“It doesn’t look like home anymore. Tornado wiped out much of Mayfield’s history | national


MAYFIELD, Ky. – The Graves County Courthouse in downtown Mayfield, with its tornado-carved clock tower, has become a symbol of both the damage and resilience of a storm system unprecedented – a visual cue marking a major historical tragedy.

Its fate remains uncertain, however, as the office of Graves County Executive Judge Jesse Perry has said it is too early to say whether the building will be demolished and rebuilt or whether it will be rehabilitated using its existing components.

But for many residents of the community of Mayfield, the courthouse was already of great importance in the history of the city.

John Davis pointed out that this was where former Graves County Sheriff John Roach was shot, making his wife Lois the state’s first female sheriff – and, according to Davis, the first female sheriff elected. from the country. Davis himself held the post for 12 years after serving as Mayfield Police Chief.

The courthouse grounds were also the site of a Civil War earthen fort, where Union infantry repulsed Confederate guerrilla soldiers. This same group kidnapped Lucian Anderson, an abolitionist who became a native American congressman in Mayfield and on whom local historian Berry Craig wrote a book.

“This city was extremely Confederate,” said Craig, a retired history professor at West Kentucky Community and Technical College in Paducah. “This part of Kentucky was the only area where there was a Confederate majority in Kentucky, called South Carolina Kentucky. Anderson was an abolitionist, which to Mayfield was like being a Communist in the 1960s.”

Walking around Courthouse Square just days after the tornado completely razed many historic buildings and left several others in disrepair, Craig pointed to the story still standing.

For example, the courthouse plaza is also where Confederation sympathizers set fire to the courthouse that was set up after the end of the war; a new one was built in the 1880s, according to Craig. The current iteration of the courthouse annex was built as part of a New Deal project in the mid-20th century.

Within a block, the historical significance is more personal.

The Methodist Church, whose pale white Ionic columns once dominated their corner of the 8th, was where Craig took his polio vaccine.

When Ford released a special “1963 and a half” Ford Galaxie hotrod, Craig couldn’t resist a trip to the nearby downtown dealership.

“My friend and I would get on our bikes and get up here from our homes to get in and sit in this thing and move it around until they kick us out. It’s a memory from Mayfield,” Craig said.

The first Presbyterian church was almost completely destroyed by the tornado. This is also where Craig attends, and where Congressman Anderson and two other representatives have gone: William Voris Gregory and Nobel Jones Gregory.

Davis’s First Baptist Church miraculously survived the storm despite its proximity to all other destroyed buildings, including at least seven other downtown churches. He supposed it had something to do with an inlay of bricks under the imposing stone facade of the church.

The 72-year-old has been a worship leader there for five years, having sung in the choir since he was three. The post was in part the fulfillment of a promise he made to God as a teenager, he said.

“When I was in high school waking up one night I went to the front and told the pastor I felt like I had been called into the music ministry,” Davis said. . “… After the application of the law, God grabbed me and put me in the leadership position that I had promised God in 1966.”

Author of a book titled “Mayfield – As I Recall,” Davis pointed out that much of the downtown history he loved had already fallen by the wayside due to divestment and decay.

“On the east side of our yard, where CVS is located, it was a historic block of businesses,” Davis said. “But he was on the verge of collapsing himself, and in fact one of the buildings collapsed. So it turned our history upside down on that side.”

The south side of Tribunal Square, which is now a patch of virgin grass, has a similar story of decline. Craig said he was unsure of the integrity of the single side of the traditional storefront, which President Joe Biden visited on his Mayfield tour last week.

Craig agreed, adding that he has witnessed a slow decline from the days of his youth when the downtown area could meet all the needs of a family.

“Mayfield is typical of a lot of small towns: the kids grow up, they go to college and they don’t come back because there are no opportunities here … all the jobs in this town for professionals would be like a dentist or a doctor or a lawyer, but for the rest … there is nothing to do here.

Heading north on 6th Street from Court Square, Craig encountered the remains of the Hargrove & Foster law firm, where only a small interior closet remained and a shelf full of neatly lined up law books. .

Another law firm, located on a side street between 6th and 7th Streets, Mayfield City Attorney Bo Neely was inspecting the remains of his private law firm building.

The exterior was largely ravaged, but a precious staircase in the middle of the historic office was largely intact. Neely’s family have practiced law at this firm since 1962, when his grandfather started there. His father and grandfather served as the town’s lawyer for 66 years.

On the night of the tornado, Neely and a friend tried to get to the area to help in any way they could, but the Mayfield native barely knew where he was.

“We got down as far as we could, down downtown, and then we started walking down Broadway,” Neely said. “I said ‘where the hell are we? “We didn’t recognize anything.”

Further up 6th Street, Craig encountered a pocket park dedicated to Anderson’s family, which includes town founder John Anderson and “beloved member of the community” Martha Nell Anderson, who died in 2014. There were only three small dedicated monuments left of the park. for them.

At the north end of the street is where Davis plans to be buried when the time comes. Maplewood Cemetery, Mayfield’s oldest, has a grave dating back to 1831, according to Davis.

His father bought 12 plots, including his own, in the 1960s for $ 50.

Drive a few miles south on 6th Street and you’ll come across where Craig has a lot set aside for Highland Park Cemetery.

Davis said he hoped a high percentage of damaged historic buildings could be rehabilitated instead of demolished and rebuilt, citing the prominent Hall Hotel, which towered over the downtown skyline. But he wasn’t optimistic about the hotel’s future due to concerns about its integrity, or about other properties.

“Mayfield will be here in 100 more and for many years to come, but Mayfield’s story will be just memories because there is nothing you can actually reach and touch. That’s what bothers me,” said Davis.

“We’ll always be there and we’ll be stronger for it. It just won’t look like home – it doesn’t look like home anymore.”

Craig said relief efforts in Mayfield raised hopes that the city would become whole again, but he was concerned that attention to such efforts would wane over time.

“It’s almost like a funeral,” Craig said. “Everyone comes to a funeral to visit and talk. Then, a week later, you are alone… this tragedy is going to continue in Mayfield.”


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