Political Development of Todd County, Kentucky

THE final act of State authority in forming and organizing Todd County was the location of the seat of justice. Several points, New-burg, Old Elkton and the present site were in competition for the location. The competition was not very active, and there was but little difference in the advantages offered. At Newburg, James Kendall had established a hotel, the ” half way house ” between Russellville and Hopkinsville, and proposed this location as the most central point eligible for the county seat. Old Elkton had the merit of a good start on the banks of the river, but the new site satisfactorily combined the advantages of the others and added the donation of John Gray. The result was inevitable, and on the second day of the first session of the County Court, the State Commissioners appointed for the purpose made the following report :


We the undersigned Commissioners, appointed by an act of the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, entitled ” An Act for the formation of the County of Todd, out of the Counties of Logan and Christian,” approved 30th of December, 1819, beg leave to submit the following report: Having in pursuance of the aforesaid act met at the house of James Kendall, on the second Monday in May, 1820, and proceeded to the discharge of the duties assigned us-after a mature and deliberate examination of the different places proposed as sites for the administration of justice at and near the center of said county; we are unanimously of the opinion that the two acres of land laid off and known as a public square in John Gray’s addition to the town of Elkton, in said county, is the most central and eligible and convenient place for the permanent seat of justice for said county. We are therefore of opinion that the permanent seat of justice be fixed on the aforesaid two acres of land which said Gray has this day obligated him-self to convey to the court for the use of the county aforesaid, together with other lots for public purposes, which bond is herewith subjoined as part of this report. Given under our hands this 8th day of May, 1820.


Gray’s bond subjoined was as follows:

I, John Gray, hereby bind myself, my heirs, etc., to the Commissioners appointed by ‘law to fix upon the place for the seat of justice for the County of Todd, and to the justices of the County Court of said county and their successors in office, to make a donation to said County Court for the benefit of said county and sole purpose of erecting the public county buildings thereupon, the public square containing at least two acres of land inclusive of streets and alleys thereupon exhibited, and contained and exhibited upon the within plan for a town circumjacent thereto, which square is on the main road from Russellville to Hopkinsville, on the top of the first eminence on said road west of Elkton, and is bounded as follows, to wit: beginning at the southwest corner of a large brick house lately built by said Gray, on the north side of the said road, and running thence north 1° east, 6 poles to a stake; thence north 85° west, 18 poles to a stake; thence south, 80° west, 16i poles to a stake; thence south 85° east., 21 poles to a stake; thence north 1° east, binding on A. Edward’s brick house, and crossed said road to the beginning: Provided, said Commissioners fix upon that as the most central, convenient and eligible place for a permanent seat of justice for said county; and I also hereby bind my-self as aforesaid to make a donation of two other lots in some suitable and convenient places, one for jail and stray pen to be erected upon, and the other for a public seminary of learning and a public meeting-house or church to be erected upon. Given under my hand and seal, this 8th day of May, 1820. JOHN GRAY.

Accompanying this was a bond by John Gray and Robert T. Baylor, as follows :

This is to certify that we, John Gray and Robert T. Baylor, bind and oblige ourselves, our heirs etc., to the County Court of Todd County or to any other person who may be aggrieved thereby, in the penal sum of $2,000 to open or cause to be opened, in case the Commissioners should fix on Elkton as the permanent seat of justice for Todd County, a road or lane to run southwardly straight with the main cross street from what is known as the public square on the top of the first eminence above Elkton as wide as the said street is, through each of our farms; and I, Robert T. Baylor, hereby agree and bind myself to let a road pass through the balance of my land in same direction. Given under our hands and seals, this 9th day of May, 1820. The above all to be done between this and the 1st day of October next.


