in the Valley
enjoy tranquility amid progress
history shaped by railroad, writers, Civil War
Helen E. McKinney
PEWEE VALLEY, Ky. (November 2005) Virginia
Chaudoin has lived on the same street for 84 years. But life has not
been mundane for this lifelong Pewee Valley resident. Shes proud
to call the small, quaint town home and, like most residents, very proud
to relate its history to anyone who will lend an ear.
KY Edition Cover
Her grandfather, Jacob Herdt, emigrated from Germany with
his parents when he was 8 years old. He became a blacksmith, and her
father, William Karl Herdt Sr., was a wagon maker and wheelwright. The
family moved from Bullitt County to Central Avenue, near Rollington,
in Pewee Valley, around 1895-1900. Jacob and William began the Herdt
Motor Company in 1910 and built wagon and truck chassis.
Daddy sold Ford cars until the war, said Chaudoin. As a
child, it was great fun for her and her brother, Bill Jr., and sister,
Louise Marker, to play in the shop. The two-story building had a 30-foot
ramp leading to an upstairs room where wagons were painted. Chaudoin
recalled getting inside of tires and then rolling down the ramp inside
She remembers her brother, Bill, driving the family to Princeton, Ky.,
when he was only 12 years old. They went to visit a former schoolteacher
who had married a doctor and moved to Princeton. Bill, 88, remembers
touring through the Eddyville prison, which he said was a scary experience
to someone who had never been out of the calm, peaceful town of Pewee
Chaudoin got her drivers license in 1935 when she was 14. But
actually owning a car was a rare thing; there were only four cars on
her street, Tulip Avenue, while she was growing up.
The Herdts home was between their shop and the schoolhouse. Bill
said he could hear his granddaddy beating on the anvil while he was
at school. He joined the family business in 1934. Bill wasnt given
much choice as to whether or not he wanted to make a career out of the
family business, but the Depression gave me even less choices,
Bill said fondly that Pewee Valley was the best place to grow up. We
knew all of the people and visited the neighbors a lot. One close
family was their next-door neighbors, the Singers, with whom they played
Rook card games in the evenings.
by Don Ward
Sis Marker types invoices
at Herdt Motor Co., one of the towns
At one point in Pewee Valleys history, there were
two telegraph offices, the Home and the Cumberland. The latter one was
above Jerrys Grocery and burned in 1912. Chaudoins mother
worked there when the building caught on fire. Water had to be sent
out by train, since there was no public means of obtaining water. It
took so long for her mother to call Louisville and get a response that
the upstairs portion of the building was destroyed. Mrs. Herdt had to
climb out of the upstairs window and down a telephone pole to escape
Bill, who lives next door to his sister, said he has been a member of
the local fire department for more than 70 years. In the early years,
We depended on Anchorage for fire runs, he said. The firemen
werent allowed to ride on the truck but were cautioned to get
to the fire the best way they could. This usually meant bicycling or
But long before this, Virginia pioneers had settled in the area in the
late 1700s and early 1800s. Previous names for Pewee Valley include
Smiths Depot and Rollington.
Rollington was once a stopping point on the roads from Louisville to
Brownsboro, and Middletown to Westport. Around 1810, one of the first
settlers were farmers Michael and Rosanna Smith. The Smith family had
immigrated to the American colonies in 1717 and were one of the first
families to come to the Brownsboro area with a group of German families.
by Don Ward
Gothic Revival style
Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church
Central Avenue dates to 1867.
They came to farm, said Mary Utley Murphy.
Murphys husband, Thomas, is a direct descendent of Michael and
Rosannas son, Henry S. Smith. They came to Brownsboro looking
for land, said Murphy. They came as far as Rollington, where Michael
Smith grew up.
Henry S. Smith owned a great deal of land where Pewee Valley is now
situated. He was a very astute man, said Murphy of her husbands
ancestor. He was well before his time in his thinking. He was
an entrepreneur whose ideas worked very well.
