George Washington once owned land in what became Grayson County. Doug Flynn talks with Alicestyne Turley of Berea College about the Carter G. Woodson Center for Interracial Education at Berea College. Also featured: the second installment in our profile of the Louisville Zoo and a trip to Hickman to explore the riverport and ferry.
George Washington never got to visit it, but he did own land in Kentucky. Like many land deals at the time, though, it involved double dealing and even horse trading. Jim Holmberg, curator of collections at the Filson Historical Soceity in Louisville, said Washington bought 5,000 acres in what is now Grayson County.
Washington was among the landowners intrigued by the works of John Filson, a surveyor and land speculator, who came to Kentucky in 1783 and within a year published a book and map of Kentucky. “These really were promotional tracts,” Holmberg said. “They were publications that were touting Kentucky as this land of opportunity.”
Filson himself had invested in Kentucky land, and realized his land would be more valuable if more people settled the state. His book became a best seller in Europe, and was published in German and French. Filson sent a copy to Washington, a hero of the American Revolution and a heavy investor in land.
“So if he can get Washington’s endorsement of the book, you know, this is only going to help sell copies and help bring people to Kentucky,” Holmberg said.
His book started a land rush. “That’s why Kentucky’s early land history is what it is, one of confusion, opportunity, kind of tragedy and bankruptcy, and things like that. Because there’s this true land rush of people coming in to Kentucky, and buying up the land, or thinking they’d bought up the land, because of faulty title and things like that.”
Unscrupulous landowners would sell the same parcels of land multiple times. Among those who might have done so was “Light Horse Harry” Lee, the father of Civil War General Robert E. Lee. Lee sold Washington the 5,000 acres in 1788 in exchange for one of Washington’s prized Arabian stallions. However, Lee had already sold the same land to someone else.
Washington thought his land was valued at $2 an acre, but it ended up being worth less than half that.
“Never having seen the land, Washington took it on good faith,” Holmberg said. Washington relied on what turned out to be erroneous reports that the Rough Creek area contained deposits of iron ore.
Washington’s descendants sold the land at a loss. Not only were there questions about the title to the land, but the boundaries were disputed as well, according to retired farmer Leon Joiner, who currently owns a portion of Washington’s original acreage.
Joiner said he has tried to improve and preserve the land. “It was high risk land to crop down in the bottoms until we got some flood control projects installed,” he said. Kentucky Historical Marker 212, located on Kentucky Highway 54 west of Yeaman Church of Christ, commemorates Washington’s land deal.
Ultimately, Filson’s book helped drive a dramatic rise in population in Kentucky. According to the U.S. Census, Kentucky’s population grew more than five fold in the period of 1790 to 1810, from 73,677 to 406,511.
“People literally were pouring into the state, and in their minds, the credit goes to Filson, thinking that this was a land of great opportunity and, as Kentucky has been called, the Eden of the West,” Holmberg said.
Berea’s Carter G. Woodson Center
The Carter G. Woodson Center for Interracial Education, established in 2011, supports Berea College’s fifth Great Commitment, to interracial education.
Housed in the Alumni Building, the center is open to both students and the public. “This is where the dialogue happens. We want everyone to feel welcome here, to find themselves in this story,” said Alicestyne Turley, Ph.D., director of the center.
To that end, Turley said the center hosts national conversations on race. Past speakers have included author bell hooks and anti-racist essayist Tim Wise. The center also hosts TRUTH talks, where people can ask questions they are afraid to ask by using social media and remaining anonymous. Topics include gendered language, environmental violence, and the “N” word.
Turley said the program has grown: The first TRUTH talk had 10 -20 participants; now about 100 people take part. Berea students take this model program to other colleges, including Cornell, to demonstrate their technique.
Berea College was started by abolitionists. Among its graduates are Carter G. Woodson, the historian and journalist who from Berea went on to the University of Chicago and Harvard; the Britton sisters, Julia, who taught bluesman W.D. Handy, and Mary, the first African-American female doctor in Kentucky; and minister James Bond, who was the great-grandfather of civil rights activist Julian Bond.
“That is what Berea is. It’s bringing all these intersections and identities to realize we have much more in common than we do in difference,” Turley said. “And while some people may look at Appalachia and not see it as a diverse location, our job is to demonstrate that Appalachia has always been diverse and always been creative and useful to the world.”
Louisville Zoo, Part Two
How do zoo veterinarians get up close to the animals they need to treat?
Dr. Zoli Gyimesi, senior staff veterinarian at the Louisville Zoo, helps treat the 1,300 animals at the zoo, everything from invertebrates like tarantulas, to birds, reptiles, amphibians, and mammals.
Animals are trained to allow their keepers and the veterinarians to examine them. Animal training also decreases stress and provides enrichment for the animals, Gyimesi said. In some instances, training means the veterinarians don’t have to use anesthesia, he said, avoiding the risks that accompany that.
“When an animal cooperates with the keepers and the trainers – and that could be stepping on a scale, presenting a body part for evaluation, allowing us to touch or medicate them – that makes it so much easier to monitor and care for them,” he said.
The zoo offers preventative care such as vaccinations, pest and parasite control, and tuberculosis testing of susceptible animals. “You know, wild animals and zoo animals hide their disease so we try to be on the preventative end of things,” he said.
Food for the animals is stored in a commissary. Zookeeper Rebekah Vaile said every animal has a specific diet, whether it is yams, apples, and carrots for the elephants or alfalfa for the camels. A look at the whiteboard detailing the animal diets reveals a varied menu of mice and smelt, herring, knuckle bone and thigh bone.
“Our lion, Kenya, he’s getting 12 pounds of our feline diet right now. Our Amur tiger, he is getting 12 pounds of our feline diet and 2 pounds of our chunk meats. Each animal gets a very, very detailed diet,” she said. The Amur tiger is the largest living feline in the world.
Vaile said the zoo gets deliveries of fresh produce daily, a grain delivery weekly, and frozen rodents weekly.
Farmers and industry send their goods to the world from the Hickman Riverport on the Mississippi River.
The harbor is 6,000 feet long and about 450 feet wide, according to Keleia McCloud, assistant director of the Hickman-Fulton County Riverport Authority. “Being the only stillwater harbor on the Mississippi River definitely has its advantages as far as loading and unloading barges,” she said. “We don’t have to deal with the current that comes off the main Mississippi River channel at all.”
It’s a family business for Terry Roncali, harbor master of Wepfer Marine, which offers towing and tugboat services. His boat is named for his wife, Marilyn. His son now runs the boat that he trained on at age 16. “That’s where I cut my teeth, on this boat. So it goes back a long ways,” he said.
McCloud said the riverport is a big engine for the local agricultural economy. She and director Greg Curlin talk frequently with congressional leaders to secure funding for dredging of the harbor. “There’s times that we have been shut down due to no dredging,” she said. “When that happens of course it’s a big economic downfall on all the businesses here locally.”
Roncali said the harbor is vital to Fulton County. “Without this harbor, I don’t imagine there’d be a Hickman,” he said.
Hickman is a busy site during harvest months, McCloud said. “In a day’s time you will see probably over 400 to 1,000 trucks a day go through here. This is a very busy time of year. The farmers will bring in their corn, beans, wheat, and other agricultural products down here.”
The Hickman Ferry transports cars as well as farm trucks between Kentucky and Missouri. “There is a not a bridge that goes directly from Hickman, Kentucky, into this area,” said McCloud. The ferry saves 90 minutes over the drive, she said.