LIVING ALONGSIDE THE LICKING RIVER IN SALYERSVILLE: The 1930s and 1940s

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By James E. Allen
Salyersville, KY

When I was two years old in 1932, my parents and I moved to Dixie Addition of Salyersville, about 150 yards from the Licking River. We were on high ground and were not bothered by the regular floods.
My early recollections of Dixie in the 1930s were the puddles of water that were left when it rained on the dirt streets. There was a concrete sidewalk out our street and we could walk all the way to the Dixie  Bridge on a concrete walk although there were no paved streets in Dixie at that time. 
There was a two-story grocery store building where Mike Prater’s house is now located. The Ramey Park site was covered each year with a corn crop after the spring overflows. In between the store building and the end of the Dixie Bridge was a one-story garage building for auto repairs, which always was a busy place. At that time the grocery store and the garage were built down on the level of the field and the road was level with the corn field so when the river raised up there was no way out to the bridge which had a plank incline to drive up to the bridge level. The concrete walk was on the other side of the road from the store and garage. This field was always used for a pasture field. On summer evenings, you could see Carl Cooper and Burl Patrick come after cows and they would drive them back through town to a barn behind Carl’s house on East Maple Street. They would bring them back to the pasture field the next morning. I remember a circus coming to Salyersville and they were located in this field. This was before World War II.
The store was operated by Noah Harper and Myrtle Harper and they lived upstairs over the store. I talked to Mrs. Harper last winter about coming to the store by myself pulling a red wagon (which is still under the floor of our house) with a list of things to get at the store. It was my job to go to the store and to haul off any cans, bottles, or trash down to the River Road. Back then, everyone that had something to get rid of dumped it on the riverbank and the floodwaters carried it away. Many people and businesses in town dumped their trash off the Dixie Bridge down into the river. In dry weather, the trash sometimes would be ten feet high before it would be swept down the river.
The water kept getting up and blocking the Dixie Road and in 1937, the Dixie Bridge was lengthened. A walk was added to the side and a dirt road was made on the same level of the bridge over across the field to the store. The fill covered up the concrete sidewalk.
Now you had to go down a gravel bank to get down to the store. On a trip to the store I coasted down the bank, could not stop, and hit the wall of the store building. It broke a piece of the weatherboard next to the door. I thought I was in trouble but the Harpers, who were very nice people, did not say anything to me about damaging their wall. 
When the record Licking River flood hit Salyersville in February of 1939 (it was a record at that time but a new record was later set in December of 1978) the water got up to the top of the counters in the Dixie store and it was not long until the owners had the building raised out of the high water mark. The Dixie Garage was abandoned after the fill was made as the fill went right up against the building. During this February flood, I remember being on the Dixie Bridge and the water was coming up to the bridge floor. Coming down the river was a cow swimming in the swift current. Some men in a boat were trying to get a rope on the cow but they were not successful and the cow went on down the river. The cow belonged to Pat Holbrook and it washed down from the Cheyenne section of town. A high water mark on a brass plate for the February 1939 flood can be seen on the end of the Burning Fork concrete bridge on Route 7.
The new school building across the river where the Community Center is now located was built in 1935-36. The old school building that was torn down had been built in 1897. I started school in the fall of 1936 but the first grade room in the new building was not completed so our class went to the basement of the First Baptist Church building at the end of the Dixie Bridge. Before the seven-month term of school was over, we were in the new building. The new building was out of the high water mark for Licking River, but the building was equipped with steam heat and a coal furnace in the basement would flood out when the river got up. After the water would go down the basement would have to be pumped.
During our five-month summer vacation from school, I was on the riverbank quite a bit. In the spring we caught plenty of suckers out of the river. At the mouth of State Road or Burning Fork was a good place to fish. When the river got low in the summer we waded upstream, using crawfish tails for bait and fished for sunfish and bluegills in the small water holes to which we would slowly wade up to. We used very small hooks and most of the time we caught a bluegill or sunfish on the first nibble. On one trip from the Dixie Bridge up to the Sand Rock, which was just above the present Licking River Cut-Through, Billy Patrick and I caught 75 fish in one day. Out in the cornfield where the park is now located were some low places that held water when the river went back down after a flood. I remember climbing up on the old garage roof and watching men with pitchforks wade out in these muddy pools and gig large Carps that were caught in the ponds.
At the beginning of World War II, the river through town was full of car tires as well as cans, bottles, and other junk. At that time, all tires were made of natural rubber. The Corner Service Station in town where the Cozy Corner restaurant used to be and where the Family Bank is now located, was paying a penny a pound for rubber for the war effort. Some of my friends and I cleaned out the river and took the car tires and traded them in for money. We partially cleaned up the river. I notice the river is presently full of tires again when I walk across the swinging bridge at the park.
A scrap metal drive during World War II caused the Courthouse yard to be completely filled with scrap metal. There was no money paid out for the scrap metal but everyone joined in to help in the war effort. I helped drag two old car bodies out of the old Dixie garage mentioned above. My grandfather, Byrd Allen, had left a large heavy safe in his house on Salt Lick when he moved to town and he found his safe out in the Courthouse yard in the scrap pile.
In the early 1940s the Courier-Journal newspaper was sold at the Carpenter hotel by Rube Gose who lived at the hotel. I had a bicycle and he hired me to deliver the papers on my bike to his customers in town. I had to get out early and get the papers delivered as soon as they came in at the hotel. The hotel was a very busy place at that time. The war was going on and there were people coming and going continuously.
One morning there was a very beautiful car sitting in front of the hotel. I had to look it over, as I had not seen one just like this one. On the gas ration sticker on the windshield was the name and year model. It was a 1933 Auburn four-door with wire spoke wheels and it had spare wheels mounted on each of the front fenders. It said Auburn 8 on the front. The car was at the hotel every morning for about two weeks. The man who was driving the car had tripods and surveying equipment so he must have been working on a survey in the county. The license plate was Mississippi. On the front was a small plate that said Hattiesburg, Mississippi. I always remembered that car and over the years have seen a few of them but, to me, it was the best-looking automobile I have ever seen.

Classic Car: Jimmie Allen pictured with a 1941 Packard, taken in 1952. (photo submitted)