History of Buffalo
Ho me to wn, Kentucky Fer rill's Buffalo Renews Ambition By PHIL NORMAN Courier-Journal North Central Bureau Buffalo, Ky. This LaRue County community of about 500 persons is identified to a remarkable degree with the story of one man's success. The man was E. S. Ferrill, who started with $410 and built an improbable group of wholesale and retail businsses that occupied most of Buffalo's main street and attracted national attention. Since Ferrill died about 20 years ago, the town has lapsed into the serenity to be expected of a small, rural community. There are perhaps 20 stores and other retail establishments, but most of the wholesale business is gone. Still Bears Inscription In the middle of the town's little core of commercial buildings is the one in which Ferrill started his first business, a drugstore, and in which he kept his office. The building still bears the inscription, "E. S. Ferrill, 1883," but it now houses a pool hall. Signs of renewed ambition are evident in Buffalo, however. Streets are clogged by heavy equipment being used to install the town's first water system. Gas service was extended to the community two years ago, and an industrial-development committee has been formed. A proponent of the new activity is Dr. John V. Davis, a chiropractor who is head of the water commission and a member of the industrial-development group. "It was Ferrill's-ville for a long time here," he observed, "and we're trying to make a comeback." Buffalo is strung out along THE LATE E. S. FERRILL seems contemplative in this photograph taken some 25 years ago in his drugstore office in Buffalo. KY 61, in a section about 60 miles south of Louisville, seven miles from Hodgenville, and three miles from Abraham Lincoln National Historic Site. It is surrounded by rolling countryside used chiefly for tobacco and dairy farming. Started With Salt Mrs. Clint Elliott, a student of LaRue County history, says the town was founded about 1850 when James Creal built a house and a grist mill on the banks of the North Fork of the Nolin River. Soon the town had three stores, one of which was purchased by E. S. Ferrill. then about 20, with money he had earned running his father's nearby farm. Ferrill started his wholesale operations by buying barrels of salt in Louisville and selling them to general stores around the county. At the peak of his success, he ran the drugstore, a hardware store, and a bank in adjoining buildings on the main street. On the other side of the street was his booming wholesale-grocery business. He also had a lumber yard and a stove factory. He dealt in buggies, farm imple-ments, fertilizer and numerous other commodities. U .rar r7y, i -r-i-' In 1940, Ferrill's sales came to $1,250,000. He was the subject that year of a Saturday Evening Post article, entitled "Big Frog, Little Pond," by Jesse Rainsford Sprague, a writer who specialized in business stories. Destroyed By Fire Two years after Ferrill died, his wholesale-grocery business was destroyed by fire. Since then, many of the other Ferrill interests have been sold. Jimmy Ferrill, the youngest of Ferrill's three sons and co-founder of the grocery operation, continues to run a building-supplies firm at the edge of town. He said the grocery business was not rebuilt because chain stores have nearly wiped out the "mom and pop grocery stores" that made it profitable. Another vestige of the Ferrill enterprises is the First National Bank of Buffalo. Donohue Ferrill, the eldest son of E. S. Ferrill, became president of the bank last year upon the death of his brother W. L. Ferrill. Donohue Ferrill lives in Hodgenville, and the day-to-day business of the bank is conducted by its pleasant, white-haired cashier, Miss Mary Lela Parish. Miss Parish has been working at the bank since she was graduated from the old Buffalo High School in 1919. She recalled that the high school ; IOUISVIUE loUISVIllE ' BUFFALO J ; had been established a few years earlier to replace East Lynn College as the educational and social center of the community. East Lynn was a private boarding school erected in 1879 on a hill overlooking the town. Buffalo High School occupied the same site until it was absorbed eight years ago by LaRue County High School near Hogdenville. Only a grade school survives on the hill, with the old frame "college" building standing in disuse on the grounds. Insight into the boarding school and into the town as it was at the turn of the centurycan be found in a well preserved copy of East Lynn's "annual announcement" for 1897-98. The booklet catalogued studies ranging from "spelling, reading, penmanship, and arithmetic" to "philosophic and classics courses." Never Had Railroad To attract students, the announcement advertised that Buffalo was a "prohibition town" and "one of the most quiet, moral, and religious towns in Kentucky." It proclaimed also that "Buffalo is celebrated for its excellent mineral water," an asset that apparently was lost some years ago when the town well was plowed under in a road-widening project. By 1910, according to Mrs. Elliott's account, Buffalo had a number of enterprises that are no longer in existence. In addition to the Ferrill businesses, these included a printing office, a hotel, a tobacco warehouse, and a concrete-block and brick factory. The BUFFALO'S MAIN STREET has changed little since Ferrill used this row of buildings as a center for his once-thriving businesses. Ferrill's name is embossed on the building (second from right) where he had his drugstore and office. town, which thrived in the days of the horse and wagon, has never had a railroad. Nonetheless, Buffalo is holding its own. It has, in fact, gained some 100 residents since 1940. Most of the townspeople are retired farmers or commuters to such places as Ft. Knox and Elizabcthtown. Perhaps because of the dominating influence of E. S. Ferrill, Buffalo has a tradition of doing without formal town government. Joe Ragsdale, the chief of the volunteer fire de partment, recalled that the town had a mayor and a council about 20 years ago. "Some liked it, and some didn't," he related, and the officers decided to quit after a short time. Lions Club Active Ragsdale noted that the Lions Club has been active in community affairs, and the fire department has undertaken such tasks as collecting donations to pay the town's street light bills. When LaRue County Water wfeS TPii Staff Photo District No. 1 prepared to extend water lines from Hodgenville, it found that it needed permission from Buffalo officials. Since there were no officials, water-district chairman Davis said, the district had to initiate court action to have the town "unincorporated." Buffalo's appearance will be changed this summer when Buffalo Baptist Church builds a $125,000, colonial-style redbrick church to replace the white frame structure that now rises in the middle of town.