Winchester-Clark County Hemp History

Clark County was an early adopter of hemp production, and grew to be one of the top producing counties in the state. Dealers in Winchester contributed to pioneering the warehouse movement, which became critical for shipping and storing hemp and hempen goods during the 19th century. Click on the link below to learn more about Clark County Hemp History.

 

18th Century

Clark County was settled in 1779 with the establishment of two pioneer stations, John Strode’s and David McGee’s (Enoch, 2012). The earliest mention of hemp in Clark County came from a man by the name of William Clinkenbeard, who claimed to be growing the crop at Strode’s Station as early as 1780 (Wharton, 1991).

“The first hemp seed I got was while I was in the station after I was married. Saved the stocks and broke it up and my wife made me a shirt out of it. Raised a right smart patch next year. I was at Strode’s yet then. A hole in the creek down below the spring where I used to rot it. Only place, and there only one layer thick at a time. Kill every fish in the hole to water rot hemp in it.”

Clinkenbeard also recalled memories at the station in which hemp was grown and turned into linens for the settlers by the women at the fort. In one instance, a group of women had joined together after a local’s death and sewed him thirty yards of hempen material for comfort. Unfortunately, he recalled the material being stolen by Indians in the middle of the night.

“Old Mr. Thomas [Kennedy] had last his wife, and the women in the station had made him thirty years of hemp linen and washed it up, and it was out. Women’s washday in the fort. Hung it all out and the Indians got it all” (Enoch, 2012).

As the pioneers began to establish permanent dwellings and gained access to seed and materials from over sea, a local economy began to flourish. Over the next decade, Clark County developed a large agricultural industry and hemp cultivation rose to its forefront. The increase in production created a surplus of material, and farmers began to search for new markets to sell their hemp crops. This proved difficult due to the unreliable methods of transportation and poor road conditions of the time. Inevitably, farmers turned to the Kentucky River for access to opportunity in the Southern states. Beginning in 1789, Flatboats began making annual springtime runs from Clark County down the Kentucky, Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to reach markets in New Orleans with Kentucky hemp and hempen goods around the end of the century (Enoch, 2012).

Toward the end of the century, Kentucky river navigation had opened new markets for Kentucky hemp, and Clark County farmers were engaging in hemp production for trade and profit. However, many soon found themselves struggling to compete with foreign, cheaper, imported fibers coming into the New England states for manufacture and export. This prompted Kentuckians to establish a minimum standard of quality which all shipments had to meet.

One of these acts passed by the first legislature concerned the exportation of hemp, flour, and tobacco. This law provided for the appointment of three suitable persons to serve as inspectors at warehouses in Clark County, and at Cleveland’s (Fayette) and Stafford’s (Fayette) landings.

After Kentucky gained its statehood, the legislature wrote its own law regarding inspections: “It is necessary, and good policy requires, that our flour and hemp trade should be put upon respectable footing, which can only be done by establishing such regulations as will prevent the manufacturer from bringing to the market such flour and hemp as will not pass inspection, and entitle the merchant to preference in a foreign market” (Hopkins, 1951). The act also required merchantable hemp to be retted (the process of rotting and strengthening the fiber), dry, bright, clean, and well bound in bundles of at least one hundredweight each. The fee per hundredweight for inspection was three pence, and for storage six pence for six months, and one penny per hundredweight for each additional month (Verhoeff, 1917).

 

Warehouses were established on the Kentucky River for these inspections, and also served as storage for the products until they could be loaded onto boats for the run to New Orleans on the spring tides. These were public buildings built on private land. Proprietors received fees and were required to keep the buildings in good repair, and inspectors were state employees appointed by the governor and paid out of inspection fees. One of these warehouses was established in Clark County was at Boonesborough on the Madison side of the river.

 

In 1789, the residents of Fayette County sent a petition to the General Assembly requesting that a new warehouse be constructed on the north side of the river on William Bush’s land “nearly opposite Boonsborough” and on John Holder’s land on the west side of Lower Howard’s Creek. Holder’s land was ideally situated for commercial enterprise, and soon, he had a thriving business, transporting tobacco, corn, wheat, and hemp down the creek, along the Kentucky River, and outward to the Mississippi River (Wells & Torma, 1976). Settlers on the north side of the river wanted inspections at Bush’s to avoid having to pay to ferry the hemp and tobacco across the river to the warehouse at Boonesborough. However, since “Bush’s Landing” was already being used for the inspection of tobacco in 1792, the petition was rejected.

 

Hemp was finally added “in the county of Clarke..at Bush’s landing” in 1795 (Enoch, 2015)William “Captain Billy” Bush, a companion of Daniel Boone, was one of the party who first settled Boonesborough, and supposedly the first man who ever took up land in Clark County. His brother, Philip Bush, was one of the chain carriers on eleven surveys conducted by Danial Boone for Billy. These surveys became the foundation for the Bush settlement. In 1794, he had been named the inspector of tobacco at the Holders and Bushes warehouses. His role also expanded to include hemp inspections after the Bush warehouse was selected for this purpose. The Bush family became well-known and extensively involved in the inspecting, handling, storing, and shipping of hemp and hempen goods (Clark County KyGen Web).