On May 8, 1820, pursuant to the act of the General Assembly forming the county, James Glenn, Robert Coleman, Henry Gorin, Edward Shanklin, John Taylor, H. C. Ewing, John S. Anderson, William Hop-per, John Mann, John Gray and Joseph C. Frazer, met at the house of James Kendall and organized the first magisterial court of Todd County. Anthony F. Reade presented the Governor’s commission as Sheriff and was qualified, and James Allen as Coroner. There were two candidates for the position of Clerk, and a spirited contest ensued. Elisha B. Ed-wards was finally elected over Willis L. Reeves by a majority of one vote. Nathaniel Burns and James L. Glenn were then recommended to the Governor as competent surveyors, and the first day’s session brought to, an end. The report of the State Commissioners was laid before the court on the second day, and a sort of ” omnibus bill” passed which provided for the complete equipment of the county. The record is as follows: The Commissioners appointed by the act of Assembly for the formation of Todd County to fix upon a proper or eligible site in said county to erect the seat of justice upon, appeared and delivered their report, etc., which report was read and ordered to be recorded, in which report were enclosed and referred two bonds, one of which given by John Gray, and the other by John Gray and Robert T. Baylor, which were also read and approved and ordered to be recorded. Sheriff objects that there is no jail in the county. The Court proceeded to appoint Archibald Bristow, Roger Burns, Thomas Haddon, Elisha Edwards and Gideon Thompson, Commissioners, who, or any three of them, are hereby authorized, empowered and requested to make out and exhibit a plan for a brick court house, not exceeding 40 feet square and two stories high, upon such part of the public square as fixed upon by the report of the Commissioners appointed by law for that purpose as they may deem most suitable; and that they proceed as soon as possible to conclude a contract with John Gray for the brick work thereof, which he has proposed to obligate and bind himself to complete in the present year, as a donation to said county; and that they proceed also to let out to the lowest bidder the carpenter’s and joiner’s work necessary in the progress of the brick-work and to cover and close the same with all necessary doors, windows, etc., with a square roof, planned and made suitable for a cupola hereafter to be erected, with a plain bench and bar, etc. Said Commissioners are also hereby authorized and requested to proceed as soon as possible to let to the lowest bidder a jail of hewed logs, at least 15 feet square in the clear, with double walls filled in between with flat rocks, the loft and floor of hewed logs, to be built on a bed of rocks 18 inches thick, and the loft filled with rocks, and clapboard roof, strong doors well locked and bolted, iron grate windows, etc. Also a stray pen of posts and rails upon the lot they and said Gray may designate as mentioned in his donation bond for that purpose; which said carpenter’s and joiner’s work of the court house, jail and stray pen are to be paid for, one-half out of the first, and the balance out of the second county levy to be laid for said county, unless the amount necessary for the purpose, or part thereof, can be sooner raised by voluntary subscription, which said Commissioners are hereby requested to open for that purpose, the first to be applied toward paying for the carpenter’s and joiner’s work of the court house. The court then proceeded to lay off four constable districts. The county had heretofore been divided into one district, with a voting precinct at Cash’s store, under the jurisdiction of Christian County, and the eastern portion, belonging to Logan, forming a part of two districts of that county. At the first session of the Todd County Court, therefore, this territory was entirely re-districted and made four divisions, as follows: First District, beginning at the State line at the corner of Todd and Logan Counties, thence with said Logan line northerly to the road leading from Russellville to Clarksville; thence with said road to the crossing of Elk Fork; thence westerly to Henry Mabens, Arch Coulter, John Stephenson and John D. Gorin’s; thence to the Lebanon Academy and Robert Coleman’s mill, leaving each of those persons and places in the Second District; thence with the Hopkinsville road to the Christian County line; thence with said line to the Tennessee State -line and with that to the beginning. The Second District, beginning at the Logan and Todd County line where it crosses the Clarksville road from Russellville; thence with said line to the Russellville and Hopkinsville road; thence with said road to the Christian line; thence with said line to the corner of the First District; thence with the line thereof to the beginning. The Third District, beginning at the sign post near the brick house in Newburg, thence northerly with the road to John Gray’s saw-mill on the Elk Fork; thence up said fork to John Young’s; thence with the road to John Higgins’ storehouse in Raysville; thence a straight line to Hopper’s tan-yard; thence a straight line to William Weir’s on the Muhlenburg line, leaving all said persons and places in the Fourth District; thence with the Muhlenburg line to the corner of Todd and Logan Counties; thence with the line between said counties to the Hopkinsville and Russellville road; thence with said road to the beginning. The Fourth District, beginning at the sign post near the brick house in Newburg, thence northerly with the line of the third district to the Muhlenburg County line; thence westerly with the line of Muhlenburg and Todd Counties to the corner of Todd and Christian Counties; thence southerly with the line of said counties to the Russellville and Hopkinsville road; thence with said road to the beginning.

