Monday, April 27, 2009

475. Utica? Where is Utica?

At 6:58 am today, someone logged on here along the Left Bank of the Ohio near Milepost 606. The information listed tells me they did so from the tiny village of Utica, Kentucky.

And that reminds me of a story, the butt of which is me.

Back in the fall of 1978, I was a freshman at the University of Kentucky. I lived in Kirwan II, one of the low-rise dorms on South Campus in the Blanding-Kirwan Commons. Kirwan II was assigned to freshmen men only. During those first few days or weeks, much time was spent meeting new friends. This often occurred at the supper table over at the South Commons Cafeteria, the place I regularly ate. There I met Steve Davis and Mark Whitaker, both of Colerain, Ohio which is a suburb northwest of Cincinnati, as well as my two neighbors in my dorm, in the room to my room's left, Steve Marelli and Gary Loyd, both of Daviess County. Rounding out the group was my roommate, Peter Matthews Wright, of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Our conversations often centered on our hometowns. In the UK Freshman Register I was listed as being from Okolona, Kentucky, which I explained was a suburb of Louisville. Peter would talk about Pittsburgh, Steve Davis and Mark would talk about Cincinnati, I'd chime in for Louisville, and Steve Marelli trumped up Owensboro, his hometown. Finally, Gary Loyd would go on about the virtues of Utica, Kentucky. Utica this and Utica that, on and on. It was somewhat maddening and we derided him more than once over his Utica-centered pronouncements.

A month or two into the fall semester, one would think that every thing which could be said about Utica, Kentucky had been said. Not so with Gary, who could always find one more way for Utica to one-up Owensboro, Louisville, Cincinnati, or Pittsburgh - or New York, Paris, or London for that matter. I was among the deriders about what good could come out of Utica.

Sometime in October, Marelli and I decided we needed a break from class and declared ourselves a holiday - that is to say we cut class. And we decided to go visit some of my relatives over in Frankfort, who during this time of year, would be cutting and bundling tobacco. We caught a ride over to Frankfort from my late Uncle Noble Hedger, who lived in Lexington and was an employee at the Health Department on East Main. Once in Frankfort we somehow made it out to my aunt's house and garden on Pea Ridge Road. Aunt Frances Moore raised a huge garden on the back of Taylor Collins' farm, land which is now part of the Capital City Airport, next to what used to be the Whippoorwill Springs Golf Course. (Aunt Frances is still with us, now 89 and no longer raising a garden).

From there we borrowed somebody's car and went to visit my great-grandfather, Robert Lewis, Sr., who lived along the Old Louisville Road between the communities of Bridgeport in Franklin County and Graefensburg in Shelby County. I had just about this time begun an interest in genealogy, but I knew very little about Papaw Lewis's family other than he was originally from Owenton. I knew he had two brothers, Revel and Roy, and I thought I knew about a sister, Theresa. In October, 1978, my great-grandfather would have been 85 years old. He died three months after this visit.

So it was that Marelli and I were sitting in his kitchen while he had lunch, which consisted of the exact same thing he had had for breakfast and would have later for supper - a hamburger, some milk-toast, peas, and half-and-half to drink. We asked all kinds of questions and he responded with answers and a few questions of his own. One was directed to Marelli about his family and his hometown. When Marelli responded that he was from Owensboro, my great-grandfather took an interest. He explained that he too was from Owensboro, but not really. I interjected that I thought he was from Owenton. Rather than being from Owenton or Owensboro, he told us he was in fact from a little village about 12 miles south of Owensboro and named for his family, and still called Lewis. When Marelli asked where that was, he described it as just west of Utica and that, in fact, while Lewis did not have post office, Utica did. So, for all intents and purposes, he was from Utica. The villages of Lewis and Utica are, to this day, less than a mile apart in southern Daviess County, just west of US431 on KY140.

Upon learning that I was descended from a Utica resident Marelli looked at me and let out a big laugh. He couldn't wait to get back to Lexington that night and spread the news. Not only was Utica everything that Gary said it was, it was also Jeff Noble's ancestral hometown.

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The Archives at Milepost 606


Louisville, Kentucky, United States
Never married, liberal Democrat, born in 1960, opinionated but generally pleasant, member of the Episcopal Church. Graduate of Prestonia Elementary, Durrett High, and Spalding University; the first two now-closed Jefferson County Public Schools, the latter a very small liberal arts college in downtown Louisville affiliated with the Roman Catholic Sisters of Charity of Nazareth. My vocation and avocation is politics. My favorite pastime is driving the backroads of Kentucky and southern Indiana, visiting small towns, political hangouts, courthouses, churches, and cemeteries. You are welcome to ride with me sometime.