 

19th Century

The Kentucky hemp industry fluctuated drastically over the 19th century, starting with its improvement during U.S. Embargo and Non-intercourse Acts during 1808-1809. The exclusion of European hemp and hempen goods resulted in greater interest in Kentucky and the establishment of manufactories. In 1809, well-known Lexington manufacturer, David Dodge, moved his ropewalk to Winchester, where he “intended to carry on his business more extensively than before” (The Kentucky Gazette,1809).

 

Over the next few years, he shipped hemp and yarns to Norfolk, where a manufacturer from said after receiving some of his material: “In 1809 and 1810 we had hemp and yarns from Winchester, Kentucky, the staple and quality very good and well handled; we then thought it only required to be water instead of dew-rotted, to be equal to any we had seen” (Moore, 1905).

The War of 1812 also continued to stimulate Kentucky hemp production. In fact, the war itself is said to have been sparked by Henry Clay, who wrote a letter to his constituents in March of 1812 predicting that the country would go to war. Prices rose from $3 per hundredweight of the fiber in 1813, to $5 by the end of 1815. Nonetheless, foreign sources of hemp fiber became available to the United States upon the restoration of commerce with Europe at the end the war, it supplanted the domestic fiber in many uses, especially for naval purposes (Hopkins, 1951).

The return of British imports prompted the tariff of 1816, which raised average rates to around 20 percent (United States History, n.d.). The increased cost of European material forced textile manufacturers in the New England states to seek domestic materials for production. Southern planters responded by dedicating new lands to cotton production, and as a result, bagging and bale twine (made of hemp fiber) was urgently needed to ship the material back North. The demand was so high at one point, the upriver region found itself unable to supply fully the requirements of the lower South for bale and rope bagging (Hopkins, 1951).

Despite a temporary halt in production during the panic of 1819, demand from the South continued into the next decade and the price of Kentucky hemp was on the rise. By 1821, hemp fiber was selling between $5 and $6 per hundredweight. Another Lexington local, Richard Hawes, moved to Winchester in 1824 after inheriting some land in the county in 1823. The plot was a “fine hemp producer,” and Hawes partnered with Benjamin Buckner to build a ropewalk and bagging factory on the property. While Lexington had been (and continued to be) the center of the rope and bagging manufacturing industry in Kentucky, the move proved to be a wise one. It attracted the business of local men, and some from outside the county (Comstock, 2017).

Henry Clay, who played a small role in settling the estate that brought Hawes the hemp land in Clark, sold a portion of his crop to the firm in 1825 (Lewis, 2015). Clay, who had become quite involved in the Kentucky hemp industry as both a farmer and manufacturer, had played a significant role in enacting the tariff in 1816 hoping to avoid an industry decline. In 1824, he helped passed another tariff large measure which raised rates to over 30% on average.

Clay had two reasons for advancing the measure. First, as a matter of pure policy, he hoped to protect and encourage American manufacturing while gaining for the federal government a source of revenue that could be applied to internal improvements that he felt were needed. Secondly, as a politician, he felt that it would gain him support from the northeastern manufacturing states (United States History. n.d.). The increase in tariffs on foreign items of manufacture emerged as the center of political debate, and the advancement of the domestic manufacturing industries (particularly hemp) a common platform amongst Presidential candidates and a number of state representatives.

Clay helped secure another tariff of 1824, which satisfied the Northern and Western industries, but upset regions of the South. Cotton growers sold heavily to Britain and other European nations, and justifiably feared tariff retaliation. Northern manufacturers and Western farmers produced largely for the domestic market and were more immune from foreign tariff discrimination than Southern growers (United States History. n.d.).

As agitation for more protection continued and in 1828, Rep. James Clark, who later became the 12th Governor of Kentucky, testified on behalf of hemp, flax, and sail duck. His testimony provides an illustration of the Clark County, Bluegrass region, and Kentucky hemp industry from 1826-1828. Click here to read his full testimony. As a result, the tax on unmanufactured hemp per ton was raised to $45.00 the following May. The Tariff of 1828 was later called the “Tariff of Abominations.” While it sought to protect northern and western agricultural products from competition with foreign imports, the resulting tax on foreign goods raised the cost of living in the South and cut into the profits of New England’s industrialists. The bill was purposely drafted to make Andrew Jackson appear as a free trade advocate in the South and as a protectionist in the North, President John Quincy Adams approved the bill on May 18, 1828 and essentially sealed his election loss later that year.

The Tariff of 1832 reduced existing tariffs in an attempt to remedy the conflict by the previous. The duty on hemp, which had been $60, was reduced to $40. However, this was still unsatisfactory to the large cotton producers in the South. Henry Clay proposed the Tariff of 1833, known as the Compromise Tariff (which led to his nick name “The Great Compromiser”), to gradually reduce rates over the next ten years (The Tariff of Abominations: The Effects, n.d.).

