‘A Connected Tale of the Mystery of School House 109; John Cole, Founder of Coles’ Bend in Barren County, KY; The Black Horse Tavern Inn, Midway, KY and Richard Cole Jr. Whose Progeny include Frank and Jesse James’
By Tommie Flannery Baskis
This new tale, which I will unfold for you, is from a very old tale. It is a part of what I call “The Abandoned Story” of our time and history.
For those who know me well, you understand how very important and passionate I am about the forgotten stories and mysteries behind historical towns, places of abandonment, the ‘things and objects’ left behind that help one to acquire clarity on the people and their stories, that carved a path before us.
As a child I had a fascination with finding old letters in drawers, boxes in the attic filled with people’s treasures, dusty books and any ‘old thing’ that I could weave a mystery out of. The elation I felt for the story that would soon unfold behind that attic or basement door was an inspiration to me.
I was so fond of learning things from my Grandparents and their ‘magical’ stories of days gone by captivated me. I knew it was so important to carry on the ‘forgotten story’ and share it with others. I knew one day my precious loved ones would not be by my side and the story would become lost in time as so many have done. As a child, I listened and watched carefully…
This story, rooted deep in Kentucky history, is especially intriguing to me because it has taken me years to find information on a particular old school house, simply known as school 109 in the Coles’ Bend area of Barren County. I had taken photographs of this place over 10 years ago and filed them away for the Kentucky volume of my book, ‘The Abandoned Story’.
There was not a lot of information about this particular, old, clapboard school house on Coles’ Bend that I could find. Many of the older generation, who could remember this place, had passed away leaving it nearly impossible to find someone to speak with about the old days here.
I was very fortunate to have a couple of books given to me by a friend, Debbie Turner, a few years back, one was written in the 1970’s by Irene Moss Sumpter ‘An Album of Early Warren County Landmarks’ that was distributed by American National Bank. This wonderful and informative book added some clarity on the houses and story behind the Cole Family that came from Pennsylvania, to Culpeper, Virginia and on to Woodford County, KY before 1783.
I also want to give credit and much gratitude to lovely Sandra K. Gorin, who manages Barren County Historical Society and Gorin Genealogical Publishing. I reached out to Sandi and with my plight to discover more on school 109. She shared with me information about the Cole Family and the Coles’ Bend area. There is quite a lot of published information that came from a dear friend of hers, Vivian T Rosseau and the Citizens Bank and Trust Company in 1980 from the book “Background of a Bank”.
In a roundabout way, all these years later researching this mysterious school 109 I have discovered that an older story I had researched and photographed had ties into the Cole’s Family in Barren County, KY with some history on Black Horse Tavern in Midway, KY. This tavern was also owned by one Richard Cole. Richard Cole’s son had a daughter named Zerelda Cole James, who was the Mother of Jesse and Frank James.
There is a fascinating and interesting twist to ‘the end’ of this story so stay tuned.
It has been stated from research done by William E. Pullen and Joan M. Beamis that the Coles who came from Pennsylvania made the trek to Culpeper, Virginia. After this they moved to Woodford County, Kentucky prior to 1783. They believe this date to be correct because the progenitor of the Coles, Richard Cole, Sr. was no longer listed on the Virginia tax records after 1783.
For those of you who are not familiar with Woodford County, KY it is steeped in rich history with the picturesque rolling horse fields, tobacco barns, old stone walls that meander along country lanes for miles, historic places and the infamous bourbon whiskey. It is home to Kentucky’s oldest bourbon whiskey distillery Labrot & Graham from 1812.
Woodford County was named for the illustrious American Revolutionary War General, William Woodford and was formed in 1788 from Fayette County, Virginia.
There was an original tavern in Kentucky owned by the Coles that burned in 1811. A year after this, Cole’s son, Richard Cole, Jr. purchased the tavern on old Frankfort Pike that was known as the Offutt-Cole Tavern or Black Horse Tavern. He became known as one of the wealthiest men in the country. James Cole, his son, was the Father of Zerelda Cole (1825-1911) who birthed Jesse and Frank James. Zerelda met Robert Sallee James, her husband, during the time he was studying for the ministry at Georgetown College.
This is where the history of the Cole brothers branches off and comes around to my researched ‘neck of the woods’ Barren County, KY. You see, Richard Cole, Jr. had a brother by the name of John Cole who came to Barren County and purchased a lot in the Bank Block. He would later found Coles’ Bend of which he operated Coles Warehouse on the Barren River.
The following historical excerpt was written by Jennie F. Porter, the niece of Mrs. Sterling Burton of Cemetery Pike, Bowling Green, KY in July of 1891. There are some additions by Jennie Bryant Cole from Oakland, KY 1938. It was submitted to be published in 1975 by Mr. C.H. Brakebill of Dallas, TX.
“Squire John Cole, our great-grandfather, married Nancy Hynes. He lived near Charles Town, Berkley County, Va. Charles Town was located in that part of Virginia that was cut off to form West Virginia, and now in Jefferson County, West Virginia. The Hines (Hynes) family lived in Maryland, but just over the Virginia line near where the Cole family lived.
“John Cole was a Revolutionary soldier. He came with his family to Kentucky in 1788. They traveled from Virginia on horseback. On the way to Kentucky great-grandmother was thrown from her horse with her baby, John, in her arms and was seriously hurt. The party had to remain in camp for some days on account of her condition and she was not expected to live. It was said every day during this time she would ask her husband that if she died, would he not take her children back to Virginia, but he would always tell her, ‘No, I have started to Kentucky, and I am going’. This answer was thought to have been a stimulant and assisted in her recovery.
