The Sorgho area of West Daviess County started to develop in the mid 1850’s. As one of the early articles in the Owensboro Examiner said that “it is situated in the most fertile part of Daviess County”. The land around was gently undulating, sufficiently so for good drainage, without any trouble from washing. It was most productive for growing tobacco, corn and grass.
While the signs of industry were abroad in the county, the people of Sorgho were not. In the winter of 1868-69, the Daviess County Sugar Company was formed to manufacture sugar from “Sorgho cane” or sorghum. The business failed to continue because processes were developed for whitening cane sugar which made it impossible for the sorghum sugar to compete. The plant was built west of Owensboro at a point where the town of Sorghotown is located and that the town was all that was left when the process failed. A few houses where workmen connected with the plant, remained and were the nucleus for a small town, Sorghotown.
It was Sorghotown that gave its name to one of the county precincts. Sorghotown was its only town in the section.
One of the first residents was John W. Balee who came before the 1850’s. He was with Sherman all the way to Atlanta and the seize of Knoxville. He went to the Indian country in Kansas before returning and settling in Sorgho. There was also W. E. Clark, a prominent merchant of Sorghotown. Dr. Winfield Scott Gilmore was the only doctor in the town in the early days.
The Calhoun family was one of the first families in the county. George Calhoun came to the section in 1812. Calhoun built a cabin for his wife and 8 children. One of his sons became the county’s most famous minister, the Rev. Samuel Calhoun. He held meetings in private residences, there being no churches or school houses. He was the founder of Pleasant Ridge Cumberland Presbyterian Church. Samuel’s son George built a home where the log cabin once stood just off Lyddane Bridge and Old Henderson Road (Hwy 56).
1st Lt. George Calhoun buried near Sorgho, had served with Gen. George Rogers Clark on one or more expeditions. He died October 20, 1835. He served in the Revolutionary Army from 1776 to 1782. He was a surveyor and served as the first lay judge of Owensboro. He is buried in the Jones and Anderson graveyard just west of Sorgho on the ridge.
The 1875 newspaper stated that three new homes going up and that other homes were being renovated. It had a school that deserved notice. It also stated that the soil was a rich sandy loam and good for growing apples, peaches and grapes. The town former name was Dog-Walk or Sorghotown, which it was called until 1883 when it was shortened to Sorgho.
The Examiner also reported that Sorghotown rises to the importance of two dry goods stores, one blacksmith, one grist and a sawmill, one boat and one shoe shop. There was a tobacco stemmery located as well.
W.W. Cavin, while plowing a field behind Sorgho, unearthed two bushels of Indian relics, consisting of stone tomahawks and many other curiously shaped stones. This section was a big Indian village. An archeological survey made in 1932 by Drs. Webb and Funkhouser, catalogued a village site of prehistoric occupation.
In 1869 the Post Office was open in Sorghotown and Martin Mattingly was its first Post Master. Martin had a store in 1864 and was elected County Clerk of Daviess County. For four years, Martin taught school during the winter seasons.
James Burnett was a store owner and became Post Master in 1871 after Martin Mattingly moved to Grissom’s Landing.
In 1882, Mrs. Jesse Moore purchased Dr. J. Q. Stewart’s grove in what was called to resemble a scene in the “Arabian Nights”. Dr. Rose was said to have the most handsome place in Sorgho. Dr. Milton Rose became Post Master in 1881 and 1883, the town name was changed to Sorgho. In the spring of 1882 there were high waters in Sorgho and the threat of malaria. Dr. Rose was overflowing with sympathy for suffering humanity and vaccinated everybody for free.
By 1883, the town contained two blacksmith shops by George Sweigert, one wagon shop, one good grist mill by William Burnett, three general stores, two carpenters, millers and engineers, two successful physicians and a resident preacher. There was a telephone line coming from Owensboro as well. The townsmen were talking of having the Henderson Road (Hwy 56) graveled. It was reported that it would be better for the county then a railroad and pay better. The way the road was, it was almost impossible to travel on it in the winter and spring. In the summer the sand was so deep it was actually as bad as mud in winter. It was one of the most traveled roads leading to Owensboro and merchants would greatly benefit. The floods from both the Ohio and Green rivers meet about a mile from Sorgho and covered the whole low county to the north. Skiffs and barges from Birk City and Grissom’s Landing came to patronize the mill and merchants. Dr. Rose said it would be a good time for those that favor the Grissom’s Landing route for the new railroad to see what it would be like some time and then try to Dog-Walk ridge. W.E. Clark was building a new residence in the corner of the Glenn Bridge and Old Henderson Road.
