Scottvoight's NASCAR Blog

February 7, 2011

Claysville, A Community Almost Forgotten

Filed under: News Paper Articles non NASCAR — Scott Voight @ 2:51 pm

No headlines announced the day Claysville was wiped off the map. The thriving community that existed for over 150 years was quietly incorporated into Elizabethtown 85 years ago. But Claysville had a history of its own.

In the late 1700s, Elizabethtown was known as Severns Valley. Three forts were built to protect the citizens from Indian attacks and extreme weather. One of these forts was built by Captain Thomas Helm in 1780. The location of this fort was in the vicinity of the Helm House located behind the Governors Manor Shopping Center. This fort was the beginning of Claysville, wrote Samuel Haycraft in his book “History of Elizabethtown” first published in 1869.

According to curator Meranda L. Caswell of the Hardin County History Museum, and author of “Images of America: Hardin County”. “It is believed Claysville got its name from the rich clay in the area.”

            The community of Claysville extended from approximately where the Hardin Memorial Hospital is located along Dixie Highway to where the present day McDonald’s now is located. The settlement included the Elizabethtown Plaza (Houchens, Big Lots, and Dollar General Store) and Helmwood Plaza. Across the street it included the land all the way out to where the bypass is now located, much of this area was farm land owned by the Helms.

Much of the information available about Claysville was give to us by Lila Adams Dykes and Margaret Richardson personal memories. Ms. Dykes was born in Claysville in 1904 where she lived until April 1, 1975 she drew a map showing approximately where everything was situated. Before her death she documented as much knowledge about it as she knew. The information she gave is kept at the Brown Pusey House Library and the Public Library has a historical section about Elizabethtown. 

 Claysville has its own rich history. For example two state governors came from Claysville. One, John L. Helm, served two terms as the 18th and 24th governor of Kentucky (1850-1851 and 1857). Helm died only five days after taking the oath of office in Elizabethtown. The second was John Y. Brown, who was the 31st governor from 1891-1895 according to the book “Two Centuries in Elizabethtown and Hardin County Kentucky” published by the Hardin County Historical Society.

Charles Ehret, a German immigrant who came to Claysville in 1875, is considered one of its better known residents. He was a blacksmith, well known as one of the finest wagon and buggy makers in the region. He died in 1939. His shop was located where the E.W. James grocery store is now Caswell said. An advertisement for his business was found by Ms. Caswell when she worked at the Brown Pusey House. It is from the Elizabethtown News, dated November 29, 1895.

            Other interesting people in Claysville included Washington Whitaker who owned and operated a tannery during the 1820s. Later the tannery was made into a brewery, and a cave across the street was used as a beer storage cellar. Christy Busch Jr., the son of pioneer Christopher Bush, owned a tavern in Claysville. It was a place where men of the period went to get news and share a tale or two. Ben Rohr had a brick making company that supplied brick for many of the homes in Elizabethtown including the court house in the center of the public square, destroyed by fire in 1932. The area was a thriving community with all the usual businesses from general stores to stage coach rest stops. There were hotels, stables, oil wells, a mill on Freeman Creek and homes, according to Ms. Dykes.

            When the Louisville and Nashville turnpike (now called Dixie Highway 31W) a hard surface road opened in the 1830s, Claysville was divided in two. A toll bridge was erected, and tolls were extracted from those using the road. A bridge was also erected over Freeman Creek at the corner of Dixie Highway and St. Johns Road (then called Fountain Blue Road). The bridge was made of iron that later in the 1920s was moved to Rineyville and still stands over Pawley Creek today. It was moved with a large farm wagon and pulled by 12 mules. It is one of the few things that is here today to remind us of Claysville explained Ms. Dykes

            One of Claysville’s attractions was a well believed to have healing properties. In 1898, John Woelpert sank a well and came up with black water that eventually cleared. The water was considered different, and after it was tested and found safe to drink, it was considered to be very beneficial.  People from Elizabethtown would make a daily pilgrimage walking the mile to Claysville to get water from the well before going home for breakfast. Today the well is covered by 31W, claimed Caswell.

            Caswell went on to explain in later years, due to the traffic on the Louisville Nashville Turnpike and the advent of the automobile, the road was moved and paved. Service stations and hotels became Claysville’s means for making a living. However, the road covered the well.

“I think the most interesting thing about Claysville is the way people remember it, it just fascinates me!” Caswell said.

Ms. Dykes described, one of the most famous places was Burnett’s Hotel. Located at 540 W. Dixie, now occupied by a duplicator store, it was state of the art and offered rooms as well as tourist cottages. A swimming pool and golf course were also available to guests. Rates were $1.00 to $2.50 per room, and the hotel featured a café with all the favorites’ fried chicken, country ham and hot biscuits. Since the swimming pool was the only one in the area, locals frequented the pool, at least the ones who could afford the few cents for admission. Burnett’s Hotel became the place to be in Elizabethtown.

            Claysville prospered until it eventually became part of Elizabethtown as the city limits were extended over the years explained Caswell.

In down town Elizabethtown we are lucky to have a History Museum which houses hundreds of wonderful items about the history of the area. There is so much rich history besides the Abraham Lincoln. It is a must see if you want to learn more about your heritage and see how people lived in years past. There is everything from a log cabin to a general store.

            There is a continuous search for information about the area and if you have anything you can add to the history please contact the Hardin County Historical Society.

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