William M. Terry was appointed Constable of the First District, John D, Gorin of the Second, Jephtha Hollingsworth of the Third, and John H. Shankle of the Fourth. In August, 1820, a Fifth District was formed, its boundaries beginning on the Highland Lick road, where the Logan County line crosses it; thence with said road to the Christian County line; thence with said county line to the Muhlenburg County line; thence with said line to the Logan County line; thence to the beginning. In August, 1823, the Sixth District was formed, but in 1845 it was changed with the following boundaries: Beginning on the road leading from Elkton to Hadensville at John Prewett’s; thence with said road to Hadensville; thence with the Russellville and Clarksville road to the State line; thence with the State line to the line between Logan and Todd Counties; thence with the said Todd and Logan Counties line to where it crosses the road, leading from Russellville to Clarksville; thence with said road to where it crosses the Elk Fork at or near H. Muir’s; thence on a straight line to the beginning, so as to include Judge Prewett. The Seventh District was formed in 1853, but no record of it can be found. It was subsequently changed in outline, and now occupies a triangular space between Districts No. 1 and No. 2, with its voting precinct at Bivinsville. The Eighth District was formed in March, 1872. The record is as follows: Upon petition of a large number of the good citizens, residents of the lower part of District No. 6, in Todd Co., Ky., it is ordered by the Court that an additional justice’s district be and the same is hereby created out of District No. 6, to be known as District No. 8, and bounded as follows, to wit: Beginning at the Elk Fork of Red River, at the Kentucky and Tennessee line; thence up said Elk Fork of Red River to Duck Spring; thence to John Snaden’s, including him; thence to R. L. and T. J. Smith; thence to the line of the Elkton District, at or near C. M. Lowry’s, excluding him; thence with the line of the Elkton District to the Clarksville road, the east boundary line of Trenton District; thence with it to the beginning, and that Hadensville and Guthrie City be the voting places in the district hereby created.” The Legislature of the winter 1883-84 passed a bill authorizing a re-districting of the county and the necessary survey. The provisions of this act it is proposed to carry out some time during the present year, when the number of districts will be cut down to seven. The ” district” is a very indeterminate quantity in the history or business of the county. Under the second Constitution, framed in 1799, it was called a constable’s district, and served generally to apportion the number of these officers. Magistrates were appointed by the Governor, the law requiring simply a competent number.” Under the Constitution of 1850 magistrates were elected from certain sections of the county, and since then these divisions of the county have been known as magisterial districts, the boundaries of which serve to define the jurisdiction of the single magistrate. They are in no way analogous to the townships of the North and Northwest, having no independent organization, and no political or social individuality. But few know where the division line is located, and indefinite as they were originally, they are rendered still more confusing by the ease with which they are varied to suit ‘the convenience or whim of the individual. The County seat and the County Court are the centers of influence and of executive power, and the county revolves about it as the wheel about the hub: a centralized form of government which is utterly inconsistent with the spirit of Kentucky’s famous resolutions of 1798.

Public Buildings

The general description of the first court house is contained in the order of the County Court quoted on a preceding page. Maj.. Gray undertook his part promptly, pushing it forward with great vigor. He made the brick on the public square, and completed it early

in 1821. The finishing of the inside was delayed some time for lack of funds, and was not finally completed until September, 1822. The first story was devoted to the court, and the upper story to a large room which served the various purposes of jury room, Masonic lodge room, etc. The county officers kept their records where it was most convenient, the Clerk of the Court being allowed to ” keep his office anywhere in the bounds of Elkton.” In the latter part of 1822 it was ordered by the court that the building of a “brick clerk’s office,” on or near the south-west corner of the square, be let to the lowest bidder. The specifications required a building one story high, 20×40 feet in dimensions, with two chimneys, two doors, two windows in front and two in the back, a plank floor, and a door in the partition which divided the long room into two apartments. This building was accordingly erected on the site of E. Girth’s store, and held all the county offices. With sundry repairs these buildings sufficed for the uses of the court and county until about 1835. The court house was inconvenient in many respects, a good many repairs were required, and the conviction that these difficulties could best be met by a new structure finally gained expression in an order of the court in November, 1834, providing for a new court house. By this order Finis E. McLean, John Bellamy, Hazel Petrie, Thompson M. Ewing and Willis L. Reeves were appointed Commissioners to contract, superintend and receive the new building. The present structure was the result. The old court house was torn down and the new structure erected upon its site. It was “built on honor.”‘ Each of the four sides was assigned to a workman of approved skill, and a premium offered to the one who should erect the best wall. All did well, as the walls now attest, but the builder of the west wall is said to have won the prize offered. As origin-ally constructed the court room occupied the lower floor. The entrance was in the eastern side, which opened into a vestibule, from which the upper story was gained by means of the stairs still remaining, and the court room by a doorway leading directly west of the main entrance. Opposite the door on the west side of the room, in a niche, the back of which was formed by a large window, was situated the bench,” while immediately in front were the ordinary furniture and belongings of the ” bar,” divided from the auditorium by railing. On either side of the bench,” the corners were partitioned off to serve as petit jury’ rooms. The upper story was left in one large room for the use of the grand jury, the County Court, and public gatherings. In November, 1856, the Clerk’s office building was ordered renewed. A new site was chosen, and the structure standing on the west side of the square, north of the Russellville and Hopkinsville road, was erected. It was not built, however, until 1860, and cost the county some $2,000. During the four years following, the vicissitudes of war bore heavily upon the court house. Soldiers were frequently quartered in it, and by 1865 it was in a rather dilapidated condition. It was declared unfit for the use of the court, which held its sessions in the Masonic lodge building. Some repairs were made, but in 1871, the subject of repairs again came up, and an agitation for a more economical use of the capacity of the building, as well as a more convenient location of the county offices, was begun. It was accordingly decided to thoroughly repair the court house, and unite the offices and court room in one building, if it could be done for the sum realized from the sale of the “Clerk’s office.” This was found to be practicable. The court room with its old arrangement intact was transferred to the upper story; a hall was extended through the lower story from east to west, and another entrance made at the west end, and a series of office rooms made on either side of the hall. A new cupola was placed upon the structure, and neat furniture placed in the rooms, the whole cost being met by the proceeds of the sale of the outside office building. The structure is now reasonably convenient and neat. It lacks, however, an important feature which must sooner or later be supplied, i. e., fire-proof vaults for the official records. The building stands upon a slight eminence in the center of the village and commands a fine view of the four roads leading out from the public square to the four cardinal points. Its outer walls, though built nearly fifty years ago, scarcely betray the age of ten years, and bid fair to last for many years to come. It has no architectural beauty, and is only saved from a rather ” squatty ” appearance by an abnormally developed cupola placed upon the roof. A fastidious taste might demand something more of adornment in the surroundings of this temple of justice. Soon after the present structure was erected a plain board fence inclosed a small plat of ground circumjacent to the building, which was then sown with blue grass. The fence gradually wore out, and the green sward, attracting such stock as ran loose in the streets, presented a scene that aptly suggested the idea that justice had turned to agricultural pursuits. In 1841 the “enclosure ” was paved, fenced again, and a little later a row of black locusts was planted to ornament the margin. This fence has long since disappeared, but the brick pavement, with its broken stone curbing and the locusts still remains. The latter, topped,” and their lacerated trunks covered with a tuft of foliage like an ill-fitting wig on a bald head, are more useful as hitching posts and for sign boards, than ornamental as shade trees. The future has better things in store in this direction. A row of fine maples has been set out, which in the next quarter century will draw about the decaying building the shielding mantle of their delightful shade.

