by F. Marie Foley
If a concise history of Auburn were to be
written, many volumes would be needed to contain it all. Because in my opinion one cannot
write the history of a place accurately without the telling of the stories of the people
who have lived in that place, who put the meat on the bare bones of facts. However, in the
space available we will endeavor to give a few of the more interesting facts that combine
to make the history of Auburn. I would like to encourage anyone interested in
Auburns history to avail themselves of the material at the Kentucky Library at
Western Kentucky University, our local library and archives in Russellville and artifacts
at the Auburn Museum.
An archaeological survey done in 1992 on
land acquired by the city of Auburn to expand the McCutchen-Coke park, unearthed artifacts
and fire pits dating back to prehistoric Indians who camped there more than 3,000 years
ago. In the general area of the survey is what was once called the Big Spring, now known
as the Blue Hole. In the 1792 era, when my ancestors came to this area, the Shawnee from
north of the Ohio were along with Cherokees, Choctaws, and Creeks from the south, and
other tribes frequent visitors here, but always went back to their original homes
and safety. Indians and pioneers both used places like the Big Spring of never-failing
supplies of water for gathering places, pitched their tents and camped there. Mr. John
Viers, one of the first settlers in the area, owned all the land on the north side of what
is now, the Bowling Green Russellville road. Mr. Viers gave the Big Spring to the
town. The town grew around its water supply and in 1858 the L & N Railroad ran its
Bowling Green to Memphis branch through the town, at which time Mr. Viers gave the land
for the railroad depot. Woodville as the town was called at that time began to groom
itself for growth.
J. Corning, a
school teacher from New York gave Woodville a new name, Auburn, for his native town of
Auburn, N.Y. He was also a surveyor and surveyed and laid off the streets and lots and
named them. These records were lodged in the first railroad depot which was burned early
in the Civil War and so the records of the first plot were lost.
The village began to flourish when E.
Gordon erected a flourmill and woolen cloth manufacturing facility just below the head of
Black Lick Creek, near the present location of the Auburn Hosiery Mill.
The town was incorporated in 1865. Its
population in 1870 was 610. An article in The Kentucky State Gazette of 1879 reads,
Auburn has a population of 700, with 4 churches; two steam flour mills; a good
public school; and ships tobacco, wheat, pork and corn. The Western Union Telegraph and
Adams Express have offices there. The Gazette also had a Business Directory for
Auburn, listing 20 names.
In 1882 a row of framed store buildings
on the south side of Main Street burned. One of Auburns first merchants, Mr. Dave
Childresss grocery was burned in the fire. After the fire G.
W. Davidson built a
brick row of stores that is still standing today. There were two hotels in Auburn at that
time the Crewdson's Hotel and the Planters Hotel.
W. Davidson Banking Co. was
organized between 1875 and 1880. It was located on the south side of Main Street. The bank
was merged with the Auburn Banking Co. in 1929.
There were two blacksmith shops and a
livery stable in Auburn in 1871. Mr. Joe Price owned the livery stable at that time. The
stable passed through many hands before being bought by my grandfather, W.
H. Pugh in 1922.
The stable was located on the west side of Black Lick Creek and the blacksmith shop beside
The first telephones were private lines
from Mr. Dave Childresss grocery to the Depot and from Dr. Helms office to his
home. The first town-to-town line was located in the Henry Aull drugstore, and there was
no local exchange until about 1902.
In 1879 there were 4 doctors and one
dentist practicing in Auburn.
The Methodist Church is the oldest church
in Auburn. Organized before 1865, the present building dating from 1937, is the third
occupied by the congregation. The Presbyterian Church was organized in 1865 and the first
building was erected in 1867. The Cumberland Presbyterian Church was organized in 1866 and
was reorganized in 1906. The Baptist Church was also begun in 1866. Liberty Baptist
church, three miles north of Auburn was organized in 1828. The Christian church was
organized in 1890 and the Church of Christ about 1950.
As stated earlier the first teacher in
Auburn was A. J. Corning or Carney, who came from New York prior to the Civil War. He
taught in a two-room schoolhouse. When the war started he left Auburn to enlist in the
Union Army and there was no more school for some time. After the war Mr. Joseph Burnett
began teaching the Auburn school. He also served as pastor of the Auburn Baptist Church.
We are fortunate to have many articles about people who lived in Auburn at that time
written by his son J. H. Burnett in the 1930s for the Auburn Times. In 1892 the Auburn
school property was deeded to the Cumberland Presbyterian Church and the Auburn Seminary
began. The seminary continued for 18 years, 1892-1910. At the close of the Seminary in
1910 the Auburn county high school began.
In 1894 John B. Gaines of Bowling Green
began a weekly newspaper, The Auburn Advocate. In the late 1920s Roy McDowell started the
Auburn times, which he sold to Mr. Percy Hurt in 1930. Mr. Percy continued the paper until
1952. Beginning in 1953 the News-Democrat publishing company at Russellville printed the
paper as the Auburn News.
In September 1957 the Nashville
Tennessean Magazine wrote an article about Auburn and interviewed Auburns mayor of
14 years Sterling Eskew. The mayor said, Auburn is pretty well balanced for a small
town between industry and agriculture. Auburn had a tannery started around 1879 by
George W. Caldwell, which in 1904 added a cutting and finishing plant, manufacturing a
long list of leather goods. The Auburn Hosiery Mill, owned by Roger Kimball was organized
and had been in operation since 1937. There were two large grain mills; the Auburn Mills
and the Auburn Roller Mills, at that time employed about 42 people between them.
Grahams wood working shop worked 14 and shipped church furniture all over the United
States. Auburn in 1957 was exactly one mile square, the population was 950, and could
certainly live up with its slogan: Large enough to serve you and small enough to know you.
In April 1959 Auburns railroad
depot closed after 101 years. Already gone were many of the old stores and the families
who ran them. The Auburn Drug Store, with the memorable soda fountain, is no more. In
recent years both grain mills closed their doors. These were sad occurrences to the people
of Auburn, but understandable in an ever changing economy.
Still there are things that time and
circumstances are unable to change love, faith, pride in children, devotion to
country, sadness at the death of a loved one, and joy at the success of a crop or a new
job. In this sense of continuity, Auburn today is connected very powerfully to its past
history and also to the future.