John David Robards

by Edmund Starling, 1886


JOHN DAVID ROBARDS was born in Henderson County, on the second day of November, 1831, on a farm five miles southeast of Robards Station. The difficulties attending an education, which the early settlers found in that particular section of the county still existed, for no schools were to be found nearer than from five to ten miles from the homestead. In the year 1840, a school was established at Pleasant Valley, a few miles off, which his sisters attended. During this time, his father, George Robards, had become the head of a large family of children, and was necessarily compelled to exert every energy possessed by himself and sons to secure an annual income sufficient for their support, and to meet the necessary expenses incident to farming and opening up a wild country. Mr. Robards was an indulgent parent, yet he recognized the necessity of hard work, and lamented the situation which surrounded him. He wanted to do for his children, but his pecuniary condition, coupled with the primitive and comparative advantageless[sic] surroundings, rendered it necessary for him to exercise the most rigit self-denials, which he regretted more than anyone else. The subject of this sketch was required to work in the fields during the spring and summer months, and to handle the ax in clearing up new ground in the fall, winter and early spring months. So determined was he upon acquiring a foresight into the primary branches, he studied with his sisters during leisure hours and most frequently in the cornfield; while his horse was resting, he would sit down and ponder over his arithmetic, and disputes often arose between himself and brothers while ploughing alongside, as to the correct solution of some arithmetical sum, and then and there they would halt until the difficulty was correctly and satisfactorily determined In this way he became quite proficient in primary, and even intermediate mathematics. His thirst for information grew as he learned, and continued to seek knowledge from his sisters, and by his won exertions he qualified himself to enter school. At the age of twenty-four years, his father gave him a horse, which he sold for one hundred dollars, and with this pitiful sum went to Madisonvill and entered Professor Boring's school, where he applied himself with an earnestness which soon won the sympathy and favor of his teacher. He had but the sum of one hundred and sixty dollars. Professor Boring was particularly kind to him, extending to him credit for the tuition and other pecuniary credits necessary during the scholastic year. He bent every energy, studying day and night, and during the term of six months mastered arithmetic, gained a good understanding of algebra, trigonometry, surveying, and English grammar. Returning to his home, he soon organized a small neighborhood school, studying himself all the time with more earnestness than any pupil under him, and continued teaching and studying until 1856, when he was appointed by D. N. Walden, Surveyor of Henderson County, deputy surveyor. He continued in office under Walden to the time he resigned in 1850, and then served under Charles Dixon, until his death in 1860, when he was appointed surveyor of the county until an election could be held. An election being ordered, Mr. Robards became a candidate on the Democratic ticket against Robert S. Eastin, who had announced himself a candidate of the opposition party. The election resulted in Eastin's being elected. Mr. Robards then gave up official life and settled on a farm near Robards' Station. During his deputyship, by the exercise of the closest economy, and the keenest foresight in land speculation, he amassed a competency sufficient to serve him in entering into active business. No young man was ever more industrious, persevering, studious, or accumulating than was he, and as an evidence of it, we shall see before this brief biography is concluded. On the twenty-first day of June, 1857, Mr. Robards married Mrs. Julia A. Hart, nee Walker, daughter of Alonzo Walker, a highly respected and intelligent farmer. She died August, 1883, leaving two children, Frank Hart and Edwin T. Robards. In 1867, with the same keen foresight, he built the first frame store house (in fact the first house built), at what is known as Robards' Station. In this building he carried on a general merchandising business, selling annually from twenty to forty thousand dollars worth of goods. In 1868 he built the first tobacco stemmery at Robard Station; this was a rough and hurriedly built affair of small capacity, and built along side of the railroad track. In 1873 he tore down this building and replaced it by another, a better and more commodious house, one hundred and twenty feet long, by seventy feet wide, three stories high. A co-partnership was formed with R. W. Bodine and Dr. N. A. Kitchell, which continued up to the year 1878, when it was dissolved by mutual consent. This firm did an annual business from fifty to ninety thousand dollars. On the eleventh of June, 1874, a hurricane passed over Robards Station, leveling to the ground his large fine tobacco stemmery, containing at the time from one hundred and sixty to two hundred hogsheads of tobacco. Fortunately the tobacco was in loose order and very little of it was damaged; on the contrary, it was secured from the debris, rehandled and brought the firm more money, and clear profit, than any crop handled during the partnership. The building was erected again on the same foundation, and occupied during the same year, 1874. In 1872 Mr. Robards moved into the City of Henderson and soon purchased the handsome residence he yet owns on Second Street. In early life he joined the Christian Church, and has ever been a conservative, active and working layman. To him and one or two others, is due, perhaps, the honor of remodeling, and the completion of the beautiful church edifice, which now stands on the corner of Green and Washington, a monument to denominational liberality. In 1882 he was mainly instrumental in the organization of the Henderson, Zion and Hebardsville Gravel Road Company, and at its organization was elected President, which office he held for some time with credit to himself and good to the company. During the early part of this year he, assisted by his means in the organization of the Planter's National Bank, and at the first election by the stockholders, was made a director. During the fall of 1882, a large tobacco stemmery, owned by him, and located on Alvasia Street, near Fernwood Cemetery was burned; since that time, to-wit: on the twenty-second day of January, 1883, he and Dr. N. A. Kitchell Manufacturing Company, with a paid up capital of fifteen thousand dollars. On the fifth day of February, 1884, Mr. Robards married, in the City of Louisville, Mrs. Mary Stewart, a lady of high character and noble christian graces. They take life easy in their cozy home, their cup of happiness being as full as the heart could wish.

The History of Henderson County, Kentucky by Starling 1887 page 759-61;

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