Letters to the Editor 12-1-17
Me and Mayo
I am pictured standing next to the John C. Mayo monument located in the Mayo Cemetery overlooking Paintsville. It was said that it took 10 to 12 oxen to drag this huge piece of granite up the hillside. Word also had it that it was modeled after Napoleon Bonapart’s tomb and a comparison of the two certainly show the similarity – a grandiose gesture indeed.
Shortly before his death in 1914, the Louisville Courier Journal named Mayo as “Kentucky’s Richest Man.” I have taken this for the title of the play I’ve written about this amazing man.
“Kentucky’s Richest Man” is a three-act play to be performed at the Mountain Arts Center in Prestonsburg this coming April 2018. Casting is nearly complete and director Terry Salyer is scheduled to begin rehearsals after the first of the year.
You can be forgiven if you are a child or a teenager and don’t associate Mayo with anything other than the Mayo Vocational School, but if you’re an adult and unfamiliar with him, then you may be interested to know that there are other things you probably don’t know.
Along with Paul Blazer of Ashland, Fred M. Vincent of Louisa and John Paul Riddle of Pikeville, Mayo has proven that Eastern Kentucky can produce highly accomplished internationally individuals (albeit in their own eras). Because music has been so important to the human race from the very beginning, I hasten to add Loretta Lynn’s name to this esteemed list.
As for our most noted and exploited historical events, we have the Hatfield/McCoy feud and the Jenny Wiley story – aside from General Garfield’s occupation here during the civil war. However, in our long and varied past, we have only one event that can be said to have drastically and radically changed the entire culture of our area.
Around the turn of the 20th century, John C. C. Mayo, along with Walter Harkins of Prestonsburg, brought in the C&O railroad and established Eastern Kentucky’s massive coal industry. This immediately provided good paying jobs for many and riches for entrepreneurs. Since then, for better or worse, the coal industry has been East Kentucky’s primary economic base, as well as given us our perception of ourselves.
Although at present, there is a modest upswing in certain areas, the mining industry as a whole is said to be in decline – or in other words, can said to be dying. Considering this, I thought the birth of the industry may now be relevant, hence the research and development of this play.
It is a narrative play spanning the years 1888 to 1914, the years in which Mayo struggled to bring – in his view- primitive Eastern Kentucky into the 20th century. Although highly celebrated for this achievement during his lifetime, he is now much vilified for the principal instrument he used to personally enrich himself – the Broad Form Deed – which like legal documents, in the end, comes down to interpretation, for better or for worse. The ramifications of this deed can only be explored in the play, as it were, in relation to the politics of the times, and prior to the huge earth-moving equipment.
Although the play is centered in the Big Sandy River Valley, its scope is statewide. Mayo’s money got senators and governors elected as well as ensuring that Woodrow Wilson would carry the state in 1912. The play also presents other little-known historical facts, such as that after shooting Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr fled to Kentucky and tried to get the governor of New Orleans to annex Kentucky into the Spanish Empire. But Virginia quickly interceded and made Kentucky a state. Another incident has two survey parties from Kentucky and Virginia getting drunk and choosing the wrong river as the border between Kentucky and West Virginia. Had they been of sober minds and chosen the intended longest fork of the Levisa River, Prestonsburg and half of Pike County would now be in West Virginia. The play also relies on local rumor that one woman outfoxed another to become Mayo’s wife.
Perhaps any good talented author could have researched and written this play, but not from the same perspective as mine. As a child I once lived in the massive Mayo Mansion in Paintsville, and naturally have memories of it. I once looked out and saw that the gate by the street was open, and felt in my childish mind that it was my responsibility to go out and close it. I also taught at Our Lady of the Mountains School there once – although for a good purpose – and that the huge ballroom had sadly become nothing more than a storage space.
No, I’m not enamored of Mayo. I just think he is someone who has directly or indirectly influenced all our lives. This kind of makes him special. I tried to be as objective as possible in portraying all I know about Mayo, but if any bias shows through, it is only because I admire anyone who works hard. And he sure did!
John “Butch” Preston
Letters to the Editor 11-10-17
Saying “thank you” to veterans
On Saturday, Americans everywhere will be honoring members of the Armed Forces as we celebrate Veterans Day. November 11th of each year is the day set aside that we ensure our veterans know that we deeply appreciate the sacrifices they have made to keep our country free and safe and to protect our right to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.
Today in America, 1 out of every 14 American Citizens is a veteran. Each of these select few has a story. Some served in war, some served in peace. Some took time off work to serve, many made it their career. Some returned unharmed, yet many live with the wounds of their service. All have earned our utmost gratitude, which is the pride and purpose of Veterans Day.
