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15 Chapter One The “Lower” Part of the City Very few documentary records exist that allow us to interpret the earliest periods of the neighborhood known as “Craw” or “the Bottom ,” the poorest section of Frankfort. However, existing sources suggest that from its inception Craw captured and sustained the Frankfort public’s fascination. Few academic historians have written about Craw, and those who have rarely expand beyond brief, tangential references, and primary sources are rare. The relatively few existing newspaper accounts that reference Craw mostly chronicle crime, violence, flooding, rampant alcohol use, and poverty. Nevertheless , this small corpus of early newspaper references and articles contains crucial sources for setting up the historical context and interpreting Craw’s earliest years. Since the neighborhood is no longer physically available for analysis, this chapter chronologically and thematically examines the trajectory of Craw’s life and death by reaching back to a memory embodied no longer in human persons, but in print, exploring this neighborhood between the time of its birth in the early 1870s and the first premature declaration of its demise in the shadows of Prohibition in 1918. In this period, the “lower” part of the city of Frankfort first began to demonstrate the characteristic traits that would eventually define it and serve as rationalizations for its reform and eventual destruction. During the 1870s, Frankfort newspapers provide the earliest historical references to the neighborhood as “Crawfish Bottom,” “Craw,” or “the Craw.”1 The use of these distinct tags by the city’s news organizations demonstrates emerging patterns of meaning inextricably linked to these unofficial, vernacular terms representing this neighborhood. 16 CRAWFISH BOTTOM THE LOWLANDS The neighborhood occupied fifty acres of low-lying land along the Kentucky River. In 1897, local historian Jennie Chinn Morton described the land that eventually became Craw as having once been a racecourse for training horses and grounds for circus shows.2 In celebration of Frankfort’s centennial in 1886, a local newspaper, the Capital, conducted several interviews with longtime local citizens and printed their reminiscences of Frankfort. The eight pages of this special edition present some of those interviews, which offer a few clues about the early days of the land that would later be called “Craw.” Residents described this section of town as unsuitable for building, due to the regularity of flooding by the Kentucky River; one noted that when General James Wilkinson was stationed there in 1795–1796, the land was a “pond of stagnant water.” Wilkinson reportedly dug ditches to drain the land “so as to very much improve the premises, and destroy the noxious effluvia, thereby preserving the health of the citizens.”3 Captain Sanford Goins narrated his childhood memories of Frankfort during the 1820s: “What today is so well known as ‘Craw’ was a large lake or pond of water.”4 Prior to the Civil War, settlement in Craw had remained relatively sparse. In 1851, the legislature voted to move the gas works Frankfort in 1796 as depicted on the map “Road from Limestone to Frankfort in the state of Kentucky.” Plate #22 from Georges Henri Victor Collot’s Voyages dans l’Amérique septentrionale, 1826. The map was drawn in 1796 but not published until 1826. Courtesy of W. S. Hoole Special Collections, University of Alabama Libraries. The “Lower” Part of the City 17 from the northwest corner of Capitol Square to the corner of Mero and Washington streets. However, the effects of the emissions—“the most villainous compound of foul scents”—proved to be more severe than city officials expected.5 The legislature subsequently declared the gas works a “nuisance” and moved it to the edge of town, what would later become Craw. According to available maps and images of Frankfort, the two vacant blocks of the northwestern part of town remained mostly vacant until the 1870s. The 1854 Hart and Mapother map of Frankfort (see page 18) shows the northwestern-most block, then framed by Wilkinson and Mero streets, almost completely vacant, although occupation of the blocks adjacent to Fort Hill increased to the east, away from the river. The Hart and Mapother map does show some settlement along Fort Hill, but Hill Street still lacked municipal sanction. The 1871 Birdseye map of Frankfort (see page 19) visually supports this development pattern, with the viewable city blocks The neighborhood in 1818 as depicted on the map “Kentucky: Reduced from Doct. Luke Munsell Map 1818 and 1834—Inset of Frankfort” (as indicated by added screening). Courtesy of the Kentucky Historical...


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