“Her hair turned white in three days and the anxiety she felt for her children is thought to have caused it. John Cole first settled in Woodford County, near Midway, when he came to Kentucky. He came to Barren County sometime in 1800. They came in wagons by way of Muldraughs Hill. He left a brother, Richard, in Woodford County, who kept a tavern at Cross Roads. Richard married a Miss Hines, niece of great-grandmother Col. Andrew Hines, who settled Elizabethtown and named it for his wife, was a brother of great-grandmother. When quite an old woman great-grandmother rode horseback to visit her brother, Andrew Hines, who at that time was living near Harrodsburg.
“John Cole settled in Barren County in a bend on Barren River that has since been called Cole’s Bend. He built a log house about what he thought was the high water mark, but in 1800 a big rise came and undermined part of the foundation of his house. In 1811 he built the stone house which still stands (1833). John Cole died in 1844, his wife had died in 1834, and they are buried on a hill near the old stone house. John Cole had five sons and four daughters. The sons were Richard, William, James, Andrew Hynes and John. The daughters were: Leety, Anne, Mary and Betsy.”
There have been many Coles who settled in Barren and Warren Counties and nearby towns as the years went by. In the 1800’s, like many families in the day, the Coles begat many children and the family name became prominent. Many families were known to have, on average, between six or more children, sometimes less, sometimes more, even up to twelve or thirteen children was possible.
I will refrain from listing many of the progeny of the Cole families except for Sarah Minnie Cole, because of the connection of numerous ancestors who fought for our independence during the Revolutionary War 1775-1781. The following accounts are a few of those stories.
Sarah Minnie Cole’s Father and Mother were John Cole III and Nancy Elizabeth Martin. Sarah Minnie was born at the Family home on Coles’ Bend in Kentucky October 28, 1869 and was one of twelve children by this union.
Sarah Minnie married James Henry Blalock, a farmer from Smiths Grove, Warren County, KY.
John Cole, who came from Virginia, helped suppress the British in Boston and then would later help to defend New York City at the personal request of General George Washington. John Cole married Nancy Hynes, whose Father hailed from Coleraine, Ireland. He would eventually work at the print shop of Benjamin Franklin in Philadelphia in 1747.
From Sarah Minnie’s Mother’s side of the Family are the Martins. Benjamin Martin served as a Minute Man from Virginia, as corporal and sergeant under several leaders, such as Captain Benjamin Harrison.
Benjamin Martin was at the Battle of Cowpens, S.C. of which was a decisive battle for the cause of freedom.
Captain Azariah Martin (no relation to Benjamin Martin) was from Amherst County, Virginia and commanded a company of Militia men at the Battle of Camden, South Carolina. The British won a sweeping victory.
Captain Azariah Martin had a great-great-grandfather, John Crawford, who came to Virginia from Ayrshire, Scotland in 1644. John Crawford is from the Crawford clan that had its origin in Ayrshire from 1127. One of John’s ancestors married into the Lindsey family clan of Scotland and in this lineage are two signers of the Magna Carta. The John Crawford who came to Virginia fought in Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676 and lost his life.
We now come back full circle, to my adventure on Coles’ Bend and the mysterious, old school house 109 that I took photographs and documented over ten years ago. It has been very hard to find information documented on some of these abandoned structures in America.
To bequeath or “pass on” the story from one generation to the next has always been very important to me. If this is not done, many stories, places and historical information tend to become lost in time and is not there for others to retrieve and learn from.
With this being said, there was not a lot of information about the old school house 109. Perhaps, John Cole who came to Barren County helped to start this school. It is not known by me or the others that have researched this building. I am very fortunate to have taken many photographs of it.
The feeling I get looking into the school doorways and windows is a timeless and soundless feeling. It seems to exude a grand strength that is comfortable in the forgotten, clapboard bones, still standing…still a reminder of its past. A past that was full of life, love, children, books and teachings. Those children and teachers have come and gone, now. The story has been lost a little, but for this sturdy structure that has been left for us to see as a reminder of days gone by.
This is the very interesting twist to end my story. It involves Mr. and Mrs. Clay Stephens. This lovely, young couple occupies the property that the school house 109 is on. When I spoke with Clay he told me that his Grandmother was a James, Mary Lougene James. He said she use to tell them that they were related to Jesse James. Clay told the story that some were doubtful of this but indeed checked the information and it seemed to have validity.
I found it very intriguing that within the Cole Family lineage was the Mother Zerelda of Jesse and Frank James, and now to have a distant relation of the James Family, through Clay Stephens, residing on property of the Coles’ Bend area was an unforeseen surprise.
Clay also told me a story of the other abandoned building on their property by the school. The story is from an older gentleman, Lawrence, who told Clay that he had watched films in the building as a young boy. The place inside has something that looks like a stage perhaps where plays and theatre took place.
Well, it has been a long time coming to finally write about this abandoned school, humbly named 109. The mystery is still there but I have been able, through the meticulous records of others, to connect a few of my older stories on the Coles’ Bend area and the Coles Family that came to Kentucky so long ago.
I hope you enjoyed this story and also the photographs that accompanied my journey to Barren County and Coles’ Bend.
Remember to share your story and thoughts with your loved ones, so that one day the story can find a place through the eyes of others. It is important to share our lineage, teachings, love and storytelling with others. In sharing, we inspire…
XO, be well always-