1957: When America was great, and seeds of the Queen City of the Cumberlands were being planted.
The family farm, each with a burley acreage allotment called a tobacco base. was the basis for Pulaski County's economy. Headline in the January 10, 1957 "The Somerset Journal" proclaimed "Somerset Tobacco Market Closes: $63.79 Season Average Sets Record."
Most of all, it's sweet memories that haunt; the simple joys and excitement of the tobacco auction are treasures buried in the past. Demise of the tobacco industry is a sinister note to fall of the year; like winter comes too soon. It seems the Good Ol' Days are forever gone.
Carving a place in the history of Pulaski County were County Agent Hugh Hurst; W.O. "Bill" Newell, Clellan Prewitt and Hogan Teater, all tobacco market owners; J.T. Wilson, president of Somerset Tobacco Board of Trade; and Lavey Floyd, a farmer on Pointer Ridge, magistrate and state representative, leaning on a basket of tobacco, grinning and telling tales.
No one before or since has wielded such power and influence. That group of men had a vision that grew Somerset and Pulaski County. All are gone now; giants of their time, these men will not be replaced.
At this time in May, tobacco plants would have been transplanted to the field, bounded by an acreage allotment. In the 1950s, tobacco plants, growing during the summer, were wormed and suckered by hand. Each hard day in the patch was softened by anticipation: The mortgage and Christmas for the family would be paid by the golden leaf.
A whiff of nostalgia swirls the tantalizing smell of a rib-sticking meal at a tobacco warehouse restaurant. The food was greasy but good. There, you could get the world's best hamburgers, or at least it seemed so to a hungry grower waiting for his check. Who can forget the comfort of the Warm Morning stove in the waiting room while tobacco checks were handed out? Except for waiting rooms, tobacco warehouses were cold. The interiors got cold after the first frost and stayed cold until the market closed, usually in late January.
Fingers tingled with anticipation as a grower opened his tobacco check, monetary reward for a year's work back on the farm. With his check, he headed out of the warehouse and went home. Life was good.
Tradition almost took a backseat when several years before the market's demise growers started baling burley instead of tying golden leaf in hands. Later, shortly before the end, the familiar chant of the auctioneer was stilled and computers more efficiently recorded buyers' bids. These were sounds and signals of an approaching end.
The farmers -- the growers -- were backbone of the tobacco industry. Many of them were older and ready to retire when the federal government buyout sounded a death knell for the traditional burley market. Eyes dampen with tears as they remember.
All aspects of the federal tobacco marketing quota and price support loan programs have ended. Beginning with the 2005 tobacco crop, there are no planting restrictions, no marketing cards and no price support loans. There is a considerable amount of tobacco still grown in Pulaski County but today's burley is on a few farms with contracts with tobacco companies to purchase the crops. No longer can you drive along a rural road and see a tobacco patch either way you look.
Hurst was called the "baron of agricultural in Pulaski County. He was there when it all started with a telephone call during the late 1940s from U.S. Senator John Sherman Cooper informing Somerset had been selected as site of a tobacco market.
The tobacco market was initially operated by stockholders. Later, Newell and Prewitt owned and operated Farmers Tobacco Warehouse and Teater was head man for many years at nearby Peoples Warehouse. The two warehouses acted in serious competition, but truthfully the owners were dear friends and at times partners.
The scene on University Drive has changed. No more trucks are lined up to get tobacco sold before Christmas. The sprawling Peoples and Farmers tobacco warehouses long ago have been razed; replaced by houses, storage facilities and commercial units.
The world is healthier because tobacco has taken a back seat; no doubt about that, but the family farm, supported financially by a tobacco crop, is a missing treasure of the past.
Who could have guessed during the 1950s Somerset in 2020 would be the metropolis it is today; a thriving shopping and medical center that serves more than 100,000 people in southern Kentucky and northern Tennessee. A recent real estate firm called the stretch of businesses along U.S. 27 between Somerset and Burnside longest in Kentucky outside of Louisville and Lexington.
Maybe there's a hint on pages of "The Somerset Journal," weekly predecessor of the Commonwealth Journal, on what triggered Somerset's growth. Let's look as we turn pages of 1957 editions:
RECORD YEAR REPORTED BY EMPLOYMENT SERVICE
The past year (1956) was a record year for the Somerset office of the Division of Employment Service. The annual report of the office shows it had placed more persons in jobs than ever before in the history of the office.
BIRTH OF A FACTORY
Diamond Match Company building at Tateville takes shape for the 100,000 square foot plant. The new factory will employ five or six supervisory personnel and between 60 and 100 workers.
STATEMENT OF CONDITION
Statement of condition of First and Farmers National Bank at the close of business December 31, 1956 shows resources of $14,302,620,33 with deposits totaling $12,980,127.73.
TV ON DISPLAY
At Goldenberg's, a 21-inch television is on display for $179.95. Complete installation for $48.95. (That was before cable systems, when television pictures were collected by antennae on rooftops. "My dad, Hobe Withers Sr., and Fritz Krueger had the first TV cable franchise in Somerset about 1960," recalled Hobe Jr. "We sold it to Clyde House of Manchester." The elder Withers owned Hobe's Radio and Electronics and Krueger was a well-known Somerset attorney who served as commonwealth's attorney..
Pulaski County Agent Hugh Hurst says the present level of business activity is likely to continue through 1957. Retail prices to consumers are likely to advance slightly. The tight money situation is expected to continue through most of the year.
Dewey Strunk announces candidacy for renomination and reelection as magistrate in 1st District of Pulaski County. Darrell Hall announces candidacy for reelection as Pulaski County Court clerk.
LOOKING AHEAD TO CHRISTMAS
The Citizens National Bank of Somerset, "My Bank To Thousands," invites customers to join Christmas Club for a Merry Christmas in 1957.
NOTICE TO TAXPAYERS
The office of the tax commissioners is open for assessments from January 1 to February 28. Please come to the office and list. If there are any changes please report these as soon as possible -- Ernest Farris, tax commissioner.
SEVEN GABLES MANAGER
The Seven Gables Motel at Burnside is under new management. H. Z. Rakestraw, co-owner and operator, said Cunard Bryant has been named manager and succeeds Harold Roberts.
SINGING ASSOCIATION TO MEET
The Pulaski County Singing Association will meet Sunday,January 13 at Oak Hill Baptist Church, director James Holt announced. The program will begin at 2 p.m.
AT KENTUCKY THEATRE
There will be a brief "Catch Your Breath" intermission at each showing of The Bad Seed. Recommended for Adults only.
BEATS ALL OUTDOORS
M.N. Berry Company, opposite post office, Phone 520, is offering a Frigidaire electric dryer with sensational control tower for $2.05 a week following a small down payment.
And so it was in 1957. Note the 520 telephone number for M.N. Berry Company. Those old enough to remember will recall friendly telephone operators who manually connected callers to the phone they were calling.
Were you ever on a party line? Did you ever get frustrated when a neighbor on your party line talked and talked, and you waited to make a call?
Remember the advent of dial telephones? To make a call you removed the handset from the cradle and placed it to your ear to listen for a dial tone. Next, you placed your finger on the first number you wished to dial, and rotated the dial clockwise until your finger touched the metal stop.
Dial telephones came to Somerset in late 1959 or early 1960, replacing telephone operators who probably knew more than the county judge about what was going on in the community.
Then, there were push-button telephones, and now the smartphone, a cellular telephone with an integrated computer and other features not originally associated with telephones such as an operating system, web browsing, and the ability to run software applications.
That's where we are and who knows where we go. The Bible says: "Many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase:" Daniel 12:4