The war’s end found Kentucky in deplorable shape. Lost loved ones, destroyed property, depleted stock, scarce agricultural supplies, guerrilla activities, war debts, and a reduced labor force heralded economic troubles. New inventions, however, promised hope. Many metropolitan areas witnessed development while rural areas made little progress.

Most Kentuckians lived on small, self–sufficient farms. Nearby villages sometimes contained little more than a church and a few locally–owned stores that offered everything from processed foods and fabrics to patent medicines and postage stamps; residents socialized around the store’s pot–bellied stove. The introduction of mechanized equipment promised to ease the farmer’s workload. Unfortunately, many could not afford labor–saving devices.

The Louisville & Nashville Railroad, completed in 1859, provided quick, inexpensive transportation of goods. Post–war construction of the Southern Railways (connecting Cincinnati, Lexington, & Chattanooga) and other lines created jobs and stimulated economic growth. Thus many communities competed to attract them. With railroads serving more areas, sales of local products increased and Kentuckians enjoyed greater varieties and cheaper imported goods.

Urban transportation advancements also helped end isolation. In the 1880s, electric trolley cars replaced Louisville’s and Lexington’s mule–drawn streetcars and eventually extended to the city limits. Other communities likewise employed streetcars and interurban systems to connect residential and business districts.

New inventions changed lifestyles. Cameras preserved images of all social classes and stereographs provided 3–D views of far away places. Telephones, the telegraph, and typewriters aided business transactions and improved communication. Electricity lit buildings and streets, and automobiles impacted everything. The first car arrived in Louisville in 1898 and soon resulted in auxiliary businesses, urban growth, and a need for better streets, traffic rules and zoning laws. Few inventions revolutionized life as rapidly or as much!

Availability didn’t guarantee affordability of innovative technologies. Most pre–1900 homes lacked indoor plumbing, and were heated by sitting room or kitchen fireplaces. Homemade lye soap served bathing and laundry purposes. Clothing was scrubbed on washboards and hanged to dry. Women’s fashions included long skirts, pantaloons, bustles and whalebone corsets. Men wore stiffly starched collars and heavy wool suits. Most women made their family’s clothing. Lucky was she who owned a sewing machine.

Kentucky’s population growth stimulated new industries and suburbs but taxed city services. Towns near rivers built reservoirs and pumping stations to provide unlimited water and replace easily polluted wells. By the early 20th century, many suburban homes bragged of indoor plumbing, electric lights and heating systems powered by coal furnaces. Sewers improved health in Louisville and Lexington, but privy vaults and rotting rubbish continued to plague many communities.

Cultural activities and spectator sports increased in popularity. Louisville’s Macauley’s Theatre and Lexington’s Opera House offered professional productions, minstrel shows and "lantern slide" programs. In 1875, Lexington’s Red Mile track opened, promoting harness racing, and Louisville’s Churchill Downs witnessed the first Kentucky Derby. Fairs and expositions showcased agricultural and business advances. By the century’s end Louisvillians enjoyed parks and playgrounds offering bicycle paths, tennis courts, ball fields, seesaws, swings and sandboxes; Lexington’s Woodland Park encouraged swimming, boating and ice skating. Small town residents likewise enjoyed auditoriums, fairgrounds and parks.

Literature and art reflected their creators’ fondness for Kentucky. Carl Brenner’s paintings emphasized the beauty of Cherokee Park’s beech trees, and Enid Yandell’s Daniel Boone statue saluted Kentucky’s pioneers. James Lane Allen lauded the hero of Lexington’s 1833 cholera epidemic, John Fox, Jr. wrote local color pieces about Appalachian life, and Annie Fellows Johnston’s children’s novels glorified life in Pewee Valley. Many of Eliza Calvert Hall’s writings supported women’s rights.

Laura Clay and Madeline McDowell Breckinridge were among the most vocal supporters of the women’s rights campaign. When newspaper editor Henry Watterson labeled suffragists "silly Sallies," Clay reminded him about basic American rights — guaranteed equality before the law, and that taxation without representation is tyranny. Women’s clubs also worked for better education, temperance laws, and care for the poor.

Linda Neville campaigned against unnecessary blindness and founded Appalachian clinics to eradicate trachoma. Carry Nation’s supporters fought against liquor sales and for Prohibition. Cora Wilson Stewart founded moonlight schools where illiterate adults learned to read. Louisville and Lexington groups created free kindergartens and community centers for needy citizens. Unfortunately, insufficient funds slowed educational progress. The most effective achievements came when the legislature created two state normal schools, mandated compulsory attendance, regulated child labor, and required counties to organize public high schools.

During Reconstruction and Industrialization, life in Kentucky’s urban areas witnessed major changes. New inventions, recreational facilities and leisure activities softened life for city folks, while many rural areas saw fewer transformations.

Featured Author
Nancy Baird, WKU