The famous High Bridge was opened in 1877 by the Cincinnati Southern Railway. The 275-foot tall bridge crosses the deep gorge of the Kentucky River between Jessamine and Mercer counties. Being, at the time, the highest railroad bridge in the world, High Bridge at once became a tourist attraction. Its popularity was at a peak during the first 20 years of the 1900s. In 1911 the bridge was rebuilt. About 80 years ago the large twin towers were also torn down, and its popularity slowly faded.
By Clyde E. Major - 2000
My grandfather would always recollect when he had a bunch of us grandchildren together, telling us stories of his younger days. Now, I am the grandfather, and I would like to recollect and tell you about my hometown of High Bridge, Kentucky, introducing you to my friends and neighbors from 60 years ago.
In 1940, High Bridge had a population of about 250 people. Approximately 100 children attended a three-room school. There was no running water, and we had to get water from a large cistern. We had no inside restrooms, only two large "privies," one for the girls and another for the boys, spaced several hundred feet apart. We had some of the best teachers who taught the three "Rs". When the occasion arose for discipline, they were not afraid of using the paddle.
The work industry consisted of a large stone quarry, with approximately 25 men employed; a railroad section gang with 12-15 men, farmers, and trades people. My father, Willie Major, ran the Shaker ferry, transporting many cars per day across the Kentucky River.
High Bridge is located five miles south of Wilmore on State Highway 29. The hill entering High Bridge is called Renfro Hill. In those days we really entered the town proper, when we went under the railroad through an underpass. High Bridge did not have a main street. There was a new road and an old road, which led to High Bridge Park. The new road was considered the main road, because it had four grocery stores and a Post Office. The old road mainly consisted of residences. The tourist trade was quite a boom to our merchants and High Bridge Park. (Remember, High Bridge is said to be the highest bridge in the world across a navigable stream. Many years ago this caused the bridge to be famous, and curiosity seekers walked across the bridge, throwing rocks into the river.)
Now that I have told you a few things about my hometown, I will try to introduce you to some of my friends of 60 years ago. You must remember in 1940, I was 15 years old. Sixty years is a long time. I may not have everything correct, so forgive me if I make some errors. So much has changed.
Now, we will take a walking tour through the High Bridge of 1940. I will introduce you to the many families who resided there, and try to tell you a little something about each of them. I will number (refer to The Map) each residence as we go along.
(2) Across the road lived a lady by the name of Matt McKey. She was the first lady in High Bridge to own and drive a car. It was a Model T with solid rubber tires and holes around it for elasticity.
(6) Going left, we would next come to High Bridge Depot. This is where the mail came into town, and we could catch a ride to Wilmore for ten cents.
(8) Down from the depot are two section houses, one for the section gang foreman, who was Bill Buxton.
(9B) As we trace our steps back to the main road, John Barnett lived on the right.
(11) A grocery store, owned and operated by Nina Beckum.
(13) Between Nina's store and the Blakes' residence is School House Lane. As we travel down the Lane, we will come to Hedge Horn's house. Hedge had several children. Her son, Harry, was my very best friend. We started and finished both grade school and high school together. As we continue down the lane, you will come to the Pentecostal Church, High Bridge School, Mr. and Mrs. McPherson and sons, Ernest and Sam, Mary Jane Rue, Wallace Johnson, the Marshalls at the end, and some other houses that my memory fails me.
(15) Across the road, in the forks, were a store and the home of "Snow Ball" Lancaster. I never knew his real name. During Halloween, being young and mischievous, some of my friends and I would get together and throw rotten eggs on his porch.
(17) Sam Corman's house was next. Sometimes Mr. Corman would cut hair.
(19) Bear Rue's Store and home. Mr. Rue had a son, Hisel.
(21) Mahan's residence. This home sat a distance off the road. The Mahans had several children. The ones that I remember are: Irvie, Gene, Cecil, Myrtle, Edith, and Christine Anderson.
(23) Directly across the road from the Strunks was a small dance space, with a jukebox and a counter, where we could buy sandwiches, beer, and Cokes. Lark Fain built this. It did not make a go of it, and was later made into a residence.
(25) Next was a big two-story building where "Little" Bill Winkle and his wife, Rosie, lived.
(27) Let's backtrack a short distance to a lane that went in right above "Little" Bill Winkle's property. On this lane was housing for some of the section gang employees. As we turn into the lane, the first house was the home of Bill "Bird" Smith. Mr. Smith had a son, Bill.
(29A) Mr. and Mrs. Carl Wright and daughters, Marie and Thelma.
(30) Gene and Foster Woods.
(32) Now we are facing High Bridge in all of its glory. The road leads under the bridge, with a large concrete wall on the right, as we enter High Bridge Park. This area consisted of approximately 50 acres. The park was owned by Southern Railroad and leased to Mr. and Mrs. Roberts. As we enter the park, we will come to a food stand, where we could purchase hamburgers, hot dogs, and the best ice cream we have ever tasted. Then we will see two gazebo's, made out of cedar poles, two rope swings, and two outdoor toilets. There were two residences, Mr. and Mrs. Dave Chism and family; Dave, Jr. and Clarence occupied one, while Mr. and Mrs. Roberts occupied the other. Then the main attraction: "The Dance Hall." This was the finest outside pavilion in the country. There was always a big dance every Saturday night with a country band. The rest of the week, we could dance by a jukebox. The Fourth of July was a really big celebration with a well-known band. All day long, there were all kinds of contests: greased pigs, greased poles, biggest liar contests, and fiddling contests. A lot of factors went into making this park a success, and the person responsible for that was Dave Chism. He kept the grounds in shape, sold tickets for boat rides, fried the hamburgers, and scooped the ice cream. The park stayed open from May 1st until after Labor Day. The 271 steps down the hill were really a work of art, besides the convenience they gave people who lived in the river bottom. They also led to the boat rides to Dix Dam.