Despite the loss of protection from foreign imports, Kentucky hemp manufacturers became especially active in the 1830’s. The exports of the Bluegrass section of the state in 1831 reached an estimated value of $2,750,000 of which hempen fabrics, second only to livestock, accounted for $750,000. “Quite a good demand” for bagging and rope was noted in the spring of 1833, and prices continued to rise through the spring of 1835. The industry fluctuated over the next few years, but by 1839 the two products were selling for good prices, however, not as high as they had been in 1835 (Hopkins, 1951).

By 1840, Kentucky was producing more hemp than any other state. Two-thirds of the hemp in Kentucky was grown in the Bluegrass counties, including Clark, where much of the state’s slave population was also concentrated. Slavery had developed in Clark County according to the products that its agricultural climate was acclimated to produced. Hemp, grain, and livestock did not require the large number of field workers required for crops like cotton. Instead, they called for smaller but higher-skilled workforces whose labor patterns varied seasonally.

Despite not requiring “largeness of scale,” the Clark County agricultural economy still desperately relied on slaves to to profitably convert the bluegrass feeds into profit. The process was dirty, break-breaking, and racialized, and many derisively labeled hemp a “nigger crop,” remarking that the work was “very dirty, and so laborious that scarcely any white man will work at it” (Lewis, 2015). On average, a single enslaved person could reportedly cultivate 17 acres and process 700 pounds of hemp fiber per season. Many antebellum farmers stated that the cultivation of hemp was the most profitable used of slave labor.

Additionally, slaves were often hired for a time to the ropewalk that were processing last year’s crop. If a slave holder had more labor than was necessary, which was often the case during the hemp growing season, he always had the option of hiring out the slaves to neighboring farmers. This certainly seems to have been what Haws had in mind when he inherited the Clark County hemp farm in 1823. Not did opening his own ropewalk with Benjamin Bucker allow him to process his crop, but he could also employ his seasonally idle farm laborers.

 

The strength of the slave and hemp economy in Clark County had ensured that the success of the Haws and Buckner ropewalk, an operation indicative of the unique shape that the institution of slavery was taking in the Bluegrass. By 1840 Benjamin had bought out Richard Hawes’s interest in the company. Unfortunately, a sharp downturn in the markets hit the Bluegrass hemp farmers very hard in the early years of the decade, and with production dropping in the face of the falling market prices, the ropewalk was starved for materials (Comstock, 2017). A writer pointed out in July of 1839 that “the hemp crop is below par for the season and the quantity in the ground is considerably less than heretofore.” As time was to prove, 1839 was but the first of a three-year period in which insufficient rainfall caused hemp crops to be very poor, or as expressed by an official report, “quite deficient, and....almost a failure” (Hopkins, 1951).

The price of hemp sank drastically during much of the 1840s, from $100-$100 per ton during most of the year in 1844, and dropping gradually to $20 per ton by the year-end. The price rose again to about $100 per ton early the next year and did not change radically until late in 1848, when it rose above $200. By 1850, the county noted having two hemp factories, and the primary exports consisted primarily of “hemp, cattle, horses, mules and hogs” (Collins, 1848). According to the United States Census of 1850, Clark County produced 450 tons of hemp, valued at $125 per ton (Bluegrass Heritage Museum)After 1850, prices for that kind of fiber were rarely quoted.

 

Through the next decade, the Kentucky industry began to decline. In 1848, Robert J. Didlake and David P. Bullock purchased town lots 59 and 60, located at the Northeast corner of Highland and Fairfax (now Lexington Ave.) The rope mill was said to have worked 40 hands. Just three years later, they sold the business to Andrew Keith and Clinton Haggard in 1851 who were able to keep it going for several years before closing it. By the time of the Civil War, however, the hemp industry was almost non-existent. The Federal blockade of southern ports, the Confederate embargo on cotton, and the voluntary curtailment of the acreage devoted to that staple in the South combined to diminish the need for baling materials. In addition. the United States formed the shipment of rope and bagging to the South, thereby outlawing the trade form which a part of Kentucky had derived its livelihood (Hopkins, 1951).

Following the war, markets fluctuated drastically and farmers found it difficult to rely on hemp as a steady means of income, however, what little production was left in the U.S. was centered in Kentucky and in the bluegrass region of the state. In 1879, the whole country harvested only 5,025 tons of hemp, of which 4,583 tons came from Kentucky. After that, the loss of the binder twine market resulted in a further shrinking of hemp production. Wheat continued to be an important commodity in Clark County during this era, but it would rapidly decline, making way for locally produced bluegrass seed to rise in its place.

