Taking a tour through memories

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Looking Back at Lincoln Square

By Ron Benningfield

If the statue of Abraham Lincoln, on the square in Hodgenville since 1909, could speak, what stories would the Great Emancipator have to tell about the many businesses, events, and people on the square that have come and gone through the years?

Although the statue sits in stately silence, some of the people who’ve been a part of those changes, such as Joel Ray Sprowls, vividly recall many things.

“On a typical Saturday in 1954 when the Jamboree opened in Hodgenville, the square would have looked a lot like a mini world’s fair,” declared Sprowls, who operated the Lincoln Jamboree on the square from 1954 until 1961. 

“You would see a town full of people, some going in and out of the courthouse (which stood facing Lincoln’s statue) and, especially in the late afternoon a crowd would gather on the steps of the old Cardinal Theater to attend the Jamboree,” he recollected.

The building in which the Jamboree premiered Sept. 11, 1954, seated about 300 people, including those in the balcony. Years earlier, throngs had paid 15 cents admission to watch Saturday matinees there, with serial cliffhangers starring Hopalong Cassidy, Wild Bill Elliott, Gene Autry and Roy Rogers.

Sprowls, who started his career as a country music producer the previous May, had seen a need to find a building that would seat the growing number of music patrons. The Cardinal building offered a prime location. Soon the crowds grew to the point that he had to hold back-to-back shows to accommodate the patrons.

“Lots of them would gather on the steps early in the afternoon of the show to talk and go to Laha’s Red Castle” located nearby on the square. 

Sidewalk preachers

He also said that on many Saturdays, the square held not only people conducting business, but also preachers pleading to sinners. 

    “I can remember them, Bible in hand, shouting out their sermons,” Sprowls recalled. “Usually there would be a few people standing around to hear the whole sermon while others would stop for a minute or two and then move on.”

The square was active with many businesses located there. Wilma Williams, who with her late husband, Adrian Atherton, owned and operated Atherton’s Sales Service, has those long-ago scenes stored in her mind. 

She recalled the Cardinal building: “In earlier years, the Masonic Lodge and Eastern Star had their meetings on the third floor; the second floor housed the theater.”

Williams said the Cardinal building basement at one time housed the Blue Ribbon Luncheonette. She thinks Joe Burks opened it and then Joe Williams became its operator.

Her husband was the next owner. 

“We had the first soft ice cream machine in Hodgenville and specialized in real country ham sandwiches,” she remembered. “I think a Mr. Willis was the last owner before the demise of the Luncheonette.”

Sometime after that, she recalls Oval Turner utilizing the basement area as a carpet store.

Sprowls also remembered Walter Keith doing radio and television repair in the building’s basement.

Service station

Located clockwise from the Cardinal building, where the Sweet Shoppe is now, was a Standard Oil service station owned by Jim Smith.

“When we had the Jamboree in town, Jim said a lot of local people would say to him that that Jamboree must bring him a lot of customers,” Sprowls recalled. “Jim would say ‘Yes, it sure brings a lot of them here, but only to use my restrooms.’”

 Sprowls explained that the Jamboree had only one restroom with a single commode to accommodate both males and females. “If you stopped there for gas, Jim routinely checked the air in the tires, water and battery; it was a one-stop service, quite different in his operation from the ‘self-service’ stations of today,” Williams said.

Sprowls remembered that between the Sweet Shoppe and Christian Church annex once stood W.E. Reed and Son general store.

Williams recalled the current church annex was once a hardware store owned by John Burba, and later a restaurant which Bobby Brownfield operated.

“There were other businesses there, but none thrived very long,” she said.

Next to the annex is Hodgenville Christian Church.  Atherton said the lot for the building was purchased for $350 in June 1876, “$200 of which was paid in cash, with the remaining $150 to be paid in 90 days.” 

The building, which opened in 1877, cost around $5,000 to construct, she said.

Clockwise to the corner of West Main and the Square is a building recently remodeled as part of the Lincoln Museum, but which has housed many businesses over the years.

Atherton listed those establishments she recalled:  Stanley Jaggers Insurance, Foley Insurance, Lincoln Realty owned by David Brewer, Bobby Jones Real Estate, Wes Nichols Real Estate, Flanders Tax Service, Greenleaf Tax Service, Powder Puff Beauty Shop, Leonard Enlow Grocery and Dollar General Store.

Clothing store

Morgan Marcum ran a clothing store, Middleton and Marcum, on the square adjacent to the corner building.

Atherton recalled, “Morgan always carried a good brand of clothes – Curlee suits for men, good brands for women, also work clothes, shoes, a good selection of cotton yard goods and an assortment of unique gift items.” 

Two especially popular days were July 5 and Dec. 26 with storewide specials for the bargain hunter.

“Prior to opening time on these special days, people eagerly waiting to enter the store would be lined out to the street,” Atherton said.

Dime store

Norman Marcum operated a “dime” store (Marcum’s 5 Cents to $1 Store) in the building adjacent to Morgan Marcum’s business. Atherton recalled material and toys were sold in the basement. On the ground floor were variety store items including many kinds of roasted nuts, candy, and popcorn. Marcum also offered free gift wrapping in the basement during the holidays.

Located at one time inside and, at times on the sidewalk in front of the store was a mechanical horse, which would allow those adventurous riders, after putting a dime into the slot, to ride with Old West stars Autry, Rogers, Lash LaRue, and other heroes.

