EVEN WHEN I’M SERIOUSLY lost in a jungle of backroads, the sight of a colorful place name on a highway sign always makes me feel better about not knowing which way to turn.
Three of the most memorable in Kentucky’s far western Jackson Purchase Region are Monkey’s Eyebrow and New York in Ballard County, and Possum Trot in Marshall.
While the origins of some great place names are obscure, I’ll say it again—if you look at a map of Kentucky, the part of Ballard County bordering the Ohio River resembles the profile of a monkey, with the Monkey’s Eyebrow about where it should be.
New York, at the junction of State Routes 286 and 802 in southern Ballard County, loses most of its place name signs to souvenir hunters, but Jackson Purchase Energy Cooperative still has a substation there that keeps the name alive. A local storekeeper with a sense of humor is believed to have come up with the name New York about 1913.
Possum Trot’s history has been better preserved, thanks to Cecil Moore, a lifelong resident of the neighboring north Marshall County settlements of Little Cypress and Possum Trot. From the age of 14, Moore, now 81, has been saving the many stories he’s gathered from ancestors and others in the two map-dot villages near the Cypress Creek tributary of the Tennessee River.
In the early days of Little Cypress nobody knew anything about Possum Trot, he says. But the old Calvert City road that ran through the area was then a dirt road and was often covered with so many possum tracks that it came to be known as “the possum trot,” which sparked other stories.
Local resident George Lawson was heard coming down the road one night about 1900 singing, ‘The old gray goose laid—and the gander sot—upon the golden street of Possum Trot.’”
A story retold in Robert Rennick’s Kentucky Place Names has it that locals Sol King and Buck Bolen were possum hunting along the road one night in the early 1900s when one remarked, “If we don’t catch one soon, these possums are going to trot across the road and be gone.”
Those and other colorful tales add spice to the book Moore is compiling from his fascinating collection of history and local lore. One chapter among the 200-plus pages will be a diary kept by Benjamin Johnson Story, a blacksmith who also operated a grain thresher and sawmill, once served as postmaster, and was a notary and railroad ticket agent. He died when struck by a train in the summer of 1929.
Moore writes of childhood train trips to carnivals at Kuttawa in neighboring Lyon County, countless personalities of yesteryear and many events dating to pioneer days. A lifelong consumer-member of Jackson Purchase Energy, he vividly recalls when his family got electricity and stopped using oil lamps after moving to the farm where he grew up and where he still lives today—between Little Cypress and Possum Trot.