I was visiting in Isom a few weeks ago and could not help but compare it to the Isom I grew up in. Isom in the 1940’s was a community where no one locked their doors, everyone knew their neighbors, and if a neighbor needed help they didn’t even have to ask, help just showed up.
Isom in 1940 was located on Route 7 and 15 combined. According to Robert M. Rennick’s Kentucky Place Names, Isom was named for the local descendents of Gideon Isom, a pioneer settler of the North Fork of the Kentucky River. Gideon Isom’s descendents are believed to have arrived at the site of the town after the Civil War. The Isom Post Office, according to Rennick’s book, was established on February 10, 1898, with Isom Sergent its first postmaster.
My home was on Walters Branch, a hollow located behind Isom. The road leading out of our hollow ended between Ison’s store and the stockyard. My memories are all about life in the hollow until I started school at the age of five. Life before then was centered on our home and our neighbors. My maternal grandparents, Wesley & Margaret Caudill, lived above us. Below us lived Jeff and Hattie Ison. Their children were our treasured playmates. Below them lived my great-uncle Nelson and Judy Caudill. At that time Nelson was Isom’s postmaster. The other homes in the hollow, all which were located above my grandparents’ home, were rentals and there were always different families living in them, most of whom we got to know well.
Isom was a small country village. When you first entered Isom from our hollow, Floyd Ison’s store was on your right. The store also housed the post office. The stockyard was on the left, and going on down the highway past the stockyard was a log home where two missionaries lived. Below the cabin were two other homes. Also located in the area were Isom’s two-room schoolhouse. Beside it was a Combs family business, and their home was located across the highway.
On the other side of the highway through Isom was Holcomb’s General Store and beside it their large twostory home. That home was originally a log house that was later covered with wood siding. This house had been the Jonah Ison family home, and many of this family still lived in the community. Going on down the highway you came to the Sawdust Junction [the intersection of KY 7 and KY 15]. This was the one blight on Isom.
To me it represented everything wicked and evil. As a child I was scared to go anywhere near it. To this day I don’t understand why the law didn’t close down the two businesses that made up what was called Sawdust Junction. People fought and were killed there. As children, when we had to pass the two businesses we would run from the time they came into sight until we were well out of sight.
The Isom Stockyard was a fascinating place for a child, mainly because of the cattle sale that took place every Saturday afternoon. It was also a social meeting place. You could learn everything that had happened in Isom during the past week. Women and children would attend, and while the men were interested in the cattle sale the women sat in the top bleachers to talk and gossip while the children played. I can remember going with Mother a few times. Dad usually went to see how cattle were selling as he bought and sold cattle now and then. Each year the cattle sale grew and vendors with all kinds of wares began to set up on each side of the highway until you could buy almost any thing you needed. Large numbers of people from all parts of the county visited Isom on those Saturday afternoons. On Saturdays, both the Ison and Holcomb restaurants served lunch to the cattlemen and buyers attending the sale. The Isom School served many purposes. In addition to teaching the children it was used to hold funerals. When a funeral was held while school was in session, the children were not dismissed but had to attend the funeral. If the burial was to be across the road in the Isom Cemetery, school children had to attend those. These funerals caused me to have many nightmares.
To this day when I hear the song “Showers of Blessings” it brings back memories of the first funeral I ever attended at the Isom School. The school was also the place where the missionaries held Sunday school each Sunday. In the summer they held a week of Bible school. When I got old enough I loved attending both. Those same missionaries visited all the area schools once a week to teach Bible stories using a flannel graph board to illustrate the story. I learned so much about the Bible from their lessons.
By the end of the 1940’s Isom was changing, new businesses and homes were being built and the railroad entered the community. By the start of 1950, Isom was a much larger community with many new people moving into and around Isom, Sawdust Junction was closed and the buildings torn down.
To me Isom was a wonderful place to grow up. It was my home and I will always consider it home. I visited it many times while my parents lived there. My Dad lived there until 1995 and two of my brothers still live there.
The memories that I have written about are mine, and there is a chance my memory of Isom is flawed. If your memories of Isom are different from mine I hope they are as happy as mine.
‘Stock Sale’ was still hopping in 1970
The following feature on the Isom Stock Sale appeared in the September 21, 1970, edition of The Mountain Eagle.
“Panties and britches and padded bras” and just about anything else you might need you’ll find at the Isom flea market.
Every weekend throughout the year, truckloads of everything from bright beach towels and inflatable clowns to old and new clothes, pottery, glassware and sterling silver fill the stalls in Isom.
People come here looking for bargains — a new winter coat, salt and pepper shakers or a kitchen table. Boys come to explore, hoping to unbury a treasure like a bicycle pump that still works. But many people come to Isom simply to gather to talk with friends from scattered areas.
“I’m a Cowshed boy,” said Luther Johnson, who runs The Cowshed Trading Post. He’s worked there every Saturday and Sunday since 1963.
“During the week I get the stuff wherever I can get it,” usually in factories and discount stores.
He has free time to spend working around his home, and keeping his lawn mowed. A former miner, Johnson says, “I worked in darkness and I wanted to see daylight and see a little living.” So with the money he earned from mining he set himself up in business. He enjoys working at The Cowshed.