Sorgho – 1884
D. Balew, saw mill; Mrs. Elizabeth Burnett and William Burnett, grist mill; Scott Gilmore, physician; George Lawson, saloon; George Sweigert, blacksmith; and M.H. Rose, Post Master.
C.L. Balee, Clay Bartlett, Mrs. Elizabeth Bennett, William L. Bishop, William Boswell, Mrs. Elizabeth Burnett, John M. Calhoun, Mrs. Mary Chatham, William H. Chatham, Richard Clark, A.W. Coward, Joseph Crabtree, Washington Duke, Beld Everly, William Fry, Lucy Gibson, Mrs. Mary Goff, Jesse Gregory, William Hale, Ed Hamilton, John F. Hitchcock, Thomas Hunley, George Hutchings, Peter Jacobs, Thomas Ling, George Long, Sam Lloyd, Mrs. Bettie McNeemer, Phillip McNeemer, J.S. Mulligan, James Patterson, William Pendleton, John Pennington, John Pierce, Mrs. Mary Pierce, William Price, Thomas Protsman, Ben Pruden, Elijah Rafferty, Steven Rafferty, Mrs. Margaret Rafferty, C. Randolph, Mrs. Lizzie Shaw, Mrs. T.B. Shaw, William Smith, John Smith, Richard Stowers, James L. Smith, Mrs. E.B. Smith, John Steel, Mrs. Mildred Steel, George Swegeart, William Timbrook, James Trice, Trice and Bro., Oliver Trice, John Williams, Mrs. Emily Winstead, Steven Winstead, and William Wood.
Pleasant Grove Baptist Church
The Pleasant Grove Church was organized in May 1835 in the home of Brother Andrew Jones on Panther Creek about 3 or 4 miles from the present site near what is now known as the Hayden Bridge Road. The first church was built in 1839 of yellow poplar logs near the Benjamin Rafferty home on the road between Hayden Bridge and Lydanne Bridge Road. A more modern house on the Henderson Road was built. The third house of Worship was built by the Church after the close of the Civil War.
Except for a few who might have been freed by their masters, the majority of the negroes were slaves. They had membership in the church until the year 1866 when they were organized into a separate congregation known as Little Flock Baptist Church. It was located about 1.5 miles west of Sorgho on Old Hambleton Ferry Road. It had 74 members in the transfer.
The fourth House of Worship was approved in 1908. The new one is directly in front of the old one. The new church had electric lights, powered by a generator nearby; it even included a “hot air furnace”.
Sorgho Baptist Church
In 1883, the Sorgho Baptist Church was separated from Pleasant Grove. The church had no houses of worship until the year 1888. A frame building 34 x 50 feet was erected at a cost of $1200 and the first service was in October, 1889. The church was destroyed by fire May 9, 1923. A new and modern concrete block building was erected at a cost of $7300 and was entered sometime in the early part of 1924. The building was dedicated in September 1926. William Harrison Dawson, third Pastor of Sorgho, led in the acquiring of the lot of the church and secured the plot for the cemetery in 1901.
In the 1891 Post Office Village, the town of Sorgho had a population of 157. It listed a public school with 126 pupils enrolled. The Justices of the Peace were Richard Stowers and Ben Stout. The Constable was Tom Protsman. J. Steele ran the saloon and hotel. Thomas A. Fuqua was a farmer and Post Master and grist miller.
William Barnett was a plasterer. William Burnett was half owner of the coal mine on Bellwood Hill. William E. Clark, general merchandise; E. W. Crowder, barber; W. F. Kamuf, farmer and wagon maker; Rouse Bros., engineers; Ms. Theresa Thompson, school teacher; George White, carpenter; C.R. Walden, dry goods and groceries; Emison Shaw, farmer; N. McFarland and P. McFarland (Col.), farmers; J. Medley, livery and feed stable; Edwin Hambleton, owned a farm on the Green River and kept the old Calhoun Ferry.
John S. Mulligan returned from was where he was enlisted in Company A, 16th Mississippi Infantry, Confederate service June, 1861. He remained in the service nearly three years then returned to Daviess County in 1864 and built a home near Panther Creek. He was elected Sheriff of Daviess County in 1892 and served for several years. The home is still standing today.
