Beckham’s Counties, pt. 3: Two Bills From Olive Hill

A seven part essay about three efforts to name a county after Kentucky’s 35th Governor.

William B. Whitt’s portrait. The (Grayson) Tribune, January 4, 1904. Page 2. Available on microfilm at William T. Young Library (University of Kentucky).

William B. Whitt had been influential in Carter County even before he became state senator. In private business, Whitt had been president of Olive Hill Bank and owned a stone quarry that employed many in that same town.

In 1899, he had been a delegate to the Democratic state convention and that same year he had campaigned enthusiastically for William Goebel in Carter County.

Along with Lewis Gearheart and W.J. Rice, who happened to be cashier for the Olive Hill Bank, Whitt had been one of the proponents sent to petition the General Assembly for what became L.C. Prichard’s bill in 1902.

The following year, entering politics himself, the election for the 35th District senate seat came down between Whitt, a Democrat, and Nathan Barrett, a Republican. The primary issue was the creation of a Beckham County, which Whitt was for and Barrett was against.

Although, as previously established, it was a partisan issue at heart, for some Olive Hill’s independence from Grayson was apparently more important than obeying the typical rules of party line politics.

“Do you favor the new county?” asked Herald editor J.W. Lusby, “If so, vote for Whitt and King.” The King was V.B. King, like minded in regards to the Beckham County question, fellow Democrat, and candidate for representative.

That same issue, The Herald printed a letter from an anonymous Republican who wrote that he was voting for Whitt despite his party, in favor of the new county. “We are tired of having them fellows there at Grayson tell us how to vote,” he said.

The Herald received letters of support from stone quarry workers and foremen, assuring readers that Whitt hadn’t made political support a condition of continued employment and further defending him from allegations of bad behavior during a strike the prior year.

It would be Beckham County that carried the day. W.B. Whitt won his Senate race by over 500 votes and V.B. King was likewise sent to the House of Representatives. Another attempt at creating a new county out of the western half of Carter was all but guaranteed.

But it would be a mistake to assume everyone in Carter County wished to lose its western half. In April 1903, the county Fiscal Court had ordered another survey. The Herald theorized it was an effort to get ahead of another attempt to splinter off Olive Hill.

Still, when William B. Whitt went to the state capital it was with a clear mandate, and a draft of a bill in his pocket. Eight days into the legislative session, on January 13th, 1904, he introduced Senate Bill №55.

The bill would not only create Beckham County but also established Olive Hill as its county seat, divide the county into five magisterial districts, and also create a three-member board of commissioners to set up “necessary public buildings”.

Further, the governor would appoint the initial county government, whose members were to serve until the following election.

The bill met with immediate criticism. The Louisville Herald attacked the Beckham County bill with most of the same objections that would eventually lead to the county’s dissolution. On January 20th, on the senate floor, Whitt defended his bill from Senator Cox.

William H. Cox, an influential Republican from Maysville who would later serve as Lieutenant Governor under Augustus E. Willson, alleged the new county would be less than 400 square miles in size, which would make it smaller than required by the state constitution.

In words Republican newspapers across the state would soon echo, Cox also opposed the bill because Beckham County, he believed, would soon become “just another pauper county.”

However, it was Whitt’s argument that won. The bill passed the senate by either 29 to 5 or 26 to 6. On January 29th, the House of Representatives also went for the bill.

In what was perhaps the same spirit as naming Beckham County after the governor, Mason County Representative Virgil McKnight proposed renaming Beckham’s county seat from Olive Hill to Thorne Hill, in honor of lieutenant governor William P. Thorne.

McKnight was getting carried away. Whatever the merits of naming a county after Beckham, he had been governor since 1900, and Thorne had been lieutenant governor for a little less than two months.

McKnight’s proposal was defeated but the bill for the creation of Beckham County was sent to the governor’s desk. His sense of modesty was apparently undisturbed. With the stroke of a pen, J.C.W. Beckham let the county that had been named after him into law.

