Hardin times

By RUSS HATTER Asst. Curator Capital City Museum Published:

Visitors and locals who take our seasonal walking tours often express amazement at the rich history of our community. At the conclusion of the walks, invariably I will be asked, how did you learn all of this? Where did you find this massive amount of local history? How can you remember all of it?

The questions arent asked from an attitude of disbelief but more out of wonderment at so much detailed fascinating information. My general response is to tell them of the many books I have encountered in a 40-year love affair with the history of Frankfort.

I have often wondered how rich our history would be if it were not for those who came before us. People like L. F. Johnson author of several local books including The History of Franklin County; Willard Rouse Jillson arguably the most prolific writer on Frankfort; the compilations of G. Glenn Clift; Ermina Jett Darnells homespun stories; the short recollection of Mary Willis Woodson; Nettie Glenns voluminous accounts; Frank Sowers Reflections; Kenneth Goins personal pieces and the writings of J. Winston Coleman, Jr.\\

More recently we have Carl Kramers treasure Capital on the Kentucky, as well as the Burch/Hatter walking tour volume and the two photo histories from Frankfort Heritage Press. But there is another contributor who has been nearly forgotten: Bayless Hardin.

Bayless E. Hardin was born near Frankfort on Jan. 3, 1912. At age 25 he associated himself with the Kentucky Historical Society and continued to do so until his death in an auto accident in 1956.

Hardin was a man of many talents. He was a self-taught artist who founded the Frankfort Art Club, served as president of the Frankfort Kiwanis Club, was a member of the Confederate Club of Kentucky, and was a deacon at First Christian Church.

His ultimate ambition was to revise and bring up to date Collins History of Kentucky, a monumental project of which the late Allan Trout wrote in 1954: Collins History, using the term loosely, is the alpha and omega of Kentucky chronicles. The trouble is, the omega is pegged to 1874. Now comes a slight, scholarly historian of 42 with the ambition to bring Collins History from 1874 to date. It does not matter to Bayless E. Hardin that he may be cutting out a job that will run the rest of his lifetime. Unfortunately Hardin had less than two years to live and would only just begin his ambitious goal.

During his nearly 20-year association with the Kentucky Historical Society he researched numerous articles and wrote as a public service for many civic and patriotic organizations. He could trace his lineage back to both Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis.

Hardin was engaged by automatic weapons expert Col. George Morgan Chinn to illustrate his 1942 Encyclopedia of American Hand Arms, submitting a sketch of every type of pistol manufactured in the country. One Christmas at First Christian Church, he painted a set of murals depicting the Nativity.

As a member of the Confederate Club of Kentucky he would gather with other members on Confederate Memorial Day at the F & C railroad station, crowding into the Dinky, riding through the Elkhorn Valley to Camp Stonewall Jackson on the farm of Pryor Hockensmith near Switzer. Here they spent a happy day with barbecues, speeches, and singing the songs of the South.

He literally grew up in the Historical Society serving as an assistant to Mrs. Jouett Taylor Cannon. It was a marked compliment to Bayless that Mrs. Cannon gave up the post of secretary-treasurer to him and became his assistant during her last years. Today he would have reveled in our present computer age for he was quick to see the value of microfilm, audio tape, and the film for the availability and dissemination of historical information.

One of his friends, the late Ermina Jett Darnell wrote: Physically he was frail, gentle, agreeable, tenacious in purpose, thoroughly dependable, and a perfectionist in everything he undertook. Another friend and associate, George Fowler, said If someone came to him with a question that he could not answer, it immediately became a quest, with Bayless as much concerned as the one who asked the question. With his death went more knowledge of the history of the town of Frankfort than remained in the surviving populace.

Another friend, the late Laura Kennedy, wrote: Those who knew him could not, I feel sure, separate the thought of Bayless Hardin from Kentucky history. He believed that only by observing the pattern of the past could one hope to understand the present or adjust to the future.

The study of times gone by, yet variously repeated, particularly in connection with the growth of our state, held for him such an abiding fascination that surely it is safe to say no contemporary of his knew more, or possibly as much, about Kentucky history. I like to think that his constant preoccupation with another era contributed to the dignity that was a part of him, an aloof courtliness seldom known in our age.

On Sunday, April 15, 1956 Bayless Hardin was returning from Lexington when he inexplicably lost control of his car, left the road, hitting a utility pole near the intersection of Valley View and East Main Street. He died that night at Kings Daughters Hospital. He was 44. He never married.

Within the Kentucky Historical Society library can be found the personal research notes of Bayless Hardin. These photocopies represent years of investigation on Frankfort taken from original sources with references on everything from businesses, schools, churches, people, saloons, hotels, transportation, entertainment, government, murders, buildings, and the list goes on and on.

It was not written to sell and was never prepared for publication. His six volumes of research have enabled me to not only know of our past but to understand our past. When it comes to the history of Frankfort he has given me the tools for ferreting out many unsolved questions. I will forever be deeply indebted to his meticulous efforts in preserving our past.

The things on Frankfort that I share with you in these columns ultimately carry the touch of Bayless E. Hardin.

Research for this column came from the following sources: The State Journal newspapers from April 15-16-17, 1956; the Kentucky Historical Society Registers for July 1956, Vol. 54, No.188, and October 1964, Vol. 62, No. 4. I also want to acknowledge thanks to Brenda Duvall and Russell Harris for their much appreciated assistance.

Remember, as you continue your spring cleaning and as you attend yard sales, garage sales, etc., dont forget to watch for things that the museum could use. Please call me at 803-1808 or contact me by e-mail at rush@mis.net. The Capital City Museum at 325 Ann Street is handicap-accessible and open without admission charge Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.

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