Living Treasure: Cornelia Hampton Nay

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By John Foster

Cornelia Elizabeth Hampton Nay was born on a farm on June 25, 1911. Her parents were Maude Adalaide Brown Hampton and Grover Wade Hampton. She had two brothers, Grover and John. 

Oral history transcribed by Nancy Theiss, Oldham County History Center. Photos by John Foster and submitted. 

The farm was my great-grandfather’s farm. They had a log house and when they tore it down they found hair in the chinks. They used window frames for ladders from the log house [when they tore it down]. One of our ancestors, the Triggs, floated down the Ohio River [during the 1700s] on a flatboat and came ashore at Harmony Landing, near Rose Island Road. They settled on a hill on Mayo Lane where there is a family cemetery. 

“Going through the fields I used to pick onions out of the wheat fields, they were a pest that ruined the wheat crop. I would get paid five cents a gallon for the tops of the onions. We had registered Jersey cows, hogs. We didn’t have sheep but we had a large group of animals. We had work horses.

“My father milked 15-16 Jersey cows twice a day. Milk was separated. The cream was put in cans and picked up by a milk truck that took the milk and cream to Louisville. We only sold the cream, and fed the milk to the hogs. He planted wheat, corn and orchard grass. The corn was fed to the hogs and the wheat and orchard grass was taken to Louisville to be sold. He took care of the horses and mules, built fences, repaired barns and equipment and kept the farm records. He also planted a large garden.

“My mother had many skills and gifts. She was an excellent seamstress. She made all of our clothes. She milked cows, fed 75-100 chickens, canned vegetables. Later she took in boarders to earn money for my college tuition. I helped my mother with the chickens. We collected the eggs and cleaned the hen house. We bought young chicks from another farmer and they were shipped to us. 

“We’d keep them in the kitchen or another room for a few days and then put them in a small hen house separate from the older chickens. After we collected the eggs we washed the eggs and put them in crates. About once a week my father put the crates in the trunk of his car and took them to Louisville to sell. He’d also take hams to deliver to customers. 

“I also helped my mother clean, cook and can vegetables and fruits from our garden...

“We mostly rode in a buggy, kinda of a surrey, when I was growing up. We would shop in Louisville to Bacon’s and Stewart’s downtown.  

“We had ponies and goats. Since we didn’t have parks around we had our own entertainment. We had a pony cart with an umbrella and reversible seats and our mother would take us down to Goshen to get the mail, that sort of thing. And when people came to visit that is one of the things we did to entertain them, take them on a pony ride. And we had a goat wagon and goat harness and when the goat was stubborn, Mother had to harness the goat. Two people could go on a ride that was a big adventure, they [the goats] were stubborn and they would lay down and wouldn’t move so Mother had to get a switch at them to make them move.  

“We used to go [to the Ohio River] to fish. My grandfather and brothers would go down there and they caught a fish as long as I was tall. I don’t know what kind it was. I remember going down to get fish [from people who would sell it]. And the colored church [on the Nay property] would get fish and have a big fish fry.

“There used to be peddlers that would come out from Louisville to sell their wares when I was growing up. They would carry their ware on their back, a trunk-like thing. They had trinkets for children, they had yard goods and liniments. They were still coming when I was in my teens. We had a small room upstairs and they would stay all night with us. These tinkers became merchants in Louisville, they were hard workers, walked 10 and 12 miles. They had all kinds of pretty material for dresses. There were all kinds of peddlers. They were almost like family, you got to know them so well. The Karems were one. You didn’t think about being afraid of them, let them stay all night – think about doing that now! 

“My father and his father before him started smoking hams. My father bought the hams from Fischer Packing Co. and got to be close friends with the Fischers. He made contacts all over the United States [selling hams]. He started selling about 100 a year. My brother [John Hampton] sold hams too. My father entered his hams in the state fair and won blue ribbons. 

“He sent a ham to Will Rogers and Will Rogers sent him a personal letter of thanks: “Dear Ray Hampton, Are you that man that sent me that hog head? Hitt sure was good!”  Daddy sent the letter down to the Courier and they printed on the front page! There was a secret to how long to cure the ham, the time of year, controlled temperature. Another farmer decided he could do it too and didn’t do the right process and they all spoiled. The hams were salt cured and in the end we put sugar on it.

