“The History and Secret of the Cabin at the Corner”
Gerald W. Fischer
Author’s Note: In March of this year I met with three Meade County historians and genealogists at the home of Peggy Greenwell, a local Meade County artist. In attendance were Patty Wemes Mattingly, Shirley Brown, Peggy and me. Each lady had assembled information about the log cabin at Carter’s Corner that has over the years become an important local landmark in Meade and Breckenridge Counties. Together we outlined much of the history of Doctor Phillip Nevitt pertaining to his cabin. Thanks to these ladies, as well as John “Dicky” Hardin, Cindy Henning, Patty Staples Fackler, Fran Fischer, and Rose Nevitt Stivers for contributions they have made to this history. GWF
There is a place about two miles west of Payneville, Kentucky on the north east corner of the intersection of highway #144 and Liberty Road that has been a center of activity for northwestern Meade County, and Eastern Breckenridge County for nearly one hundred and ten years. Lately, a mystery has been discovered that gives some insight into the man that built the cabin at the corner and his personality. The cabin sits on property adjacent to a family owned tavern that shares the same important center of activity with the cabin itself. Appropriately it’s named “The Corner Tavern.”
The cabin is interesting for several reasons. It is built in what the pioneers called “the round” that is the logs were erected when they were round, and unhewn. The earliest log houses in Kentucky were built in the round, for two reasons, firstly, they needed to be built quickly and it took time to hew the logs. Secondly, the first people into Kentucky were the men on “long hunts” to kill deer for their hides that brought a dollar for the skin of an adult male. Hence, we call the dollar a “buck,” yet today. Men did not care much whether the cabin was pretty or not. They were more interested in whether it kept out the weather and was sturdy enough to withstand an attack by the Shawnee, Wyandotte, or Cherokee Indians.
It was not until the women moved into the cabins and wanted their homes to reflect the straight angular looks of their frame houses back east that the hewn log cabins began to dot the landscape. Then the logs were hewn by hand, and erected with dove tailed joints that approximated the more modern look. After the hewn log cabins replaced the cabins in the round, and the country in Meade County became safe enough from Indian attacks for industries other than hunting and farming to be developed, saw mills came into existence. Then the hewn cabins were sided over with framing to make the frontier look even more civilized for the ladies. It is still amazing to me that a pretty face and a smile can make men do almost anything.
In 1903 or 1904 Doctor Phillip Henry Nevitt started and completed construction on the cabin at the corner in the “round,” or with unhewn logs. This was at a time when log cabins were quite out of style, and those made with round logs were even more so, giving insight into the good doctor’s appreciation of the past. Houses at the time were made from conventional dimensioned lumber framed with wood siding. It mattered not that they were not as substantial as the old log homes. As he built the cabin he secretly constructed some personalization of his own that only recently has come to light.
Phillip H. Nevitt’s grandparents were Kate and Henry Nevitt. Catherine Elizabeth McNamara a little girl known as Kate was born in Ireland in 1844. Her father Henry immigrated to the United States and moved to Brandenburg where he became a riverboat captain and made his residence whatever boat he captained as he traversed the Ohio River.
Brandenburg was a rough western Kentucky town in those days, and there the attractive girl Kate became a woman. Catherine probably lived aboard a riverboat with her father and in the environs of Meade County and Brandenburg at least for part of the time. For Kate met was courted by, and married Henry Nevitt, a native of Meade born in 1845. Henry’s parents named him after the famous Kentuckian Henry Clay. Henry was 16 at the start of the Civil War, and like many of the men in Meade County he became a Confederate soldier. At the age of 18, in 1863, Henry joined General John Hunt Morgan’s force when he made his great raid. Henry was poor like most of the farming community during the war, and it is not clear how he acquired a horse to ride with Morgan, but he must have done so, for the Confederate cavalry troops had to provide their own horses.
Henry rode with Morgan and his “terrible men,” actually boys like Henry, until he was captured and sent to Camp Douglas in Chicago. There in the squalor and unsanitary conditions of the notorious prison camp, Henry contracted tuberculosis. When the war ended Henry made his way back to Meade County, likely walking most of the way. It was probably some place along the Ohio River they met, and it could have been in Brandenburg but, in whatever way or place it happened, they met and married. Henry decided to take his new bride back to the farm. Over the years Henry’s health declined, and in 1882 he died. He left behind his wife and seven children. Kate was left with a farm that was nearly played out and unproductive, but she had the help of her father-in-law Phillip Nevitt.