Veterans Day is set aside to thank and honor all men and women who served honorably in the military - in wartime or in peacetime. Veterans Day is a time to remember and pay tribute to the brave men and women of the U.S. armed forces who have answered the call of duty to defend our nation and way of life, often at the greatest personal sacrifice. Their bravery, their resourcefulness, and their patriotism mark them as our nation’s finest citizens. Today, and at every point in American history, the men and women of our military paved the way for democracy; our hard-earned rights and freedoms. They created new opportunities and opened new doors.
I would like to express my deepest thanks for the veterans who served our country with great honor in the past, and to those who uphold their duties today. As I express my gratitude for these American patriots, I am mindful that we have many things to be thankful for at this time of year. I am especially grateful to be a citizen of this great county and to have the privilege of serving as superintendent of an outstanding school district. How fortunate we are to live in a country that supports the opportunity for every child to receive a quality education!
I encourage each of us to reach out to the veterans in our family, church, school or community to thank them for their service. It is a small, but meaningful gesture that shows appreciation to the living heroes in our lives and will embed in our minds respect for those who sacrifice selflessly.
Saying ‘thank you’ is important, but there’s always more that we the people can do for those whose sacrifices preserved the heritage of freedom. We can work to make sure they can find work, look out for the families of the fallen, and be every bit the patriots our founders were. We can also pray for those currently serving in our armed forces, that they return home safe, to be honored on this day, with a story or two of their own to tell.
Johnson County Schools
Letters to the Editor 11-8-17
The Big Sandy Valley Historical Society to hold final meeting
After nearly fifty years of bringing local history and genealogy enthusiast together, the Big Sandy Valley Historical Society held its last regular meeting Saturday at the Lawrence County Public Library beginning at 11 a.m.
Due to the lagging interest the Society has, of late, become unsustainable. In recent years, many of its founding and long-standing members have passed on and its inability to attract new membership has reduced the Society to just a few core members.
The Society was founded in 1970 by the late Paintsville historian and master genealogist Edward R. Hazelett, who was said to be a man of unusual genius. Mention any random Eastern Kentucky family name and he could trace it back several generations on the spot using his own encyclopedic knowledge.
Also among the founding group of the Society were prominent area historians such as Wallace Williamson, III, the first president; Henry P. Scalf, author of the widely read Kentucky’s Last Frontier; Elizabeth Stephens, noted Prestonsburg historian; and Dr. Leonard Roberts, former Pikeville College English professor and author of several folktale books.
From its beginning, the organization’s main mission was to join people together who are interested in researching, publishing and preserving the history and genealogy of the Sandy Valley; and in addition provide an opportunity for them to exchange information and become better acquainted with one another, and through their efforts inspire others to become more curious about the culture of the past. The Society’s vision was overarching, covering the entire length of the Big Sandy River, which includes nine counties in Kentucky, four in West Virginia and four in Virginia.
Its bylaws require four quarterly meetings held throughout the year at different towns and locations all along the Big Sandy from Kenova, West Virginia, to the Breaks Interstate Park. This would allow some members to attend at least a few meetings close to home without having to travel far. Meetings have always been called to order at 11 a.m. on a given Saturday morning, followed by a speaker with considerable knowledge of some historical event or interesting subject about the region; this followed by a question and answer session. Afterwards, those attending usually gather for lunch at some local restaurant and continue the discussion.
Some notable speakers have been Dr. Cratis Williams, John Wells III, Harry Caudill and current member Judge John Preston, whose book The Civil War in the Big Sandy Valley of Kentucky and his Big Sandy Publishing Company, concerned with books of historical content, have established his reputation as a local historian. Some even consider him now the preeminent historian of the area, taking up the mantle of his very close friend and mentor Edward Hazelett. The speaker for the final meeting was Connie Queen of the Fred M. Vinson Museum of Louisa.
When membership swelled to over 200 around 1983, the Society began to publish a quarterly journal called the Sandy Valley Heritage in order to display articles, stories, and pictures sent in by members and their families and friends. In addition to keeping members informed, the journal has preserved a great deal of historical information that otherwise may have been lost and forgotten. Also, as the years passed, materials and documents began to pile up and needed to be stored, so the group opened up what was called the Historical Center in the old city hall building on Euclid Avenue in Paintsville, where people could come in and browse through historical material, and in some cases find their own family’s genealogy.
