Archive for February, 2004

McLean County History & Genealogy News

The word blacksmith comes from two words “black” and “smite.”  Iron is black and it can be pounded or smitten into various shapes, thus the name blacksmith.  When iron is forged or heated it can be hammered into tools and other useful objects.  In the early days of our country blacksmiths made plows, hoes, rakes, hoops for barrels, candleholders and lanterns for lighting, pots and pans for cooking over open fireplaces and other useful items.

Cumberland Furnace, Tennessee was known as a Frontier Industrial Village. Long before the Civil War Pennsylvania native Montgomery Bell came to the area and became Tennessee’s greatest iron-master.  In 1812 he contracted with the government to furnish gunpowder, whiskey and cannon balls for the Battle of New Orleans.  Today, the once bustling place with its large ore iron furnace is a sleepy little village with very few signs of its prosperous days. The furnace was torn down and sold for scrap in the 1940s.

My Grandfather James (Jim) Rector’s blacksmith shop was on a corner of that little village where he served as the smithy for almost fifty years.   Through the years as I visited my grandparents, the blacksmith shop was a favorite place for me.  To see the fire burning in the forge and hear the hammer on the anvil and the artistry with which “Granddad” worked was a fascinating sight to see.  He kept the farmers tools in shape, shoed the horses and repaired miscellaneous items such as pots and pans.  Activity was lively around the shop with farmers and townspeople bringing horses to be shod or equipment that needed mending.  No one seemed to mind waiting, they sat or stood around discussing the weather, news and sometimes politics.  If work “slackened” and he was not rushed he sometimes let us turn the bellows to keep the forge hot or hand him nails as he shoed a horse.  Most of the children had iron hoops taken from barrels and we rolled them along with looped metal sticks to guide them.  Sometimes if they got bent or broken Granddad mended them.

Granddad Rector’s blacksmith shop almost in ruins is standing still, marked by an historical plaque dedicated to his long service there.

The two years (1927-28) that my grandfather was away from Cumberland Furnace, Tennessee were spent working as a blacksmith in Livermore, Kentucky but I have been unable to find any record of his work there.  Mable, one of two surviving children was five or six years old at the time and she remembers that her father worked in a blacksmith shop, that the family lived next door to a family named Durham and that it was “uphill to get to the stores in town.”  Also that her youngest brother was born while they lived there.  He was named Alan Johnson Rector for Livermore’s beloved Dr. Johnson who delivered him and his birth date August 19, 1928 is documented.

“Blacksmiths in McLean County” is one of the history subjects that the museum is researching.  We have the following names: Douglas Little, George J. Hatcher, Isaac Fowler, James Clemons, James Wilson, Thomas O’Conner, Vardiman G. Wilhite, Jesse H. Jackson, John W. Moore, Benjamin F. Quigg, James Stephens, William D. Graham, John P. Ellison, Willis Whitaker, Jacob F. Shull, Lando Moore, Carl Hudson, Lon Rickard, Hugh Lynn, Wallace Lynn, Sam McCoy, Albert Kirtley and Ben Allen Johnson.

There may be others that we have not listed. If you have information on any of McLean County’s blacksmiths or pictures and blacksmith memorabilia that you can donate to the museum we would be pleased to have it.  And if you find information on my Grandfather James (Jim) Rector’s work in Livermore it would make me very happy.

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McLean County History & Genealogy News

My daughter Caryl Wilson, who lives in St. Louis sent an article from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch entitled “Here’s a town that hasn’t lost its marbles” by Sharyn Kuneman. The article was dated January 18, 2004 and the town was Tompkinsville, Kentucky.

Historians know Tompkinsville for the Old Mulkey Meeting House, built in 1804 and the grave of Daniel Boone’s sister but they were barely mentioned in the article, the game of marbles called Rolley Hole was the big subject.  Rolley Hole marbles has been played through many generations in Tompkinsville and the surrounding small towns of that area. The writer wrote “It is a combination of golf, pool and everything” and “it is played on a dirt area that measures 40 feet in length and 20 feet in width.”  The players use “locally crafted flint marbles as commercially produced glass varieties would be shattered by the powerful hits.”

This is not the old childhood game of marbles that I remember the boys playing in the yard of my home place and on the playground of Island School. That game was played with marbles called “cat’s eyes”, “steelies” “agates” and “drats.”    The cat’s eyes were made of glass with colored swirls, steelies were steel ball bearings and “drats” were made of clay and had little value.  The agates were colorful marble, highly prized and used as “taws” or “shooters.”

