Former Editor Battled Corruption
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Former Editor Battled CorruptionBy Tom Watson, historian
Wednesday, March 7, 2007
A man by the name of Llewellyn Buford "Lew" Brown was perhaps Taylorsville's most important newspaper owner-editor during the paper's formative years. Lew Brown was not related to any local family with the same surname, and was a native of Arkansas, but he became a major figure in local history. If you've followed this series, you have read that Brown's granddaughter, Marion Zaiser of St. Petersburg, Fla., wrote "The Beneficient Blaze." This writer is basing the history of the local newspaper, in part, on her book that traces the career of Brown from Arkansas to Louisville and Taylorsville and on to Florida.
On Aug. 13, 1889, Lew and Julia became the parents of their second son, Albert Young Brown. Lew was 28 that year. He and Julia still wanted to live outside the city despite the failure of their farm, so they bought a house and peach orchard in PeWee Valley, just across the Jefferson County line in Oldham County. In a short time, their home was destroyed by fire. "After they had spent the night with their Irish neighbors," Ms. Zaiser wrote, "Lew borrowed the neighbors' horse to ride to Louisville. There he saw Charlie Watson, who, next to Julia, was his closest confidant."
"'Lew, do you have any money at all?' asked Charlie. 'Two hundred dollars in the bank,' Lew told him. 'You've heard me talk a lot about Taylorsville, where I grew up?' Lew nodded affirmatively. 'Well, that's where you're going. There's a little weekly newspaper there that's for sale for $450. I know the owner, and I think he'll let you have it for part cash, part on time.'"
Although Lew was opposed to buying anything on time, Charlie talked him into becoming owner-publisher of the Spencer Courier. The exact date that Lew went to Taylorsville to operate the Spencer Courier is not stated in the book, but it is mentioned that Chauncey was 4-years-old. That would make it late 1890 or early 1891. The book notes that by the spring of 1891, Lew was able to pay off some of the mortgage on the newspaper. So, most likely, the Browns took over the newspaper in late 1890.
The Browns moved into what was described by Lew's granddaughter as "... an old, two-story, ship-lap house next door to the Presbyterian Church." The church building still stands on the northwest corner of Main and Jefferson Streets, just west of Smith's Citgo. The church is now a store. The house has been gone for many years.
While the family lived in the house, Lew began construction of another house near Brashears Creek. Unfortunately, Lew had not done his homework and knew little of the floods that occasionally ravished Taylorsville. A flood destroyed his house while it was under construction, but he must have decided that a flood that severe was a fluke and started again on his creekside house.
The Browns also did a lot of work on the house next to the Presbyterian Church and a portico was built onto it by Julia's famous architect father, Henry Struby.
On Dec. 20, 1898 something in a shed room of the W.T. Froman Drug Co. on Main Street, at the same location where the restored W.T. Froman building now stands, triggered a fire. That's across Main Street from the current McDavitt's Electric and former Valley Theater.
In two hours, the blaze destroyed nine businesses, all the way west to the corner of Main and Washington (also called Drug Avenue) Streets. The Spencer Courier was destroyed at a cost of $1,500 and Lew issued a one-sheet report on the fire two days later that he called "Spencer Courier Special."
After the fire, Lew began printing the newspaper in his house that was nearing completion. Lew began to prosper after the fire and became a tough editorialist, unafraid to take on issues with which he disagreed. Sometimes people didn't like what he wrote and an encounter arose involving "Thel Stewart's husband," as Ms. Zaiser wrote. Thel Stewart operated a bar called "The Blind Tiger" at the present site of The Spencer Magnet. Her husband took a shot at Lew one day as the editor was walking down the courthouse steps. The shot missed its mark and Lew drew a .45 caliber pistol from under his coat and returned the fire. Stewart received a minor wound and never bothered Lew again, according to Ms. Zaiser.
Lew Brown's fight against corruption in Taylorsville brought him into politics, but the pain of family tragedies drove him away.
If you have information about Taylorsville's newspaper history or any other local historical subject, email Tom Watson at firstname.lastname@example.org. Write to: Tom Watson, 5225 Little Union Road, Taylorsville, Ky., 40071 or you may call before 7 p.m. at 502 252-9991.
©2005 The Spencer Magnet
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