Leon Webb and his wife have been in business in Isom for 20 years. Webb, a descendent of the original Webbs in this area, was raised in Thornton.
“My uncle, Nehemiah Webb, gave birth to The Mountain Eagle,” Webb said. He remembers working the office of the old “Eagle’s Nest” when he had to help set the type and work the old hand press. He also wrote for the paper. Webb works in Ashland as a wholesale dealer. But “on Saturdays and Sundays I get even with them they have to buy from me then” he says.
Across the street from the Webb’s store a large van is parked. It belongs to Arthur Baker and his boy, Arthur Baker Jr. Baker and his wife, Ola, drive the van up to Middletown, Ohio, where their son lives, to pick up a load of things that he buys in auctions during the week. It’s a big job, unloading the full truck, and Mrs. Baker is always busy dusting the contents, organizing them and arranging tables for display.
But they always have time to talk to old friends who drop by to browse around and visit.
Clips from available Mountain Eagle pages since our founding in 1908
Thursday, September 9, 1943
Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower announced yesterday the unconditional surrender of the Italian armed forces. Eisenhower announced that the Italians had been granted a military armistice. Thus, the minor member of the Berlin-Tokyo-Rome Axis met the stipulation that has been insisted upon by President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill — unconditional surrender and nothing less.
A serious national coal shortage is threatening manufacturing needed for the war effort and the heating supply of homes and businesses this coming winter, state officials warn. “Today the mines in Kentucky are short 6,000 necessary miners, most of whom have gone into war industries,” said William Fraysure, Kentucky War Manpower Commission Director. Every man who is qualified to work in the mines or willing to be trained for such work is asked to report to either the Harlan, Hazard or Pikeville employment service offices.
Navy recruiters will be at the Whitesburg Post Office this morning and the Jenkins Post Office this afternoon looking for women between 20 and 35 to join the WAVES, the Women’s Reserve Branch of the U.S. Navy.
Labor Day was a day of tragedies in the U.S., as a train wreck in Pennsylvania — that state’s worst in 25 years — killed 71 persons and injured 300 and a hotel fire in Houston, Texas left 46 persons dead.
Cary Grant and Loraine Day star in “Mr. Lucky,” showing September 12 and 13 at the Kentucky Theatre in Whitesburg. Also playing this week is the double feature of “Ridin’ Down the Canyon” with Roy Rogers and “The Great Impersonation” with Ralph Bellamy.
Thursday, September 10, 1953
The Adjutant General’s Office has announced officially that Corporal Carlos Hayes of Jackhorn has been released from a communist prison camp. Hayes had been listed as missing in action since December 1, 1950, but was later found in a prison camp. He has been in the service for morethan13years.HeisaasonofMrs.BerthaAdams Hayes and the late Sherman Hayes of Jackhorn.
A 53-year-old Millstone man died after being hit by a train on Friday, September 4. The victim, George Odel Thomas, was a coal miner and native of Grayson, Ky.
A young mother and her four-month-old son were killed when the car in which they were riding collided with a coal truck on Rockhouse. The victims are Mrs. Lois Williams Hampton and her son, Freddie Glenn. The accident occurred when the car driven by Mrs. Hampton’s husband, Farris Hampton, passed a truck on a curve and collided head-on with the coal truck traveling in the opposite direction. Mr. Hampton and his daughter, Farris Ann, were injured. The truck is owned by Bill Blair, of Whitesburg, for whom Mr. Hampton works at a mine located near the wreck. State police said the wreck occurred as Mr. Hampton was trying to hurry and get through a dusty portion of the road.
Dr. E.K. Langford announced this week he is opening his new office in Neon for the practice of general medicine and surgery. His office will be located in the Tolliver Hardware Building.
Former Letcher County teacher Enoch R. Smallwood died earlier this week in a car-bus collision near his home in Fort Pierce, Florida. Though details are few at press time, it has been reported that Mr. Smallwood had been at a filling station when the accident occurred. After stopping for one bus to pass he apparently did not see a second bus that crashed into his car.
The new Fleming-Neon Grade School is now expected to be ready for occupancy by Monday, September 14.
F. Byrd Hogg is returning to his native Letcher County to open a law office in Whitesburg, in the Lucas building on Main Street. A 1950 graduate of the University of Kentucky School of Law, Hogg served in World War II for four years, fighting in battles in Germany and France. He was seriously wounded during the war and was confined to a hospital for two years.
Hollywood stuntman Suicide Seldon and his Auto Daredevils will perform “15 death defying acts” at the Jenkins Ball Park on Saturday, September 12. The Jenkins Athletic Association is sponsoring the event. Seldon has performed stunts in movies such as “Thunder Road” and “Danger is My Business.”
Former Whitesburg High School football stars James Gose and Gardner Bates are members of the Morehead State University football team coached by Wilbur “Shorty” Jamerson.
Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn star in the film “The African Queen,” which will be shown September 15 and 16 at the Cavalier Drive-In near Jenkins.