Winchester’s railway line began to rapidly expand in the early 1880s, encouraging the exportation of hemp and other agricultural products to continue through the end of the century. Warehouses played an essential role along with its expansion, as many crops (like hemp) required a “middle man” to manage the transport of the crop. This role was filled by warehouse operators. The proprietor purchased the farmers’ product, and in the case of hemp, would sometimes process it, then stored it until it could be shipped out. In Winchester, these warehouses were located in north Winchester near the rail lines and later constructed along purpose-built spur lines, for convenience.

Prior to the arrival of the railroad and construction of the warehouse, a farmer selling his produce in Winchester had to find numerous customers to purchase his harvest in small lots. With the entry of a warehouse into the commercial arena, sales of agricultural products accelerated in two ways; in bulk quantities or to a single purchaser, the warehouse operator. The warehouse operator could use the railroad to sell those products to distant markets— particularly to manufacturers—such as hemp to factories producing binder twine, and wheat to gristmills, especially large roller mill establishments (Enoch, 2012)

Valentine White Bush (V. W. Bush) erected his warehouse for storing and shipping hemp, wheat, and other grains in Winchester on North Main Street in 1880. Based on local tradition and research, Bush’s hemp and grain warehouse may have been the first built in Winchester. In August, The Clark County Democrat published:

Mr. V. W. Bush has made arrangements with the town authorities by which Main Street just beyond the

railroad will be still further widened twenty feet. Mr. Bush is going to build an elegant and commodious

commission house adjoining the railroad on the north, and work will begin in a few days.

Another hemp warehouse was constructed around 1884, when the Jones Brothers - Thomas B. and Henry M. - purchased the property across the street from V. W. Bush. In 1887, they sold the warehouse to David S. Gay, who would become the largest hemp handler in Clark County. The Winchester Handbook from 1889 provides a description of these two warehouses:

Hemp and Wheat Warehouses.

Jones & Gay have a very complete warehouse for storage of hemp, wheat and other produce.

They have connected with their establishment a hackling house where their hemp is cleaned and

prepared for market. They do an immense business. V. W. Bush has another large warehouse of the same

kind which is now leased to Levi Goff. It has the proportions of a city establishment and is always full.

Despite the constant market fluctuations, production increased from 155 tons in 1869, to over 1,000 tons in 1889, valued at about $125 per ton. However, near the end of the century, the crop once again found itself competing against foreign sources of hemp. In 1895 that, David S. Gay stated “there is but little hemp left now in the hands of farmers and dealers. And that little is being held to cover ‘shorts,’ and will bring a good price. The crop in the U.S. for 1894 was only 250 tons. The acreage for this year ought to produce 600 tons. The largest crop ever raised was 1,500 tons. Hemp is now used almost entirely to mix with flax in manufacturing fine twine. Not one binder twine factory will use hemp this year.”

As the century came to an end, the Clark County hemp industry was seemingly non-existent and many of the warehouses that were once full of hemp, were now shipping tobacco, whiskey and bluegrass seed.

 

20th Century

The industry remained fairly stagnant into the 20th century, until World War I, when foreign sources of fiber were once again cut off, and the government turned to domestic crops to fulfill needs for rope, ships rigging, and even uniforms.

On March 2, 1915, an article in the Advocate-Messenger titled “Hemp Prices Are On The Increase,” explains how the European War had caused the price of hemp to go up $9 per hundred pounds. Clark County farmers raised 87,000 pounds the year prior, but the article claimed that “a few years ago, this amount would have represented the crop of one farmer.” It also describes the difficulties of securing “competent” hands to break the hemp, and the worry of farmers, as it took the full year to prepare it for the market from the time the seed was sown. 

According to the 1915 article, Clark county hemp was being sold all over the world. The following year, the same newspaper published another article stating that the highest price over known had been given for the last bushel of hemp seed in the county, and “perhaps in this section, as Clark is in the center of the hemp-growing section of the state.” It sold for $12 per bushel, and stated that the next season thousands of acres of tobacco land would be sown in hemp, with dealers offering as high as $8.50 per hundred for the 1916 crop. Mr. Gay had already purchased several hundred acres at that figure.

This revival was brief, as access to cheaper, foreign sources of hemp became available after the war. Yet again, during World War II, the county would experience another hemp comeback as the United States Department of Agriculture called on Kentucky farmers and workers to fulfill the needs of the “Hemp For Victory” program. In 1942, the USDA contracted 33,000 acres of hemp seed from Kentucky farmers through a contract with the Commodity Credit Union.

Unfortunately, according to The Courier-Journal the following November, the increase in acreage was undertaken by the farmers without “knowledge of production methods or what a fair price would be, and added that hemp seed growers stand to lose on the contract prices of $8 a bushel because of increased labor costs.” The article also notes that the inability to get labor at the right time resulted in a delay in harvesting the seed, and that many farmers had not yet harvest their crops, while others suffered losses due to storms and high winds which knocked down the shocks and shattered seed.