Smith was commissioned by the Oldham County Court in 1835 to survey
the Rollington to Floydsburg Road. This was the earliest route through
present-day Pewee Valley.
The road followed much of todays Central Avenue before cutting
in a northeasterly direction toward Floydsburg.
In 1851, the Louisville and Frankfort Railroad completed its line between
these two cities. Smith owned a large tract of land adjacent to the
railroad, and a stop called Smiths Station was established 11/2
miles from the Rollington settlement.
Smith bought 22 acres on the east side of the tracks and began laying
out roads and subdividing the land in 1866. He created Ashwood (now
Ash), Tulip, Maple and Elm avenues. Smith helped plant native trees
along the towns wide streets and avenues that bare their names
to improve the towns esthetic quality.
The town was so important to Smith because it was home,
said Murphy. A group of residents derived its name from the large number
of Eastern Wood Pewee birds in the area and the upside down valley
topographical appearance of the town. A town committee accepted the
name and the town was incorporated in 1870.
By 1867, several prominent residents financed the construction of a
depot, which soon became the heart and sole of the community. It was
located on the east side of the railroad tracks at the intersection
of Central Avenue and La Grange Road.
The railroad, coupled with the advent of better roads, was responsible
in part for the summer homes that began springing up around Smiths
Station after the railroad started commuter service in 1854. A number
of wealthy individuals came to Pewee Valley to build country estates,
as well as a large number of talented artists, journalists and intellectuals.
by Don Ward
Herdt Jr., Markers brother,
poses in his workshop at Herdt Motor Co.
He is considered one of the towns
Pewee Valley originated as a summer resort, then
became a bedroom town for Louisville, said Murphy. Originally
from Mississippi, Murphy, 78, has had ties to Pewee Valley since her
father was transferred there with Standard Oil of Kentucky in 1949.
When I first came, I found the people absolutely delightful,
It was during the late 19th century that Pewee Valley reached its full
potential as a summer vacation spot. The Villa Ridge Inn was built on
a prominent knoll near the train depot in 1889. The three story, approximately
100-room Queen Anne-style hotel was built by developer Horace F. Smith,
whose older brother, Milton, was president of the Louisville and Nashville
The Kentucky Division of United Confederate Veterans later purchased
the hotel. Dedicated in 1902 by Gov. J.C.W. Beckham, the Villa Ridge
Inn became the Kentucky Confederate Home for Veterans of the War Between
Chaudoin remembered visiting the Confederate Home as a child to dance
and sing for the old soldiers, she said. But not all of
the soldiers were disabled. One spry veteran in particular remained
in her mind. He was a 93-year-old veteran who rode a bicycle around
Although the home was destroyed by fire on March 25, 1920, its residents
can still be remembered by a visit to the public cemetery, located at
the end of Maple Avenue, which contains a Confederate section. In this
section are buried 313 Confederate veterans, their graves marked with
small white crosses.
Several prominent residents, including Henry S. Smith, realized that
these veterans needed a proper burial place and didnt have one.
The state ultimately bought a small plot in the public cemetery for
this purpose. But the privately maintained public cemetery went downhill,
since family members did not tend to their ancestors graves, said
Murphy, who is chairman of the board of directors for the cemetery.
by Don Ward
CSX train rumbles through town.
Due to the combined efforts of three men, former Sheriff
Buford Renacker, Mackie Fletcher and Norris Summers, the cemetery was
rededicated in 1955 during Gov. Happy Chandlers second term of
office. Henry S. Smiths wife, Susan, died on Aug. 26, 1871, and
is the first known person to have been buried in the public cemetery.
Smith died on March 18, 1883, and is buried beside her.
Many of the old mansions in Pewee Valley stem from the boat and railway
fortunes made in Louisville after the Civil War. It is this era that
Annie Fellows Johnson chose to write about in her Little Colonel series
and forever made Pewee Valley popular.
Those idyllic days may be gone, but Murphy best stated the attitude
of most residents by saying, My children grew up here and I still
call this home.
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