Olympia Springs Recollections

Bette Wills Richards has many fond memories of her childhood in Olympia Springs, Bath County, Kentucky with her grandparents John Harvey Cassity and Betty Ann Downs and she has eloquently shared them with us.

"John Harvey Cassity and his wife, Betty Ann Downs Cassity, lived in the Olympian Springs area in Bath County, Kentucky, not far from the handsome big hotel where spa visitors stayed. I always thought it was my playground because Grandma Cassity worked there, relatives managed the hotel, and we lived either in one of the small houses on the grounds or nearby. It is the era of the late 20's that is recalled here.

"At one time Grandpa had lived at Yale, Kentucky. Mother was born there. The remains of Yale now lie beneath Cave Run Reservoir. (Randolph Richardson's Company removed as many graves as possible before the waters went into the dam.) Yale was once a mining town with a sizeable population.

"The Cassity men and some relatives had a string band and played for many social occasions. I believe it was called the Yale String Band but will not swear to that. The Cassitys were always musical we were told. The band consisted of a "bass" (modified cello, possibly??), two violins and one or two other instruments. Grandpa played violin and also sang often (tenor). His father, Henry, was one of the band members. It seems a Cromwell (or Cornwell or Cornwall or Crompton?) played with them; perhaps there were two non- Cassitys but they may have been their cousins.

"The Cassity family were always popular with friends and relatives. They offered generous hospitality along with the joy of music.

"There was a love of learning passed down and respect for education and that fired my own life immensely. At a time when education was considered a luxury, or even a waste of time and money, my mother and one aunt continued their education. At l6 mother was in Morehead Teachers' College, and my Aunt Blanche eventually taught school and continued to take classes at Morehead-- even in her late 60's I think. Mother had to ride the train from Olympia to Morehead week days; the family all contributed to keeping her in school.

"When I see the genealogy and note "Isaac Newton Cassity" in more than one generation, I feel very PROUD that ancestors would honor the greatness of this man with namesakes. And then, John Milton Cassity which I read once in a list of names. It speaks well for their regard for learning.

"When I was three years old we lived with Grandpa, Grandma and Aunt Arrah Cassity. (Aunt was a bright young woman with dancing dark eyes, long black braids and a sunny nature. She never spoke ill of anyone. She played the organ well by ear and I loved to sing with her at times. She was never to leave Grandma except for cancer surgery twice toward the end of her rather short life. At birth there was injury to her head and she had grand mal epilepsy, controlled the last l5 years of her life with a medication new at that time. A lot of her schooling was at home because of her condition.

"Grandpa was a kind, non-complaining man and his children adored him as did I. Often he would hitch Old Fred or Old Pearl to his nice black leather buggy and we would go to Olympia to take milk orders. (He kept a few cows then.) We also took orders for eggs and a few other things I do not recall. Once we actually went by buggy to Owingsville to the Fair; I recall the crowds, canopies, games, watermelon and mushmelon stands. It was a long trip by buggy and we returned late to the Springs.

"When the fog or mist covered our area and would start to rise, Grandpa would tell me that maybe some groundhogs were making coffee. I heard wonderful tales in those years. There were many visitors to the congenial Cassity home and good conversations. Grandpa was a good listener and wise, to boot. Grandma had very strong opinions that never wavered and this upset some people, but I loved, respected and very much admired her forthright manner. Lucky for her that she was a very strong lady for after Grandpa died she had to be so.

"We had an old Victrola of wood (not as nice as Aunt Ann Carrington's, but it worked). We had an ice-box, although once we lived where we had a smokehouse with a very small stream filled with stones running under it and certain foods were kept there in heavy crocks. Grandma churned her butter and it was delicious; although I cannot eat butter today it remains a good memory.

"Grandpa had a number of Cassity relatives in the adjacent Salt Lick area. One of his brothers was James who lived the longest life of them all. There was a Milton somehow related, perhaps a brother. Some of mother's cousins were Demory, Arthur, Jack, David. Who else? Had to be more than that.

"Though faint, I heard this long ago: one Cassity was a miller; more than one a Justice of the Peace; more than one a sheriff, one a newspaper editor. Now I do not know the kinship degree for these. One story I can never forget: Henry Cassity was out hunting turkeys, calling them. A catamount leaped on his back, sank his teeth into his neck and ripped him with his claws. He managed to reach his gun back and bring the barrel over and behind the big cat's head and started to apply pressure; he killed the cat; the rest is history and somewhere amongst the "kept" historical artifacts is the gun that Henry Cassity's great, strong hands bent slightly in the attempt to kill the catamount. He was supposed to have had extremely- strong hands for his size as did my Grandpa Cassity. I read this in a book once when I visited a Kentucky library, probably at Morehead. Unless this is another Cassity, I have long imagined this Henry was Grandpa's father.

"Grandpa was a good builder; he and his family built a nice brick home before he came to the Olympia-Salt Lick area. (I guess in Yale??) He and my mother together turned out very good chairs. He did the woodwork; she plaited the corn shucks after "curing" them--into the seat and sometimes into the back of the chairs. He also could make rockers. The family was very creative with whatever was at hand and turned out some lovely products.

