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Gray Kentucky History

 

Kentucky History and Genealogy Network, Inc.


This article is about of my hometown that involves a post office, a castle, a judge, a law Suit, a Louisville capitalist and a place called Brafford Store. Hope you enjoy it and learn a great deal of our heritage.

Brafford Store and a Post Office   

Brafford Cemetery sets upon a high hill and is lush and green during the summer and spring. The sun beams down upon the gravestones in the summer with the trees off in a distance and unable to shade most of the plots. The cemetery is very well-kept with an overseer and is mowed regularly. There are large empty areas between the new stones and the older ones and one must wonder why this is. It is as if there are two cemeteries that were later combined, and they were. The new area in the cemetery was once the location of the church that sat there and the older area was the cemetery that sat below it on the hill. The newer part of the cemetery was started just before 1906. In 1906, a newer church had been built and as years went by it came to be called Rossland Church.  Mary Victoria Surgenor Dizney described how she was giving birth to her son, Edward Dizney, while the first church meeting was in session. Edward Dizney was born in 1906.

The Rossland Church was donated by the Brafford descendants. The Old Rossland Church is listed as a Kentucky Historical Site and bears the distinction of being one of the first historical sites in Knox County to be recorded. It still stands at Rossland but is in dire need of restoration.  A newer church has been built on the main road and the old church stands idle.  The old church and the cemetery was at one time the center of a forgotten area once named Brafford Store. At one time a thriving agricultural area, little is left of it other than two separate cemeteries, an old run down church, some forgotten people and the small communities of Gray and Rossland.

Gray Kentucky and the Rossland area surrounding it was once part of a town that was called Brafford Store. Brafford Store had a U S Post Office that was located at Alfred G Brafford’s general store in the early 1800’s and therefore carried his name. A G Brafford was the first postmaster of the area that lay between the Barbourville and Lynn Camp post offices. Lynn Camp lay between McHargue Cemetery and Collier Hill. The second postmaster at Brafford Store was Thomas Balton Dizney with his wife Rebecca Donaldson as his assistant, beginning their service sometime before 1872 after returning from a trip to California and the gold rush there. Apparently the post office worked as a tavern, general store and a restaurant. Newspaper articles of the time period speak of Rebecca Donaldson Dizney cooking for patrons in the 1880’s.   Alfred Brafford was a descendant of Lafayette Brafford, a revolutionary soldier who gained his plantation from a military grant from Virginia for his service to the nation. Many land grants were paid in this way. The amount of land was based on your rank in service and the length of time you served. Military grants for Virginia soldiers were granted in Virginia’s territory of what would become Kentucky.

 

Gray Elementary, Now Gone

The earliest land records show the property that comprised Brafford Store and the surrounding area was once part of a huge plantation composed of at least one to two thousand acres owned by Moses Foley Sr.  Moses Foley was a preacher and a founder, from the late 1700’s into the 1800’s, of many churches from Virginia (Holston River), Tennessee and Kentucky and was one of the early founders of the First Baptist Church in Barbourville. Several of his sons would establish churches of their own. Squire Foley would start one at Indian Creek.  Moses Foley J started as a minister at Crab Orchard.    Moses Foley Sr. married Elizabeth Green, the daughter of Elizabeth Lauderdale Green. The Lauderdale’s and Maitlands are the descendants and original owners of the Thirlestane Castle in Scotland. Moses would become his mother-in-law’s administrator and therefore had access to huge amounts of capital. Through his descendants the Foley property would eventually be divided and the different farms sold or settled by the heirs, with the Foley home place becoming the area called Indian Creek.

The Foley Family Cemetery is located at Indian Creek and it now bears the name “Chance Cemetery”. One of Moses Foley’s daughters, Winnifred, would marry Pearson Duncan and the area of Brafford Store would be formed from that estate. Parks Daniel “P D” Brittain would marry one of the Foley/Duncan heirs and he would become the cornerstone of the community.

A Judge

P D Brittain lived near Brafford Store and would become the first Knox County Circuit Court Judge traveling from one place to another, bringing his own staff along and holding court. About 1850, Knox County decided to establish the Circuit Court Judge position because of the time it took to travel to Barbourville for court and other business. Brittain married Melinda Foley, granddaughter of Moses Foley. The title Circuit Judge came from “Riding the Circuit”, an imaginary circle that covered the outskirts of the county, a practice that became customary in the early days. Circuit preachers would do the same thing, traveling from one church to another to have services. P D Brittain was buried at Rossland “Brafford Store” and his grave was soon forgotten as well as his work for the county. His final resting place was discovered and made known in the summer of 2011. He lies beside his wife Melinda Foley Duncan Brittain in what is now called the Phipps’s Cemetery. The children of the county attorney, a Tidwell, who assisted him in his work are buried nearby, a testament to old days forgotten.

