|Once Upon A Time In Byrdstown|
County Historian Ronald Dishman shared with me an old newspaper article describing the Christmas season in our neighboring Pickett county in the year 1882. It reads as follows: “Where a little less than a year ago was only a forest, we now have a very thriving and promising town with several dry goods stores, several followers of Esculapius, and a number of young limbs of the law, a large saw mill, the latter not only supplying the necessary lumber for the rapidly growing town, but filling contracts with parties in our city. We also have a new commodious three-story hotel furnished and run by Messrs. Chowning and Sidwell; a fine brick jail now completed, a magnificent courthouse, the foundation of it being laid, now under contract, that would be an ornament to any town in the state; and a number of creditable residences in course of erection. So that where formerly the eye of the tourist and wayfarer was rudely greeted on all sides by the primitive though comfortable log cabin, we now have the modern cottage to welcome and delight the view, with the more modern and improved style of architecture. We proudly retain the mountain hospitality of yore which was and yet is as free, pure and adulterated as the numerous crystal streams that bubble up from the bosom of our health-giving county.
Our festivities commended on Christmas night at Bate Hall, a fine, commodious room in the third story of the imposing storehouse of our prosperous merchants Messrs. R. H. Miller & Company which was filled to overflowing with specially invited guests from this and adjoining counties. Bate Hall named in honor of one of the late “tidal wave heroes” having been beautifully decorated by fair hands with evergreen crosses, anchors, drooping festoons and two Christmas trees, all interspersed with laurel, ivy, holly and mistletoe, all loaded down with presents from Old Kris, ranging all along from the slightest remembrances in the way of toys and sweetmeats up to handsome clocks, stylist suits, fine jewelry and such other things as St. Nicholas could fetch across the mountains, the presents surprisingly looming into an aggregate of several hundred dollars.
The presents all distributed, the festivities of the evening were brought to a close with a literary essay by Mr. Bond, after which the large audience quietly retired to their homes. On the afternoon of the 26th, the young ladies and their escorts in response to invitations began to assemble from Jamestown, Albany, KY, Livingston, and Celina. Preparations having been made to accommodate at least two hundred couples, and Chowning and Sidwell Hotel was filled at an early hour of the evening with a happy concourse of young folks all aglow with excitement over the evening dance. Promptly at 8 o’clock in the evening, the guests retired to Bate Hall, the appointed rendezvous for the devotees of Terpsichore (I looked up the definition of this word - ‘taking a series of rhythmical steps in time to music’). The string band struck up with a beautiful waltz, then on with the dance till the wee hours of the night, winding up with a regular “breakdown” in old-fashioned style when the band play Sweet Bye-and-Bye. The guests’ supper was next announced and everyone retired to Chowning and Sidwell’s Hotel where a beautiful and tastefully arranged table laden with the luxuries of the season afforded ample refreshments for all in attendance.
Some of those in very handsome costumes with exquisite taste were Miss Smith of Indian Territory; Misses Chowning and Kyle of Clay County; Misses Tutt of Albany; Miss Estes of Livingston; Miss Hurst of Fentress County; Miss Capps of Pickett County; Miss Knight of Pickett County; and Miss Ida Grimsley of Olympus, a fair debutante in brocaded pearl satin, daughter of our prominent merchant and county court clerk, W.B. Grimsley. This being the first affair of the kind in our new town, I wished to furnish a brief account, knowing it will be of interest to many readers in this and adjoining counties.”
Although the name of the writer of this article was not included, I very much enjoyed the details that person included about the town of Byrdstown in it’s very early days. As I read the paragraphs about the dance held on the day after Christmas, I could just imagine the guests arriving for the gala event. Those who traveled to Byrdstown by horse and buggy from Livingston, Celina and the other places mentioned on a cold December night must have been chilled to the bone before they got there. The descriptions given made it easy to see the beautiful Christmas decorations, the presents, and the buffet the guests enjoyed after the dance. What a treat it would be if we could turns back the hands of time and catch just a glimpse of the young ladies in their beautiful dresses and the young men in all their finery, to hear the string band who played for the dance, not to mention listening to a literary essay by Mr. Bond. On second thought, we might just skip the essay by Mr. Bond. The writer did a really good job bringing this event to life right before our eyes, but that person certainly makes it hard to believe this actually took place once upon a time in Byrdstown.