“Most all the farms had ponds and had ice skating parties. Joe [Nay’s neighbor, who later became her husband] had a pair that fastened on and they could come off pretty easily, he almost would kill himself. I would just put on my hard shoes. We always had family parties and we had an orchard and pick the apples and put them in storage and had them for parties. We would take them to Louisville and put them in cold storage and then go get them when we needed them. We had all kind of fruit pies, my mother was a good cook. She made fresh biscuits every morning. Before she died she told me to be sure and make biscuits for Daddy’s breakfast. She had a knack for making seasonal foods. I think people in the South are more skilled at that sort of thing...  

“I went to Shiloh Methodist Church and still go there today.

“I didn’t start school until I was 7 years old. My parents thought it was too far for me to walk by myself when I was 6. It was a mile to the Goshen school. They taught me to read at home. I remember reading fairy tales and nursery rhymes with my grandfather. He read them to me so many times. 

“Miss Cora Fendley was one of my teachers. There were no hot lunches so the parents bring in hot soups. The Belknaps were next door, and they came over and taught us mountain songs and we thought they were so different from our songs. After six years at Goshen School I began ninth grade at Liberty. It was about six miles from our house to Liberty and there were no buses so I boarded with Mrs. Ora Ross who taught at Liberty. 

“After one year at Liberty my parents decided I should transfer to Crestwood High School since Liberty was not yet accredited. The trip to and from Crestwood could take several hours so I rode the Interurban electric car from Prospect down River Road to the train station in Louisville. I transferred to a [electric] train that took me to Crestwood. It would take an hour and half, maybe two hours. I would catch it at Rose Island Road. I enjoyed the trolley ride to see all of the different houses, because we didn’t have many houses out here. We would go by the military school [Kentucky Military Institute in Lyndon] and the confederate cemetery. 

“I again boarded with the Ross family who had moved to Crestwood at that time. One of the teachers was a graduate of Vassar...  She expected us to measure up to her standards and made it hard for us, but what I learned helped me I am sure. I didn’t like it at the time. She boarded at the same place I did [at the Ross house] but she was a different person when she wasn’t at school...

“My father encouraged me to go to college so I would have a career.  

“My father had seen so many girls that had grown up on farms  — they didn’t have any way to make money and he wanted me to go to college. In the fall of 1928 my father and I traveled by train to Lexington and then got a taxi to take us to Asbury College in Wilmore.  I had to take an entrance exam after I arrived there. Fortunately I passed. After one year at Asbury, I taught grades one though six at the Goshen School. I was 18 years old. 

“When I returned to Asbury in the fall of 1930 I wrote a check for my tuition. A few days later the bank in Prospect closed [due to the Depression], but my check had cleared.

After graduating from Asbury with a degree in English and education, I applied for a job at Ballardsville School. There were 18 applicants. I was hired because I could play the piano. In the three years I taught there I never played the piano. 

“I boarded with Mr. and Mrs. Wendall Trapp. She [Mrs. Trapp] was a good cook! He was the principal. The neighbors were so nice and I would go over there to use the phone. He [Mr. Trapp] had boarded at our house when he taught at the Goshen School. I transferred to Liberty School and taught second grade until 1945. I returned to teaching in 1954 when my youngest daughter, Joanne, started school. I also taught Head Start for nine summers.  

“After 32 years of teaching I retired in 1974 when my granddaughter, Claire, was born. I liked the response you get from young children, their answers are so honest. It takes patience to be a teacher...

“The subject matter now is different. They have more science. I haven’t been in a classroom for about six years. Computers have changed things. I think you learn a lot with computers...

Joe and I were married on Feb. 14, 1942.  Like I said before, he grew up in the farm next door. He played with my brothers growing up. That evening we had dinner at the Old Stone Inn in Shelbyville and then we stayed at the Phoenix Hotel in Lexington. Joe worked for the Mahans for one year and we returned to the family farm in 1943. One of my brothers, Grover was killed in a car accident. That is when we moved back. Joe didn’t retire from farming until he was 76.

“I organized children at the church. I liked to hear children sing. I wanted them to have choir robes. Ann Smiser had the hotel [Melrose Inn] and she gave us some sheets and the mothers made choir robes and we bought colored material for maroon colored skirts and ties. We would practice in the Sunday School room and march in the church and line up the front of church and sing their song.  When I was teaching in school I would always tell my children to be sure and go to church Sunday – imagine telling them that now![laughs]

“We had two daughters, Miriam and Joanne, and two granddaughters, Claire Warford and Laura Odey.  Our two great grandchildren, Abigail and Ryan Wardford, really brighten up my day.”  


E-mail us about this story at: jfoster@oldhamera.com