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BRECKINRIDGE COUNTY, KENTUCKY
AREA COMMUNTIES OF THE PAST AND PRESENT

 

STEPHENSPORT

 

                The town of Stephensport, Kentucky, located in Breckinridge County, has one of the most interesting and tragic
histories that can be found.  The town is conveniently located on the Ohio River at the mouth of Sinking Creek, approximately
65 miles southwest of Louisville.  It would be well to pause here and tell something about the stream mentioned above, Sinking
Creek.  Being something of a natural wonder, its peculiarity furnishes its name.  Sinking Creek rises some 15 miles east of
Hardinsburg and flows in a generally northern direction.  Eight or ten miles from its source it suddenly sinks into the ground and
for an equal distance, no trace of it is seen.  Perhaps ten miles from where it sinks, it breaks out again and flows on and empties
into the Ohio at Stephensport.

          Stephensport is surrounded on the east, south, and west by hills and on the north by the Ohio River.  From
vantage points on the hills and on either end of the town there is a beautiful view of the Ohio and of the rich river bottoms that form its shores.

          The land upon which the town was built and much of the surrounding country at one time belonged to the wealthy
pioneer, Daniel J. Stephens, and his father before him, Richard Stephens.  The older Stephens was a soldier in the Revolutionary
War, and at the end of the war he was paid in land in Kentucky around the present site of Breckinridge County.  At one time
Richard Stephens is said to have owned 94,000 acres of such land.

          The oldest documentary evidence this writer could find about the settlement of the town of Stephensport was an old
town plot surveyed in 1803, by one P. C. Brashear.  Without doubt there were settlers before this time who decided to build
their homes in this small village by the Ohio.  By 1825, the town had a population of 160 and in that year Stephensport was incorporated.

          With incorporation, came town government for the first time.  A board of trustees for the purpose of carrying
on the town’s business was elected by the popular vote.  This board usually consisted of four or five members.  After
election, this board had the power to appoint from its own members, a chairman, treasurer, and a clerk.

          A division of labor in town government was affected by appointment of standing committees.  The board also
appointed a town marshall and a police judge to keep citizens with a tendency toward delinquency in check.

          To the contemporary city official, the legislation of the board of trustees of Stephensport would seem insignificant and
in many instances, plain foolish, but such was not the case in the middle eighteen hundreds.  This legislation, in the form of town
ordinances, varied in purpose from commonplace financial matters such as levying taxes and issuing licenses, to such thing as requiring
residents to be vaccinated and allowing youth to shoot fireworks only on specified days, under specified conditions.

          The board of trustees met regularly on the fourth Tuesday of each month.  Usually at least one of the members of
the board was a prominent merchant of the town and until 1896, board meetings were held at such members’ stores.  From
1876-1896, meetings were held at the stores of Milner Roberts, H. L. Damm, Brashear and Ragdales’ Drug Store, the post office
and various other business establishments.  On September 22, 1896, a building was purchased at the cost of $325.00, to be c
onverted into a city hall and calaboose.  From this date until 1902, the city hall was the seat of town government in Stephensport.

          Around the 1830’s, Daniel J. Stephens, the man mentioned earlier as the town’s benefactor or patron, also the man
after whom Stephensport got its name, had a large brick church built.  The bricks for this building which was used for Methodist
Church and Lodge Hall, were made by hand from clay nearby.  For a time, during the 1860’s and 70’s, this building was used
for a school, but later it was reconverted into a Methodist Church and used as such until 1957, when it was torn down and a new
church was built.  The Baptist Church or at least the Baptist denomination in Stephensport is over one hundred years old also.

          During and for a number of years before the War Between the States, Stephensport was growing in importance as a
commercial river port.  Large steam boats stopped regularly at the town and would and did haul anything that was available.
  These steamers and others hauled mail and passengers on regular trips up and down the river.  In addition to the goods
shipped out of Stephensport, there were large quantities of goods received for dispatch overland to the surrounding country.  One
old resident remembers merchandise billed for dispatch overland for points as far south as Bowling Green, Kentucky.

          This flourishing river trade brought prosperity to the residents of the small town; prosperity in the form of several hotels,
large warehouses, flour mills, large general merchandise stores, drug stores, two doctors, and, of course, saloons.  Around the
turn of the century one of the more important business men and merchants was W. J. Schopp.  In 1902, Mr. Schopp owned
general merchandise stores boasting “everything from the cradle to the grave”.

          This, Stephensport prospered and grew.  In the year 1888, Louisville St. Louis and Texas Railroad Company
completed the work on a new railroad through the west end of Stephensport.  A year before the railroad was completed the
town purchased and installed oil street lamps—another mark of progress.  Yes, these and many other marks of progress could
be noted by the keen observers of the times, but the present day citizens of Stephensport, after reading the preceding account of a
thriving community would stop and wonder what had happened.  He would compare the Stephensport of 1965, with the glowing
account of the Stephensport of perhaps 1885.  He would find little resemblance between the two.  At present he will find
two relatively small grocery or general merchandise stores, and a small hardware store comprise the only business establishments in the
town.  He will find no thriving hotels, banks, drug stores or flour mills.  He will find the town’s economy based almost
entirely on the agriculture of the surrounding community.  There was ample evidence that Stephensport was declining in importance
in the first quarter of the twentieth century, but the contemporary couldn’t or didn’t have any desire to see it.  Present day
residents can remember the last of the big steamers that stopped at Stephensport around 1930.  The one time important board
of trustees no longer met after about 1915.  The railroad, which was bought in 1929, by the Louisville and Nashville Railroad
Company, no longer does a business that requires a ticket agent and telegrapher.  The lines above provide enough evidence that
Stephensport was a state of recession from a thriving river port to just an ordinary country town.

          The answer to the question of what caused this, one time, boom town of Stephensport to have its much discussed
relapse is relatively easy to find.  In 1912, a disastrous fire swept the northeast corner of the town, burning stores owned by W. H.
Schopp and the bank causing thousands of dollars’ damage.  Again in 1927, an even greater fire burned two warehouses and two
stores owned by Robert French and Abe Hardesty.  Most of these buildings have never been replaced.

          A more recent tragedy in the form of the 1937 Flood left a wreck of disaster.  As a result of the flood there were
ten houses less in Stephensport.  Most of the homes actually floated away and some of them were damaged that they had to be torn down.

          The town of today, 1966, there are good roads, conveniently connecting the town with U. S. Highway 60, with Louisville,
Owensboro and Hardinsburg.  In the summer of 1952, the main street of the town was paved.  Two years earlier a new bridge
spanning Sinking Creek was completed.  The residents of the town have for several years enjoyed the service of a modern dial
telephone system.  Several new homes have been completed; others are being built.  Could it be that Stephensport is on the
boom again?

          The new dam which is being built in the Ohio River at Hawesville will raise the water level of the river at Stephensport and
up Sinking Creek to a point where it will be one of the most enviable locations in Kentucky for those who are interested in aquatic sports.
  Lakes have their advantage but the beautiful Ohio is a connecting link between Stephensport and practically any place upon the globe.

 

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