Bullitt County History

George Whitcomb Letter About Paroquet Springs, 1871

George Whitcomb was a lawyer, and newspaper editor in the small community of Charleston, Missouri, which is located just west of the Mississippi River as it passes by Kentucky.

Originally born in Massachusetts around 1817, he was in Charleston as early as 1850 when he was the county court clerk there. There is no evidence that he was ever married.

In August of 1871, Mr. Whitcomb journeyed eastward through Kentucky to Cave City, made a side trip to Mammoth Cave, and then took the train north to Shepherdsville to visit Paroquet Springs.

He was a very astute observer, and while there he wrote a letter back to his newspaper, the Charleston Courier, in which he described both the town of Shepherdsville, and the facilities at Paroquet Springs.

We have transcribed that article below, just as he wrote it including his errors in spelling and punctuation.

Mr. Whitcomb's health was likely the reason he visited the Springs. He died in Charleston on 10 Jul 1872, having been a sufferer of rheumatism for some years.

The Wm. F. Martin to whom he addresses his letter, was a fellow newspaper man.

August 20th, 1871

Wm. F. Martin, Esq. - It being a rainy day, the first here from time immemorial, so as I can neither hunt, fish, nor walk over the country, I will try to drive off the ennui by scribbling over a few pages. Leaving Mammoth Cave, after dinner, on Monday, and Glasgow Junction, at 7 p.m., our party was at Sheppardsville at 10 p.m., being the railroad station for the Springs, which are about a mile off.

Sheppardsville is said to be the oldest town in Kentucky, and we should imagine it was, as there is no appearance of a building having been put up for at least ten years, except one, a new house going up on the north side of the town, and it is a matter of great curiosity to the people, especially to the younger ones, who never saw anything of the kind before.

Judge Field's residence, fronting the railroad, is a respectable looking two-story house, newly painted, and might be mistaken, in the distance, for a new building, if it was not for a great big old-fashioned chimney, standing out in the cold, at each end of the house. There are two hotels, so called -- one, the "Sheppardsville," must have been about the first house built in the town, and the other, the "American," but a little later. Both of them have the old-fashioned bar-room in the house, putting one in mind of the times when "hotels" was known only as a French word, and such houses were called taverns.

We noticed four groggeries, three lawyer's offices, something we took for a church, or a market house, four stores, dry goods and other things, one of which keeps clothing, dry goods, has a cake department, post-office, and agency of the American Bible Society. It is presided over by J. P. Porter, formerly with J. H. Holaway, in Charleston. J. P. Oldham is one of the old merchants there; says he has been on the river a long time, and been almost everywhere else, and the wonderment with him is, how he came to settle in such an old stagnant place. The depot is about half a mile from the business part of town, and where it passes by the town, it is so high that there is a culvert under it, through which passes wagons, horses, and people; in fact, it is a railroad bridge over a common road. The Louisville and Nashville road crosses Salt River at this place.

The Springs, with over one hundred acres of land, have lately been purchased by a company in Louisville, who intend to make it second to no watering place in the West. It is of easy access, there being five daily trains each way, and the running time forty minutes from Louisville. A business man can leave Louisville at 8 a.m., and be at the Springs at 8:40; stay all day, and drink water, or anything else; play billiards, roll ten-pins, or dance; get a good cool night's sleep, and leave at 6:15 or 8:20 a.m., and be in Louisville an hour before business usually begins; or he can leave Louisville at 12:15 p.m. or 3:45 p.m., and be at the depot in forty minutes, or at the Springs in an hour. The ground is laid out as a park, and is thickly studded with trees, such as beach, oak, cedar, pine, ash, hickory, mulberry, walnut, sycamore, elm, persimmon, alianthus, and black locust -- the two last being planted, the others are indigenous. A considerable portion of the lawn is level; on either side is some small ravines, which drain the waters into Salt River, and when cleared up and embellished, will make a park of surpassing beauty. Somewhere about the center of the grounds, east and west, and within about sixty yards of Salt River, stands the new hotel recently built by the company and not yet entirely finished. It is a two-story building, with an octagon in the front center three stores high. First is a square building, 108 feet long, by 42 wide; 25 feet are cut off for the office, and the residue is the dining-room. On a line fifteen feet back, is built two houses, called wings, 100 feet by 42, one on each side; they corner just even with the main building, leaving a space between them equal to the length of the main building. The fifteen feet between the line of the main building and the wings is a veranda, 356 feet long, with columns and banisters on the outer, or open side, and is two-stories high. The whole of the front building is surrounded with fifteen feet veranda. The wings have one twelve feet wide around both sides and ends. In fact, a veranda goes around all the building both below and above. The kitchen is opposite the center of the main building, 36 feet on the veranda, and running back 64 feet. This leaves a large open space on each side of the kitchen, and prevents any effluvia from the cooking getting into the house. Through each wing runs a hall eight feet wide, from which a door opens into each room. The rooms are large, being 16 feet square, and each having two large windows, which are of the modern fashion, high and narrow, 12 lights, 30 inches by 10, and opens down to within a foot of the floor, answering the purpose of doors to go out on the veranda. There is a large ventilator over each door, and by opening those large windows, the rooms are well ventilated, and cool, even in the hottest day.

