History of Clarkson
The area that would become Clarkson was settled sometime in the 1860s, around the time the railroad first came through Grayson County. The town’s first post office was believed to have been established about 1870, with Thomas O’Riley serving as the first postmaster. Early merchants included Sam Terry and J.H. Baker. The earliest known school in Clarkson opened in 1878 where the Clarkson Cemetery now stands. In 1908, telephone service came to Clarkson when the Home and Cumberland Telephone Company was awarded a franchise to do business with the City.
Clarkson was originally named Bray’s Station after J. Bray, the owner of a three-story hotel and saloon that stood where Clarkson Furniture is today. The name would later be changed to Grayson Springs Station to correspond with the hugely popular resort a few miles south of town. Grayson Springs, which is home to more than 100 sulfur springs, attracted people from across the nation in its heyday. This provided entertainment for the townsfolk of Clarkson, who enjoyed watching the “city slickers” get off the train and board horse-drawn carriages headed to the Grayson Springs Resort. In 1909 the four hotels were destroyed by fire.
The community’s name was changed once more to Clarkson, in honor of Monah P. Clarkson, a previous owner of the resort and was incorporated as a city on April 23, 1908. City officials at the time included Trustees Thomas Burke, A.D. Keller, Albert Mulhall, R.H. Spurrier, and B.C. Wilson (who was designated Chairman of the Board), Police Judge William Webster, Marshal James Smothers, and Assessor John West. Thomas Saltsman was appointed Treasurer and G.T. Mudd as Town Clerk. Mudd’s salary was set at $12 a year.
Issues facing Clarkson leaders in 1908 were typical of most small towns of the day. In May of that year, the board of trustees passed an ordinance stating that all hogs running at large within the city limits must have rings in their noses. Citizens who violated the ordinance were fined $1 a day. This was followed later that year by an ordinance prohibiting residents from allowing their hogs to run free and terrorize the townsfolk. The town marshal was instructed to build a pound to incarcerate the trespassing hogs. In 1910, an ordinance was passed to ban slaughterhouses within the city limits, only to be revoked one month later on the stipulation that they be kept clean and orderly.
Around the same time, a group of brazen outlaws from the Clifty Creek area several miles east of town, were said to have wrecked havoc on the early citizens of Clarkson. According to reports, this ragtag group of outlaws would ride in to town, rob a home, rough up the residents, and then hightail it back to their hideout.
On October 20, 1910, Clarkson Town Marshal John T. Skaggs was shot and killed in the line of duty while transporting a prisoner back to jail in Henderson, Kentucky. Skaggs had arrested the man a week earlier on charges of stealing a horse in Leitchfield. As Henderson was walking through a park en route to the jail, another man ambushed Skaggs, fatally shot him, and fled the scene with the accused horse thief. After a short pursuit, the prisoner was recaptured a week later in neighboring Daviess County.
As the decades moved on, celebrations became a big part of life in Clarkson. These included Old Soldiers Reunions for Civil War veterans and 4th of July picnics at the St. Elizabeth Catholic Church. Residents also took great pride in their local school. The Clarkson Independent School District was established in 1911. When it merged with the county school system in 1938, the eight-room frame Clarkson High School was the only school in Grayson County to have a gymnasium and that had maintained a debt-free status. The gym was built from dismantled World War I army barracks at Fort Taylor and shipped to Clarkson by railroad.
As with any town, change is inevitable. But the road to change is often riddled with potholes. Such was the case when Highway 62 was erected through Clarkson which, for a few years, was nothing but mud and gravel before it was finally completed. By 1932, the outside world had found its way to Clarkson with around 200 homes subscribing to telephone service. Kentucky Utilities wired Clarkson for electricity in 1947, and 1956 brought the first serious talk of building a water and sewage plant in town (a sewage plant was eventually built in the late 1980s). A few years later the Clarkson Lions Club was formed.
In 1960, Gene Bratcher helped establish the first fire department in Clarkson. Within a few short months, more than $2,000 was raised and Bratcher, who had donated his garage as headquarters of the new department, was named the town’s first fire chief. The building still hands today and housed Clarkson City Hall until a new building was constructed in 2014 on Millerstown Street.
In 1974 the community was dealt a blow when the county school system consolidated Clarkson, Leitchfield, and Caneyville High Schools into a new centrally located Grayson County High School. Clarkson School was converted into an elementary school and was eventually torn down in 2011, when a new building was erected nearby to take its place. Older Clarkson residents still recall the consolidation with righteous indignation and remember the heated rivalries between the RedHawks, Bulldogs, and Purple Flashes.
Throughout the last half of the 20th century, the City of Clarkson continued to grow and expand through the tireless efforts of dedicated city leaders. These leaders included long-time Mayor Arville Dunn, who served from 1973-1999 and Police Chief Austin Wooden, who served from 1957-1999. The legacy left behind by them and others have helped make Clarkson what it is today.
In recent years, the Clarkson City Park was established, a new city hall and community center was constructed, the Clarkson Honeyfest was named the “Official State Honey Festival of Kentucky,” on and off ramps for the Wendell H. Ford Western Kentucky Parkway were opened, and the town’s first traffic light was installed at the intersection of Highways 62 and 224, just to name a few.
Today Clarkson continues to be an expanding, vibrant community with a rich history and strong potential for growth. It’s no wonder we like to call ourselves “The Sweetest Little City in Kentucky.”