JPHS members and guests met on Saturday, April 22nd, 2017 at 10:30 a.m. at the Fancy Farm Vineyard & Winery in west Kentucky. JPHS President Bill Mulligan led the business meeting which included the secretary/treasurer’s report and the journal editor’s report. Committees are being formed for the purpose of increasing membership (Charles Blair and Ann Uddberg, members); hosting an essay contest for middle and high school students (Bob Lochte and Melissa Earnest, members); and digitalization of the journal (A. J. Boston of Murray State University libraries has offered to serve). New business items included future meeting plans, the JPHS website, starting a speakers bureau, 501c3 status, and long-range planning. The society will be celebrating the 2018-19 Bicentennial of the Jackson Purchase as well as the society’s 60th Anniversary in 2018. The election of officers is scheduled to take place at the July meeting, so those who are willing to serve should let President Mulligan know as soon as possible as he appoints the nominating committee.
President Mulligan introduced the guest speaker, Cynthia Elder, who spoke about the St. Jerome Church and Fancy Farm history. Several audience members were from Fancy Farm and interspersed their own personal stories which made the talk very interactive and informative. Elder started her talk mentioning a book entitled A History of St. Jerome Fancy Farm, Kentucky, 1836-1986 which had been written by Leo Willett for the sesquicentennial. He was a retired educator who had performed old school research and had 43 boxes of notes, photograph negatives and much more that Elder went through researching material for her own book.
So why was the place named Fancy Farm? A resident named John Peebles had invited someone from Washington, D.C. to come and inspect the area as to the need for a post office. The Postmaster General came and actually stayed with Peebles at his “fancy” farm. Since no one had thought of a name for the post office at the time, the Postmaster General declared it would be named for the Peebles’ “fancy” farm and thus the name was given.
Fancy Farm was known as “the Catholic Community” because there was only one church and the community settled around the church. The ancestry of many of the residents is from Maryland, which was known as the Catholic Colony. The St. Jerome church currently standing is the third church that was built. In 1909, the old school was built. The parishioners in the community actually built the church buildings and the school buildings. There is now a 17-acre campus on the national registry of historic places. At one time there was an order of nuns, the Ursulines, who lived in a convent and taught the children of the area. About five years after they left, the Sisters of Charity took over the education of the children. The Graves County School System eventually took over the school in the 1930s, but allowed the sisters to continue to teach. The church owned the property, but rented it to the county/state for $1 per year. The school drew in lots of students due to the school being one of the best in the state. Since there was no transportation, many students lived with relatives in Fancy Farm in order to attend the school.
The famous Fancy Farm Picnic is a church fund raiser, not a political forum per se. The picnic started in 1880 with a public invitation for everyone to attend. It was first a potluck and Gander Pull which raised money for the church. (A Gander Pull is a blood sport originating in Spain in the 12th Century and spreading across Europe and into America through the 19th Century.) The picnic became a homecoming of sorts as those who had been born and raised in Fancy Farm but had left the area returned for the fun and the food. It was originally held on a Wednesday but eventually moved to the weekend to accommodate more people. Politicians took notice of the large crowd which would gather there each year and realized it was a great opportunity to get votes. Fancy Farm’s event was not unique as many such events and fund raisers were held in communities all over Kentucky at the time. But Fancy Farm’s Picnic grew and attracted visitors and is still ongoing, as many other events have fallen by the wayside. At one time, the picnic drew in over 18,000 in attendance.
Father Walter Hancock, Carroll Hubbard, and Craig Higdon first had the idea of inviting nationally known politicians to attend the picnic. Prominent politicians who have attended in the past are George Wallace, Al Gore, and Lloyd Bentsen.
Approximately 500 families live in Fancy Farm. These families help prepare 10,000 pounds of pork and 10,000 pounds of mutton for the annual picnic. Different families are in charge of different parts of the festivities – meat, sauce, drinks, sides, etc. Recipes have been passed down from generation to generation. Meals are served from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. This year’s picnic will be held on Saturday, August 5th.
Elder’s book is entitled “the Catholic settlement” A History of St. Jerome Catholic Church, 1836-2011. Her newest book is Fancy Farm Living is the Life for Me, published April 10, 2017.