Curdsville, Kentucky

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Perhaps the best description of Curdsville was by a Chicago railroad promoter, A.L. Frank, who was trying to drum up interest in building an interurban line from Owensboro to Calhoun early in the century. He described Curdsville in 1907 as having a population of 275, with a rural population in the area of 2,835. The town, he reported, “has 3 general stores, on drug store, a post office, hotel, 2 physicians, 2 churches, and a two story school house, a ferry across the Green River, a branch of State Bank of Kentucky of Owensboro and a tobacco factory.” The businesses were supplied “about evenly” between the Green River packets and hacks and wagons from Owensboro.

Detailed Map of Curdsville in 1876

Founding Families

Curdsville Precinct was first settled by William Glenn in 1797 on the north side of Panther Creek about 3 miles from the Green River. He raised a family of nine children. His son William was a Colonel of Militia, a representative in the Legislature and Sheriff of Daviess County.

Glenn was among the first men to settle in what became Daviess County. He bought 1200 acres of land and built a log cabin close by what is now called Glenn’s Bridge on Hwy. 56. He was a close friend of Bill Smothers. Glenn was one of the six original commissioners appointed in 1815 by the governor of Kentucky to select a place for the permanent county seat for newly formed Daviess County. Curdsville’s beginning dates back to 1818 when George Husk built a cabin where Panther Creek flows into the Green River. The town was named after H. T. Curd of the firm of H.T. Curd and Co. of Louisville, who gave Aprilla Spray a barrel of whiskey to name Curdsville in his honor. Spray settled there in 1842 and ran a shop several years and operated the first store in Curdsville. He became the first Postmaster when the Post Office opened in 1855. That same year a ferry was established across Green River at Curdsville by Madison Priest of Henderson County. Four years later John Eads came and cleared four acres. His wife died shortly and Eads decided to leave. John Traverse purchased his place. Mr. Spray and two men, a Mr. Allen and a Mr. Brown built houses and opened the second store. Six years later financial circumstances forced them to close. In 1852, the community had the first blacksmith shop built and owned by Calvin Bennett. Situated on the Green River about 14 miles from Owensboro, Curdsville became a booming town because of the river trade and traffic.

19th Century Daily Life

In August, 1881 the old wooden Mattingly bridge, approximately one mile from Curdsville, was replaced by a one lane iron bridge and was over 200feet long crossing Panther Creek. According to the 1883 history book, the town had four grocery stores, a drug store, hardware store, fire department, two saloons, a coffin factory, livery stable, a jail, a two story hotel and a tobacco factory. It had a physician, a lawyer, an undertaker, police judge, town marshal and five trustees. In 1891, 340 people lived in Curdsville.

There was a lot of river traffic active in the town. The boats would stop and pick up tobacco raised in the area and store it in the tobacco warehouse. The hotel was a place where the traveling salesman could eat and stay while conducting his business. In those days, a trip to Evansville was faster than riding a wagon on a rough road going to Owensboro.

Church Life

The Pleasant Hill Cumberland was the first Protestant Church organized in the Curdsville precinct by C. C. Boswell. It was organized in 1840 at a meeting held at the house of Stephen S. Winstead, on the north side of Panther Creek. For several years services were held in a private home, and then the Knob Lick Schoolhouse was used. In 1846 the church was built. It was a log structure, 26 x 20 feet built on Beech Grove Road on Knob Lick, just beyond St. Joseph. St. Raphael’s Catholic Church was established in 1832 by Father Durbin. The first schoolhouse in the precinct was built around 1820. It was a log structure with a clapboard roof. The chimney was in the center of the room. A log was left out for a window. Almost the entire length of the building, and the window, had a single sash with 60 panes of glass in it. It was the oldest school in Daviess County. The Curdsville Baptist Church was established in 1869 with 24 members. Twelve of the members were black. The church was organized in the old Pleasant hill Cumberland Presbyterian house of worship and first took the name of “Green River Baptist Church”. The church later moved to the town of Curdsville and worshipped in the “Union” house of worship with other denominations until their own church was completed about the year 1875. When the church was completed the name was changed to “Curdsville Baptist Church”. It started with A. B. Smith and D. E. Yeiser who were the first two pastors. The building was replaced by a black building in 1956.

Civics

In March, 1887, a newspaper article reported that Curdsville had 275 inhabitants, one large tobacco stemmery with a capacity of 1,000,000 pounds of tobacco, two dry goods stores, two family grocery stores, two churches and a third one going up (which became St. Elizabeth) two saloons and a third one would be in operation, two livery and feed stables, two blacksmith shops, one corn mill, one brick yard, one town hall, and last but not least, no schoolhouse at that time.