The grand promenade is 356 feet long, the entire length of the building. The front veranda is 262 feet, the wings 259 feet each, two halls 224 feet, making 1,360 feet below, same in second story, and 232 feet for stairs, making a total of 2,952 feet of a promenade under cover, and all, except the halls, open to the air on one side, with columns and balustrade. The columns are 168 in the veranda, and seven in the dining-room, making 175 in all. There are 226 windows.

By commencing at the foot of one of the front stair-ways, going around one wing, then passing the dining-room, going around the other wing, then around the front to the stairs, then ascend and repeat the process (for both stories are alike,) and you have passed all the veranda without crossing your track, or going over a foot of ground twice, and will have traveled a half mile and 312 feet, or 9-16th of a mile. The area of the building, including all the floors, is 1,443 feet, or nearly an acre and a half. The house stands fronting northwardly, on a skew-angle -- or as one of our citizens called it -- a cher-angle, of about 15 degrees west, or as a sailor would express it, she heads north, northwest, by north.

The old hotel is some fifty yards southwest, and is used in part by the band for drill purposes, and for sleeping rooms for servants, and in the parlor, that was, is displayed a lot of glassware, teaspoons, and straws.

The Springs is about seventy-five yards, (step measure) from the hotel, and is covered with an octagon building. The water is among the strongest sulphur waters in the country.

A band is in regular attendance, and plays at meal times, in the evening, and in the ball-room at night, where a hop is going on every day, Sundays excepted.

Upon a small plateau near the river bank, is building the Kentucky Club House. It is a one-story cottage, in the form of cross, and is to be superbly furnished. On the river are fine large trees, making it the coolest place for fishing, and in front of it, not twenty yards distant, is the Springs. The Club is wealthy, and are determined to make its rooms equal to any in the West.

Near the Springs is the bath-house, and between the Club House and Hotel is a ten-pin alley, running four sets of balls. The billiard room is in the hotel, and the swings, croquet, and ball grounds, are on the lawn in front of the house. Walks have been laid out around the buildings and through the lawn, and covered with tan bark, which makes a very soft, easy, clean walk. There is fine fishing on Salt River, and four boats are in attendance -- lines and fishing tackle can all be had at the hotel. A large number of persons bring their guns and hunt, but game is not very plenty, and every ten days or two weeks, they have a fox chase, if the weather suits.

The house is under the management of Col. L. H. Fitzburgh, assisted by Mr. Wiggins, and a junior Fitzhugh, in the office. They know how to keep a hotel, and to see the Col. attend to the ladies when they come and go, is enough to make some men have sour looks who have wives there. Mrs. Fitzhugh does her part. She did with me, at least. I was especially invited to eat at her table, and she said she had a couple of starchy widows who would be down from Louisville in a day or two, and who she thought would use up the time more agreeably, as I appeared somewhat lonesome. Now I had heard what old Mr. Weller told Sam, about vidders, and concluded that "discretion was the better part of valor."

"He that is in battle slain
Will never live to fight again.
But he that fights and runs away
May live to fight another day."

Among the vistors here, are Mrs. Todd, mother of Mrs. Lincoln, and Mrs. Ben Hardin Helmn, a niece of Mr. Lincoln's. For some reason the niece was a favorite of Lincoln's and he offered Helmn a lucrative office under the government. Helmn would not accept however, but went into the Southern army, and was killed. No doubt the widow looks on the little children, and thinks of what might have been. However, she is pretty and smart, and intimates that she might be like Festus, almost persuaded, and it is likely some one may play the part of Paul, including the bonds.

There are many other visitors; a son of Governor McGoffin, among others, whose acquaintances we made; Mr. Bartlett, with some half a dozen of as pretty children as is usually seen. A gentleman, wife and son from New Orleans; a Spanish hidalgo from somewhere; and any amount of Dutch Jews. With less stretch of the imagination than you use in the Mammoth Cave, you can see the old clothes, and there are children ad libitum, ad infinitum, ad allsortsofdressium, for the Paroquet is the rendezvors of the elite, and dresses show for themselves -- the very purpose we suppose they were made for.

I have some notes, but I can't use them. I don't know anything about purlines and burlines, Grecian benders, and flounces: the Bird's Point critic, and Madame Demorest, must do you for that. I can only say that hats were the go, and the girls wore pretty high-heeled gaiters, and white stockings for misses, and gray suits for boys. Green gloves were the upper-ten style, and I say many dresses trimmed with green, and green neck-ties -- perhaps they were Fenians.

One piece of advice, and I am done. Go to the Paroquet Springs; drink three quarts to a gallon of water per day, and you will never regret it.

Geo. Whitcomb

The Charleston Courier (Charleston, Missouri) 2 Sep 1871, page 2

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