James Patterson practiced law before the war. After the war he moved to Sorgho and was practicing in 1873 -1874. Went to Texas a short while and returned to Sorghotown. In 1878, he was elected Magistrate of Sorghotown Precinct and was reelected in 1881. Emerson Shaw moved to Daviess County in 1852 when he was one year old. He owned a farm near Sorgho. He served as Deputy Clerk of Daviess county for a time and as Chairman of the Board of School Trustees in the Sorgho District. His daughter Ella married Dr. R. G. Cary, a well know Sorgho physician. Daughter Margaret married G. Ivan Barnes, Principal of Daviess County High School and Sorgho Elementary School.
In 1905, the people of Sorgho had heard that there was talk of getting an interurban line that would run from Owensboro through the town. The road would serve several prosperous communities in Daviess County. The report said that since Sorgho had four stores, a Post Office, a church, a school, houses, and a small hotel as well as a recently opened coal mine, that it may be good to get the line. It was proposed to go to Curdsville. Even West Louisville was talking of a three mile spur from it. Transportation needs were met by two daily hack lines connecting with Owensboro, a mail stage and one daily trip by store wagons.
The survey crews began their work along the Henderson Road to Sorgho. Throughout the year 1906, there was an ominous lack of news about railroad projects. After a meeting in Owensboro there was little seen in the newspaper about programs on any of the interurban plans. In the spring 1906, the Daviess County Road Department announced a substantial road graveling program. Graveling was begun on the road linking Owensboro and Henderson, through Sorgho and West Louisville. The project was completed in the fall of 1907. As more roads were graveled and more cars and road wagons increased, the hopes for building the railroad diminished.
On January 24, 1906, , tragedy met two miners at the Bellwood Coal Mine near Sorgho. William Burnett and Herbert Walden were both crushed by falling slate. Edward Pierce and Cash Trice were fatally injured at the Oldham and Burnett mine on Bellwood Hill.
Burnett and Walden were instantly killed. They were removed from the mine an hour after the accident and there was no sign of life in either of them. Physicians at the bedside of Pierce and Trice stated to the Messenger that there was little hope for either of them.
The Messenger claimed that no accident of this kind had ever happened in the Sorgho area and that the neighborhood was greatly excited. About two hundred people crowded near the shaft of the mine after news was known about the falling slate. For some time it was not known who was in the mine at the time of the accident. There were many pathetic scenes among those related to the unfortunate men.
A “shot” was fired in the mine about noon and after 2 o’clock. Walden and Pierce left their homes at Sorgho and walked to the mine. They were allowed to go down into the mine with purpose of inspecting it.
Mr. Burnett, who was a half-owner in the mine, and Trice were standing and talking to two the young men in one of the rooms. Without the slightest warning in the roof room, which was slate, caved in and buried the four men under many tons of the slate. The section of the slate that fell was about twenty feet long and ten feet in width. As it fell it broke in two pieces.
The sound of the slate falling greatly frightened George Rocker, a black miner who was in the other room of the mine.
William Robertson, a coal miner, was going down in the mine at the time of the cave in. When he heard the crash he became frightened and climbed up to the entrance of the shaft. He met James Burnett, a son of the man in the mine, and said “Something happened down there”.
It was necessary for the engineer to get someone to run the engine for him while he went to the assistance of the men in the mine. In a few short minutes the news of the accident had reached Sorgho and several people raced to the mine to help.
The entire menu had been removed from the mine within an hour after the slate fell. The injured men were removed to their homes and the Sorgho physicians and several from Owensboro were summoned.
Mr. Burnett was a well known resident of the Sorgho neighborhood. He had been connected with the mine since the mine opened. Herbert Walden was a well known citizen to Sorgho as well as a merchant there. Ed Pierce was a student at the school.
The mine was known as the old Bellwood mine and was owned jointly by Dr. Oldham and William Burnett. It had been in operation about six months before the accident. It was considered a good vein of coal where about forty bushels of coal a day were taken from the mine. The shaft was around 110 feet long with two rooms in it.
The next day Edward Peirce died at his home. He became the third victim of the accident. Cash Trice was reported in the Messenger that there was little chance of surviving. He did manage to survive and lived a long life. He owned a farm and lived there near the mine for many years. It was the first time he had ever been in a mine and this was experience of Walden and Pierce as well. Cash Trice lived to be 89 years old and died on February 29, 1968.