Following the first season under the program, the Commodity Credit Union approved 11 Kentucky sites for hemp mills to process, store, and ship the hemp crops grown for the war. Bowling Green, Guthrie, Henderson, Danville, Nicholasville, Richmond, Shelbyville, and Brooksville were all selected for mills, yet Winchester was the only county where a factory was established the following year. In July 1943, an article stated that many of Kentucky’s hemp growers were stymied because the facilities for breaking the hemp were inadequate, and that most of the crop from the previous year had stayed in the fields. The government was not fulfilling its initial commitment to the mills, prices had to be renegotiated, and many farmers did not have the labor or equipment to process the crop on their own.

A local engineer by the name of Val Cook undertook the challenge of finding an efficient means of breaking the hemp, and by the summer of 1943 he had invented “ingenious portable hemp- brake.” An article in the Courier-Journal shows the process in which the machine broke the hemp fibers from the tall, thick stalks and described its method. It was designed to go shock-to- shock in the field, tackling one at a time, and could process about 50-80 shocks a day.

While this machine solved the present issue of processing, it did not solve the lack of markets after the war was over and once again foreign sources were available at a cheaper cost. Due to the many issues farmers experienced growing hemp during the war, very few were saddened to see the industry go. The Marijuana Tax Act had already been passed in 1937, so the government stopped issuing permits to grow and the industry completely died once and for all.

Today, the Bluegrass Heritage Museum continues to preserve and promote the history of hemp in Clark County, Winchester, Kentucky with a hemp display featuring a hemp seed bag from World War II and relics from the Gay family hemp collections.

 

Pioneers

Bush, Philip - Philip Bush, brother of Billy Bush, came to Clark County along with the rest of the Bush family. In fact, he served as one of the chain carriers on eleven surveys conducted by Danial Boone for Billy. These surveys became the foundation for the Bush settlement. In 1794, Philip was named the inspector of tobacco at the Holders and Bushes warehouses. His role also expanded to include hemp inspections after the Bush warehouse was selected for this purpose. The Bush family became well-known and extensively involved in the inspecting, handling, storing, and shipping of hemp and hempen goods.

Billy sold Philip 163 acres on Lower Howard’s Creek for $100 in 1798, where he spent the rest of his life. His farm was located on the present site of Blackfish Bison Ranch, former golf course, on Quisenberry Lane. John V. Bush replaced his father Philip as the “Inspector of Tobacco and Hemp” at the Bushes warehouse” in 1807. The inspection report for that year released that weights and scales were “just,” and the building was 140 feet long, 30 feet wide” (Enoch, 2015).

Bush, Valentine White (V. W.) - Valentine White Bush was a grandson of Ambrose Bush, Captain Billy Bush’s brother. V. W. Bush built the first hemp and grain warehouse for railroad shipping (as oppose to River) in Winchester. According to the Clark County Democrat, V. W. Bush commenced building his warehouse in August 1880: Mr. V. W. Bush has made arrangements with the town authorities by which Main Street just beyond the railroad will be still further widened twenty feet. Mr. Bush is going to build an elegant and commodious commission house adjoining the railroad on the north, and work will begin in a few days.

The following November, Bush placed the following notice in the paper: V. W. Bush, dealer in Hemp, Tobacco, Grain, and County Produce generally. Warehouse on Main Street, at railroad crossing, convenient to depot.” It ran unchanged the rest of the year and into the next. V. W. died in 1900. His “charming home” appeared in the Winchester Handbook of 1889, but the house was razed in the 1970s, and the lot now serves as a parking area for the Bluegrass Heritage Museum. The warehouse, known today as the “Sphar Building” still stands. It was being salvaged by Winchester Tourism until funding fell through. The building will be torn down. 

Bush, William “Captain Billy” - According to historian Harry G. Enoch, no one played a more important role in the settlement of Clark County than Captain William “Billy” Bush. Born in Orange County, Virginia, Billy came out with Daniel Boone in 1775, resided for a time at Fort Boonesborough, then spent the rest of his life living a few miles from the fort. He thus became one of the first permanent settlers in Kentucky. Supposedly, he the first man who ever took up land in Clark County. He installed a home and warehouse that are shown on a map of the time. (Enoch, 2015).

William Bush sold his son, William Tandy Bush, 150 acres on which the warehouse was situated in 1801. The land fronted on the river approximately one mile, extending from opposite Boonesborough on Lower Howard’s Creek. With his purchase, William T. became proprietor of the warehouse. That year he also applied for and received a licensed to operate a ferry across the Kentucky River, and began shipping hemp and hempen goods to Southern markets.

