Those who wander through the quiet little town of Nebo today would probably never guess that in the late 1800s it was the second largest tobacco market in the world.

At one time it provided its citizens with such things as a private academy, a skating rink and a casket shop.

No traces of the booming tobacco period are left. The seven tobacco factories may be gone, but the history of the little remains, telling the story of what was once a thriving village.

The town was apparently founded and named by Alfred Townes sometime after he was discharged from the Army in 1815. The first concrete history comes with the establishment of the town's post office in 1815 with Townes as postmaster.

Townes was also the inventor of the tobacco screw press which, no doubt, did much to promote the growth of the tobacco industry in the small town.

Ironically, it was Townes' misfortune that gave the town life. Townes owned several acres of land, but was forced to sell when he became the victim of financial problems. The smaller farms and town lots that were a product of Townes' monetary setback became the nucleus that grew from a village to a town.

The small farms that came about from the selling of Townes' land became vitally important to the tobacco industry. Many of the farmers became specialists in the cultivation of tobacco and shipped most of their crop to European countries.

The famous "Corinth Tobacco" was prepared in the town. The tobacco, believed to be some of the finest ever cultivated, was grown in Webster County and shipped to the Nebo stemmeries for preparation before it was shipped to Liverpool, England.

Nebo's tobacco industry flourished until the Great Depression, when tobacco was no longer considered a money crop and many growers were forced off their farms to look for more profitable work.

The Nebo of today is almost entirely residential. The nucleus of the town is the local grocery and service station. Mayor Wayne Kelley said the most controversy the town has seen in years came with the closing of the elementary school this year.

"We were all really sad to see it go," Kelley said. "It was sort of a landmark. Almost everyone in the town went to that school."

The town is at the threshold of a new sidewalk project. The present brick walk ways have been in place since the town was established and were in serious need of repair. Kelley said he expects the project to take several years to complete.

Kelley describes the community as very close-knit and friendly with a typical small-town atmosphere.

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