Tom Eblen

As news shifts to the web, will history be lost to the ether?

The July 6, 1826 edition of the Kentucky Whig reported how Lexington celebrated the 50th anniversary of American independence two days earlier.
The July 6, 1826 edition of the Kentucky Whig reported how Lexington celebrated the 50th anniversary of American independence two days earlier. teblen@herald-leader.com

News that the Herald-Leader would shut down its presses at the end of this month and transfer printing to Gannett’s newer presses in Louisville was on my mind over the Independence Day weekend.

It has been obvious for years that the Internet, and not print, is the news medium of the future. It is faster, cheaper, has no space limitations and can include video, photo galleries and reader comments. (To be clear: the Herald-Leader will continue producing and delivering newspapers — they will just be printed in Louisville and trucked here. The news staff will continue to be in Lexington, as always.)

But as digital technology evolves, I worry about what will happen to news when it becomes history. Will old online news reports be preserved in easily searched databases? Or will they just disappear into the ether?

I enjoy researching Kentucky history, and I am always finding fascinating bits of information in old newspapers that help explain why things are the way they are now.

Several years ago, I bought a half-dozen Lexington newspapers from the 1820s. They had been preserved in the U.S. State Department archives for generations, then discarded once they could be copied on microfilm or digitized.

As anyone who was in Lexington this past weekend knows, the celebration of Independence Day is a big deal in this city. That seems to have always been the case.

In my copy of the July 6, 1826 edition of the Kentucky Whig, a Lexington newspaper that supported Henry Clay’s political party, there is this item:

The fiftieth Anniversary of American Independence was hailed to the joy of the citizens of Lexington. The day was ushered forth, by the ringing of bells, the roaring of Cannon, and heavy platoon and street firing from the two Uniform Companies of this town under the command of Captains Pike and West. Large parties then repaired to Sanders’ Garden and Mr. Connetts in the vicinity to partake of sumptuous Dinners and spend the day in Dancing and other appropriate amusements. A continued and steady fall of rain very much interrupted the celebration; tho’ we are informed, that Mr. E. Noble at Sanders’ Garden furnished extensive accommodations, by which the numerous assemblage of ladies and gentlemen were protected from the inclemency of the weather.

That day would become famous because two Founding Fathers died within hours, 50 years to the day they had signed the Declaration of Independence: John Adams, the second president, and Thomas Jefferson, the third. They were bitter enemies who late in life became close friends.

Of course, the people celebrating in Lexington wouldn’t know that news for some time. They were focused on partying, just as my neighbors and I were Monday.

The Kentucky Whig doesn’t mention a fireworks display — perhaps it was rained out — but the local militia seems to have provided plenty of celebratory noise.

I had heard of Sanders’ Garden, a sort of private park used for public gatherings such as barbecues and political speeches. With further research, I discovered it was created by Lewis Sanders on his farm off Georgetown Road.

(I still don’t know anything about “Mr. Connetts in the vicinity”. But Lexington had at least one other private park similar to Sanders’ Garden. That was Fowlers’ Garden, created by Capt. John Fowler just east of town. His 300-acre property included the spring that was the main source of Town Branch Creek. That spring, now buried like most of the creek, was where the Jif Peanut Butter plant is now.)

Sanders created Kentucky’s first steam-powered cotton and woolen mill and also was a skilled livestock breeder. Sanders’ Garden hosted some of Kentucky’s first formal livestock shows.

When I started trying to figure out where Sanders’ Garden was located, I discovered this: In 1846, 20 acres of Sanders’ Garden was bought by a nurseryman from Alsace-Lorraine who had come to Lexington five years earlier. His name was Francis Xavier Hillenmeyer, and his descendants have been landscaping Lexington from that property at 2337 Sandersville Road ever since.

One last note: That issue of the Kentucky Whig also carried an ad for Milward & Baxter cabinetmakers on Main Cross Street, the original name of Broadway. The company is still on Broadway, but was long ago renamed Milward Funeral Directors. (Undertaking was a common sideline of 19th century cabinetmakers who made coffins.)

Milward is considered Lexington’s oldest business, having been founded the year before that newspaper ad appeared. But I doubt the Milward family still accepts in trade “country linen, jeans, corn and hay” as the 1826 ad proclaimed.

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