Auburn, Kentucky


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   Auburn’s History                                                 

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 Auburn’s 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.

Mr. A. 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. R. 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 Auburn’s first merchants, Mr. Dave Childress’s 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.

The G. 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 it.

The first telephones were private lines from Mr. Dave Childress’s grocery to the Depot and from Dr. Helm’s 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 Auburn’s 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. Graham’s 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 Auburn’s 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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