Henderson County, Kentucky Biography


by Frank Boyett
Reprinted with permission from The Gleaner, Henderson, KY, Sunday, 06 Aug 2000

The secret to living a long life is staying active, according to the woman accounted in 1925 as the oldest living Henderson County resident.

"I never whiled away my time foolishly and always kept busy," said Mary Jane OVERBY, who was interviewed by Spalding TRAFTON for The Gleaner just a few days before her 98th birthday. TRAFTON noted that she still kept busy, despite her advanced age: "Mrs. OVERBY brought out a beautiful quilt that she pieced four years ago at the age of 94."

Mrs. OVERBY was an accomplished quilter because she'd had lots of practice. "Quilting parties were the principal social function in those days and the young women would meet at our house, where we would serve supper and have dancing to the music of a french harp (harmonica), and sometimes a fiddler," she related.

The quilting parties took place after she married William H. OVERBY, who in 1836 left his trade as a hatter in Petersburg, Virginia, and rode horseback to Kentucky, where he realized his dream of becoming a farmer.

"I was born just beyond Zion on 04 Aug 1827, and father's name was Archibald Jordan HICKS," she said. "I rode horseback to school at Zion where there were a few houses. There were dense woods and no roads to amount to anything, mostly paths. I have seen many changes since then, the country has been cleared up, roads have been built, and Henderson has grown from the village of Red Banks."

Her first visit to Red Banks resulted in disappointment. There were only three or four stores in the village at that time, and in one of them was an article that she very badly wanted as a young girl. "I had my heart set on a beaded bag or reticule, made by the Indians, which was for sale, but the storekeeper told Mother that it was too costly for a child to have," she said. "I never saw any Indians, although I was told that there were quite a number of them around. There was plenty of wild game -- wild turkeys, wild geese and ducks and deer. "I remember one Sunday morning my father and all of us had just started to church in Zion when he saw a wild turkey in a tree. He went back to the house and got his gun and killed that turkey on Sunday morning."

Mrs. OVERBY, like most Henderson County residents in the opening years of the 19th century, was a Presbyterian. She became a Baptist in 1849 when she was married by a Baptist minister, the Rev. William WAYNE. Her bridesmaids were Fannie HICKS and Ann McFARLAND.

"We had quite an affair, as it was called," she said. "I rode horseback to the new log home already furnished by my husband." She explained to TRAFTON that in the old days it was custom for a groom to present his bride with a horse and a side-saddle immediately after the wedding. That wasn't done in her case, she said, because "my father had given me a horse and saddle."

"My new home was a two-story log house all furnished with everything that could be procured in those days." "Shortly after I was married in (30 Jan) 1849 (Henderson Co, KY, Book 1, Page 107) my father brought home the first cooking stove I ever saw, and Ely CHEATHAM drove the first carriage I ever saw into Zion."

A carriage would have been a nice thing in the old days, since the weather was colder then, she said. "The seasons have changed, as the winters when I was a girl were very, very cold. We kept warm with log fires."

She distinctly remembered the winter of 1851-52, when the thermometer plunged to 30 degrees below zero. The Ohio River froze over solid, she said.

by the age of 98 had outlived all six of her brothers and sisters, as well as her husband and all but three of her nine children. The three surviving children in 1925 were W. S. OVERBY of Harrisburg, Illinois; William H. OVERBY, who was cashier at the Peoples Savings Bank; and J. Lacy OVERBY, who was a postal clerk. "My boys have been mighty good to me," she said, after which TRAFTON noted "no higher compliment could be pad to thos boys that those words."

She lived with J. Lacy OVERBY in his home on North Main Street, where he and his wife took "great pleasure and pride in looking after the comfort and welfare of 'Grandmammy' who bids fair to attain the century mark," TRAFTON wrote.

"Her friends are telling her that when she reaches the century mark that they are going to make it a county affair with a brass band at the head of the procession." The parade never took place, though -- at least not on this earth. A few months later, on 22 Dec 1925, Mrs. Mary Jane Hicks OVERBY passed away, and is surely enjoying the reward of a life well-lived.

Contributed by Netta Mullin, HCH&GS
Copyright 2002 HCH&GS