The Society has published to books in the course of its existence: The Hatfield Book by Dr. Elliot Hatfield; and Life Among The Hills of Eastern Kentucky by W.R. Thomas. These books can be found at Words and Stuff, East Kentucky’s premier bookstore located in Van Lear, owned and operated by longtime member James Tramel, who has spearheaded many of the society’s projects over the years.
Other members requiring special mention are the late Janet Horn of Paintsville, who kept the History Center going and compiled and edited the Heritage Journal over the past few years despite failing health; and immediate past president lady Bertha Daniels of Prestonsburg, who had been the glue that has held the Society together as membership has dwindled over the years. The current president is Tim Lycan of Lawrence County, a genealogy enthusiast who claims to be related to almost everyone in the area.
“We are like a big tangle of fishhooks here in the area, “he said.
Vice-president John H. (Butch) Preston, is the author of the play Kentucky’s Richest Man, the story to John C. C. Mayo, which will be performed next April at the Mountain Arts Center in Prestonsburg; and the author of the widely-popular History and Tales of the Paintsville Stockyard.
In the end, the Society is to be commended for its work through the years and even though it cannot push ahead, it has left a treasure trove of material behind archived at the Paintsville Public Library. There you will find all the extant copies of The Sandy Valley Heritage Journal as well as Life Along the Big Sandy, edited by founding member Harry Holbrook, containing many entertaining stories and essays that once started is hard to put down. Spending a couple of hours in the archives among the Big Sandy Historical Society’s collection is sure to make one realize how much we owe to the hardy pioneers and settlers who struggled to tame this land, and perhaps bring one to appreciate this great valley we live in.
John H. (Butch) Preston
On behalf of the Veteran’s Referral Center here in Paintsville, I want to thank everyone who participated in making our benefit telethon a great success this year.
As of now, the donations have topped $8,000.
Whether you cooked or served food (a big shout out to the Johnson County Republican Women’s Club), played music, contributed to supplies for the dinner or reached deep into your pockets, your contribution is precious to us.
Once again, those of us at the center appreciate it!
Director of the Veterans Referral Center
Making pension proposal fair to all
Gov. Bevin and Republican leaders have developed a plan to correct the financial standings of Kentucky’s pension plans, and that is commendable.
Some made insulting comments about teachers and state employees. That is not appropriate. Teachers, school districts, city and county governments have continually fulfilled their financial obligations. In the recent past, state politicians have not.
Gov. Bevin presents their plans as if it is the only possible path to protect the pensions of retirees and employees, but there are many variations, which are fairer to all parties.
His plan punishes the victims and puts undue burdens on local governments.
Let’s discuss tax reform that closes loopholes enjoyed by the elite. The ethical remedy is to enact tax policy where everyone pays their fair share and stops subsidizing political allies.
The morally correct action is for the state politicians to accept responsibility by modifying their plan to meet the promised obligations while adequately funding the plan and not pushing the costs to local governments, employees and retirees.
Stand up for fairness through legislation that places the burden on those who have been evading taxation, not increasing the burden on everyone who has been doing their part.
Letters to the Editor 10-27-17
Syringes & Attempted Break-ins
About a month ago a guy had said he had found three syringes laying beside the road in front of my house. I called 911 as I did not want them laying there. A deputy came and recovered them. He asked who found them and I told him. The deputy instantly knew who he was.
Since that day I have had an expensive 5’ insulated window broken with a rock that showered me and my bed with shards of glass.
Last night he tried again and I got a picture of him. It is the man that found the syringes.
If this continues, someone is going to hurt.
By the way, I am an 86-year-old disabled vet and I do not need this.
West Van Lear
Letters to the Editor 10-25-17
Losing our history
It breaks my heart to see all the items and buildings of a bygone era destroyed.
Was not the red caboose a tourism item, the swinging bridge, the little red brick building that was torn down yesterday (Thursday), which was the First Power Co. building in the city. I notified Mr. Shaw of that fact some months back. A lot of good that done.
To my knowledge, we’ve lost all the physical history of our once great city except for the rock on Euclid Avenue in front of the hedge at Mr. John Mark Trimble’s house. Back in the day, people used to get off horses using that rock.
It will probably be the next and last thing to go. Liquor sales in Paintsville was supposed to bring prosperity. What a joke that was on the citizens of Paintsville. Some nice young man/woman needs to get up a petition and see if we can get liquor sales voted out and just maybe God will bless this city.
You pastors that did not warn your flock about the sale of alcohol will give your account to God. “And all liars shall have their part in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone.” That all liars means saints as well as sinners.
I used to think Paintsville was the fairest of the cities in this area. Not anymore. Get liquor out of here and they may call us “Mayberry” again.
Oct 25, 2017, 07:41