(33B) Walter Hazlett, who also worked on the railroad section gang.
(35) "Red" Alcorn and family.
(37) Farm owned by Mr. Rogers.
(39) Near this house was the old saw mill office, where I was born in 1924. Then the home of Mr. and Mrs. Feather Cal.
(41) Store building below Andersons (#40) home. I do not remember who operated the store.
(43) Coming to a "Y" in the road, we will go left at this point. The first house we come to was the home of Charley and Net Johnson and sons.
(45) We continue down the hill, which was referred to as "Lock Hill," with cliffs on both sides. We come to the Lock #7 gate. On the left lived Mr. and Mrs. Lewis Rue and sons: Earl, Allen, and twins, Tommy and Dubbie. The twins were born with a birth defect and could not talk or learn easily. But the one thing that they were able to do was to open the lock gate for people to go through. Upon entering the gate, people would give Tommy and Dubbie a nickel or dime. If anyone else tried to let people through, they were treading upon dangerous waters.
(47) The assistant lockkeeper was Mr. Combs. He and his wife had three children: Charley, Lydia, and Ida. The girls graduated from grade school with me, but did not attend Wilmore High School.
(49) The next house was a ferryman assistant, Arthur "Jarhead" Alcorn, and his wife, Lucy.
(51) The roads end at the Kentucky River, where the ferry docks. During this time, the ferry was busy. The biggest day was the Fourth of July, when it carried 400 cars across at fifty cents (.50) per car; six month's salary for most men in 1940.
(53) Located here is a church that was built on solid rock, but remained unused.
(55) Mr. and Mrs. James McLaughlin and family, James and Gladys. This house sat on a steep hill.
(57) Mr. and Mrs. Tillett and son, Harold.
(59) Walking on up the road, on the left, setting pretty far off the road, was the home of Dorthule Horn. Her granddaughter, Alene, lived with her. Sometimes her sons, Amos and Jerd, lived there, also. Jerd stayed in trouble a lot and spent some time in prison. He painted me a picture of living a hobo's life and traveling over the country by rail. I was almost sold on the idea, but thank goodness, my better side decided different, and I stayed put. At one time, this house had been a beautiful home, but was now in need of a large amount of repair.
(61) Follow me a few yards to a driveway, leading to a house up on the hill, to a home occupied by the Hardins.
(63) Turning left, down a lane that I will label as Houp Lane, the first building is an unused church, turned into a dance hall and drinking place called the "Blue Moon," owned and operated by Snowball Lancaster. He did not operate it for long, due to a lack of customers.
(65) Across the road lived the Gullette family. Roy, Sr., and wife with two boys, Roy Jr., and Ed, and a daughter, Gertie.
(67) Next a lady who came from Sweden. Her husband, Ed Winkle, was killed during the building of Dix Dam. They had a daughter, Esther, and a son, Andy. Andy was unable to walk, but was able to go anywhere he wanted in a red wagon. The boys at High Bridge were ready to pull him, and someone was always at his disposal.
(69) Look back across the road, and you will see Bill Sewell's house. He was a good baseball player; worked at the quarry.
(71) Brock family with several children.
(73) Backtrack to the Blue Moon and turn left. The first house is George "Ducky" Anderson and Bessie and family: Eleanor, Carl, and Jimmy. This family was special to me, because in later years, when I lived up on the river, and we would come in late from school activities, they would take me in and provide for me as one of their own. Big "Ducky' was the welder at the rock quarry, and he would repair our bicycles when we broke them.
A lot of good High Bridgers lived outside of the town limit. Mr. and Mrs. John Horton and a large family lived at the foot of the park steps. John and his boys were fishermen, and we could always buy fresh fish from them. They were blessed by several children: James, Bill, John, Harold, Layton, and Irene.
Up the river lived Bill Winkle, the owner of all the High Bridge Lumber Company property. He had four houses, but chose, that year (1940), to live on the river. He was the area game warden. Bill, better known as "Big Bill," and wife Rhodie had three children: son, little Bill; daughters, Flora and Mary Lillian.
Across the river, where the Dix River flows into the Kentucky, lived Roy and Evelyn Hicks and two children, Kenneth and Betty.
Up the Dix River lived John and Amanda Hicks. Up the Kentucky River, on the Garrard County side, lived "Maw" Major and her two daughters, Kate and Nannie Major.
Across the river, in Jessamine County, lived Mollie and Floretta Green. Also, Jessie and Bernice Green with their son, Raymond.
All these people were true blue-blooded High Bridgers, who received their mail, purchased their groceries, and attended to all of their affairs in High Bridge.
Ira McKinney lived across the bridge in Mercer County. He had several children: Hargus, Gilbert, Hester, Helen, Hisel, and Irene. Mr. McKinney and his sons were turn-lathe souvenir makers of High Bridge. Their souvenirs and handy work ended up in many far away homes. A train killed Mr. McKinney in later years.
Mr. and Mrs. Albert Waldrop and family also lived in Mercer County, but they too were true-blood High Bridgers.
There are a few that I didn't know exactly where they lived in 1940. I will list them here: Mr. and Mrs. Earl Lands and son; Mr. Cecil Hardin Gertie Gullette; Mr. Pete Hardin (Ruby) Pete worked on a boat; Mr. and Mrs. Walter Houp and family; Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Houp and family; Mr. and Mrs. Jim Shyrock and family; Mr. and Mrs. Josh Baker and family; Mr. and Mrs. Wes Houp and family; Mr. and Mrs. Jess Savage and family; Mr. and Mrs. Dave Savage and family; Mr. and Mrs. Fred Waldop; Jesse Lee Houp and family; and Chester Gullette.