*

Sources

Whitt as bank owner. “News Banks: So Far This Month Forty-Four Have Been Established In The South.” The Courier-Journal (Louisville, Kentucky), April 24, 1901. Page 5. Accessed May 2, 2019. https://www.newspapers.com/image/118776140/. Behind paywall.

Whitt’s stone quarry. Fisher, Ira P. “To Whom It May Concern:.” The Herald (Grayson, Kentucky), October 09, 1903. Microfilm at William T. Young Library (University of Kentucky). Letter to the editor. Ira P. Fisher, the letter writer, is my great-great-great-great uncle.

Whitt at 1899 Democratic state convention. “Big Crowds: Politicians Throng the Hotel Lobbies.” The Courier-Journal (Louisville, Kentucky), June 21, 1899. Pages 1, 4. Accessed May 2, 2019. https://www.newspapers.com/image/30725761/. Behind paywall. Whitt listed under Willard section on page 4.

Whitt for Goebel. Whitt, W.B. “An Open Letter.” The Democrat (Grayson, Kentucky), October 27, 1899. Page 3. Microfilm at William T. Young Library (University of Kentucky). Letter to the editor.

Whitt’s influence in Prichard’s bill. “The citizens in and about Olive Hill are very enthusiastic over the proposed new county.” Carter County Bugle (Grayson, Kentucky), January 17, 1902. Page 4. Microfilm at William T. Young Library (University of Kentucky).

Whitt vs. Barret. “Success to Him.” Mt. Sterling Advocate (Mt. Sterling, Kentucky), September 16, 1903. Page 1. Accessed May 2, 2019. http://kdl.kyvl.org/catalog/xt776h4cpr6h_1.

Whitt for new county, Barret against. “William B. Whitt, of Olive Hill, Nominated for Senator by Democrats.” Mt. Sterling Advocate (Mt. Sterling, Kentucky), August 19, 1903. Page 5. Accessed May 2, 2019. http://kdl.kyvl.org/catalog/xt7m901zf32n_5.

“Do you favor the new county?” Lusby, J.W., ed. “Do You Favor the New County?” The Herald (Grayson, Kentucky), October 23, 1903. Microfilm at William T. Young Library (University of Kentucky).

V.B. King. Lusby, J.W., ed. “We Have Here Heretofore Remarked . . .” The Herald (Grayson, Kentucky), October 16, 1903. Microfilm at William T. Young Library (University of Kentucky).

Letter from Republican. Republican. “Dear Sir.” The Herald (Grayson, Kentucky), October 23, 1903. Microfilm at William T. Young Library (University of Kentucky). Letter to the editor.

Quarry workers defend Whitt. 58 Quarry Workers. “To whom it may concern:.” The Herald (Grayson, Kentucky), October 16, 1903. Microfilm at William T. Young Library (University of Kentucky). Letter to the editor.

Foremen defend Whitt. Kiser, U.S.G., and G.W. Sammons. “For the benefit of those concerned.” The Herald (Grayson, Kentucky), October 16, 1903. Microfilm at William T. Young Library (University of Kentucky). Letter to the editor.

Union workers defend Whitt. Wingfield, Claude, Lewis White, and B.H. Rutledge. “Dear Sir:.” The Herald (Grayson, Kentucky), September 25, 1903. Microfilm at William T. Young Library (University of Kentucky). Letter to the editor.

Whitt wins Senate race. “Whitt Elected Senator.” The Courier-Journal (Louisville, Kentucky), November 06, 1903. Page 2. Accessed May 2, 2019. https://www.newspapers.com/image/119030042/. Behind paywall.

King wins House race. Lusby, J.W., ed. “A bill to establish the New County.” The Herald (Grayson, Kentucky), December 04, 1903. Microfilm at William T. Young Library (University of Kentucky).

Carter County Fiscal Court survey. Lusby, J.W., ed. “Fortifying To defeat the New County move.” The Herald (Grayson, Kentucky), April 17, 1903. Microfilm at William T. Young Library (University of Kentucky).