Local Points of Interest

Tobacco

It is said that the land south of town was level and rich for many miles. Mr. T.J. Reynolds had purchased the drug store in Sorgho, but was going to remain in the drug business in Curdsville. The tobacco stemmery was a large wood frame building that was designed so that the purchased tobacco could be placed on sticks and hung in the building to allow it to cure to a stage called “summer order” when it would be taken down and prized in hogsheads for storage or shipment to order markets. The buildings were often called factories. This was before tobacco started to sell at auctions around 1900.

Panther Creek Bridge

In October 1895, Press Moseley finished the stone work for the new bridge on the Panther Creek east of town. A new iron bridge was completed and levee was nearing completion. This bridge was the longest bridge in the county and was said to be the best looking anywhere. The bridge was a great advantage to the people of Curdsville and the vicinity. It would shorten the distance between Curdsville and Owensboro about two miles.

Local Businesses and Social Events

In 1896, Mr. Brady built a large livery stable on a lot south of Baird’s Dry Goods Store. Judge Erwin reported that there had not been a case in police court for a long time. Near the crossroads of KY 456 and 500, about a mile south of Curdsville, was the site of Ellendale, home of William Rapier. In the summer of 1894, Rapier decided to promote the family’s livestock business by staging a fair at the Ellendale farm. The Ellendale Fair became on the most popular attractions in the region over the next four years. No county fair anywhere could match it. The fairgrounds included a grandstand that held 5,000 people, a floral hall, livestock quarters and a half mile track for horse and bicycle racing. People could also stay at a three story hotel on the site, which was used as a business college during the winter. The fair was always during the mid summer when school was in vacation and neither would interfere with the other. The fair reached its peak in 1896, attracting 30,000 people during the five day run. It ended in 1898 when drought, storms and adverse economic conditions caused the attendance to drop. The company Rapier had formed to run the fair went bankrupt.

Ellendale Epidemic

College Foundation

W.F. Rapier completed arrangements for starting a college at Ellendale sometime before 1886. Over 100 pupils agreed to attend. He had a good faculty assured. The classrooms were in the floral hall and the hotel was used for the boarding department.

Epidemic

The Ellendale College stayed open for several years as a newspaper article reposted that the school had 22 students that had been afflicted with typhoid fever and had seven to die. The president, Professor Gardina, had closed the school and nearly all students returned to their various homes. A few days earlier, Professor Gardina was in Owensboro and admitted that his luck from the disease was extraordinarily bad for the year. The infection, which had amounted to be a local epidemic, was contributed to the water supply for the school. It also said that the St. Joseph Academy, which had 65 ladies in attendance and only one mile away, had a different water supply. They lost no students and had no serious illnesses.

Electric Railroad Proposal

The people from Curdsville questioned that if a daily stage from Curdsville to Owensboro was a paying thing, why wouldn’t they extend an electric car line to Hickman Park from Curdsville. The stage line was a convenience and they could not do without it and since they had built a new bridge and opened up a new road, it lessened the distance to the city. But what they needed was a more rapid and direct transit and something that would shelter them from the summer sun and the winter cold. Where such a line is constructed is it not reasonable to suppose that thousands of dollars annually that were spent in Evansville would go to Owensboro? In April 1896, W.F. Rapier went to Henderson and got several capitalists interested in his Ellendale electric railroad scheme.

Rapier then started the Rapier Grain and Seed Company in Owensboro, which eventually became Owensboro Grain Company.

20th Century History

In the 1900 Gazetteer listed the following names of Curdsville residents:

Name Occupation
T. S. Abrams General Store
William Bernard Brick Mason
Bethel and Bro. Brick Mason
James Bethel Carpenter
Mack Brown Blacksmith
Freed Cask Shoemaker
J. F. Cummins School Teacher
Erwin and Bro. Saloon and Livery Stable
Emanuel Fenwick Livery Stable
William Goodman Hotel
Heavrin and Bro. Physicians
Hugh Derr and Co. Tobacconists
Rev. G. W. Lathom Pastor ME Church
Layson & State Livery Stable
Samuel Likens Grocery
John Litler Tinner
H. H. McCain General Store
Williams Moseley Blacksmith
J. B. Morse Postmaster
Mrs. John Oldham Ferry Owner
Finis Osborne Hotel
J. B. Osborne Sawmill
Henry Reynolds Silversmith
J. W. Reynolds Drug Store
P. C. Steele Saloon
Rv. B. F. Swindler Baptist Church Pastor
J. M. Welden Weigh Master
Martine Yewell Tompkins

Martine Yewell Tompkins moved to Curdsville in the 1960’s and was likely the most famous person to live in Curdsville to date. She had a riverfront house on First Street and made a habit of waving to the towboat crews who were pushing barges of coal heading down the Green River. She was the first woman in Daviess County to drive an automobile. Tompkins was also Assistant Secretary of State and Deputy State Treasurer under Governor A. B. “Happy” Chandler. In 1974, the Governor, Wendell Ford, gave her the honorary title of Admiral of Green River. Martine Tompkins died in March, 1998 and lived to be 109 years old