Phillip Nevitt was a good farmer of modest means, and he supported Kate and her children by hiring farm hands to help with the work, and providing money when he could. Make no mistake, Kate’s life was hard, but made easier by Phillip. Kate and Phillip became close, and they made a pact that since there was not enough money to provide for all of the children, they would select one male child to be educated to the best extent they could afford. It was hoped that the one selected would then provide for the mother and whatever family members needed help until they were able to stand on their own. The child they selected was Phillip Henry Nevitt, named for his grandfather. Phillip was born December 26th 1879, and was three years old at the death of his father.
The older children worked the farm, and Phillip was sent to school becoming a prosperous doctor in Meade County, Kentucky, after graduating from the Louisville Medical College in March of 1901. At that time a doctor had to serve one year as an intern for another licensed doctor to complete his training. After completing his internship Phillip Nevitt began building his home and office at the corner of Highway #144 and Liberty Road in 1903.
After his practice was established and his house was built, Phillip and Virginia Rhodes were married on December 22nd, 1905 at the Holy Guardian Angel Church in Irvington, Kentucky. S. A. Holleran was the pastor, and the wedding was witnessed by Mr. and Mrs. Lafayette Rhodes.
It is known from court records that Phillip was practicing on his own hook in 1902 when on November 9th he filed suit for medical services rendered to Mrs. Henry Powell in the amount of $2.50. On November 29th 1905 he filed suit to recover $15.64 from Bill Reesor for services rendered to his child, and a suit for $29.49 for services rendered to Charlie Faith’s child. Phillip was not only taking care of his wife and household, but also his mother and family. Making sure there was money enough to go around was a touch and go situation in the early years.
Virginia and Phillip had three children, William Henry, George, and Mary Virginia Nevitt. Doctor Nevitt either moved or expanded his medical services because in 1910 he opened an office in Stephensport, Kentucky. He joined the U. S. Army during WW I and in 1920 was advertising for a position as doctor in a small town with good roads, or as an industrial doctor in mining or manufacturing. He was living in the Crescent Hotel in Louisville. By 1920 he was practicing at least some of the time in Louisville. In 1940 he was listed on the census as working for Veterans Administration in Louisville, Kentucky. As time went on Phillip prospered and he enjoyed big game hunting and the shooting sports. He hunted big game animals as far away as New Mexico. In looking closely at his photograph next to a covered wagon while hunting in New Mexico, one can almost see the image of his father when he rode with Morgan. I detect a faraway look in his eye almost defiant. Phillip died in St. Joseph’s Hospital in Louisville, Kentucky October 28th, 1954 at the age of 74. His wife died nearly seven months later on May 20th, 1955.
Doctor Nevitt’s house at one time was home to various members of his family and others. Joseph Randall and Joseph Bertrand Nevitt lived there as well as Patty Wemes Mattingly, and Bill and Laverne Wemes. Dave Maifeld lives there now, and has since 1987. Once when Patty Staples Fackler was a girl, she and her mother Catherine Staples and maybe her brother Ronnie were taking Bernice Osborne to her home near Andyville after some errand running or grocery shopping in Brandenburg. Bernice mentioned she would like to stop by the log cabin to visit a friend who had suffered a fall.
Once inside the log house her friend took them upstairs to show where she had fallen through the trap door. When she fell through the ceiling, she landed on the kitchen table, and had not been as seriously injured as would have if it had not broken her fall. Recently when the cabin was undergoing some remodeling above the ceiling some cedar bridging was found placed there by doctor Nevitt to connect together the rafters. When it was exposed it could be seen that the bridging spelled his initials. Oddly, this could only be seen until some demolition had taken place and it was exposed. Doctor Nevitt, like most men and women, had a complex personality he was a builder, benefactor, healer, husband, father, hunter, soldier, and a man content to build things in secret only he could know about and appreciate. I would like to have made the acquaintance of this Meade County man.