Sawmill, blacksmith, grist mill ...

By the luck of the draw Henry Hanson was in the right place at the right time.

The small town of Hanson, founded on 50 acres of land, was named for Henry B Hanson, the civil engineer and partner in Hanson and Day contractors, which built the railroad through the town. The first train pulled into Hanson, which was still largely a wilderness, in February 1896.

Not unlike other railroad towns, Hanson began to show signs of growth immediately. A sawmill and livery firm were the first businesses and a grist mill and blacksmith shop weren't far behind.

Hanson became home to several tobacco factories and was birthplace of the famous brand of tobacco "Hanson Twist," which was shipped nationwide back then. Hanson was the southern terminal on the Henderson and Nashville Railroad until 1867.

Several churches were built in the community and 70 of the town's young people received their first academic instructions in an old tobacco factory that had been converted to a school.

Hanson became a bustling town with general stores, doctors' offices, a hotel, a bank and several other establishments.

Unfortunately, a series of disastrous fires, thought to be the work of arsonists, plagued the town at the turn of the century. Nine houses were destroyed in the first blaze, which occurred in 1889. Shortly thereafter five tobacco buildings, five residences and the Hanson Christian Church went up in smoke. The mysterious fires continued to destroy stores and such buildings as the courthouse until 1906. Damages from the fires totaled $90,000.

To say Hanson hasn't changed much over the years is a bit of an understatement. In 1896 the population of Hanson was 495, today the town has approximately 500 residents.

Several original buildings are located in the middle of town. The oldest structure, built in 1878, was once the private residence of H.F.G. Rothrock, an enterprising merchant responsible for much of the town's commercial development.

The oldest wooden structure in the town was built in 1879 and housed a barber shop. Now, over 100 years later, it is a beauty shop.

Life in Hanson has always moved at a fairly slow pace except for a period of time in the '50s and '60s. At one time Hanson was known as one of the worst speed traps in the country. The town marshal was so notorious for fining out-of-state drivers that AAA placed a star over Hanson on its road maps advising travelers to drive around the town.

The days of marshals catching speeding travelers have long since passed for the town, but Mayor Tom Vasser says there's still quite a bit going on.

Early last year construction began on a large housing development on Hanson's west side. Around 100 new homes will have been built by the time the project is completed.

The development of the new homes forced another change on the city as well. The housing development overloaded the town's water system. Hanson could not meet the minimum requirements for water storage until a new water tank was built. The new water tank, located on the edge of town, holds 100,000 gallons of water.

The city plans to annex an area on the south side of town. The annexation will make Hanson a class six city, which would make it eligible for more economic aid from the state. Vasser said the town needs money for the repair of its city streets.

Hanson may be growing a bit and making a few changes, but Vasser said, if the people of Hanson have anything to do with it, the town will still be basically the same 100 years from now.

"People like to live here," Vasser said. "The town has never expanded because people didn't really want it to.

This feature story originally appeared in the The Messenger in the small towns section of their "Changing Face of Hopkins County" on September 6, 1996 and was written by Slone Hutchison, a summer intern from Murray State University working with The Messenger to gain practical news papering skills during her summer vacation.

My thanks to The Messenger for granting permission to publish on the Hopkins County, Kentucky KyGenWeb page.

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Nancy Trice
Hopkins County, Ky

© 1997