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Newbern plagued by fires

In the 1890s, after losing its prestigious position as the seat of Pulaski County, the village of Newbern reached a low point like it had not known before. Since the day in 1810, when Gordon Cloyd came over from his home on the south slope of Cloyd’s Mountain to survey the 29-lot subdivision with a 66-foot long surveyor’s chain, the place had known nothing but growth. Now, after more than 60 years of prosperity, it suddenly ceased growing.
First, the stagecoach line that had meant so much in the establishment of the village, had given way to the railroad that was located on lower ground to the north. The great westward migration would no longer be by wagons, but along the trail of the silver rails. Now, with the stage line and the courthouse gone, it is no wonder a writer of the time referred to Newbern as “the deserted village, left to the bats and the owls.” It was a cruel, politically motivated statement that was remembered by the village’s residents for many years.
No longer were the peoples’ ears treated to the pleasant sound of creaking wheels of horse-drawn wagons passing through the village in great numbers, headed west. No more would the hills ring out with the oratory of lawyers giving their closing statements, or congregating in the taverns to tell spellbound audiences of great court cases they had argued.
Silence on the old courthouse lawn was as though in reverent respect to the cold ashes of the once stately old red brick building with its large white columns that had occupied the lot for so long. There was one thing, though, that progress in the form of the iron horse, nor the will of voters could take away. That was the colonial frontier atmosphere, and the spirit of the people. It was built into each log structure that hugged so near the historic Wilderness Road, and became such a part of the citizens living there.
Something could take away the good things, and that was fire. Many times the people were confronted by fire. And fire several times brought the persistent little village to its knees. First it was the night before the turn of the century when she aimed at the very soul of the community, when a bolt of lightning ripped through steeple and bell of the Dug Spring Methodist Church. Flames that followed burned the structure to the ground. Fire destroyed the old Rough and Ready Hotel and tavern, where President Andrew Jackson was reported to have once spent the night on a trip to Washington.
Over the years other buildings were destroyed by fire. These will be mentioned next week.

– Lloyd Mathews is a retired land surveyor and a historian who lives in Pulaski.