The U.S. population will have grown to 300 million by October, compared to the 200 million Americans who constituted the population in 1967. Richmond and Madison County also have seen a stark increase in population since the 1960s, but many say that life was more vibrant and lively in the area when there were less residents.

Richmond City Commissioner Kay Cosby Jones remembers a downtown Richmond that was full of drug stores, movie theaters, department stores and served as a community gathering place.

“Downtown was lively,” Jones said. “People did their Christmas shopping downtown. There was a children’s store and fine lady’s clothing stores,” she said, naming only a few of the many downtown businesses in the 1960s.

Jett and Hall, at 200 West Main St., is the oldest remaining downtown retail location and began operating in 1937.

David Jett, whose family has owned the store since its inception, has been the store’s manager since 1978 and recalls a downtown that was booming with business.

“Saturday always was an enormous day because people would come from the country,” Jett said. “They would not only come to shop, but to visit each other. There was much more life downtown because it was the only place to shop.”

He also credits the liveliness of downtown to the fact that there was no Interstate.

“It was US 25 from Detroit to Florida,” he said. “If you were going to Florida, you would have to go through downtown Richmond.”

Local historian Fred Engle grew up at 222 South Third St. and refers to 1930-1950 as his youthful years.

“Every Saturday on wide North First Street (between Main and Irvine) there was a market,” he recalled. “Food, guns, knives, etc. were sold and traded. Singers sang, musicians played and preachers shouted It seemed all of Madison County walked the sidewalks on Main between Third Street and Madison Avenue. The street was packed from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. when all stores closed, except the drug stores.”

Other signs of rural Richmond were the trading of horses and mules in an empty lot on Water Street, he said.

“There was the pioneer horse trough sitting in the street, full of water for the thirsty beasts, the human drinking fountain at Owen McKee’s, the Zaring Mill at the point where East Main crossed Dreaming Creek, the Soper saw mill at Main and Collins streets, the Patton blacksmith shop on North Third and the grist mill on North Street,” he said. “The city limits were at the corner of Lancaster and Barnes Mill and at Kunkel’s filling station on West Main.”

The last time he saw a horse and wagon going down Main Street was around 1946, he said.

There were more “practical” reasons to go downtown during the 50s and 60s, said Richmond City Commission-er Robert Blythe.

“The Richmond Water and Gas was downtown, so people would have to go there and pay their bills,” Blythe said. “There also was a Kroger store downtown where CVS is now.”

The downtown area had a bursting economy, but it was during a time where not everyone was treated equally.

There was a Woolworth’s store that Blythe remembers vividly, but only because he was not allowed to eat at the lunch counter.

As a black child growing up in a segregated America, Blythe remembers several instances where he was not allowed the same freedoms as the white Richmond residents.

“I remember the Greyhound Bus station,” he said. “As a child, my mother would take us to Lexington and we would walk to the back of the bus. There were separate restrooms and waiting areas in the bus station.”

It wasn’t until around 1963 that Blythe noticed that the community’s segregated ways began to lessen. It also was the time that many downtown businesses moved to bigger areas that were now available and had access to abundant, free parking.

Downtown businesses began to dissipate around the same time that Eastern Kentucky University started bursting at the seams, said Bill Ellis, EKU graduate and official university historian.

“Enrollment was growing rapidly (around 1966) because of the post-war boom,” he said. “More money was available from the federal government and there was more oppurtunities to go to college. That also was the time that EKU first started offering master degrees in history.”

Ellis reports that in 1946, there were 1,100 students enrolled and in 1959, it grew to 3,000.

“In the 1960s, it grew from 3,000 to 10,000,” he said.

On July 1, the Kentucky Data Center in Frankfort reported 30,893 people living within the Richmond city limits and 77,749 inhabiting the county. Since 1960, Richmond has grown by 18,725 and the county by 44,267.

As of midday Sunday, there were 299,061,199 people in the U.S., according to the Census Bureau’s population clock. The estimate is based on annual numbers for births, deaths and immigration, averaged throughout the year.

The U.S. adds a person every 11 seconds, according to the clock. A baby is born every eight seconds, someone dies every 13 seconds, and someone migrates to the U.S. every 30 seconds.

Ronica Shannon can be reached at rshannon@richmondregister.com or 623-1669, Ext. 234.

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