The state Department of Revenue reports that 4,500 automobiles were assessed this year for tax purposes in Letcher County. The number is up from 4,432 last year. The increase is attributed to a new state law requiring county clerks to weekly pass copies of vehicle registrations to county tax commissioners.
Thursday, September 12, 1963
The Letcher County Board of Education voted to sign an option to purchase a home and property owned by Miss Martha Jane Potter at Kona as the site for a new consolidated elementary school. School board member Ray Collins cast the only no vote, arguing that the new consolidated school should be located in the Mayking area because of shifting population trends.
The Letcher Fiscal Court has delayed opening bids for construction of a new courthouse for two weeks in hopes of receiving lower offers.
The Letcher County Fair features exhibits from 4-H Club members and Homemakers, and a carnival with rides and sideshows. It is the first fair to be held in Letcher County since World War II.
An editorial in The Mountain Eagle comments on the amount of garbage to be found on the Little Shepherd Trail. “Letcher County residents will continue to use the trail for a while regardless of conditions,” says the editorial. “But it could become a priceless asset as a tourist attraction for outsiders if we don’t let it turn into a garbage dump.”
The Whitesburg City Council has voted to ban parking on Cowan Street and to make the street one-way. Fire Chief Remius Day said only one or two residents of the street that is part of School Hill oppose the move, which Day said is necessary for fire protection.
”The Stripper” starring Joanne Woodward and Richard Beymer is playing at the Alene Theater in Whitesburg. Also on the bill is “Hell Is For Heroes” starring Steve Mc- Queen, Fess Parker and Bobby Darin.
Thursday, September 13, 1973
Some 4,000 homes and businesses in and around Whitesburg were without electricity for almost 24 hours. The outage was caused by an internal fault in a transformer, said a power company spokesman.
Gibson’s Discount Center had its grand opening in Whitesburg. The store is located at the corner of KY 15 and Sandlick Road.
Bernard Wysocki, controversial administrator of Whitesburg Appalachian Regional Hospital, has been reassigned to a position in the Lexington central office of the healthcare system. ARH President T.P. Hickens was told in a meeting with a half-dozen physicians who are on the medical staff of the hospital that the “entire medical staff ” would cease admitting patients or practicing at the hospital unless Wysocki was replaced.
Susie Haynes must have set some kind of canning record, says Blackey correspondent Charles Ann Mullis. Mrs. Haynes put up 1,092 cans of corns, beans, applesauce and apple butter.
September 7, 1983
A temporary injunction was issued requiring the Letcher Fiscal Court to place all the county’s legal advertising in The Mountain Eagle. The newspaper filed a lawsuit against the fiscal court when the court voted to withdraw the legal advertising from the Eagle and place it in the Cromona Community Press.
A marijuana plant measuring 13 feet high was found in the UZ area after a tip to law officers.
The Jenkins Cavaliers defeated the Fleming-Neon Pirates 21-0. The Whitesburg Yellowjackets fell to the Cumberland Redskins 12-0.
Members of the Hogg family elected Lonnie Hogg Breeding as 1983 “Hogg of the Year” for her “accomplishments as wife, mother, teacher, author and guardian of the mountain heritage.”
September 15, 1993
Authorities raided a houseboat in Tennessee and confiscated furniture and appliances that were allegedly purchased illegally with county money. Police also seized furniture allegedly bought illegally with county funds in a raid at the home of one county official. The raids are the latest episodes in a 22-month investigation of public corruption in Letcher County.
Kentucky’s state flower, goldenrod, is “a vile weed that inflicts more suffering on some Kentuckians than, say, new taxes,” writes columnist Ike Adams.
Ice correspondent Sara C. Ison recalls the molasses stir-offs that once were common in the mountains. “In the fall the molasses was made,” she writes. “You could almost smell it halfway out to Cotton Patch Hollow. We always made it at home, usually in two stir-offs.”
September 17, 2003
Police say no one but Jeffery Allen could have killed two-year-old Dakota Yonts, a foster child in the Allen home. Dakota Yonts was beaten and strangled to death sometime on the evening of March 27. Jeffery Allen, 39, is charged with murder. He pleaded not guilty to the charges in Letcher Circuit Court on Sept. 10.
On the morning of Sept. 21, 1863, Union and Confederate troops engaged each other at what is now the Whitesburg High School football field. Troops from Letcher County — brothers, uncles, nephews, neighbors — then battled up and down the North Fork of the Kentucky River before Union troops fled back across Pine Mountain. The Sons of Confederate Veterans, Ben Caudill Camp will reenact the first battle of Whitesburg as part of the Mountain Heritage Festival.
Fleming-Neon Mayor Harlan “Tootie” Seals is facing criminal charges for allowing a carnival to set up on the grounds of the town’s volunteer fire department without the department’s consent. Fire Chief Carter Bevins, whose brother Marshall Bevins ran against Seals in the election for mayor last fall, obtained a criminal summons against Seals.
The Letcher County Parks and Recreation Committee partnered with the City of Whitesburg earlier this year to install new, handicapped-accessible playground equipment at the playground next to the Whitesburg Municipal Swimming Pool. Now the committee wants to split the cost of making further improvements to that playground, and other city recreational facilities.