Dycusburg History Overview|
Matthew T. Patton (2000)
Never could a cliché be truer when it’s about Dycusburg, Kentucky: "Blink and you’ll miss it." The small town is now nothing much more than a handful of buildings at a sharp curve where Highway 70 ends and Highway 295 starts — but the distant sound of a whistle from a boat in the river is enough to spark memories in the minds of the few remaining residents of a once-booming and bustling town.
Located approximately 16 miles from the Crittenden County seat of Marion, in about 1835, a Mr. Shelby opened the first ferry here on the Cumberland River. Later Berry Dycus (after whom the town was named) opened a brick warehouse and the small town began to prosper.
A few years later, Dycusburg was incorporated and businesses began to prosper. In 1848, the county court appointed C.M. Jackson, Joshua Duvall, J.C. Elder, H.W. Sanders, and G.B. Dycus as the first trustees of Dycusburg. The town marshal, a synod of "patter rollers," (patrollers) was commissioned for the city and surrounding area. They included M.S. Smith, Captain P.R. Bliss, Robert Cooksey and David Moore. On June 22, 1868, the by-laws of the Town of Dycusburg were adopted. Some of these include:
Sec. 4. Any person who shall be guilty of drunkenness within the town of Dycusburg shall pay a fine of five dollars; and in default of payment, shall be committed to work on the streets of said town, not exceeding one day for each dollar of the fine.
Sec. 6. Any person or persons who shall be guilty of fighting, running horses or any riotous or disorderly conduct in the town of Dycusburg, breach of peace or assault and battery; in said town, shall forfeit and pay a fine of not more than twenty dollars: and for any breach may be imprisoned ten days, or sentenced to work on the streets of said town ten days, or may be both fined and imprisoned, or made to work to that extent, or any part of each or either, at the discretion of the court; and in default of the payment of fine, the defendants shall be confined in the county jail, one day for each two dollars, or made to work on the streets of said town, one day for each dollar of said fine, at the discretion of the court.
Sec. 9. Any person who shall shoot off a gun or pistol loaded with powder, within the corporate limits of the town of Dycusburg, other than a gunsmith on his premises, or burn squibs or fire crackers in any way, shall be fined, for shooting, five dollars; and for burning squibs or fire crackers, in any sum not above that amount for each offence.
Sec. 15. Any person or persons, other than a licensed tavern keeper, shall pay to the Town Marshal the sum of fifty dollars, who shall give a receipt for the same; and on presentation of the receipt, to the Clerk, he shall issue said person or persons a coffee house license to retail ardent spirits for twelve months from date thereof; and upon failure to obtain said license as herein provided, the party offending shall be subject to a fine of five dollars for each offence, obtained before the Police Judge.
Sec. 17. To erect a pig sty within forty feet of any street of said town shall be a finable offence of not less than five dollars. Any person hitching or causing to be hitched a horse or mule on any pavement, obstructing the same, shall be fined not less than one, nor more than five dollars for each offence. Any person or persons who shall thrown or cause to be put into any public well, anything that will damage the same or destroy the buckets, cut the ropes, or stretch the same into the streets, shall be fined not less than ten, nor more than twenty-five dollars. If a minor, the parent or guardian shall be responsible for the same, recoverable before the Police Judge.
A school was established in Dycusburg in the mid-1800s in town near the river, but was moved up to the top of the hill due to flooding. Dycusburg School was an independent school district supported by local taxation. In 1916, grade 9 was added, making it grades 1 through 9, until 1924, when Marion Pogue added high school grades. The school was later closed and students went to Frances Elementary, which was closed in the late 1990s when Crittenden County Elementary School became the county’s single elementary school.
In a book by Rev. R.F. Price, Senator M.F. Pogue, who was from Dycusburg, told of the first burying at the cemetery: "A relative of Mr. Pogue told him of his attendance at the first burying at Dycusburg, when he was a small bare-footed boy, dressed only in a long shirt that went down to his knees. The friends of the deceased came in their buckskin breeches and coon-skin caps. They brought their rifles, and some had a shooting-match while others dug the grave. The corpse was brought in at last, drawn on a sled by a mule. The corpse was in a square coffin with a large knot hole in the top of the lid. When the lid was being nailed on, the knot dropped out. One of the friends suggested that they nail a piece of plank over the hole. But Big Jim Samples, who had the funeral in charge, remarked, "Hell no; Bill can’t get out at that hole," and the dirt was shoveled in.
General stores, hotels, and restaurants, a bank, a city hall, and a jail graced the streets as Dycusburg slowly began to establish itself as a trade town. Growth was pushed by the tobacco trade and the shipping of products from warehouses, factories, mines and distilleries of the town and surrounding area. Steamboats like the Grace Devers, The Queen of Dycusburg, the Boat Bedford, and the C.C. Bouyer made many trips to and from locales up and down the river, including Evansville, Paducah and Nashville. From these boats came many wanderers and wayfarers, and Dycusburg, like many river towns of its time, gained a bad reputation. But unbeknownst to those making assumptions from afar, these trouble-makers often had their day in court, and probably in the town jail, and pressed forward downstream to find another quiet town to vex.
In 1906, a devastating fire destroyed the majority of the town. With 39 businesses remaining, the outlook was hopeful even in the face of loss. Another tragedy would soon follow in 1907, another fire taking with it the Dycusburg Peoples Bank and the Yates Hotel.
While it seemed that the cursed town could not become more distraught, tobacco wars were raging in many Western Kentucky counties. In 1908, the tobacco Night Riders came to the home of Henry Bennett and beat him within inches of his life because he was buying tobacco against the orders of the association. Before leaving town, they burned the Bennett Bros. Distillery, singing "The Fire Burns Bright in My Old Kentucky Home," as the amassed crowd of nearly 300 marched away.
Bennett battled the Night Riders in court, winning a small settlement, but died two years later in Metropolis, Illinois. His bitter wife, Oda (Krone) Bennett, had the inscription "Killed by the Night-Riders" engraved on his tombstone.
The river, once a gentle provider and means of support, turned her face against the town. Waters overflowed the banks of the river, destroying businesses with the murky waters of the Cumberland, most notably during the flood of 1937. Automobile and train transportation had direct negative effects on the growth of the town. After the turn of the century, area mines began to close and workers were forced to move north to seek employment. Little by little, the population dwindled in numbers, and the town nearly became a ghost town.
A few families stayed to work the farms of their immediate families and ancestors, or found work nearby in a struggling economy. One resident, Lucian Vosier, was hired to wire the homes of Dycusburg for electricity when lines ran there in 1939. Christmas came before the company electricians, so Lucian climbed the pole in front of his house, turned on the current, and had the first lighted Christmas tree in town.
As the years passed, people continued to move away, but the memories of the town held many of the residents together. It would not be unusual to find an older resident sitting on a bench in front of one of the two grocery stores who would gladly share his or her memories about growing up there.
In addition to the stores, Dycusburg now modestly boasts a post office and two churches, Baptist and Methodist. In 1990, the official census population was 47.
Mary Lou Griffin wrote: "If you need a place to get away from the hustle and bustle I strongly recommend our little town. Come and see for yourself. I like it — you might too." She says she still loves to hear the sound of a distant whistle on the river.