The Richmond Register

November 12, 2013

Take the shuttle to EKU library on Thursdays

Family histories reveal a fascinating legacy

By Carol Prewitt
Register Columnist

RICHMOND — Have you heard about the partnership between Eastern Kentucky University and the Madison County Public library?

On Thursdays you can park your car at the public library and be taken to EKU’s Crabbe library by shuttle. The Crabbe library holds the university’s special collections and archival center.

Call the public library ahead to reserve a seat on the shuttle, then be at the library by 10 a.m. when you will be picked up and then dropped off at the door of the Crabbe library.

Spend some time researching your family history or looking at old maps, old war records, wills, etc and be ready to be picked up at 2 p.m. and returned to your car.

I went last Thursday and research some family history.

One branch of my family came from Scotland, through Ireland into Pennsylvania and then to Ohio. After coming to live in Madison County many years ago, I noticed some of the same names I knew growing up were long established here.

So, being like the child who always asked why, and now having this opportunity to go find the answers with no parking problems, I had to look into it. And I did find the connection. We all fell from the same branch back in Scotland through a common ancestor.

While looking through the file on my family names, Irvine and McDowell, I came across an especially interesting article copied from the Richmond Register in December 1977. It showed a picture of Irvinton house in Irvine-McDowell Park on Lancaster Avenue, built in the 1820s and sold to the David Irvine family in 1829.

It spoke about a restoration project to begin on the old house.

Attached to it was a story written by staff writer Freeda Flynn about the last Irvine to reside there. That was Elizabeth Irvine, who married her first cousin William M. Irvine in the parlor of the house in 1846.

Except for a span of 10 years, she lived there until her death in the 1920s.

Elizabeth was described as “eccentric and stubborn but undeniably tragic, an aristocrat.”

Both of her maternal grandfathers were distinguished in Kentucky history, one as the first governor of Kentucky, Isaac Shelby, and the other, Ephraim McDowell for whom the Danville hospital is named.

Elizabeth lost three children in one year, then another at an early age from an epidemic in the mid 1800s.

One daughter, Bessie, survived to adulthood.

Bessie fell in love with a mountain boy while attending Eastern Normal School, but her mother didn't approve, so she was packed up and sent to school in Chicago, where at the age of 21, she caught typhoid fever and died.

Elizabeth held the Eastern Normal School responsible for her loss and “fell out” with the school, her neighbor.

She died 28 years later and in her 29 page will, she left the home to the Kentucky Medical Society for use as a hospital.

After the hospital that treated patients who suffered from the eye disease trachoma was closed, the building stood empty for 20 years.

If the property ceased to be used as a hospital, the will stipulated that it go to the city of Richmond for use as a “public park and breathing space.”

A portion of her will states: “It is my will that this devise (the house) of Irvinton shall never, either by gift or sale, be in any way connected with Eastern Normal School … or any other institution of learning … if any president or professor or teacher or any connected with any institution of learning ever live or have management (of the property) … this devise shall be forfeited.”

Now that’s holding a grudge!

I have had people tell me they don’t want to know about their family history because they are afraid of what the might find. I think they are missing out on a fascinating legacy.

Have I found reason to be proud of my ancestors? You bet.

Have I found skeletons in the closet? You bet.

But how great it is to know how you got where you are. The little things that made you who you are.

Add to that who you decided to be and you find a very unique, one of a kind person.

The eccentric, stubborn, tragic life of my long-ago cousin Elizabeth was a wonderful find, but that doesn’t change who I am!