The first manufacturer of horse-drawn vehicles in Hopkinsville was not the Mogul Wagon Factory -- as one might imagine -- but the subject of our investigation today, preserved for us in a priceless picture.
It is the earliest known photograph taken in Hopkinsville (circa 1858), and has much to tell us -- and hints at even more. The picture is of the Poindexter & Baker Manufactory. "Manufactory" is not a misspelling here, merely part of the company name -- as we can see in the picture.
During the same year that Andrew Jackson attained the White House -- 1829 -- George Poindexter opened a factory for the making of carriages, buggies, spring wagons and heavy farm wagons. He was joined by H. L. Baker in 1860 -- shortly after the photograph was taken -- just prior to the Civil War. This partnership lasted until 1881, at the death of Poindexter. The Mogul Wagon Factory came into being in 1871, and thus became competition for Poindexter during its last decade of operation.
To put 1829 into historical perspective, we need to remember that in 1800 Hopkinsville's population was a mere 25 people. It was literally a jumping off place into the wilderness -- the last stop of the stagecoach lines for many years to come. By 1810 there were only 131 people here, in 1820 the figure had only grown to 700. Just a year after Poindexter opened in 1829 there were only 1,263 people here (1830).
Before the wagon-making factory first occupied the site in 1829, there was a home there -- which is now the parking lot of the City Hall at Eighth and Virginia. It was the abode of John Saffarrans, a German coppersmith, who was a Hopkinsville pioneer. Saffarrans settled here somewhere been 1800 and 1810. We don't know what his house looked like, or whether in fact it later was incorporated into the wagon factory.
The single feature of the Poindexter & Baker photograph that literally leaps out at us is the stepped Dutch (or Flemish) Gable (roof) End (at the upper right hand corner of the picture) , which is a gable that extends above the roofline, that the roof then dies into. This architectural feature dates from 16th century Holland, then Belgium, Germany, France and finally England -- in the 17th and 18th centuries. This is an expensive,
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sophisticated Renaissance architectural feature requires careful detailing, since weatherproof flashing has to be installed at each end of the roof -- as the wall line extends above the roof line. The only other Dutch Gable End building that springs to mind in Hopkinsville is the Cumberland Telephone & Telegraph Company building on East Ninth Street, which dates from 1903.
The 9-over-6 windows in the gable end section of the building would suggest that this section was built first, since we notice that the Virginia Street building extension had 6-over-6 windows. It would be easy, however, to here get impaled on the horns of a dilemma, since this pictorial evidence also suggests that the gable end is part of an earlier house that faced on Eighth Street. We could almost expect that to be sealed in stone, except for the fact that we know of no one at that period in Hopkinsville history who would have been able to build such a costly and imposing home. We are unaware that there is -- or ever was in Hopkinsville -- a residence with Dutch Gable ends.
Even with the Mogul Wagon Company as competition -- along with others -- this wagon factory continued to produce until the 1920s. Succeeding firms at the same location included M. D. Steele, Charles W. Ducker and the firm of R. F. West & W.H. Lee. In the fall of 1893 a third floor was being added to the building when a wall collapsed, killing one of the bricklayers. A building built with 1829 technology should never have had a third story added to it. However, the wall was rebuilt and the third floor finally went up.
Later on, a series of different businesses were located on the site. It was an appliance store, and after that W. Jeff Hammond started his Moving & Storage business there. Finally, it sat vacant for years and was torn down in the 1960s.
We are lucky to have the scant pictorial evidence that exists to help us put together an accurate (if piecemeal) picture of early Hopkinsville, and this photograph is a vital part of that collection. Another picture also exists of a house that was located on the northwest corner of Second Street and Virginia -- across the street from the Wood house. From its tall chimneys, sophisticated front door with fanlight and glass side panels and Palladian style windows, it is easy to date this house as having been built between 1800 and 1820, when there were only 700 people in Hopkinsville. Part vernacular and partially built from a pattern book (the front door, fanlight and side panels) this is a fantastic surviving glimpse of Hopkinsville in the early 19th century.
We urge all residents of Christian County -- when looking through old family photographs that include buildings -- to contact William Turner or me if you find a building that you think might be particularly old or of historical interest. Buried treasure may not be all below ground, but lurking in an old box, cupboard or drawer. Join us in May when we will uncover another architectural treasure.
James B. Coursey's Hiding in Plain Sight column appears monthly in the Kentucky New Era. His column is researched jointly with County Historian William T. Turner. Reach James Coursey at 270-719-9462 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.