To play the game a circle about five feet in diameter was drawn in the dirt, then the players decided how many marbles they would play, say five players would agree on playing five marbles of the same value, twenty-five marbles total. Then the twenty-five marbles were clustered in the middle of the circle. To decide who played first, a line was drawn in the dirt and players lagged their shooting marble toward the line.  The one nearest the line played first, then the second closest and so on. The idea was to shoot the marbles out of the ring while keeping the taw or shooter inside. When the taw hit right, a marble or marbles were knocked outside the ring and the taw remained inside. The player continued to play as long as he shot marbles outside the line while keeping his taw inside.  If he failed the next player continued the game.  A very good player could shoot the entire cluster out of the ring, while making his taw stay inside, taking all the marbles.

The rules varied and were sometimes made up on the spot.  Most times the players agreed in advance if the game was to be played “fair” or “for keeps.”  In “playing fair” all marbles were returned to the owners at the end of the game but playing “keeps” the winner took all. Most times if the rules were not agreed on the loser would be very unhappy and the saying “Losers, weepers, Winners, keepers” was often heard along with  crying, especially if an older boy had taken advantage of a younger boy.

Long after my brother grew up my mother kept his marbles in a blue Mason jar and when I married my husband had a jar of marbles that his mother had kept.  The game was not as popular when my son was growing up but he played and today his marbles are in a jar.  Those marbles of yesteryears are no longer used in games but are treasures to be admired.

Keith Lawrence recently wrote of the marble tournaments of the 1920s and 1930s telling of “Tommy Raley, a 13 year old boy from Haweville who was runner-up in the National tournament in 1925.” Then in “1926 Willis “Fatty” Harper of  Bevier in Muhlenberg County won the national tournament and in 1931 John Jeffries, a 12year old of Greenville beat 13-year old Harley Corum for the title in 1931.”  There was great fan-fare for those young players when they returned to their hometowns and in that day and time according to Lawrence “the sports pages featured news of marble tournaments along with baseball coverage.”

In the 1930s Arville Arnold was the best player in Island.  He went to the state tournament and as I remember won it but I have been unable to find a newspaper account of that tournament.  If anyone has information on Arville Arnold and the Kentucky tournament that he won, please sent it to the museum.

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McLean County History & Genealogy News

The winter meeting of the museum membership was held at Smith house on January 22nd and plans for celebrating the 150th anniversary of the founding of McLean County were made.  The county has planned special event days and the month of July is the month to mark the anniversary.  The museum will be open with exhibits every weekend during July.  A descendant of Alney McLean who has history and pictures of the county has offered to let us make copies for the museum and these will be in our July exhibit. She wrote that the tool used by Alney McLean to measure the Muhlenberg/McLean county line is still in existence. Our deceased member Wendell Rone with his great foresight had prepared some things for the celebration that will be used during that time.

Many ideas for progress of the museum are being considered.  President Jim Hansford has been in the county working with members and prospective members.   He proposed that each town and community work on an exhibit that would represent their history.  He met for lunch at the Lighthouse Restaurant with several members and naturalist Joe Ford.
Norman Rickard whose father was a McLean County native has donated genealogy of  Maria Elizabeth Happes, wife of Jacob Reichert, ancestors of the Rickards of McLean County.

Other donations include two tobacco-related photos. George Blackburn brought a picture of a plant bed steaming and Andy Joe Peak, grandson of Joe Peak and great-grandson of Joe and Mattie Peak brought a picture of the Peak family on a tobacco frame pulled by horses. It is full of tobacco plants and Andy’s grandfather Joe is a young barefoot boy in the picture.  These old pictures show much history of our farm families and are treasures to display in the museum.
Johnny Settles donated a book that he wrote on the “Mystery House” and Delbert Settles has given a write-up of his World War II service.  John Algood gave a framed copy of the Memorial Service for Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Belinda Thomson has donated several things that are being cataloged. Volunteers are working one day each week to catalog artifacts and file history and genealogy

Through e-mail, in addition to genealogy requests, we have received questions about the history of the county.  An interesting one was in regard to colleges in McLean County.  “Were there early schools known as colleges and has anyone ever heard of a “college” or “College Hall” in Sacramento?  If you know of a college or college hall in Sacramento, please write the museum at P.O. Box 34 or email

Welcome to new members Abraham Byrd of Tucson, Arizona, Douglas Moseley, Bowling Green, Kentucky, Glen Taylor Bowman, Hialeah, Florida, Mr. and Mrs. Dennis Newberry, Owensboro, Kentucky, Dr. and Mrs. Walter Taylor, Winter Park, Florida, Gregory Eck, Lawrenceville, Georgia, Harold Nall, Owensboro, and Gary and Judy Campbell, Livermore.

The annual membership drive is on…McLean Countians get behind this effort to pass the history and heritage of our great county down to future generations.  Make the museum the “PRIDE OF THE COUNTY.”  Call Helen Anderson Ph:273-5916 or Mildred Iglehart Ph:785-4588 and join today.

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