P D Brittain’s home place became the first graded school for Gray after Brittain’s death, a huge building sitting upon a hill that overlooked his vast estate.  Forest Products now sits across the street from where the old school once stood. Parks Brittain was the son of Levi Brittain, and grandson of Nathaniel Brittain, a soldier who died along with his brothers in the Revolutionary War. Levi’s brother, George Brittain, is referred to as the “Father of Harlan County”

Gray School on Rossland Road.
Courtesy of Ada Gilbert

A Louisville Capitalist

 In 1883, articles of corporation were filed and recorded for The North Jellico Coal Company at Rossland. The officers were James Breckinridge “J B” Speed of Louisville, W. N. Culp of Louisville, John P Byrnes of Louisville, William E. Grinstead of Louisville, A. P Speed of Louisville, Ancil Gatliff of Williamsburg and Green A Denham of Williamsburg.    J B Speed and John P. Byrnes were owners of a coal shipping yard on the Portland Canal in Louisville. J B Speed held many companies including one of the first cement plants. He was an owner of what would become Louisville Gas and Electric. His relative was the United States Attorney General under Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War. Speed’s family was instrumental in keeping Kentucky from joining the ranks of the Confederates. Speed Hall is named for J B Speed for his donations there. J B Speed’s wife also donated money to Union College in Barbourville and Speed Hall is part of their campus. Speed’s estate started the Speed Art Museum in Louisville. Speed’s son-in-law would become an officer for the company later on but would soon leave after becoming an ambassador to Germany.

W. N Culp was an L& N Railroad executive. William E. Grinstead was an investor in the tobacco market among other things.  Ancil Gatliff started Cumberland College and the Bank of Williamsburg during his career. The formation of the corporation started a huge community near Gray and at Rossland and Indian Creek. The company embarked upon a land buying binge in 1883 that would amount to about 4 billion dollars in today’s dollars. The mine at Bertha and Wilton were state of the art with an electrical plant for power, air compressors for machinery and electrical powered rail cars to haul the coal to the mining tipple. The mine was union and provided their employees and families with a commissary, churches, housing, a paycheck, a doctor, as well as a white and a colored school and almost all of the other comforts needed survival. The camp had an I.O.O.F. lodge and was eventually made a voting precinct. A railroad spur was brought in on the south boundary and north boundary.

These were good times for a land that had struggled for many years.   When the mining camp was worked out, James Tillman Gray, a son of the founder of Gray Kentucky, took over and worked at what they would call “Robbing the coal”. This was a term used for cleaning out the last remains of the leftover coal. These were the dangerous times for coal mining.

The only remnants of the old camp today is a cemetery that is almost completely overgrown and difficult to access, a few homes that set at the entrance of the mines and some memories that fade each day. A law suit  would cast doubt upon the proper ownership of the first  settlers of Gray proper.  Upon Melinda Foley’s death the bulk of her estate went to her sister’s son, William Gray’s child and administered by his grandmother until her death. Winnifred once tried to change the will which would cause some problems later on. The Gray descendants established a town which was named Gray after Colvin Gray.

Melinda inherited her huge estate from  Pearson Duncan for taking care of him and his wife and her mother, Winifred Foley Duncan. Melinda and her sister were step children of Pearson Duncan but he claimed them both as his daughters. The deed executed on his death was recorded but only part was recorded and handed back to her. Only after P D Brittain died would the unrecorded remainder of the deed be found. All these factors would cause a lawsuit to be filed around 1900 to establish the legitimacy of the deed, paternity, whether a portion of a recorded deed be held legit and whether a brother was entitled to any of the estate.

At one time there was concern that the lots sold in Gray proper were not legal and it threatened to put the community in jeopardy. This was settled in court but was re-filed again in appellate court. The final court proceeding held the first judgment to be proper and Gray would begin to thrive from that time on until the downturn in coal sales would begin to bring it where it is today.

Bertha School 1889/1913 Located at Bertha Hollow at Gray. Built by the North Jellico Coal Company. From the Mary Foley Dizney Collection.

Conclusion

The town of Gray has had up and downs and at times the existence of the town itself have been questioned but it has always bounced back.  Ghost towns exist around her and have come and gone several times while the hills whisper their silent secrets. You just have to take the time to listen closely if you want to hear them. There are people who have come and gone in our community and many of their accomplishments and struggles have been forgotten. Lest not that we forget.

Author, Marty Lain Wyatt

 

{Did you know? Gray at one time had a whiskey distillery. (Parks Brittian, P. B., Farris once had one in the town of Gray.}

 

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