"Decoration Day was a big occasion. We prepared weeks ahead of time, and on May 30 would carry the dozens and dozens of beautiful long-stem roses we made of crepe paper and wire for the graves; it was a happy time, never sad. I have long said I believe I could still make those flowers with eyes closed if only I had the old wire. Grandpa liked "Seven Sisters" roses (clusters).

"My family tanned very fast. Black-haired, dark-eyed, slightly-olive skin. (Aunt Blanche had jewel-green shining eyes which kept their lustre into her late years.) All the sisters had hair to the waist as I recall and they would brush it nightly. Aunt Arrah wore hers in a braid wound around the head. As long as their father lived they did not cut their hair nor wear makeup and would only ride side- saddle. To do otherwise was unladylike. When mother cut her long hair some years later on, it went into the tail of one of our horses who had lost a lot of his and was having an awful time brushing away the flies. We were always told that we had Native American ancestry and it was easy to believe with our coloring and high cheekbones. But we have never been able to trace that ancestry--such a pity!

"A few years before I was born in l927, the youngest Cassity died of either Scarlet Fever or Diphtheria. A picture of John Paul Cassity shows a handsome barefoot boy holding the leash of his spotted dog, Jack. He had black wavy hair and deep, deep blue, wide-set eyes. A terrible loss that stayed with Grandma for years.

"Two heirlooms were given me, amber beads and an ivory cameo set in very fine gold. "Now be careful with it", I was told. One day I wore it to school and lost it during a ball game. I searched and searched to no avail and felt crushed. Grandpa had given me a penny set in silver. Its motto was "Keep me and you will never go broke". I kept it into adulthood when it was lost during moving.

"I think Grandpa held a variety of jobs; he did only minimal farming, mostly just for our own needs, with some milk and eggs left over. If someone needed them he gave them away; if not, he sold. His father once taught school, I believe, and perhaps a sister did as well. Grandpa once had a hearse, I believe, but not during my time with him. That is what I heard. Aside from remembering him with the horses best of all, I recall the old brown velvet smoking jacket he wore in the house; however, I do not recall his smoking a pipe in the house. I do remember when someone had an earache smoke was blown into the ear..carefully.

"The Cassity family was one of those hit by tuberculosis; many families suffered from it. Mother was said to have had a light case, and several relatives had died from it eventually. Associated with disease were some interesting oddities. I remember hearing that during the great flu epidemic that hit the world during or around the First World War, Bath Countians were falling by the score on one side of the river yet those across the river seemed never to be afflicted. Why? I never learned the reason but one might wonder if it had something to do with the drinking water on the safe side of the river. Also, it was believed that drinking the mineral springs water, particularly sulphur water, was beneficial to the health. Of course I am speculating; perhaps the real answer is documented somewhere. I do know I have always missed the sulphur water and the salt water from the Olympian Springs. I do not recall Grandpa dwelling on superstitions that seemed to abound; Grandma was more inclined to heed them.

"I may have just turned four years old when he "put up" his horses and came in from a chilling rain, cold he said clear to the very bones; he went to bed and never left it again. Dr. Jones of Salt Lick came, and the house turned deadly- quiet and grim. I knew at once what would happen. Believe he had a rapidly-moving meningitis infection and nothing would save him. I could not bear to go in to see him and face the fact. At his funeral the song he liked so much, "You've Got To Walk That Lonesome Valley" was sung. The entire community mourned him for he was most warmly-thought of and respected. This is typical of him: Once he let a ragged stranger stay in one of the sheds, fixed a mattress for him, took him food; when the man was well enough to travel on, Grandpa gave him warmer clothes to wear. My aunts and my mother all said, "No better man ever lived." Shortly after he died, I saw my father for the last time, and so two important men were gone.

"Grandpa is buried next to Grandma and Aunt Arrah Cassity, in the old Stull Cemetery near Olympia, up the road from where Aunt Blanche Cassity Craig's daughter, Evelyn Downs, lives.

"In the early years close-by his grave grew the flower he liked, the Seven Sisters cluster rose that originated in China long ago, was taken to the British Isles, then came to America with the first settlers to Virginia. It can be seen here and there across the South. It brightened the Stull Cemetery for many years with its sunny-pink colour.

"Now, some odds and ends: James Cassity lived longest of Grandpa's siblings. Demory Cassity went to California to live but could not forget his old home and a small poem of his accompanied his obituary in the News-Outlook. Once saw a photo of Ruby Cassity, a pretty young girl crowned Roller Rink Queen (Salt Lick). This reminded me of a "yesteryear" item which said "all the Cassity women have been fine-looking women".

"Cobern Cassity and his wife were scheduled to appear on a major network morning show (perhaps in 88? Not sure.) As Mrs. Cassity was bed-ridden the crew was to film in Kentucky. Mr. and Mrs. Cassity had been married 80 year! Cobern lived 4 more years and died at 98. (A major political crisis "scuttled" the plans of the producers.) Cobern was the son of James Newton Cassity and Essie Treadway Cassity. My family used to speak of his sister, Myrtle Cassity Blevins, but I cannot recall the connection. In bringing this to a close, it seems, in retrospect, that the Cassity clan has done, and is doing, ALRIGHT. I know this much, I have ever been grateful for their genetic gift. Enough said."

©1999 Bette Wills Richards

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