- In the 1800's the railroad business was booming in many parts of the country and Western Kentucky was no exception. Towns emerged from sparsely populated fields and pastures along the lines.
The railroad continued that tradition of giving birth to small towns when it came to the Hopkins County area and helped bestow municipal life upon White Plains.
The area that became White Plains had been known for many years as "Little Prairie." For nearly 70 years the Cherokee Indians of Tennessee would burn the ground of Little Prairie to provide a large grazing area for buffalo and deer. The Cherokee would repeatedly come into the area, setting up camps to hunt and fish, but left the area in 1836 for good, to migrate west of the Mississippi into the Indian Territory.
Later, when the railroad system passed through the area, White Plains was a community in Christian County. Because "Little Prairie," located in Hopkins County, was on the Elizabethtown and Paducah railroad line, it was the logical place for supplies bound for White Plains to be shipped. So, "Little Prairie" became known as White Plains Station and eventually New White Plains.
The story goes that a man came to the Christian County White Plains and planted the first commercial orchard in this part of the state. That community became -- and is still known as -- Fruit Hill.
The "New" was eventually dropped from the Hopkins County city, and the White Plains of today came to be.
In the early 1900s a large lumber mill operated in White Plains. The mill, which required 20 mule teams to move logs to the mill, shipped much of its production to Germany. Around 1910 a young man from Maryland opened a successful canning factory in the town. Its main purpose was the canning of tomatoes, but it also canned beans, corn and berries.
The canning factory operated until the 1950s.
Life in the little town became fairly quiet after the factory left and, although many things have changed there since the days when the movie theater, town meeting room and jail were all in the same room and ice was delivered daily from a one-horse wagon, the residents remain proud of their little town.
It is that pride that has spurred the White Plains of today to forge into the future with new projects and plans.
The town is beginning a $1.5 million project to renovate and extend its existing water lines. Many of the lines, installed in the late '60s and early '70s, no longer serve the area sufficiently. White Plains not only provides water service to residents in the immediate town, but supplies outlying areas, which makes the need for new lines even more vital.
"We need to be able to give more people better service," said Mayor Ron Lewis. "One two-inch line has 68 houses on it. It's not too bad until about 7:30 every morning, when everyone gets up and starts taking showers, then there's a problem."
Lewis said he hopes to see the project completed in a year and a half.
A new natural gas project is also on the to-do list for White Plains. The $463,000 project is tweaking the interest of some citizens, but response has not been what Lewis had hoped for.
"People are interested in the project and they want the service, but we are having trouble getting people to pay the hook-up fee," Lewis said. "We've tried to explain that the longer they wait the more expensive it will be, but it's hard to get people to pay money for something they can't have yet."
Lewis said, if everything goes according to the current plans, the project should be completed by mid-winter.
The future looks bright for the town, but residents are also taking the good with the bad.
White Plains recently received a letter from the Paducah & Louisville Railroad outlining plans to abandon the section of the track from White Plains to Central City.
Because the town was built around the railroad in the 1800s, its drainage system still runs along the railway. For years the railroad has been responsible for the maintenance of the track, including the upkeep of the drainage system. If the P&L abandons the tracks the city will be forced to take on the responsibility of maintaining their own drainage system.
"If the drainage ditches aren't kept cleaned out, the town will end up looking like a lake," Lewis said. "If we have to maintain them we will, but it's really just a big, old headache the town doesn't need."
Lewis said he would like to see the area around the tracks, if abandoned, become an asset rather than a burden to the town.
"I'd like to see the area cleaned up and used for something," Lewis said. "It would be a good place for a walking or biking trail."
The town's rescue squad was also recently dismantled, but Lewis said there is no cause for alarm. White Plains will depend on nearby Nortonville for their emergency services.
"They are only four miles away and we took care of them for several years. Now I figure they can take care of us for awhile. There's no sense in our double doing it when their service already exists."
Three White Plains residents have got more on their minds than water lines and abandoned railroad tracks, though. Richard Best, Maria Stanley and Kathy Camplin are leading the small town into the electronic age with plans for a new computer learning center.
Group member Maria Stanley said when they approached Mayor Lewis about turning one of the rooms in the old school building into a computer learning center he was completely supportive.
Through fund raisers and donations, the learning center is becoming better equipped every day, even though there still is a long way to go, according to Stanley.
"We eventually want to get this place on-line," Stanley said. "We want to have a voice-activated computer and lots of other things that will make computers easy to use for anyone."
Stanley said the ultimate goal of the learning center is to make people comfortable with computers and the computer age. The group is planning to eventually produce a newsletter for the town of White Plains that would be available to all residents.
"We may need some help on that," Stanley said. "We think it would go over real well, though. It would be like our own little mini-newspaper."
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.
Return to Hopkins County
Hopkins County, Ky