Notable Dates

  • In September, 1903, P. M. Whitt of Hanson organized a bank at Curdsville. It was called the Bank of Curdsville and had a capital stock of $15,000. Witt put up half and H. H. McCain, J. H. Cain, George Roberts, and J. W. Reynolds put up $5250 worth of stock. Witt became cashier of the bank. The Messenger noted that Curdsville was very wealthy vicinity and the bank would doubtlessly prosper.
  • In 1904, Dr. William Tyler, Sr. practiced medicine in Curdsville with his brother in law, J.H. McCain. He also was the house physician for Mt. St. Joseph while living in Curdsville. He moved to Owensboro in 1923 and practiced with Dr. W.F. Stirman.
  • On August 10, 1904, the Owensboro City Railroad filed amended articles of incorporation increasing its capital stock, and authorizing the extension of its line from Owensboro west to Curdsville by way of the Dean Coal Mine for a total of 16 miles. This was never built.
  • R. K. Hagan, a tobacco buyer located in Curdsville, sold the season’s entire purchase of 800,000 pounds to three Owensboro dealers. Imperial Tobacco Company bought 70,000 pounds, American Tobacco Company bought 600,000 pounds and Richard O’Flynn 130,000 pounds. It was all shipped out on boats to Owensboro.
  • On September 2, 1904, Tom Oldham was killed in Ed Orkeis saloon. According to the Messenger, the two had trouble of long standing. A few hours previous to the killing, Oldham and another man engaged in a fight. Orkeis went to Owensboro the next morning to turn himself in. Oldham kept a hotel and the ferry at Curdsville. Orkeis drove harness horses for a number of years before he got into the saloon business.
  • Across Panther Creek was located about 30 acres of fire clay which would be interesting to tile and brick makers, he observed, while 2 miles from the town the Utopia Coal Mine furnished coal to the town and businesses for local merchants. The town, he concluded, was surrounded by “an exceptionally fertile and desirable agricultural section, even more productive than the $100 to $200 per acre land between Owensboro and Sorgho.
Fire of 1921

In 1921, fire swept through the business block in Curdsville. Two business houses and a residence were lost along with several other businesses, including a large tobacco factory. The Messenger reported that the loss was only prevented from being heavier by the work of the bucket brigade of men, women and children who commandeered every bucket in the town and soaked nearby buildings. One of the buildings was the poolroom and the other was the barbershop and soft drink stand. Wallace Burns had a 5 room house burn down but the neighbors did get all the furniture out. J.M. Collger owned the poolroom. Andrew Allen owned a shop next to the pool room and had some small damage as well as Lucian Clements. The trees in front of the large tobacco factory helped to protect the factory. The store of W.T. O’Bryan which joined the two stores was saved by the work of the fire brigade. When the fire was discovered, those who arrived said there was a strong odor of coal oil. It was claimed that the building had been the hang out for a number of bootleggers who had been operating in and around Curdsville.

Decline of Curdsville

When automobiles replaced the paddle wheelers, the trade shifted to Owensboro. Many stores closed and the population decreased.

The 1937 flood caused the last big decline in the growth of Curdsville; the record breaking flood water surrounded the town. Some people had to boat to Sorgho to get their supplies. Three underground mines across the river were put out of business. Several of the miners lived in Curdsville. The Curdsville Ferry closed in 1942. . By the 1970’s, Curdsville was more of a place to live in quiet times. The only business was the Calhoun Grocery along with the Post Office run by Mrs. Pauline Wahl for over 30 years. In 1978, the one lane iron bridge at Panther Creek was replaced by a new two lane concrete bridge. It was moved several hundred feet towards the river and now come in on Dick Street and now is known as the Curdsville Delaware Road. In the 1990’s, the Daviess county Fiscal Court wanted to change the name of the streets because of the 911 emergency telephone service. Two of the residences, Wendell Mattingly and Max Bishop wanted to keep the old names because of the history of the town. They took the town’s case to the Commission meeting. In August 2008, another piece of history was done away with. The Post Office closed on August 1. The town had about 45 Post Office boxes. The nearest Post Office was at Maple Mount in Mount St. Joseph. In December, 2013, the old Ellendale racetrack ticket office was removed from the home where it started in 1894 and was moved to Owensboro.

Curdsville Today

Today Curdsville remains as a small residential town with two churches, and one small grocery store. Few indications remain of its commercial past. Yet today, Curdsville stands as a reminder of a town that once was one of the first settlements of Daviess County and an important commercial center when the river packets steamed down the Green River.

Source: Article by Grady Ebehlar