Clark, Rep. James - James Clark, a native of Virigina, moved to Clark County with his family in 1794. He studied law and became an attorney in Winchester, eventually turning to politics. Clark became a member of the Kentucky legislature in 1807 and 1808, and was appointed as a Judge of the Court of Appeals in 1810. Elected as a Democratic Republican to represent Kentucky in the United States House of Representatives, he served from 1813 until his resignation in 1816. Clark became a Kentucky Circuit Court Judge from 1817 to 1824, and was re-elected to Congress as a member of the Adams Party to fill a vacancy caused by the resignation of Henry Clay on August 1, 1825. He was nearly removed from the bench after rendering an unpopular decision that set off a major dispute in the court system between the policies of the old and new court. He was reelected as an Anti-Jacksonian in 1826 and was the chairman on the Committee of Territories. He was an unsuccessful candidate for reelection in 1830 and became a member of the Kentucky State Senate from 1831 to 1835. Elected as a Whig, he became the 13th Governor of Kentucky, and served from 1836 until his death in 1839. While Governor, he oversaw the creation of the State Board of Education and the establishment of a public school system. He also enacted harsher fugitive slave laws (U.S. Congress, n.d.). In January 1828, Clark testified on behalf of hemp, flax, and sail duck in an effort to raise the 1824 tariff on imported hemp fiber. His testimony provides an illustration of the Clark County, Bluegrass region, and Kentucky hemp industry from 1826-1828.

Clickenbeard, William - William Clinkenbeard (1761-1844) came to Kentucky from Berkeley County, Virginia in 1779, and eventually settled a little north of Winchester on the road to Paris. In an interview with Reverend John D. Shane sometime during the early 1800s, Clinkenbeard offered an exquisitely detailed description of his time at Strode’s Station, along with and its inhabitants. Clinkenbeard claimed to be growing hemp at Strode’s Station as early as 1780 (Wharton, M. E, 1991).

“The first hemp seed I got was while I was in the station after I was married. Saved the stocks and broke it up and my wife made me a shirt out of it. Raised a right smart patch next year. I was at Strode’s yet then. A hole in the creek down below the spring where I used to rot it. Only place, and there only one layer thick at a time. Kill every fish in the hole to water rot hemp in it.”

Clinkenbeard also recalled memories at the station in which hemp was grown and turned into linens for the settlers by the women at the fort. In one instance, a group of women had joined together after a local’s death and sewed him thirty yards of hempen material for comfort. Unfortunately, he recalled the material being stolen by Indians in the middle of the night.

“Old Mr. Thomas [Kennedy] had last his wife, and the women in the station had made him thirty years of hemp linen and washed it up, and it was out. Women’s washday in the fort. Hung it all out and the Indians got it all” (Enoch, 2012).

Today, Clinkenbeard’s two-story brick house on Paris Road (KY 627) still stands and is a Clark County landmark.

Dodge, David - In 1809, Well-known Lexington manufacturer, David Dodge, moved his ropewalk to Winchester, where he “intended to carry on his business more extensively than before” (The Kentucky Gazette, 1809). Over the next few years, he shipped hemp and yarns to Norfolk, where a manufacturer from said after receiving some of his material: “In 1809 and 1810 we had hemp and yarns from Winchester, Kentucky, the staple and quality very good and well handled; we then thought it only required to be water instead of dew-rotted, to be equal to any we had seen” (Moore, 1905).

Gay, David S. - David S. Gay, a Clark County native, purchased the warehouse from Thomas B. and Henry M. Jones in 1887. The article below is displayed prominently in the hemp exhibit at the Bluegrass Heritage Museum in Winchester, in addition to several photos and pieces of hemp history that commemorate his involvement in the antebellum Kentucky hemp industry.

“David S. Gay, Hemp Dealer”

Is one of the progressive business men of this thriving city. The immense business done by him in Kentucky’s great staple is a matter of con graduation to the business interests of the city. His immense warehouse is started to the rook with hemp and hemp seed, and he enjoys an immense home and foreign trade with is constantly increasing. Mr. Gay is one of the best posted men in the hemp business, keeps in touch with all the leading markets, and his superior facilities for handling all products in this line. enables him to handle the largest orders with dispatch. His honorable business methods have been an important factor in building up this immense trade. In his various houses he gives immense employment to a large number of men, and his weekly pay-roll is an evidence of the important place he holds in the business interests of the city.

The Gay Warehouse suffered two disastrous fires, one in 1903 resulting in a loss of $100,000 (The Public Ledger, 1903), and another in 1905, which burned most of the warehouse’s contents. Besides machinery, it contained about $15,000 worth of bluegrass seed. Gay’s warehouse on the wast side of North Main Street was gone for good, but by 1907, he had a new establishment at the intersection of Main Street and Winn Ave. (shown on the Sanborn map as the David S. Gay Hemp, Grain & Field Seed Warehouse.) By 1916, he was considered one of the largest hemp dealers in the nation (The Ohio County News, 1916). When Gay passed away sometime during the 1920s, his wife took over the hemp operations. In 1927, The Courier-Journal described the death of an “old-time negro hemp breaker” who had “dropped dead while breaking hemp in the field of Mrs. David S. Gay.”

