• Bob Vlach, Woodford Sun Staff

Piecing together story of an African-American community

DONALD MORTON, a member of the Woodford County Cemetery Preservation Board, talked to students about the history of Huntertown, an African-American community, last Thursday morning, Feb. 18, at Woodford County High School. (Photo by Bob Vlach)

Huntertown was historically an African-American community in Woodford County. Newly freed slaves moved there and to other hamlets or "freetowns" at the end of the Civil War. Donald Morton, a descendant of one family that has deep roots in Huntertown, talked to students about that once-thriving community during his visit to the Woodford County High School library last Thursday morning, Feb. 18. "Before the (Blue Grass) Parkway (came through, Huntertown) used to be one big town by itself," Morton told students in Sioux Finney's freshman history class: Piecing A Story Together (PAST). Finney's students are learning about Huntertown and its residents so they can share those stories. Other teachers and students at WCHS are also contributing to this effort to tell this story about Woodford County's past. "We're really excited to be able to try to understand more about the story," said Finney. Her students need the community's help to obtain photos or other artifacts that will help them document the history of Huntertown. "There's no documentation to substantiate much of anything for that particular site," explained WCHS librarian Mona Romine. Finney wants to obtain audio equipment to record oral histories of people who lived in Huntertown and are willing to share their stories. "We're trying to find the people that can tell the story," she said. It may take several years before WCHS students can fully tell the story of Huntertown, but Finney said they will share what they've learned so far during Spark Versailles, a downtown festival organized by WCHS students on April 8, 9 and 10. During his talk last Thursday, Morton told students that he supports a project to turn Huntertown into a park with historic markers that inform visitors of this African-American hamlet's history so its residents are not forgotten. He described the roots of those African-American families as "pretty powerful." And he wants their stories told before they're lost forever. Moreover, Morton wants park visitors to understand the true stories of everyday life in Huntertown when they come to the historic site. The Woodford County Fiscal Court used Community Development Block Grant dollars to purchase the 38 acres known as Huntertown, with the last lot being purchased in 2010. WCHS students in science teacher Mary Beth Rouse's class are studying the Huntertown property's biology and ecology. During a recent site visit, her students did water tests at a pond on the property. They also did mapping on "some pretty old trees" - dating as far back as 100 or more years ago, Rouse said. "Those roots are deep in every direction," she added. While acknowledging earlier efforts by county leaders, Planning Director Pattie Wilson and others in the community to preserve Huntertown as a public space, Finney said her students want to "spark" interest in using this site to tell the story of African-American hamlets in Kentucky and Woodford County, including Firmantown, Davistown and Russelltown. WCHS senior J. B. Hudson, who lives off Huntertown Road, said he had never heard of an African-American community called Huntertown before the recent research being spearheaded by students in Finney's class. "So it's really interesting to realize that there's a hamlet back there," said J. B., a library aide. Last October, a road sign was erected to mark the location of Huntertown Cemetery for historians, descendants and others. Morton, whose grandfather was buried in the cemetery, serves on the Woodford County Cemetery Preservation Board instrumental in making that sign a reality.

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