Walden, twenty years old, and Pierce, seventeen years old, had been best friends from early childhood and always seem to be together. Bellwood hill had been their playground for many years as youngsters. The remains of the two boys were buried side by side in the Sorgho Cemetery near to where the mine was located.
The mine is all but forgotten these days. The mound of dirt and slate dug out of the mine is still visible today. Kenneth and Maurice Ebelhar own the farm today where the mine is located on French Island Road about one mile from Sorgho.
In the summer of 1907, W. E. Clark, store owner, donated an acre for St. Mary Magdalene Church, located at the west end of Sorgho, next to the Sorgho Public School. The framing lumber was cut at the sawmill nearby and finish lumber was shipped from Evansville and unloaded at Hambleton’s Ferry on the Green River. There were 36 families that made up the first congregation. The St. Mary Magdalene school opened in 1918.
William Sherman White had a grocery store in Sorgho in 1907 when he became Post Master. There was also a telephone line located in the store. He held the position until the Post Office closed in October 1918 and was discontinued to Owensboro. Pete Williams also had a grocery store. In the 1930’s, Sorgho had a town of many trades.
Jim Burnett was a grocery-merchant owner. Meta Burnett was the telephone operator.
Alex Smith had a dry goods store next to Ben and Bertha O’Bryan’s grocery store. The O’Bryan’s store caught fire and all three buildings were destroyed. Mr. O’bryan’s large two story residence on the west side of the store building and Mary Calhoun’s residence on the east side of the store burned to the ground. The Michael Head family lived in the Calhoun house. He owned a store next to the house that he lived in. The Owensboro Fire Department was unable to save the buildings but was able to prevent the flames from spreading to the chemical tanks. Most of the personal belongings were carried from the burning residences by the many neighbors.
Joseph Long who lived in Sorgho was a County Judge. Leon Coots and Charley Schrecker were both auto mechanics. Dr. Reemus Cary was a Medical Doctor living in Sorgho and delivered many babies.
Thomas Bristow was a trucking agent. Powell Karns drove the school bus when the students began riding in the 1930’s. Roman Marrett was a carpenter in town. Reed Walden ran the saloon. The Sorgho area farmers were William Timbrook, Ben Stout, Willie Crump, Warden Bartlett, Herman Rafferty, Edgar Rafferty, Oldham Wimsatt, Richard Stowers, Leo and Richard Mulligan, William Hungate, Chapman Monday, Henry Gatton, Francis and Bernard Thompson, Williams Clark, Logan Thompson, John and Albert Kaelin Titus Terry, James Whitaker, Phil Mattingly, Henry Faith, Frank Clayton, John Bartley , Albert and William Steele, Cal Norris, Lee Crask, Sherman Balee, Henry Elder, Claude Crask, Robert Bittel, Russell Hambleton, Ben Stephen, John Smith, Phil Timbrook, Joe Rummage, Peter J. and Leo Ebelhar, Romulus Knott, John and Tom Beyke, Lester Nalley, Ray Prottsman, Ellen Willett, Krissman Schrecker, and Morris Ford.
The 1937 Flood
In January, 1937, the flood came up in the Sorgho area. Water got in the basement of the Sorgho Baptist Church and did much damage to the motor to the light plant. They had to replace the large storage batteries of the old carbide lights. Water was all around the Woodman Hall building. The hall was used by the Red Cross as a contact point for relief boats. Water got up to the first step of the St. Mary Magdalene Church and school which was closed due to high water.
In the fall of 1937 the Sorgho consolidated school was opened next to Pleasant Grove Baptist Church. It replaced nine one room school houses. The Haydentown, Grant, Ash Valley, Martin Wilson, Pleasant Grove, Lower Pleasant Ridge, Birk City, Harris, and the Sorgho which was located next to St. Mary Magdalene Church. The Sorgho School was sold to the St. Mary Magdalene Church and was used by the church from 1937 to 1947 when it was torn down to make room for the new St. Mary Magdalene Church built in 1948.
In the summer of 1938, electric power lines moved thru Sorgho toward West Louisville and Birk City area. This was a big event for the people especially the farmers. Lighting for homes and electricity to run power tools on the farms was a great asset. People even had fans after the record heat of 1936 to move air. Dairy farms now had refrigeration for milk and new electric milkers for the dairys. New furnaces replaced old coal burning stoves.
