restricted access Introduction: Reputation as History
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1 Introduction Reputation as History Craw was a small neighborhood in North Frankfort, Kentucky, located on fifty acres of swampy land along the Kentucky River. Outsiders traditionally viewed Craw as the “bad” part of town, based on a long list of deeply embedded historical associations: violence, poverty , corruption, dirt, saloons, pool halls, whiskey, cockfights, disease, murders, gambling, bootlegging, prostitution, slums, and crime. This perception emerged in the decades following the Civil War and stigmatized Craw and its residents accordingly, until the neighborhood’s destruction at the hand of urban renewal in the late 1960s and the early 1970s. Even following the “slum clearance,” Craw’s reputation was deeply ingrained in Frankfort’s public perception of the neighborhood . In the minds of outsiders, this negative reputation was not only associated with dilapidated buildings or flooded streets but personalized , as it was directly applied to the former residents as well. As former Frankfort policeman G. T. Gill stated in a 1974 newspaper interview, “They were a rough class of people, who didn’t mind killing or being killed.”1 At least four blocks of the Craw neighborhood were originally included in James Wilkinson’s initial layout of Frankfort, Kentucky, in 1786. Craw’s boundaries were never considered official in that they varied by period and perspective. Lying along the northwestern corner of the city, Craw was informally bordered by the Kentucky River and Wilkinson Avenue to the west, the railroad tracks at Broadway to the south, Washington Street to the east, and Mero Street to the north, with Long Lane, Gashouse, and Catfish alleys and Clinton and Blanton streets making up the interior.2 Some called it “the Craw,” or just “Craw,” while others later called it “the Bottom,” or just “Bottom.” Each nickname derives from “Crawfish Bottom,” an earlier name allegedly recalling the 2 CRAWFISH BOTTOM presence of crayfish along the river. Recurrent flooding left the lowland soggy and unfit for construction, and little development took place in that section of the city before the Civil War. But war’s end brought freed men and women seeking inexpensive housing for their families. Increasing waves of immigration brought together poor families who could not afford housing in other parts of Frankfort . In time, Craw also became home to numerous indigent families from around the state whose mothers or fathers, husbands or wives, served sentences in the state penitentiary located just two blocks east of the neighborhood. Until the 1960s, social boundaries contained Frankfort’s black residents to specific areas that included Normal Heights in the vicinity of Kentucky State Normal School (now Kentucky State University ), rural communities such as Green Hill and Hickman Hill, various blocks of South Frankfort north of Fourth Street and east of Logan Street, and the portions of North Frankfort informally known as Craw or Bottom. The racial makeup of Craw, in 1956, was 60 percent black and 40 percent white. However, despite the large presence of white residents in the neighborhood, many white outsiders perceived the area as primarily a “black neighborhood.” In many ways, the destructive flood of 1937 marked the beginning of the end of Craw as a neighborhood. Though the residents had experienced the devastations of flooding before, the 1937 flood pushed many beyond their limits. Tired of repeated disasters, some residents simply chose not to return to their homes, leaving many neighborhood buildings abandoned. In the years following, the neighborhood rapidly declined. The closing of the state reformatory in 1937 resulted in a major population decline as 2,273 inmates were relocated, along with their families.3 Although reform of the neighborhood ’s perceived deficiencies and imperfections had been publicly solicited by Frankfort residents since the 1870s, the creation of the Frankfort Slum Clearance and Redevelopment Agency in March 1955 marked the official beginning of the end for the neighborhood. The Frankfort League of Women Voters further provoked slum clearance efforts in 1955, when a study revealed that more than 22 percent of the arrests made in Frankfort in 1954 occurred in a threeblock area of the neighborhood, that 14 percent of Franklin County’s victims of tuberculosis resided there, that 11 percent of fire alarms originated there, that almost 50 percent of those treated for venereal diseases lived in Craw, and finally, that the neighborhood generated Introduction 3 only 2 percent of Frankfort’s property tax revenue.4 The 1956 “Structure and Family Survey” conducted by Scruggs and Hammond, a Lexington city-planning firm, compounded the neighborhood’s negative image by emphasizing...


Subject Headings

  • Community life -- Kentucky -- Frankfort -- History.
  • Crawfish Bottom (Frankfort, Ky.) -- Biography.
  • Oral history -- Kentucky -- Frankfort.
  • Frankfort (Ky.) -- History.
  • Frankfort (Ky.) -- Social life and customs.
  • Frankfort (Ky.) -- Biography.
  • Crawfish Bottom (Frankfort, Ky.) -- Social life and customs.
  • Crawfish Bottom (Frankfort, Ky.) -- History.
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