Taking the Town: Collegiate and Community Culture in the Bluegrass, 1880-1917

By Kolan Thomas Morelock | Go to book overview

CHAPTER ONE
LEXINGTON IN THE GILDED AGE
Public Voices

She only requires to be more fully and correctly known to … become in
every way the compeer of any inland city.

Lexington, the Central City, 1887

On 2 April 1879 George W. Ranck, educator, newspaper editor, and historian, stood before his audience in Morrison Chapel on the campus of Kentucky University in Lexington to deliver a historical address during the centennial celebration of the city’s founding. Reconstruction, and the federal military occupation of the South, had ended only two years before. Lexington and other Kentucky towns and cities had sustained some damage during the Civil War, but Kentucky had generally been spared the worst of the physical destruction and desolation visited on the South. Nevertheless, the war had left the state’s economy, infrastructure, political institutions, and social fabric in “a deplorable condition.”1

Few remained untouched by the war, and its “bitter legacy” left opinion and loyalty sharply divided and community solidarity badly damaged throughout the state. Lexington’s James Lane Allen dramatically expressed the situation in Kentucky when he wrote, “not while men are fighting their wars of conscience do they hate most, but after they have fought; and Southern and Union now hated to the bottom.” The perceived federal excesses during the Reconstruction years only added to the division and rancor. Although legislated racial segregation had not yet become thoroughly entrenched in the 1870s, white sentiment was reflected in the state legislature’s refusal to ratify the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, abolishing slavery and extending civil rights and suffrage to blacks—constitutional changes that Lexington attorney and historian Samuel Wilson still referred to in 1928 as “the three obnoxious

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