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Good names, by George

Kentucky town, streets, fire company all honored president

Pieces of the Past column by Jim Reis

With today being Presidents Day, the following is a look at some of the local connections to our first president, George Washington.

The historical connections range from the rare - a relative of the president, who also wa s named George Washington, born in Newport - to the expected - numerous streets named for the first president and even an historic community in Mason County.

Here's a look at some of those connections:

George Washington Jr.

Born in Newport on Christmas Day 1843, Newport's George Washington was a descenden t of Samuel Washington, brother of the president.

George Washington Jr.'s father was a well-known steamboat captain on the Ohio River. His mother, Martha Doxon, was from a well-known riverboat family. The steamboat captain George Washington died in Newport in 1857 and Martha died in 1876.

While still a teen-ager, Newport's George Washington joined the Confederate Army during the Civil War and was promoted to sergeant.

He became an attorney, practicing first in Knoxville, Tenn., and later returned to Newport to serve in the same law firm as Robert W. Nelson, a one-time Newport mayor and promoter of the Central Bridge construction.

Washington became active in local politics as a Democrat and served on the state convention that wrote our current state constitution. Among his most famous law cases was as a defense attorney for Alonzo Walling, one of the two men convicted and hanged for the murder and decapitation of Pearl Bryan in Fort Thomas.

Washington became ill and died on Aug. 23, 1905, while visiting relatives in Owenton. Funeral services were held at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Newport and burial was in Evergreen Cemetery. At the time of his death, Washington lived on West Fifth Street in Newport. His law office was at the corner of Fifth and York streets.

Ramsey Washington

Son of George Washington Jr., Ramsey Washington was born in Newport on Feb. 4, 1869. He was one of seven children. Others were Anne Lee, Alfred, William, Bettie, Bushrod and John.

Ramsey Washington's first name apparently came from his mother, who was Jennie T. Ramsey. She had married George Washington Jr. in 1867.

Ramsey Washington became a well-known attorney in his own right. He became a partner in the law firm of Howard M. Benton and served as Campbell County attorney from 1897 to 1905. It was during this time that the famous Pearl Bryan murder trial took place in Newport. While his father, George, was the attorney for one of the defendants, Ramsey Washington served on the prosecution team that helped convict Walling and Scott Jackson.

About 1918 Ramsey Washington suffered a stroke and was forced to give up his law practice. He died Sept. 19, 1923, at age 54.

Washington Avenue, Newport

One of the main north-south streets in Newport, Washington Avenue has historically been primarily a residential street, but with several key exceptions.

The corner of Washington and Eighth Street was the site of the old Citizens Telephone Co. office in the late 1890s. About 1900 the Newport Post Office was built there. It operated there until the post office on Fifth Street was constructed. The Newport Board of Education later moved into the building and remains there to this day.

Also on Washington Avenue are St. Stephen Church and Holy Spirit Elementary School. The old St. Stephen Church building was at Ninth and Saratoga streets, but on Oct. 17, 1937, ground was broken at 825 Washington for a new church building. The new St. Stephen Church was dedicated on March 12, 1939. The old St. Stephen School, across the street, then became Holy Spirit when the Catholic elementary schools were merged in Newport.

The old C&O; Railroad depot in Newport also was once located on Washington Avenue. It opened in April 1889.

Washington Street, Covington

Like Newport, Covington selected a site on its Washington Street for its railroad depot. It was built in August 1851 and located on the west side of Washington between Pike and Eighth streets.

The depot initially served the Covington and Lexington Railroad Co. and later the L&N; Railroad. A new depot was later built nearby at Seventh and Washington in 1924.

The depot handled a large amount of freight. A Kentucky Post account in 1924 said about 12 million pounds of tobacco moved through the Covington depot every year.

Covington also had a C&O; depot, located a couple of blocks away at Pike and Russell streets. It was built in 1921.

Likely due to the railroad stations and the travelers passing through, Covington's Washington Street became known as a place for bars, beer gardens, music halls and boarding houses. By 1907 many of the businesses had earned a less than favorable reputation and there were periodic police crackdowns on vice in the area.

Covington also once had a statue of Washington erected atop an early government building. Sketches identify the building as the city hall and county courthouse.

Washington Fire Company

Following a destructive fire in 1836, Newport residents began to seriously consider the need for a fire department. That led to a city ordinance passed on Nov. 26, 1846, to form a volunteer fire department called the Washington Fire Co. No. 1.

During the Civil War the Washington Fire Co. held a big celebration honoring its namesake in February 1863. Accounts tell of a fireworks display and a fine supper spread out in the engine house.

Apparently the last fire handled by the Washington Fire Co. was on May 15, 1868. That was a fire at the home of John W. Lamb on Saratoga Street. Damage was placed at $300 - a fair amount of money at the time.

The volunteer fire company was then disbanded. Its equipment went to the city as the basis for a new, paid city fire department.

Washington, Kentucky

One of the oldest continuous settlements in Northern Kentucky is the community of Washington in Mason County.

Tradition has it two business people, William Wood and Arthur Fox, bought the land and established a community of Washington in 1785, a year after frontiersman Simon Kenton had built a station near the site.

Within a year some 50 families lived in the community, making it a jumping off point for settlers entering Kentucky via the Ohio River.

Washington was officially established by Virginia as a city in 1786. When Mason County was formed in 1789, Washington became its county seat. This was at a time when Kentucky was still part of Virginia. Kentucky did not become a state until 1792. A new county courthouse was built in Washington that year and a post office established to serve those living in the Northwest Territory, which now includes Ohio.

A fire in 1825 and a cholera epidemic in the 1830s stymied growth in Washington. By 1848 the county seat was moved from Washington to its faster growing neighbor, Maysville.

Washington is said to have been the inspiration for Harriet Beecher Stowe's famous book ''Uncle Tom's Cabin,'' based in part on a slave auction she witnessed there.

Washington remained a quiet, small community throughout most of the early 1900s. In 1969 a restoration effort led to establishment of a historic district and placement on the National Register of Historic Places.

Washington merged into Maysville in 1990, but maintains its image as an historic community and sponsors a variety of events every year.

Late 1880s saw Washington revival

While George Washington's birthday on Feb. 22 has been celebrated in different ways over the years, the biggest local celebration honoring Washington had nothing to do with his birthday.

That celebration occurred April 30, 1889 - the centennial of Washington's first inauguration as president.

The centennial came at a time when there was renewed interest in Washington both locally and nationally. Four years earlier, in 1885, the Washington Monument had been dedicated in Washington D.C. Visits to see the monument were still high on the list of travel destinations.

In Newport in 1889, Protestant ministers organized a special program for April 30 at Salem Methodist Episcopal Church to honor Washington. Singing, talks and prayers were planned. Similar services were planned by the local Catholic churches.

A delegation of local dignitaries also was appointed to represent Northern Kentucky in centennial events being planned the same day in Cincinnati. Among famous Northern Kentuckians involved were attorney George Wiedemann and businessmen Samuel Bigstaff and O. W. Root.

The excitement from those events extended into 1890, when Newport School Board President James M. Arnold organized a parade on Washington's birthday in 1890 along with special flag-raising ceremonies the same day at all Newport schools.

More recently, Washington's birthday has become a reason for parties, political speeches and business sales.

Because Washington's birthday and Abraham Lincoln's birthday both fall in February, celebrations for both and all other presidents were combined in 1971 into a single observance called Presidents Day. It is observed on the third Monday in February.

The study of Northern Kentucky history is an avocation of staff writer Jim Reis, who covers suburban Kenton County for The Kentucky Post.

Publication date: 02-21-00
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