The Jail

There is little of romance connected with this class of buildings anywhere, and none in Todd County. The victims whom its rude strength has sequestered from society have been the most prosaic sort of criminals, and nothing remains to the chronicler of its history, save that it was and is not. The old log jail was located on ” Trading Alley,” and was secure as any of its more pretentious successors. It was built according to the plan set forth in the order made at the first session of the court, and was finished in November, 1820. A ” stray pen ” was built near it and completed at the same time. This jail served the public until 1827, when a brick structure was erected on the same lot, but in front of the old jail. This still remains, the connecting link between the irrecoverable past and the later result of country architecture. The first brick jail was erected at a cost of $1,000, and like its predecessor ” payed its way to obscurity.” In 1869 the present brick jail was erected at a cost of $11,000, in the southern part of town, the con-tractor being W. A. McReynolds. This building is reasonably secure, is provided with improved fixtures and has been broken by few prisoners. Under the present Constitution the jailor is elected, and is remunerated by fees paid for the board and care of prisoners-those imprisoned on a charge Of felony by the State, and those imprisoned on a charge for misdemeanors by the county. At times these fees have reached a very large sum, but the present official’s lines seem to have been laid in ways of peace, and the fees for last quarter were only three dollars and sixty cents.

The Poor-House

During the earlier years of the settlement of Todd County there was little need for any public provision for the support of indigent persons. All were poor, but the poor lived in abundance. A good and comfortable support was to be had for the seeking, and no drones were allowed in that early hive of workers. When misfortune in the guise of accident or disease visited the pioneer, there was no lack of willing hands to plow out the corn or harvest the crops free of charge. With the development of the community, however, social ties became relaxed, and the necessity of an older community demanded some other arrangement for the care of the unfortunate. In November, 1829, the establishment of a poor-house was projected, and in 1830 a hundred and fifty acres were purchased of George Kirkman, on which was a log-house. This has since been “weather-boarded,” and sundry cabins built near it for the use of the residents of the farm. In 1856 it was proposed to sell the farm, but only about forty acres were disposed of and the farm, consisting of 110 acres, is still owned by the county. The number thus supported by the county has not been large, the present number being almost entirely made up of indigent blacks. At first the poor were maintained by some family in the neighborhood, for which the County Court appropriated a reasonable compensation. This method is still continued to some extent, especially in the case of the whites of this class. The cost of maintaining the poor-house is adjusted yearly by a contract with the keeper, who receives a stipulated price per week for the board and care of each pauper in his care. For the farm he pays a certain rental agreed upon. The first year the keeper received $143.50; this year the keeper receives the use of the farm free.


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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