Thursday, January 7, 2010

History of Princeton, Kentucky

The following article appeared in the now-defunct Evansville Press, Sunday, 26 January 1936. Things are just a bit different today - the current courthouse was built after this article was written and tobacco is not the important crop it was in the last century.

Princeton, Ky., Jan. 25 - The web of circumstance that brought about the settlement of this town in the closing years of the 18th century goes back 300 years and across a great ocean for its beginning.

It was in 1775 that the American colonies went to war for their independence and William Prince, a descendant of Edward Prince, shouldered his musket and marched off to battle the redcoats. William Prince, promoted to the rank of captain, received from a grateful government gifts of land westward beyond the mountains in the vast wilderness claimed by Virginia.

Sometime between 1781, the year the war ended, and 1797, when Gov. James Garrard appointed him justice of the peace for Christian County, Kentucky, Capt. William Prince, with his wife, Elizabeth, their children, and his brother, Francis, took the Wilderness Road across the Alleghenies to their new home.

According to best available records, Princeton was founded between 1797, when Capt. Prince first appears in Kentucky, and 1799, when tax lists name him as residing on the present site of the town. His house and farm were known simply as "Prince's Place."

Christian County was carved out of Kentucky wilderness in 1796; Livingston County was created in 1798 and, in 1809, another partition gave birth to Caldwell County, of which Princeton is now the county seat.

William Prince deeded the land for a town site and Princeton became a reality. Caldwell County was named for Gen. John Caldwell of the Revolution, a native of Virginia, who moved to Kentucky in 1781 and settled near Danville.

At least two settlers preceded William Prince in the county: John Montgomery, who was killed by Indians on Eddy Creek on March 21, 1792; and Obadiah Roberts, who opened a tavern in Elizabeth, now known as Hopkinsville.

Thomas Frazier was one of Princeton's first business men. He found the Big Spring underneath the town, now used for a sewer, and built a house and brick kiln across from the present side of the Courthouse. Princeton's first hotel was Frazier's Inn, located where the Farmers' National Bank now stands. He built the Commercial Hotel, the town's firs hostelry, in 1818, on the present site of Kevil's Mill.

In the early days, mail came overland from Caseyville, thru Cross Keys [in present day Crittenden County] to Prince's Place. Immense quantities of tobacco were shipped from Hopkinsville thru Princeton to the Ohio River. Warehouses stood at Princeton, Eddyville and Wilson's Place on the Tradewater River. Princeton flourished as a tobacco center.

The hordes of settlers who poured thru the town in the great migration of 1830-1860 going south and west, helped populate the country. Caldwell County, with 4268 persons in 1810, grew to 9022 in 1820, then lost 698 in the next 10 years. But, by 1840 the population reached a new high of 10,365 and continued to grow.

Early life in Princeton presented all the rigors of the frontier. Buffalo and wolves abounded and other game was plentiful. Forests were everywhere and the threat of Indians lingered for a number of years.

Education was one of the early interest of the settlers. In 1817, the Caledonia Academy, a private school for girls, was founded.

When President Andrew Jackson ordered the Cherokee Indian tribes of Georgia and Florida to move to new homes west of the Mississippi, they made their trek northward thru Kentucky. Thirty thousand of them passed thru Princeton. Four thousand died en route.

Princeton's first courthouse was burned during the Civil War by Hyland B. Lyon, a Confederate general. Union troops were using it for a hospital and ammunition base. The court records were carried across the street and saved. The present courthouse was built in 1866.

Today Princeton is a thriving tobacco center. The Eastern Dark-Fired Tobacco Association maintains a large floor. The Illinois Central Railroad has a roundhouse here.

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