RURAL ROUTES: Briensburg
Jan 14, 2014 | 2778 views | 0 0 comments | 78 78 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Masonic Lodge building sits diagonally across the intersection that was once near the center of town.  The concrete that remains on the rear corner marks the site of one of several stores, gas stations and other businesses that operated in Briensburg in years past.
The Masonic Lodge building sits diagonally across the intersection that was once near the center of town. The concrete that remains on the rear corner marks the site of one of several stores, gas stations and other businesses that operated in Briensburg in years past.
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Kentucky State Rep. James Boyd Brien spearheaded the move to form Marshall County from the northern portion of Calloway.
Kentucky State Rep. James Boyd Brien spearheaded the move to form Marshall County from the northern portion of Calloway.
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Will Nimmo was an early mayor of the incorporated community.
Will Nimmo was an early mayor of the incorporated community.
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By David Green

Tribune-Courier Staff

sports@tribunecourier.com

Transportation never treated Briensburg kindly.

First, it was the railroad, which when it was laid through Marshall County on its way from Paducah to Murray, was placed on the south and west side of the Clarks River.

That ended the debate between whether Briensburg or Benton ought to be the seat of government for the newly formed Marshall County. Benton got the railroad, and the county seat designation along with it.

Later it was a highway – the Purchase Parkway, which opened in the 1960s. Development sprang up where U.S. 68 intersected with the new toll road stretching from Calvery City to Fulton, and Draffenville began to grow into one of the county’s major centers of population and commerce.

Briensburg was formed as an incorporated community on Feb. 18, 1861, the day Jefferson Davis was inaugurated as president of the Confederacy. It boasted a city charter and a designed grid of streets and a public square where a court house might have been located, if it had gotten that county seat designation.

The town was named in honor of James Boyd Brien, who moved to the area around 1820 and was one of the first blacksmiths in the area that is now Marshall County.

Brien served in the Kentucky legislature and is credited with helping in the formation of the county from the northern part of Calloway County in 1842.

The first westward migration came toward Briensburg, not away from it, as many residents of Birmingham relocated there when Birmingham was covered by the rising waters of Kentucky Lake in the late 1940s. Birmingham Cemetery was also moved to its present site, adjacent to Briensburg Baptist Church.

When the new parkway opened, attention focused on Draffenville. Briensburg dwiindled, its identity tied mainly to the three churches and the Masonic Lodge.

But it remains prominent in the memories of those who called it home over the past decades.

Jackie Bohannon’s family moved from Birmingham, and she raised her family in Briensburg.

She still attends Briensburg Baptist Church, but now lives in Draffenville.

“It was much busier then,”she said of Briensburg in the 1950s. “Now there’s much more activity around Draffenville.”

She remembers Briensburg as a typical small town. “Back then, I knew everybody in Briensburg,” she said.

Briensburg’s golden years were in a different time, long-time residents recall.

Ray Wyatt, who lives on U.S. 68 at the southeastern fringe of the community, remembers a time before World War II when two people were walking along the dirt road and asked for a drink of water.

“My dad asked them where they were going,” he said, and they named Chelsea, Ala., as their destination.

The sky’s appearance suggested that a storm was brewing, and the elder Wyatt invited the travelers to stay overnight in one of the farm’s structures.

That saved them from exposure to a violent thunderstorm. “That old house shook on its foundation,” Wyatt recalled.

Wyatt, who moved on from grammar school at Briensburg and graduated from Benton High School in 1946, remembers community activities such as hog killings, tobacco cuttings and quilting.

“People wanted to help people,” he said, remarking on the ways in which people shared resources and labor. “It was just different.”

Mrs. Bohannon and friend Judy Jaco recall the “pie suppers” that were held as social occasions for young men and women.

“Whoever bought your pie, you had to eat it with him,” Mrs. Jaco said with a smile.

Mrs. Jaco’s uncle, Joe Bill English, was born a few miles away in Scale, but says his earliest memories are from the house in Briensburg where he grew up in the 1920s and ‘30s. He still lives in the western end of Briensburg on Highway 58.

“We had four stores, a doctor, the Masonic hall, three churches, a blacksmith shop and a telephone switchboard,” he said.

English described an early gasoline pump, which was used to fill five-gallon cans for transfer to automobiles and trucks rather than pumping directly into the vehicles’ tanks.

His brother, named Hovie but known to all as “Toad,” operated several stores in Briensburg. The most recent one was in a concrete-block building along U.S. 68. The structure now is used by Mediacom.

Over the years, there was never a high school, but several versions of a grammar school served the children of Briensburg. The last one was a multi-room, multi-grade building that opened in 1948, along with an identical one in Fairdealing, as the new Kentucky Lake began to have a positive influence on the local economy.

Youngsters gathered in a vacant lot to play baseball and engaged in “kick the can” contests. There were outdoor basketball hoops for informal games.

And there was the clay pit, a hole in the ground north of Briensburg. According to the Marshall County volume in the Arcadia Publications series “Images of America,” kaolin clay was mined for many years from the site on a farm owned by Frank Burradell.

The operation closed down in 1928. But the pit filled with water, and it made a grand swimming hole, according to English, Wyatt and others.

“They didn’t have swimming suits,” English’s wife, Lounell, said with a twinkle in her eye.

And they didn’t have parental permission to go there, either, English said.

“You got your butt busted if your pappy found out you’d been there,” he said.

No one remembers any tragedy associated with swimming in the cool, deep waters. But English lost a childhood friend, Lawrence Travis Mobley, when he tried to jump on his father’s truck as it was rolling out of the yard. He fell underneath the truck and was run over. He was 6 years old.

Later, when English was about 16, he drove a truckload of lumber to Corinth, Miss., for the boy’s father, V.H. Mobley.

Residents remember local political speech-making in a vacant lot on the remnants of the city’s grid of streets and local characters such as “The Monkey Man,” who pulled a little cart around town with a monkey riding in it, and “The Snakeman,” a muscular figure often seen with a boa constrictor draped around his shoulders.

There was the “cracker box school bus.” Marvin Holland built the bus on a Chevrolet truck chassis and transported students to and from Benton High School.

Many remember the blind preacher, Tommy Copeland, who held revivals in the early 1930s and ended up as pastor of the Baptist church when it was founded in 1933.

They remember days when a young man might work all day cutting tobacco and get paid as little as 25 cents, but could also buy an R.C. Cola, a Moon Pie and a baloney sandwich for a nickel apiece.

Briensburg School closed in 1975. But the building still stands. It has been renovated and now includes a number of apartments.

“It made a nice place for people to live,” said Mrs. Bohannon, whose son and daughter went to school there and moved on to North Marshall High School, where they graduated.

The Masonic Lodge is now home to not one, but two groups. Briensburg Masonic Lodge 401 meets the third Thursday of each month while T.L. Jefferson-Benton Lodge 622 meets on the second Monday.

Briensburg once was host to The Big Singing, the historic gospel music event, and it still has a claim to musical fame in the bluegrass family band the McKendrees, who are popular today.

No one remembers when the city dissolved its charter.

But they remember many things, most of them with great fondness, about Briensburg.
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