Goff, Levi - Levi Goff (1852-1941) was V. W. Bush’s long-time associate in the warehouse business. Winchester city directories for 1908 and 1928 identify the business as the “Goff & Bush Warehouse, dealers in seeds, grain and wool” and “Goff & Bush, warehouse,” respectively. V. W. Bush has another large warehouse of the same kind which is now leased to Levi Goff. It has the proportions of a city establishment and is always full.”

Hawes, Richard - Richard Hawes was born on February 6, 1797 in Caroline County, Virginia. His family moved to Kentucky in late 1810, but Richard may have attending the academic department at Transylvania University even earlier. In 1824, Hawes from from Lexington to Winchester, where he practiced law and was part owner of a ropewalk and bagging factory. In 1842, he moved to Paris, where he enjoyed a modest prosperity. According to accounts, Henry Clay was his idol, and Hawes was an active Whig. He was elected to the state House of Representatives in 1828, 1829, and 1836, and from 1837 to 1841 he represented Clay’s famed Ashland district in Congress (Harrison, 2015).

Holder, John - John Holder, one of the earliest settlers of Kentucky, was a commercial- industrial innovator involved in far-sighted business enterprises. Under Holder’s leadership, the settlement he established at the mouth of Lower Howard’s Creek (on the Kentucky River) evolved from a station to a village. Holder’s land was ideally situated for commercial enterprise. So, Holder, rather than expending all his efforts on farming, focused his attention on trade. First, he built a road at the northern end of the creek. Next, he opened a boatyard to build his flatboats. Soon, he had a thriving business, transporting tobacco, corn, wheat, and hemp down the creek, along the Kentucky River, and outward to the Mississippi River. The government opened a tax warehouse at Holder's village and promptly three large tobacco warehouses were erected. Just north of the boatyard, John Martin erected a mill in 1786, which Holder added to his small empire in 1790 (Wells & Torma, 1976).

Holder’s landing on the Kentucky River became a major departure point of flatboats bound for New Orleans with Kentucky produce. Because other developers followed Holder’s lead, Lower Howard’s Creek became one of the first industrial areas of Kentucky. Much of the area is now enclosed in the Lower Howard’s Creek Nature & Heritage Preserve (Kentucky State Nature Preserves Commission, n.d.)

Jones, Thomas B. and Henry M. - Thomas B. and Henry M. Jones were the eldest sons of Joseph Fauntleroy Jones (Jones, 1891). Joseph was born in Clark County in 1833, where he lived and farmed his entire life. Jones had been raised on the farm, and after engaging in merchandising hemp manufacturing, returned to farming, connecting with it the rearing of cattle. Thomas and Henry, picked up the hemp business during the late 19th century.

Henry Jones married the daughter of Jas. D. Gay of Clark County and became a commission merchant, engaging in the warehouse business in Winchester (Jones, 1891). The Jones Brothers purchased the property across the street from V. W. Bush and constructed a warehouse for storing hemp and other Kentucky products around 1884 (Enoch, 2012). In 1887, they sold the this warehouse to David S. Gay, who would become the largest hemp handler in Clark County. The Winchester Handbook from 1889 provides a description of the warehouse:

Hemp and Wheat Warehouses.

Jones & Gay have a very complete warehouse for storage of hemp, wheat and other produce.

They have connected with their establishment a hackling house where their hemp is cleaned

and prepared for market. They do an immense business (Enoch, 2012).

 

Places

  • CLARK COUNTY HEMP MARKER

    Historical Marker #1319/

    Clark County Hemp

    6169 Lexington Rd.

    Winchester, KY 40391

    The Clark County Hemp Marker is located in front of Stuff Recycling off Lexington Road in Winchester. Clark County was another leader in Bluegrass hemp production. According to the marker, in 1942, one of 42 cordage plants built for WWII was installed at Winchester.

    Historical Marker #1319 is a featured location on the Heritage Hemp Trail. Click here for more trail locations.

  • V.W.BUSH 

    (SPHAR) HEMP WAREHOUSE

    V. W. Bush Warehouse - Not Public (Soon to be demolished!)

    127 North Main St.

    Winchester, KY 40392

    Valentine White Bush (V. W. Bush) began the construction on this warehouse in August 1880. The Clark County Democrat published, “Mr. V. W. Bush has made arrangements with the town authorities by which Main Street just beyond the railroad will be still further widened twenty feet. Mr. Bush is going to build an elegant and commodious commission house adjoining the railroad on the north, and work will begin in a few days.” ​The following November, the warehouse was in full operation. The warehouse stored hemp seed and fiber, and was situated with convenient access to the railroad.

    The V.W. Bush Warehouse (later the Sphar Warehouse) continued in business at its original location and is the only 19th century warehouse still standing in Winchester. The warehouse survived as a commercial establishment until 2005, although it would be re-invented several times. After Sphar Feed & Seed closed in 2005, the warehouse stood empty. Unused portions of the building had been deteriorating for many years due to lack of maintenance. Recognizing the historic value of the building and its importance in revitalizing the North Winchester area, the City of Winchester and Clark County Fiscal Court stepped forward and attempted to rescue the warehouse. Plans called for rehabilitating the warehouse and repurposing it to serve as Winchester’s Welcome Center and professional office space for local agencies including Tourism, Industrial Development Authority, Chamber of Commerce, Main Street Winchester, and The Greater Clark Foundation. Unfortunately, the building renovation was not feasible and the building will be demolished to make room for a new city building  (Enoch, 2012).

