Early Means of Development of Todd County, Kentucky

The great hindrance to the development of pioneer society earliest felt, is the lack of ready intercommunication. A struggling settlement located on some convenient stream gathered about it the necessities of pioneer existence, and was in a large measure independent of the outside world. Several such isolated communities made up the county of Todd, and while visits were interchanged by families the only opportunity to come together in friendly emulation was on court days. But the nature of the early political status was such as to concentrate the vigor and executive power at the county seat, and the county really formed only one large community, which needed to come in contact with other county communities to beget that emulation which leads to rapid progress. Before the formation of the county the main road, which the first settler found only a trail, was a nearly direct route from Russellville to Hopkinsville. Roads from these points to Clarksville, Tenn., opened an outlet southward, and in the November term of 1820 the County Court ordered the road to Greenville laid out to connect with the one which led up to the county seat from Guthrie. Other roads were subsequently laid out for neighborhood convenience, but these two main lines of travel were the only. means of reaching the outside world. With them opened, however, the community was practically fenced in by the difficulties of ordinary travel. The roads were narrow, a thirty-foot space only being allowed, which the elements soon converted into an impassable morass, under even the light travel of that day. Journeys were therefore undertaken only at the bidding of an obvious necessity. At a later day, when stores were established here, business paid tribute to this condition of things in a way that robbed the merchant of; a considerable profit, and the consumer of many advantages. When the building of the line of railroad, now known as the Memphis Branch of the Louisville & Nashville road, was projected, Todd County took a lively interest in it, and petitioned the County Judge, according to law, to subscribe $300,000 to secure its passing through the county in a central direction. The majority for the subscription was only one vote, and the judge arbitrarily decided not to make the subscription. No legal measures being taken to reverse his action, the county lost whatever hope there was of speedy rail-road connection with the world. In 1860 the railroad touched the eastern edge of the county, leaving the county still at the mercy of nine miles of bad road. In 1867 the line to Henderson, Ky., was built along the southwestern portion of the county with much the same result as the earlier railroad, absorbing considerable local subscription without materially benefiting the whole county. In the meanwhile progressive citizens had not been inactive. The county paper contained long articles by various contributors on the subject of road improvement, the building of pikes, etc.; representatives in the Legislature secured the passage of enabling acts, and about a mile of pike was built on each of the roads leading out of Elkton. In 1869 the aid of the railroad was again invoked, and $400,000 subscribed in aid of a road to be built from Greenville or some other point in Muhlenburg County on the Owensboro & Russellville Rail-road, through Elkton to Guthrie. Hopes of success were high for a time, but it proved to be only a ruse of the railroad managers to stimulate Logan County to greater activity to retain the original project. Thus disappointed, the people quietly submitted again for several years to the exactions, of the mud. In 1883 a stone pike was projected from Elkton to Allensville, but was defeated by the failure of the Elkton District to vote its support as required by the law. This, however, will prove no great loss to the county at large, as the active, persistent demand for better facilities for travel and shipping has crystallized in a new railroad project. This contemplates the construction of a road from Elkton to Guthrie, to be operated by the Louisville & Nashville Company. Its estimated cost is placed at about $40,000, the larger proportion of which is already subscribed. The route is fixed, and the preliminary work of the engineer nearly done, and sanguine friends of the enterprise predict that it will be completed in time to obviate the mud blockade of the coming winter. The advantages of such a road are weighty and apparent. All goods brought to the merchants of Elkton cost an average of 25 cents per hundred for wagoning, and even at this rate cannot be secured in certain times of the year without vexatious and sometimes expensive delays. Much business that would otherwise come to Elkton now goes elsewhere, while the merchants fail to get the benefit of the competition that a larger number of commercial travelers would create. All this the proposed road will tend to correct, but there will be still a large need for pikes. To make the contemplated railroad of the most benefit to the whole county, good roads should lead to the county seat as a central shipping-point, and this necessity will become more apparent when the railroad becomes a fixed fact. Good highways are a necessity to the prosperity of the county.

The Press

Another powerful agency in stimulating progressive tendencies in a community is the newspaper. This unites the popular sentiment, leads to a rapid and widespread interchange of views, and acquaints all with the, current history of each part. Russellville and Hopkinsville papers supplied this agency for Todd County until 1851, when the Green River Whig was established at Elkton. The checkered career of news-paper enterprises in this county is noted elsewhere. Local journalism has never been of the vigorous kind. Local happenings have found but slight and imperfect chronicle, and important questions have been discussed with an apologetic severity that has gained neither the consideration to which moderation is entitled, nor the respect granted to a candid but determined opponent. The community in Todd County has offered very few inducements to capital or ability to undertake this kind of work. The number who would support its subscription list is small; the official and business patronage is meager; and there are no compensating considerations to offset these fatal deficiencies. However, since the establishment of the first paper, with the exception of one or two considerable intervals, a paper has been published continuously in Elkton. The Elkton Register now occupies the field, but with so little vigor as to cause scarcely a ripple upon the placid current of events.

Early Church Influence

The people who laid the foundations of society in Todd County were a religious people. The great revival movement which originated in Logan County in 1800, spread over the new settlements of the State like a prairie fire, and set the whole land in a flame of religious ardor. It was a time when pious ardor broke through the restraining forms of the church, and expressed itself in the wildest ecstasy and most extravagant manifestations. There were but few church buildings of any character in this region, and the people came together in large camp-meetings, where the Spirit of the Lord seemed to manifest His presence with almost the miraculous power of apostolic times. These manifestations, often bordering upon the ridiculous, baffle philosophical speculation. Men of rugged mind and physique, and women and children alike, succumbed to the “jerks, the falling or running exercises.” In describing these scenes, the Hon. Urban E. Kennedy relates: ” Many times I have seen them unexpectedly jerked flat on their backs, and the next instant jerked full length upon their faces. Ladies while sitting intently observant of the exercises, were jerked so violently that their bon-nets, capes, handkerchiefs and loose apparel would be thrown clear away, and their long, beautiful hair, unrestrained by combs, fillets, etc., flowing down to their waists, would crack like an ox-whip with the violent vibrations of their heads and shoulders. Others would jump and run like an antelope, perhaps for fifty or a hundred yards, and then fall prone upon the ground and lie apparently lifeless, sometimes for hours. Some would say it was the chastening work of an Almighty God; others, that it was the work of the devil. You might see the skeptical high-flyers stand on the outskirts of the assembly, winking and making sport of these manifestations, and often, in five minutes, they would be screaming and howling like madmen. Once two old church members of great formality and incredulity visited a meeting of this kind to observe with their own eyes what they had heard and disbelieved of these manifestations. After critically scrutinizing the whole matter, they pronounced it heterodox, and left the ground. However, before reaching home they took the jerks and were thrown to the ground, giving utterance to piercing yells. After a time the unbelieving and ridiculing portion of the community became afraid to attend these meetings lest they should feel this supernatural power. But many even here, in the midst of ridicule and philosophical explanation of this subject, would be taken with the jerks and send for the ministers and Elders for instruction and relief. These experiences were not wholly confined to those of religious training, but to all the community. Most of those who were thus affected became members of the church, though some while not embracing religion abated much of their skepticism.”


Battle, J. H., W. H. Perrin, Counties of Todd and Christian, Kentucky : historical and biographical, Chicago : F. A. Battey Publishing Co., 1884.

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