists. Holder was an officer in the Revolutionary War in Virginia and Kentucky and served as commander at Fort Boonesborough after Daniel Boone left. He settled on 1,000 acres at the mouth of Lower Howard’s Creek, where he operated a tavern, ferry, boatyard and inspection warehouse on the Kentucky River. One could write a book about his exploits.

What about that decrepit old building on Athens-Boonesboro Road? In 1882 Hubbard L. Stevens and his wife Phoebe donated one acre of land to satisfy “their desire to have a church in the neighborhood.” The deed identified the location as “almost directly opposite Lewis Woodford’s house.” Woodford’s house still stands across the road (known more recently as the Richard Berini place). The land was deeded to the trustees of Cedar Grove Presbyterian Church. The church is shown on Clark County maps of 1926 and 1937 as Mt. Tabor. I’ve not been able to find the history of either congregation. A provision in the original deed stipulated the land was to revert to the Stevens family if the church ever closed its doors.

I can’t say that the old building was worth saving. Goodness knows we can’t save everything. I don’t even know if this is history worth remembering to anyone but me. It should be a cause for all of us to ponder what we do in the name of progress.

The Shely farm has over a mile of road frontage, making it a valuable development target. It seems inevitable that the historic farm will get chopped up for housing lots. In some quarters, this will be hailed as progress. Others will shake their heads and wonder where it will end.

“Progress,” it seems to me, is an elusive term that not everyone can agree on. Making progress often seems to involve people being able to make lots of money or, in some cases, being able to buy things really cheap. I think Walmart is an excellent example of both. It created multiple billionaires in the Walton family and is the place to go if you want to buy cheap stuff. But it also caused Main Street businesses to shutter all across the country. Add to that the cost of the jobs that were lost when the production of cheap stuff was offshored to cheap labor in Asia. Progress? That recalls a line from “Mt. Vernon Road” in Richard Taylor’s poetry collection—”Snow Falling on Water.” While driving out in the country on a one-lane road, a man asks:

“Are people happy living way out here?”

Well, yes and no.

Some would say we’re too far from Walmart,

others that we’re not far enough.”