  • GAY/JONES BROTHERS HEMP WAREHOUSE

    D.S. Gay/Jones Brothers Warehouse (Ravished)

    127 North Main Street

    Winchester, KY 40392

    (Adjacent to V.W. Warehouse)

    This warehouse stood on Main Street on a siding of the Newport News and Mississippi Valley Railway (later the C&O Railroad) in 1886. The facility stored hemp seed, bluegrass seed and grain (capacity of 80,000 bushels) and was also equipped for cleaning seed. Possibly due to a fire, the warehouse was rebuilt in 1887. W. M. Jones and David S. Gay were proprietors of the three-story brick warehouse shown above (1889).

    “Jones & Gay have a very complete warehouse for storage of hemp, wheat and other produce. They have connected with their establishment a hackling house where their hemp is cleaned and prepared formarket. They do an immense business.”

     

    The original warehouse burned in 1905 destroying the machinery and $15,000 worth of bluegrass seed. The warehouse was rebuilt and burned down again in .David S. Gay lived on an estate on Lexington Road. His lovely home on the place, Breeze Hill, was razed several years ago (Bluegrass Heritage Museum).

  • BLUEGRASS HERITAGE MUSEUM

    Bluegrass Heritage Museum

    217 South Main St.

    Winchester, KY 40391

    The Agriculture Exhibit at the Bluegrass Heritage Museum focuses on the economic importance of farming to Winchester and Clark County. A portion of the exhibit is dedicated to hemp, and how the crop impacted the local economy. It specifically features several pieces of hemp memorabilia from the Gay family, in addition to a hemp seed bag from World War II from the Commodity Credit Union. 

 

Pieces (References)

Clark, J. (1828). Testimony in relation to hemp, flax, and sail duck, Tuesday, January 15.

American tariffs. London, Great Britain: Foreign Office. p. 206


Collins, L. (1848). Historical Sketches of Kentucky: embracing its history, antiquities, and natural curiosities,... geographical, statistical, and geological descriptions. S.l. Forgotten Books

Comstock, L. (2017). Before abolition: African-Americans in early Clark County, Kentucky. Lexington, KY: Lyndon Comstock.

 

Enoch, H. G. (2012). Pioneer voices: interviews with early settlers of Clark County, Kentucky.

 

Enoch, H. G. (2012). V.W. Bush Warehouse. National Register of Historic Places Registration Form (U.S., Department of the Interior,

 

Kentucky Heritage Council/State Historic Preservation Office). National Park Service.

 

Enoch, H. G. (2015). Captain Billy Bush and the Bush Settlement, Clark County, Kentucky, A Family History [Scholarly project].

 

Harrison, L. H. (2015). Kentucky's Governors (Updated Edition. ed.). Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky.

 

Hopkins, J. F. (1951). A History of the Hemp Industry in Kentucky. Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky.

 

Jones, L. H. (1891). Captain Roger Jones, of London and Virginia. British Americans: J. Munsell's Sons.

 

Kentucky State Nature Preserves Commission, (n.d.). Lower Howard's Creek Nature and Heritage Preserve.

 

Lewis, P. A. (2015). For slavery and union: Benjamin Buckner and Kentucky loyalties in the Civil War. Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky.

 

Moore, B. (1905). A study of the past, the present and the possibilities of the hemp industry in Kentucky. Lexington, KY: James E. Hughes.

 

The Courier-Journal (1927, February 18). "Uncle Charlie." p. 4.

The Kentucky Gazette (1809, December 05). The Subscriber, David Dodge. p. 1. 

 

The Ohio County News (1916, March 15). Highest Price Ever Known. p. 2. Retrieved December 11, 2017. 

 

The Public Ledger (1903, June 16). "The large brick warehouse..." p. 2.

 

U.S. House of Representatives (n.d.) The Tariff of Abominations: The Effects. History, Art, and Archives.

 

Verhoeff, M. (1917). The Kentucky River Navigation. Filson Club Publications, 28.

 

United States History. (n.d.). Tariff of 1824: Towards Greater Protection.

 

U.S. Congress (n.d.). Clark, James.

 

Wells, A. C., & Torma, C. (1976). Clark County Multiple Resources, Excluding the City of Winchester (U.S., Department of the Interior,

Kentucky Heritage Commission). Winchester, KY: National Parks Service.

 

Wharton, M. E. (1991). Bluegrass land and life. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky.

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Kentucky Hemp Heritage Alliance, Inc.    

P.O. Box 1296 

Lexington, Kentucky 40588

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