    Sprowls bought the horse after the store closed and still has it, in working condition, in his restaurant.

    The late Robert Blair and his wife Dottie leased the former Marcum’s dime store in 1982 and continued until Blair’s death shortly thereafter.  Robert and Celia McDonald then operated the Herald News from the location.

    “The upstairs was occupied by the Chamber of Commerce, H&R Block Tax Service, Lincoln Realty, and John Poteet Real Estate,” said Atherton. The Athertons purchased the building, first having their offices upstairs before moving to the ground floor.

Blue tinker

    The building in which LaRue Insurance operates now was earlier known as the Thomas building, according to Atherton.

    She remembers it earlier being a furniture store owned by J.R. Wilson, then Middleton’s Super Market and Locker Service.  In the rear of the building was a slaughter house that included lockers for storing the meat.

    “This was the one and only grocery in town that had delivery service,” Atherton said. The delivery man was a well-liked African-American named Blue Tinker.

    “Everyone knew and respected Blue,” Atherton said. “On Sunday mornings, he shined shoes.”

He set up shop, complete with a shoe shine chair, just off the sidewalk, with brushes, polish, rags and, according to Atherton, “a lot of muscle power and conversation.” 

    “Many times through the week, he would take shoes home with him to make them presentable,” she said. “When he no longer performed this much needed and appreciated service, he was greatly missed by his customers.”

Barber shop

    On the ground floor clockwise from what is now LaRue Insurance was a barber shop operated for many years by two black men, Jesse Quinn and Jim Williams.

    “Both of these barbers were highly respected by all who knew them,” Atherton said. “When they were not busy barbering, there would be heated and lengthy discussions about the Bible.”

 The two had small posters on the wall warning customers that profanity would not be tolerated. B.R. Crump later cut hair in the shop.

    The next building had an entrance on the square, but also fronted Lincoln Boulevard. There, Verner Marcum and his wife, Geneva, operated a clothing store with a line of yard goods and patterns for many years, according to Atherton.

    They had two sons, Jack and Norman, whose chore as youngsters included sweeping the floors. 

    “Most every morning you could hear their grandfather J.R. Marcum say, ‘Get the broom boys,’” Atherton remembered.

Henry McCaleb later moved his business to that location where he and his wife JoNell carried similar merchandise. 

    Atherton recalled the corner business, where attorney Jim Whitlow now has his office, as Goff’s Drug Store, later Robertson’s Drug Store, operated by John Ed Robertson.

    “Other occupants that I recall there were Earl and Maedell Scott (the Lincoln Store), and Dexter Cardwell,” she noted.

 The store included a soda fountain, sold sandwiches, over the counter medicines, makeup, jewelry, and novelty items.  Allstate Finance Company, and WLCB AM radio, owned by the late Ed Cundiff, occupied the building.

    Across Lincoln Boulevard from Whitlow’s office was Lincoln National Bank, which now covers the entire side of the square, but the building, before the bank’s expansion, housed a barber shop where Otto Miller cut hair and the Lynn Hotel, owned by Todd and Sybil Blakeman.  The hotel offered a full restaurant.

    Sprowls mentioned that one of the hotel’s cooks, Katherine Montgomery, later cooked for 21 years at his restaurant. 


    W.L. Ferrill owned a furniture store in a building adjacent to the hotel.  Next to his business, his brother, Donahue, owned a Chevrolet dealership.  At the corner of the square and US 31-E was a three-story red and white brick building known as the Hazle Hotel, operated for several years by local businessman Tommy Hazle. LaRue Federal Savings and Loan Association later occupied the building.

    Across the street from the Hazle Hotel was, according to Atherton, a restaurant operated by Arthur Bennett.

         “About 1939 fire swept through this portion and three new spaces were built,” she said.  Sprowls recalls that during World War II one establishment on that site sold alcoholic beverages during a time when the city was “wet.” 

    Businesses on that part of the square, according to Atherton, included Hummer and Keith Insurance, Bill Seymour’s barber shop later operated by Charles Hagan Edlin, and at various times, Lewis Mather, Jim Bondurant, and Michael Whelan law offices.  Atherton has also housed her office there.

     Sprowls said Harry Quesenberry moved his pool hall business from Munfordville to occupy the next building. Next to it is Laha’s Red Castle eatery. Sprowls noted that many people, while waiting for the Jamboree to begin, would satisfy their appetites with burgers, chili dogs and other foods prepared by Bill Laha, the proprietor.

         Completing the square circuit is the Woman’s Club building.  Atherton believes the building was constructed under the Work Projects Administration that between 1935 and 1943 provided almost 8 million jobs nationally.

         Through the 50-plus years she has been in business and has watched the changes on the square, Atherton noted the one constant has been the statue of Lincoln, seated, looking toward 31-E, silently observing with unblinking eyes.

    “Often, a wreath is placed, honoring some event, at the base of his statue,” she remarked. “But, whatever the happening, he retains his composure and greets the rising of the sun as a new day and new opportunity.”


Cutline:  Joel Ray Sprowls stands by a mechanical horse he purchased after Marcum’s dime store closed on the square.  The horse is still operational.

Cutline:  Saturday crowds waiting for doors to the Lincoln Jamboree to open filled the steps outside the former Cardinal Theater on the square.

Cutline:  This photo, in the background, shows some of the earlier businesses that occupied Hodgenville’s town square.