Henderson County, Kentucky


Jugglers, magicians also performed there often

It was a fun place, no doubt about it. Every week the walls shook as the local guys and gals kicked up their heels, cut a rug and otherwise tripped the light fantastic to the music of the pickin' and grinnin' band.

They had such a good time that, more often than not, they plumb forgot to extinguish the fires before they left the building and climbed into their buggies.

There was always something going on at that delightful spot. Occasionally a necromancer would come to town and hold spine-tingling sessions in which the spirits of the departed were said to appear and foretell the future.

Magicians who wowed audiences with their slight-of-hand, jugglers, rope dancers and other performers also entertained there some 100 years before the first TV antennas would appear on Henderson houses.

The only fly in this happy ointment was the fact that some residents didn't at all approve of the goings-on. Or perhaps it wasn't the goings-on they objected to as much as the setting for them.

This magnet for every hoedown and traveling performer was, after all, the Henderson County Courthouse.

It was still a brand-new building in that winter of 1845 when a disgruntled citizen addressed a heated letter to the "Honorable county Court" and complained at length about the way the $9.400 building was being used.

Signing himself or herself only as "Taxpayer," the writer pointed out the potential dangers to the facility from all the partying people who were regularly gathering there.

"Many of your body perhaps are not aware that the house is used almost every week by a company called a Social club for the purpose of dancing, yet such is the fact. For the truth I refer you to some of the members of your honorable body …

"The walls in a short time will become damaged and need repairs. Who will pay for these repairs, the Social club or the Taxpayers? The fires, I understand, are left to care for themselves, no one member of the Social Club taking it upon himself to see to them."

It's evident from the letter, which is reprinted in an unpublished collection by late local newsman/historian Jack HUDGIONS, that the citizen was likely a bit vexed that county government had refused to allow religious services to be held in the courthouse.

"Does preaching the gospel within the walls do the house any injury?" the writer said. "It was said at the time by those who objected to it that it was not built for a meeting house. So I think myself, but still I do not think it was built for a DANCE HOUSE."

The irate citizen concluded that county business was the only activity that should have been permitted in the building that had replaced a modest 26-year-old structure on the hill overlooking Main Street.

That anonymous letter writer didn't get satisfaction right away. It would take seven more years of arguments pro and con before the court would order, in 1852, that the courthouse no long be used "for any show or exhibition for a sight of which any money is charged. Nor shall (the jailer) rent or let said building, or any room or any apartment thereof, to any painter, daguerreotypest (early photographer), musician, necromancer, spiritual rappings, jugglers, rope dancers, slight-of-hand performance or any other monte bank whatever."

But that ordinance neglected to mention the poker games…….

Reprinted with permission
Progress Edition, The Gleaner, Henderson, KY, Saturday, March 30, 1996
Written by Judy Jenkins

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