Written by Bill Stewart, my late father-in-law. It’s in a life history that he and his wife Marji Smock Stewart wrote. Her part is called Finding the Rivers. He called his Climbing the Hills. It starts on a farm near Pellville, Hancock County in western Kentucky.
Pellville Farm 1918
The year was late 1918. I stood in the front yard near the road in front of our house and held Mother’s hand. Standing near the edge of the road, both curious and scared, I waited as the approaching noise became louder and louder.
When the source of the noise came up the road to the front of our house it stopped. It was the first time either of us had ever seen an army lorry. Soldiers disembarked from the covered back portion of the truck: World War I soldiers were coming home. They were getting off at the nearest place to their homes. Mother would have drawn fresh water from the well and made biscuits and fried eggs as a quick meal. No one was expecting them. The lorry had solid rubber tires and rims about 16 inches wide. This was real Kentucky hill country and all the roads were narrow and dirt.
There was a small crossroad at our home. This was the house where I, William Lester Stewart, was born 17 November 1915. The house was built by John Lester Brown and Cordelia Brown, my mother Mabel’s parents. Built of logs, two stories high, it had a sandstone fireplace at each end of the house, horizontal weather boarding covered the exterior. All the houses had tin roofs. There was a wood burning stove in the kitchen, in the back of the house, used for cooking and heating. Two large maple trees grew in the front yard between the house and the road.
This farm was about sixty acres in size; strictly subsistence living. We had a garden, chickens, hogs and two black horses to pull the farm implements. Best of all, we had a dog, Teddy. Teddy was my friend.
About half our farm acreage was hill; too steep to cultivate. The nearest paved road was twenty-five miles away and that was in Owensboro. The country road toward our house had some gravel two and one half miles toward our part of the county. All direct roads were practically impassable in inclement weather and dusty in dry weather. We had wonderful neighbors, Walter and Blanche Glover, who lived directly across the road.
School and Church
Up the hill going east towards Patesville one fourth a mile was Brown school. Brown was a one room school house with a coal heated stove plus a water well outside and down the hill. Grades one through eight could go to school there but often boys or girls in the upper grades had quit school to work so it was mostly small children.
Continuing east on this road towards Patesville, seven-tenths of a mile from our house, was the nearest Baptist church. We had Sunday School every Sunday but church only once a month. A preacher would rotate among four churches.
It was accepted practice for one of the families to invite the preacher home for Sunday dinner. Sometimes that included his family. Preferably the hosts had an automobile so he didn’t have to walk or ride horseback.
It was common practice on these roads and especially in inclement weather and winter to hitch our two black horses to a wagon. We put stiff backed chairs with cane bottoms in the wagon and rode in the wagon to church. But mostly our legs grew strong climbing hills to school or church or walking to visit friends and family.
At church, accompanied by an old pump organ, we sang the old songs such as “Old Rugged Cross,” “Shall We Gather At The River,” “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder,” “Love Lifted Me,” “Have Thine Own Way, Lord.” With the windows full open in the summer and an enthusiastic crowd singing loudly, these country hills really were alive with the sound of music!
I went back with my nephew Tom Poole in October 2002. A country store has replaced the house where I was born. The house was torn down in the last ten years or so. The store and crossroad are our reference point now. On a Kentucky road map, #69 is from Fordsville to Hawesville and #144 from Pellville to Patesville. The roads are now black topped.
Tom and I went on a search for the site of the former Oak Grove Baptist Church and cemetery where two of my mother’s brothers are buried. Tom found it seven-tenths of a mile from the crossroads reference point, east on Highway 144, i.e. toward Patesville on the west side of the road. The church has been torn down.
Tom found the gravestones of the young uncles I never met. Junius E. Brown died Sept. 17, 1890 at the age of seven. Bertram Lee Brown died Nov. 6, 1898 two months before his second birthday.
Panther Creek Baptist Church
Next, Tom and I looked for Panther Creek Baptist Church where my grandparents Stewart attended and where they are buried. This is on a road which runs from Pellville to Whitesville KY and is partially paved.
The cemetery is across the road from the church. To find my grandparents’ resting place do this: Enter the gate and turn left. Look in the front row for a large headstone which is prominent. William M. Stewart, born March 19, 1861; died June 16, 1907. Amanda W. (Chappel) Stewart, born October 3, 1859; died Dec. 6, 1923. On the stone were these words: “His words were kindness, his deeds were love, his spirit humbled, he rests above.”
Next, in Kentucky to Minnesota, growing up and university.