Taken from a Special Edition of "The Gleaner"
printed March 27, 1988
permissive use granted by Editor
newspaper provided by Vonette Shelton-Curtis
'Happy,' Jesse Tapp are among the names with ties to the city
By Judy Jenkins
A.B. "Happy" Chandler, former Kentucky governor, U.S. senator and national baseball commissioner, grew from barefoot boyhood to young manhood in Corydon. And that famous face isn't the only one to hail from the 137-year-old incorporated city southwest of Henderson. The town can, in a sense, claim actor Dick Powell, as his parents were from Corydon. It also can take personal pride in the accomplishments of Jesse Tapp, who didn't live in Corydon, but did graduate from its fine high school. Tapp was chairman of the board of the Bank of America and appointee to various commissions by Presidents Franklin Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson.
Mary Hunt, movie actress and singer, grew up in that community that's situated on two hills, as did Disney Studio artist Terrell Stapp and childrens' book author Elizabeth Allstorm. There have been plenty of other notables, too, who spent their formative years in the town named for the religious song, "Sweet Corydon." Some, like Clarence Hoggard, wound up on the other side of the globe. Hoggard became proprietor of a silk shop in Shanghai. Small wonder that the city produced so many interesting citizens of the world. If historical accounts at the Henderson County Public Library are an indication, it's always been a colorful place, peopled with strong-minded individuals.
If it hadn't been for the frequent and devastating fires that forced the community to rebuild on more than one occasion, Corydon might have surpassed Henderson in growth. In 1884, for instance, flames consumed several homes and manufacturing concerns. Just three years later, blazes claimed 16 stores and other buildings. In 1913, a year of then-record flooding in Henderson County, fire again raged in Corydon, leveling Cordia Proctor's millinery ship and taking what records call "a lot more" on the east side of the community. Forty years later, fire took the school, and, in 1966, flames consumed the bank and funeral home. Between fires, however, that locale has seen some fascinating times. In the latter portion of the 19th century, for example, there was an 800-seat opera house with special productions that drew so many area residents it was necessary for trains to make extra runs between Henderson and Corydon. Fare in 1887, was 30 cents a passenger.
Those who preferred to do so could spend the night at the Optimus Hotel, where the chef, known simply as "Sam", was touted as the best cook around. His wife, Mattie, was no slouch in the kitchen either. It seemed there forever was something newsworthy going on - which is why the town paper, the Corydon Mirror, had plenty to write about. Imagine the excitement when Clarence Dickey, in 1913, got the city's first automobile, a "Brush Roadster." You can bet the residents turned out to get a gander at that wonderous machine. Then there were the times the citizenry gathered around King's Dry Good Store to watch J.T. Hancock drive his cattle to market. Earlier, in 1886, the entire town had turned out in their warmest winter duds - red wool drawers, coon skin caps and brogan shoes - to witness the arrival of the first train. The adults, however, hadn't ocunted on the ear-splitting whistle startling the horses and scaring the wits out of little children.
At that point the trains were operated by the O.V. Railroad. Three years later, the I.C. Company bought the line and proved invaluable to the Powell Coal Mine in Corydon, which was operating 24 hours a day. It's reported the mine often had long lines of wagons filled with coal waiting to be loaded onto the railroad cars. It was around that time that the "Corydon Snides" baseball team was considered the hottest thing on Western Kentucky diamonds. Corydon has always loved baseball. "Happy" Chandler played it there, and later on, when his name was a household word, he came back to his hometown every year to watch Kitty League exhibition games. When the town needed a new recreation area in 1947, Crawford Brothers Hardware came to the rescue, offering the community a large lot for $1 rent in (no pun intended) to the tune of $3,350 to help get the field in shape for baseball.
Recreation likely as the furthest thing from the mind of Corydon's recognized founder, Dr. John Dorsey, when he came back to this vicinity around 1850 to lay off the town's boundaries (using a wild grapevine as a chain) and sell lots at $5 each. At that point, he already was established in his medical practice, having graduated from Louisville Medical College and practiced in Daviess County. He also was married, and he and his wife Patsy - who gave the town its name - would have four daughters and one son. Dorsey had lived in the Corydon area as a child, when his father, Noah, brought the family to Western Kentucky from Jefferson County. The wilderness offered plenty of elbow room and economic opportunity, but it had precious little oging for it in the field of education. That's why the elder Dorsey took his family back to Jefferson County.
The date of Corydon's official establishment is 1851. Just 16 years later, it was incorporated. By 1880, it had 700 residents, four churches, a school, a steam mill, three general stores, two drug stores, two blacksmith shops, two wagon shops, a shoe shop, s saddle shop, a Masonic hall, an undertaking establishment, a hotel, a dentist, shoemaker and a brickyard. An 1883-84 business directory listed, among others: H. Brandish, saddler; W.B. Clay, hotel owner; W.G. Collins, confectioner; James Crawford, carpenter; J.W. Crowe, justice of the peace; H.H. King, "Chatterbox" editor, Herman Knall, wagon maker; G.W. McClure, speculator; E.G. Powell, leaf tobacco; Green Pritchett, lawyer, and Henry Townes, broom manufacturer. By that time, Corydon had one of the finest schools in the state. Granted by the General Assembly in 1872 and completed in 1873, it was said to be the first free school south of the Ohio River.
That school required 13 years for graduation and was considered as much college as high school, touting a curriculum that included "all branches of college taught, except Greek." The first class graduated in 1878, and no doubt included some people destined to be teachers. During one period, it was claimed that 55 of the county's 65 rural teachers had been educated at the Corydon School. The institution's teachers, many of them from Cincinnati, earned $25 a month. If education was strongly stressed, so was religion. Accounts differ as to the dates of the first churches. It is known that the Christian Church, which started in 1852, was divided over the use of musical instruments, and that issue brought a division that resulted in the formation of a second Christian Church, where instruments were not used. A document at the local library notes that the Presbyterian Church started in Corydon in 1878; the General Baptist in 1891, and the Missionary Baptist in1898. Not surprisingly, saloons were voted out, and other endeavors, like the venerable "Thursday Reading Club" were initiated. That club, begun in 1907 by Miss Annie Merryman and continuing into the latter 20th century, always has featured literary selections, refreshments served on one's good china and the use of one's best manners.
transcribed by Tina Hall 5-28-2007
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