People in Sorgho 1940
Ernest Hamilton – carpenter Parrill Hamilton Phil Timbrook
J.H. Rummage H. C. Trice Francis Plumridge – restaurant
W. G. Steele George Head – grocery John Smith
Thomas Taylor John Collins Elmer Alvey –bridge contractor
John Collins John Frazier Elmore Young
U. L. Baughn –Minister Baptist Church Victor Wimsatt Louis Barker – mechanic –repair
M.I. Head – grocery Jacob Collignon Robert Rummage – grocery
Alexander Smith – paper hanger Betty White Frank Clayton
G. P. Mattingly, Sr. W. E. Clark – carpenter George Wiles – distillery worker
Lin Coots – mechanic – repair garage Mits Burnett Robert I. Knott
The George Head grocery started running a truck route throughout the Sorgho area. Bob Rummage drove the grocery truck from 1937 until WW II when they could no longer get gas or tires for the vehicle. His route went as far as Reed, Stanley, River Road, West Louisville and St. Raphael areas. He carried can goods, flour, sugar, potatoes, some candy, crackers and the only meat was jowl bacon and bologna since there was no refrigeration. On the back he carried a barrel of kerosene for the lighting. He would buy their chicken and eggs for partial payment. There was a cage on the top to hold the chickens.
In the 1940’s, Sorgho had two car repair shops, Lin Coots and Jiggs Barker. The garage that Lin Coots had was on the edge of Sorgho. When he retired, Virgil Hancock became the mechanic and ran the garage until he left. The building then became Cecil’s Farm Supply. He sold seed, fertilizer and had hardware supplies. He branched out to West Louisville and Stanley. His place at Stanley was strictly a fertilize operation and West Louisville was for grain storage and custom feed grinding and mixing.
In 1948, St. Mary Magdalene Church built a new church in Sorgho. The old church that was built in 1907 was showing some age. The new church was built out of stone. In 1951, a new school was built replacing the 2 schools behind the old church. One of the schools was the old Sorgho Public School.
The other garage in downtown started about being a feed mill before Jiggs Barker became owner and operator. Later G. C. Spencer ran the garage until he got into the racing business. He started in Sorgho. In the late 1940’s and 1950’s he dominated the short tracks in Kentucky and Indiana with a car called the “Flying Saucer” stock car. He moved up to NASCAR in 1958 where he drove the last race on the beach in 1958.
The garage closed down several years before being torn down and in 1972, Knights of Columbus Hall was built on that spot.
Mary Ruth medley ran a grocery next to the Woodman hall in the 1950’s up to the middle 60’s when she built a store next to her house in front of St. Mary Magdalene Church. The grocery store across the highway from Medley’s was owned and operated by Willie and Ned Steele. Later became Whittaker’s Grocery.
George Marrett ran a tavern across from the Steele grocery until the 50’s when Thomas “Red” Saltsman opened and operated the small tavern. Saltsman got his start behind the grill at Cornell Brothers in downtown Owensboro before going into business for himself in Sorgho in 1957. In 1958, red started having a picnic in the summer as a way of thanking his customers for their business. In a few years he moved in the old Whittaker grocery store and added on a dining room. His specialty was catfish fiddlers. It became known as “The Fish House of the South”. Several of his customers were politicians.
Katherine, his wife, created a political wall of fame in the restaurant with stories about area politicians. But Wallace Wilkinson put Red’s picnic on the map in 1985. There were more than 1000 people at the picnic. Wilkinson said after he was elected governor that the reception at Red’s made him confident that he could win the 1987 Governor’s race. The Sorgho community volunteers helped for it was a lot for two people to put on.
They cancelled the picnic for the first time in 2002 because of health reasons and decided that the event was too much work.
The Audubon Parkway was built in 1969 – 1970 near the Sorgho community. The Green River Ferry at Hambleton’s Ferry kept traffic going to Henderson. The six car ferry decided to close after 160 years at the location. It only had 7 different operators during that span.
The parkway was only one third miles south of the ferry crossing. That made the nearest crossing on U.S. 60 at Spottsville on Ranger’s Landing to the south.
The Sorgho subdivision started being built in the mid 60’s as Woodland Acres on Hayden Bridge and Hwy 56. Woodland Ridge subdivision opened up in the 1990’s.
In 1996 a new Sorgho school was opened up from the older school that was opened in 1937.
In 1988, St. Mary Magdalene became “Holy Angels”. In 1997 the school closed and moved to the old Sorgho Elementary School next to Pleasant Grove Church.