Whitt with draft of bill in pocket. Johnson, Lewis Y. “Beckham County, The New Baby of Kentucky’s Family of Counties.” The Courier-Journal (Louisville, Kentucky), February 14, 1904, sec. 4. Page 3. Accessed May 2, 2019. https://www.newspapers.com/image/119283002/. Behind paywall.

Whitt introduces bill. “In Vast Volumes: Bills Pouring down in Steady Streams on Both Houses.” The Paducah News-Democrat (Paducah, Kentucky), January 13, 1904. Page 6. Accessed May 2, 2019. https://www.newspapers.com/image/501601362/. Behind paywall.

Senate Bill number. “Work of the Kentucky General Assembly.” The Courier-Journal (Louisville, Kentucky), March 19, 1904. Page 2. Accessed May 2, 2019. https://www.newspapers.com/image/119293241/. Behind paywall.

Details of Whitt’s bill. Acts of the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Kentucky Passed at the Regular Session of the General Assembly Which Was Begun and Held in the City of Frankfort on Tuesday, the Fifth Day of January, One Thousand Nine Hundred and Four. Louisville, KY: Geo. G. Fetter Company, 1904. pgs. 27–30. Available as Ebook on Hathi Trust Digital Library.

Louisville Herald criticizes bill. Davis, Thomas A., ed. “The Louisville Herald makes such an exhaustive exposition of the illegality of the act . . .” The Public Ledger (Maysville, Kentucky), January 26, 1904. Page 2. Accessed May 7, 2019. https://www.newspapers.com/image/68359117/. The Public Ledger quotes The Louisville Herald. Behind paywall.

Whitt debates Cox. Meachum, Charles M., ed. “Passes House. New Capital Bill Appropriating a Million Dollars.” Hopkinsville Kentuckian (Hopkinsville, Kentucky), January 22, 1904. Page 5. Accessed May 2, 2019. Kentucky Digital Library. http://kdl.kyvl.org/catalog/xt7bvq2s5r21_5.

Cox, future Lt. Governor. Bidwell, William E., and Ella Hutchinson Ellwanger, eds. Legislative History and Capitol Souvenir. Vol. 1. Frankfort, KY, 1910. Page 29. Accessed May 2, 2019. Kentucky Digital Library. http://kdl.kyvl.org/catalog/xt7j3t9d5d9d_29?

“Pauper county” “The governor vetoed the Thorne county bill . . .” Owensboro Daily Messenger (Owensboro, Kentucky), May 01, 1904. Page 4. Accessed May 2, 2019. https://www.newspapers.com/image/376080263. Behind paywall.

Bill passes by. “Cantrill Bill Adopted.” Mt. Sterling Advocate (Mt. Sterling, Kentucky), January 27, 1904. Page 3. Accessed May 2, 2019. Kentucky Digital Library. http://kdl.kyvl.org/catalog/xt7gb56d3d0v_3.

Houses passes bill. McIntyre. “Legislative Happenings.” Kentucky Advocate (Danville, Kentucky), January 29, 1904. Page 3. Accessed May 2, 2019. https://www.newspapers.com/image/237417081/. Behind paywall.

Virgil McKnight of Mason. “Mason County.” The Courier-Journal (Louisville, Kentucky), November 04, 1903. Page 3. Accessed May 9, 2019. https://www.newspapers.com/image/119029620/. Behind paywall.

Thorne, lt. governor for less than two months. Burgher, J.E., ed. “Beckham’s Inauguration.” The Clay City Times (Clay City, Kentucky), December 10, 1903. Accessed May 9, 2019. Kentucky Digital Library. http://kdl.kyvl.org/catalog/xt7gf18scd8c_1.

Thorne Hill defeated. “County of Beckham.” The Courier-Journal (Louisville, Kentucky), January 30, 1904. Page 1. Accessed May 2, 2019. https://www.newspapers.com/image/376111026/. Behind paywall.

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