Bill Holt of Murray shared this with me and I wanted to also share it with our readers.
– Martha Andrus
I'm a nostalgic history buff and I read with great interest two articles on the early history of Murray. One covered the early era of the 1920s and '30s, and the most recent went through the 1940s and '50s. I enjoyed both and this story takes it from there.
Last summer, the late Bill Thurman, a lifetime friend and golfing companion, and I met at the local Walmart. We sat down on a bench and reminisced about the phenomenal growth of Murray over the past 60 years. Bill was born and raised here and knew a lot more about it than I. He filled in a lot of blanks.
We both marveled at driving down four-lane 12th Street and the new KY 121 bypass, the four or five new subdivisions surrounding Murray with beautiful homes, and the old hospital becoming a major medical center. We counted about 25 fast food places on 12th Street and six or eight nice sit-down restaurants. There are now several new shopping centers with major stores. We decided Murray is a nice place to live.
When I moved to Murray in 1960, it was a sleepy little college town of about 5,000 people. The massive university was a state teachers college of about 1,200 students and 74 faculty members. The college then consisted of what is now called the Quad between 15th and 16th streets. The early description of the school was well covered in the previous two articles.
Wiswell Road and 16th Street were gravel, south from the Presbyterian Church at Main Street. College Farm Road was gravel from Five Points at 16th and Chestnut streets, west to College Farm Road, where it ended, hence the name.
I am an avid golfer and was an early member of the Murray Country Club. We had to enter the club from the Mayfield Highway (KY 121 North). The two white concrete entrance pillars are still there. The late Judge James Lassiter, another lifetime friend and golfing companion, wrote a very interesting history on the formation of the club and is well worth reading.
All traffic on U.S. 641 from the South turned right onto Sycamore, left on Fourth and semis and all went through the court square, continuing on North Fourth Street and re-entered the Benton Highway about where the skating rink is now. I remember semis constantly hitting the awnings on the East side of the square. Re-routing and four-laning through Murray has been a great improvement.
As mentioned earlier, I am extremely nostalgic and enjoy old stories, especially if they are true. I think this one is as true as Twain said, through Huck.
Mr. Elmus Beale ran an old-fashioned hardware store on the corner of Fourth and Main streets where the vacant lot is now. One day, an elderly gentleman, whom everyone in town knew was practically deaf, walked into the store, picked up an item and put it on the counter. Mr. Beale said loudly, "That will be a dollar and a half." The old man put a half dollar on the counter and left. Mr. Beale shouted even louder, "I said that would be a dollar and a half, not a half dollar." The old man kept walking and Mr. Beale followed him out of the store and as he was getting into his car, Mr. Beale shouted," All right you, I still made a quarter."
I have a collection of stories, including this one, about locals and my football life as an assistant coach at Murray State that I may submit to the Murray Ledger & Times.
Twelfth Street was nearly all residential north from Sycamore Street to Chestnut Street, where it ended abruptly. Chestnut ran west to the college and Five Points and east to what was then Ryan Milk Company.
Parker Popcorn sat where the BB&T Bank is now. All the land behind it, including the Olympic and Chestnut Hills Shopping Centers, all the way down to Kroger's and east to the cemetery and including Central Park, was known as the Ryan Farm. It was subdivided into what we see today.
Roy Stewart Stadium, the new basketball arena, and a portion of the MSU maintenance area was all a massive city dump. We used to go down there on Sundays and shoot rats. The University Church of Christ, Chamber of Commerce, Walmart, and Lowe's were part of the Tucker Farm. The late Galen Thurman, Don Tucker and I kept a nice garden on Don's land about where the church is today. Keeping Bobby Grogan and Bill Barker out of it was a full time job.
Another thriving enterprise present when I arrived was a phenomenal used car business. I was told that Murray was the used car capital of the nation. It was said that Murray was second only to Detroit in the use of Dupont automobile paint and contained over a 100 clean-up shops. The two block-long streets between the Humane Society's dog pound and South Fourth Street was known as "Bondo Alley." It operated 24/7 and you could drive down there at 2 a.m. and see all the lights on with the sound of sanders and motors running, and see very skilled men working on cars. There would be two or three large car transports loading and unloading cars. Hundreds of cars came and went from Murray each week and employed hundreds of workers. Mr. Holland of Holland Tire on East Main, once told me that buyers could leave Murray with over a $100,000 in cash in their overnight bags and with a chuckle, added…"Sometimes in a paper sack!"
I have personally watched them renew cars. They would repair all exterior damage with Bondo and sometimes repaint the entire car. Bondo was a semi-hard, plastic-like filler, and to tell you the truth, did not last very long, and with tongue-in-cheek, it did not have to. They would pressure wash and clean the motor area to look like new. The entire trunk area would be refurbished and the tires, including the spare, would be painted or replaced. I have seen them remove both the front and back seats and clean or refurbish the cloth or leather. They would then clean the entire floorboard and replace the seats. Vehicles looked brand, spanking new. This process became known nationally as the "Murray Slick." Dealers from all over the country knew about the "Murray Slick," and bought and sold countless cars every day from local dealers.
Another quick story from my collection. This one comes from many good stories from my coaching experiences as an assistance football coach for many years at MSU. University of Tennessee-Martin is now a very fine school in Martin, Tennessee, belongs to the Ohio Valley Conference, and abides by all the rules and regulations of the conference and the NCAA.
In its earlier days, it was known to us as UT Martin and was not affiliated with any conference, and stretched the rules a bit. They hired local men as home game officials and it was very hard to win down there. So help me, this actually happened. There was a big pileup and fumble right in front of our bench. A UT Martin player fell on the ball and the official put his hand on his back and shouted, "our ball."
I spent the first years of my life as a student in a classroom and spent 35 years as an assistant professor of health, physical education and recreation at MSU. I should know a little bit about education. The city and county school systems are phenomenal, far above average. With the addition of the new tech school on Robertson Road, they supply the needs of all students. Both high schools are the equivalent of a very expensive prep school for college-bound students. My grandson went to a prep school in Atlanta, and two great-nephews in the Chesapeake Bay area. They cost more than $6,000 year and not a bit more equivalent than what we have here.