History Center Dinner Series

Oldham County’s Thiess
to discuss book at forum

Her book focuses on history of county
from earlier writings

LA GRANGE, Ky. (December 2013) – Oldham County has a rich heritage, made up of diverse people and a strong connection to the Ohio River. It is this recurring river theme which Nancy Stearns Theiss has crafted into a book about the counties’ beginning and its evolvement into what it is today. Theiss is the author of “Oldham County: Life at the River’s Edge.”
“I wrote the book from articles that I started writing for the “World Beneath Your Feet” column for the Louisville Courier-Journal,” she said. “I realized that the material might be interesting if I organized in such a way that it made a timeline of events about the history of Oldham County.”


Theiss, Executive Director for the Oldham County History Center, chose stories that she thought “stood out” as major topics in Oldham County history. It includes stories about Hermitage Farm, slavery, the Mount family, Dr. Rob Morris, the Interurban railway, Annie Fellows Johnston, D.W. Griffith, Mallory Taylor Hospital, and recollections from the Depression era.
“I organized the book into a “river” theme with each section representing the four major periods that is covered: Muddy Waters: Pioneer and Antebellum; Turbulence: Civil War and Reconstruction; Undertow: Progressive Period and Depression; and Currents and Streams: Modern Era,” said Theiss.

Her book will be the last topic presented in a year-long dinner series at the Oldham County History Center at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 11, at the Rob Morris Chapel Educational Building. Light dinner fare will be served and a cash bar will be available. Reservations are required.
Theiss used river themes to emphasize how the Ohio River shaped Oldham County’s development and history. “Oldham County’s location along the Ohio River and proximity to Louisville makes it a relevant place in so many ways,” Thiess said.
It was a place where many English families, who had been awarded large land grants for their participation in the Revolutionary War, settled and started a new life. Many settlers who came down the Ohio River brought along a large slave population. Because of its location along the river, Oldham County had easy access for trading, selling and shipping slaves.
In her book, Theiss writes, “The Ohio River was a corridor for the new frontier, and Oldham County was certainly an attraction for new families.”
Among these families were such notable people as Commodore Richard Taylor and Capt. John Henshaw, two prominent men of the time who contributed much to the development of the county.
“It was a gateway to the Western frontier when the Illinois Territory opened, and it was a corridor for the Underground Railroad because it bordered the Mason Dixon line,” said Theiss. The counties “rich farmland and proximity to urban areas created a strong agricultural base for dairy farming, tobacco, race horses, cattle and hog farming, orchard grass production and truck farms, all of which used both the river and railroad and highway for easy transport of products.”
The Oldham County History Center houses a vast array of archives from which Theiss drew upon to construct her book. Preserved sources include court documents, old newspapers, personal letters, diaries and artifacts. She also used some oral histories taken from interviews conducted by Theiss for the Living Treasure Program.
“I believe that if people know about the natural and cultural history of the place where they live, they tend to protect it and make it a better place for everyone to live,” said Theiss. “If people read my book and it makes them think about the past or just simply ‘think’ about all the events that shape our world today, then I believe that it possibly helps my readers connect with the world around them.”
“Oldham County: Life at the River’s Edge” was published by The History Press, a publishing company based in Charleston, S.C. Part of its mission is to engage people to take an interest in their local history.
“The History Press embellishes the idea to expose the local history of places, no matter how big or small,” said Theiss. “I like the fact that they embrace books and encourage authors to write about the “little” known places, or about forgotten ‘big’ events, that took place sometimes right in your own backyard.”
Wanting to meet some of the other History Press authors based in Kentucky, Theiss pitched an idea to The History Press to conduct a series featuring “folks in our region. It promotes The History Press and the authors. People like meeting authors face to face – it’s good feedback for everyone, she said.
Theiss is currently working with The History Press to line up authors for the 2014 History Press Author Dinner Series. It will include Milt Toby, Stuart Sanders and Theiss, who is working on a new book about Rob Morris, founder of the Order of the Eastern Star and Poet Laureate of Freemasonry.
“Born in La Grange, I always knew something about Rob Morris and the historic home here,” she said. One day Marjorie Morgan Applegate, a local resident and member of the Order of the Eastern Star, “came in my office with over 300 letters written by Morris, his family and contacts from 1847 until when he moved to La Grange about 1860.”
The letters remained at the History Center for several years. “I kept waiting for someone to write a book on him. When no one did, “I decided to!” said Theiss. The book should be out in September 2014.

• Tickets for the Dec. 11 program are $12 for History Center members and $15 for non-members. For more information, contact the Oldham County History Center at (502) 222-0826 or email: info@oldhamcountyhistoricalsociety.org.

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