Were Frank, Jesse there?
The history of Robards, Ky., is the stuff of which books and movies are made.
Though the picturesque town today is the kind of tranquil place that's ideal for the raising of families and gardens, its past was dotted with episodes that were anything but tranquil.
Consider, for instance, the times when famed outlaws such as Frank and Jesses JAMES and Jim YOUNGER and John GARRETT reportedly hid out in the Robards environs. YOUNGER and GARRETT were said to have arrived in the community in February 1873 and to have remained hidden there for three months, despite the intensive efforts of hundreds of men to find them.
And, a decade or so earlier, several of the county's primary Civil War skirmishes occurred in Robards.
On one occasion, according to information on file at the Henderson County Public Library, resident Lielet BRAYDON and his horse were killed just opposite SANDEFUR'S Nursery. And a Captain McGILL of "BETHEL'S command" shot John PATTERSON of Sebree "through both eyes." In another incident, Renz FISHER, a Confederate captain under "Col. JOHNSON'S command" was killed by a Lt. CAREY of the Union Army while FISHER stopped in at Robards to visit his father.
One account relates that FISHER was directly in front of his father's home when he was shot, and his father was called upon to identify him.
But events weren't always that dramatic.
The populace, no doubt, preferred a lower-keyed kind of excitement, like the national success won by nurseryman W. A. SANDEFUR, Sr. when he, in 1884, discovered an unusual seedling of an old horse apple, grafted and propagated the apple, and sold it all over the country.
That apple, according to county historian Maralea ARNETT in her "Annals and Scandals of Henderson County," was called the "Polly Eades."
SANDEFUR'S son, William, Jr., also captured attention, but not by developing new apples. He ran for governor on the Socialist ticket but, apparently not being as popular a fellow as his father, his bid was unsuccessful.
Robards, immortalized by Henderson County author Lucy FURMAN in her "Stories of a Sanctified Town," evidently didn't become thickly settled until the mid-1860's, though George RUDY'S school opened before 1840 and a Methodist Church was dedicated in 1853.
Before Robards became a community, its site attracted daring horsemen who raced their steeds there on a straight half mile section of road, and reportedly did their fair share of drinking and betting too.
It appears the town began earnestly evolving about the time J. D. ROBARDS built a house, store and three-storied tobacco stemmery there around 1867. Thereafter, the community bore his name in one fashion or another. At the time the first post office was established in 1868, the town was called Robards Station. In 1880, it was referred to as Robard, and in 1924, as Robards.
The tobacco stemmery employed 50 men and shipped directly to Europe. If tobacco was an income-producer, so was coal. Three coal mines operated in Robards from the 1880s until the 1920s. Where there's money, there generally are plenty of businesses and, by 1887, Robards had nine stores, a blacksmith shop, livery stable and hotel, as well as a steam mill, school and several churches.
Apparently it wasn't unusual for a resident to have his hand in several enterprises. Just as J. D. ROBARDS was involved in a couple of concerns, F. M. EAKINS had a drugstore and also served as express agent for the Henderson branch of the L&N Railroad.
In 1887 the town voted in prohibition, and, it was said, wealth more than doubled. Some residents from that period included Thomas RIDEOUT, J. R. ROYSTER, J. L. BURDON, W. T. HUNTER, Dr. J. W. ARNETT, J. W. OTEY, William SMITH and R. L. JONES.
A historian wrote some 50 years ago that the Robards area "as a whole, is peopled by a thrifty, intelligent class of farmer."
Reprinted with permission.
By Judy Jenkins, Life Member
Contributed by Netta Mullin, HCH&GS
Copyright 2005 HCH&GS