Friday, June 4, 2010

Jefferson Davis Birthday Celebration: Historian William Turner

At first glance some outside the Pennyrile might raise an eyebrow to the fact that Ron Sydnor is the park manager at the Jefferson Davis Monument Historic Site. Ron is an African-American who has served in the U.S. Marine Corp and also served the Kentucky State Park System at Ken Lake and Barkley. I don't want to put words in the mouth of Christian County Historian William Turner, but I think he would probably tell us that having an African American in a position of leadership is nothing new to our area.

Christian County had the first black sheriff in Kentucky and one of the first, if not the first black district judge. Hopkinsville's only Rhodes Scholars were black. F.E. Whitney served as one of the earliest and longest serving elected officials in Kentucky and I could go on and on. As a footnote some of my liberal friends might question my use of black versus African- American and I have to admit that sometimes I struggle with the political correctness because of one brown teacher I had in high school. This teacher made it clear that she was not African-American, was not from Africa, and was not black but brown. So one can see my dilemma.

Ron shared with me his story and the goals he has for the park. Ron admitted that the only culture shock he had was coming from the largest state park at Barkley with over a 100 employees to Jefferson Davis with a staff of 5. Ron said he is working on elevating the park to be open year round as opposed to the seasonal schedule it is on now.

The Jefferson Davis Birthday Celebration will begin tomorrow when the park opens at 9:00 am. Christian County Historian William Turner provided me with some insight regarding the monuments beginnings. A reunion of the Orphan Brigade was held in Bowling Green in 1907. Most of this brigade whose members were from the Glasgow area were killed at Stone's River. They wanted to honor Jefferson Davis and in 1909 with the support of the United Confederate Veterans and the Daughters of the Confederacy they began the effort to buy land a build a monument.

William Turner stated that Jefferson Davis shared the same popularity of George Washington in the South. "He was considered our George Washington," said Turner. Ground was broken in 1917 just prior to WW I. Turner explained that the monument was being constructed with Portland cement but was halted due to a moratorium placed on the cement by President Wilson. "President Wilson took all the concrete and sent it to Henry Ford so he could build his concrete ships which sank," said Turner.

Short of money and materials the construction was on and off again until the monument was finally completed and dedicated in June of 1924. A steel stairway provide access to the top but an elevator was installed in 1929. Turner commented that there was no electricity in the area and an electric line had to run all the way from Fairview to Hopkinsville to operate the elevator. William Turner offered that visitors in the early years often quipped and wondered why they did not bother to use some of the concrete to provide something besides a muddy path as a drive way to get to the monument.

Historian William Turner is the author of a number of books providing a photographic history of the area and will be having a book signing at the monument on Saturday.

Kentucky enjoy and benefits from having one of the finest state park systems in America. In my opinion Kentucky has failed to provide the funding to retain our position as the best of the best. Our state parks provide an opportunity to generate tourist dollars while also providing many great opportunities for Kentuckians. I spoke with Chris Kellogg today who is the Communications Director for the Kentucky State Parks. Chris shared with me about the diversity and choices Kentucky's Park System offers with 52 parks and 300 events a year. There is something for everyone at Kentucky's parks and I have never understood why Kentuckians would spends the hours and money to go out of state when we have so much to offer here at home. In these economic times and budget cuts I think it is as important as ever to show our support to the state park system. We may have some muddy waters but at least there is no oil to contend with.

Saturday June 5

9:00 Park Gates Open

10:00 Ladies Tea

10:30 William Turner Book Signing

1:00 Miss Confederacy Pageant

2:00 Historical Presentation by William Turner

7:00 Band providing period music

8:00 Cannon/Artillery firing

Sunday June 6

Worship Service-Bethel Baptist Church

2:00 Cannon salute to Jefferson Davis
I want to thank William Turner, Ron Sydnor and Chris Kellogg for their time and assistance for this article.
Visit the Kentucky State Parks online and become a friend of Kentucky Parks on Face Book at links below.

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