Ira D Moffett was the youngest son of John Warner Moffett, a Civil War veteran from Glensboro, Kentucky. Ophelia Moffett was the youngest daughter of William Dudley (W.D.) Moore, a prominent Baptist preacher from the town of Ripyville, just outside of Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. When the two married on May 7, 1914, they united two families which had lived in Anderson County since the early 1800's. This is the story of their lives and that of their young family from 1910-1941 as recorded by their grandson, the late Ira Vinson "Jack" Birdwhistell.
Ophelia had spent the academic year of 1912-13 at Georgetown College, where her father, Rev. William Dudley Moore, had attended from 1878 until 1880. But fate intervened. Ophelia’s older sister, Martha, married to a teller at the bank in Glensboro, had introduced her to a handsome son of that village, Ira Moffett, and they were both “smitten.” So, just as W. D. Moore had left the college to marry Alice Hedger Williams in January, 1881, his daughter Ophelia left Georgetown after her first year there to marry Ira Moffett in May, 1914.
They had five children, all daughters, all of whom spent their entire lives in Lawrenceburg, the county seat of Anderson County. Alice Katherine (Kitty), Mary Lois (Bitty), Martha, Frances, and Georgia made up the "Moffett Girls", all well known in the community for their intelligence, integrity, capability, and Christian commitment.
Ira and Ophelia went to housekeeping in a large log house on Willow Creek Road near Glensboro, which had belonged to his grandmother, Mary Sherwood. Their first daughter, Kitty, was born April 24, 1915, at the Moore “home place” in Ripyville. A second daughter, Mary Lois, was born September 25, 1916, in the log house on Willow Creek Road. During 1918, both Ira’s father, John Warner Moffett, and his mother, Kitty Sherwood Moffett, died. (After Grandfather Moffett’s death, Ira’s little family moved into the Moffett house to take care of “Grandmother” Moffett.) Upon her death, Ira Moffett and his brother, William (“Uncle Willie”) held a major auction involving the two family properties on Willow Creek Road.
Ira D. Moffett and his five daughters posing outside his family home and where two of his daughters were born.
In late 1918 the Ira Moffett family moved into Lawrenceburg, into a house recently built on South Main Street by Rev. W. D. Moore. On moving day, the wagon carrying their furniture went off the steep road, crashing into the Glensboro Bridge over Salt River, and Ophelia's sewing machine, among other pieces, was a casualty. Once settled in Lawrenceburg, they experienced a major crisis early on. All four of the family came down with the “Spanish flu,” a serious epidemic which ravaged the United States in the fall and winter of 1918-1919. Ophelia Moffett was especially vulnerable, as she was pregnant with Martha (born April 21, 1919) at the time. Several of the flu's victims in Anderson County were expectant parents. "Mom" told the girls how frightening it was to watch the daily funeral processions which passed in front of the house on South Main, on the way to the Lawrenceburg Cemetery. Fear of the deadly disease was so pervasive that the venerable "Brother Moore," instead of visiting his daughter inside her home, peered through her sick-room window and waved his good wishes. A young man who had been a flu survivor during World War I, Lester ("Leck") Inman, along with Dr. J. L. Toll, helped to nurse the Moffetts back to health.
Mr. Moffett initially held a job at the Cedarbrook distillery and later sold fire insurance for a living. In early 1923, Ira Moffett took his part of the money from the sale of his father’s estate [$2965 down payment with a $10,000 plus ‘note’] and bought a farm with a large house, the “Lillard Place’ on the Jennie Lillard road right outside of town. He proudly announced to the Anderson News that he planned to move to there soon. It would have made a splendid place for the girls to grow up. They recall visiting to play and wade in the creek, but they never lived there. Due to the economic problems of the early 1920s, Mr. Moffett, unable to make the payments on the note, was forced to give up the farm [September, 1924], a fate shared by many families throughout the nation.
Mary Lois, Kitty, and a young Martha Moffett enjoying some watermelon at the home on South Main Street.
By the early 1920s, Ira Moffett had started work as an agent for the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. One of his first assignments was in Versailles, where the family rented a large house on Elm Street in the fall of 1924. It was a rather upscale neighborhood, but “Daddy” insisted on taking along the family cow, to the consternation of some of the Versailles neighbors. One vivid memory from that time. Each Tuesday Mr. Moffett came to Lawrenceburg for his work, using the train which crossed the famous “Young’s High Bridge” over the Kentucky River at Tyrone. Since Martha was not yet in school, one day she got to take the train with “Daddy” to Lawrenceburg, being met by his brother, “Uncle Willie,” at the depot and walking to Gatewood Street to spend the day with “Uncle Willie” and “Aunt Ella.”
When Ira Moffett became the Metropolitan agent for Lawrenceburg, the family moved back to Lawrenceburg (with great rejoicing!), back to the house at 564 South Main. Here Mr. Moffett worked day and night as an insurance agent, taking a break only to come home for supper, milk the cow, slop the hogs, and tend his garden. “Hog-killing” in the fall was an annual highlight, especially when accomplished with the assistance of Christopher Columbus McKee, one of the semi-legendary black members of the community. By now, Frances (b. July 29, 1921) and Georgia (b. September 11, 1922, and named for the family's beloved neighbor, "Miss Georgie" Wise) had joined the family. The older girls took piano lessons from “Miss Jessie Mae” Lillard at her home down South Main Street. The “Dr. Asa Overall family” were wonderful next door neighbors, at 562 South Main. Joyce, Hazel, Irvine, John, and Linda became lifelong friends of the Moffetts. Since the Dr. Overall house had running water inside (in contrast to the house at 564 South Main), the girls were treated to occasional “bathtub baths” there. Dr. Overall also cared for the girls during their various illnesses, including Frances’ bout with polio in the late 1920s, which left her with a slight limp.
The Five Moffett Girls and Ophelia near Asheville, NC on their way back from a trip to Georgia.
The family took several fun trips, the energetic parents and the lively little girls in tow. They journeyed occasionally to Lexington for doctor's appointments and shopping downtown in the pre-Mall days. They had to cross the Kentucky River on a two-car ferry at Tyrone, which meant a fearful drive DOWN a hill onto the ferry, followed by an equally fearful drive UP a hill on the Woodford County side. Sometimes, if the River was 'up,' they took the 'Clifton ferry,' getting on at the end of the Ninevah Road. There was great relief when the Joe Blackburn highway bridge across the Kentucky River was finally opened and dedicated in June,1932.
The Moffett Girls and cousins Jane and John Allen pose in front of their 1933 DeSoto
To accommodate everyone, Mr. Moffett purchased a new 1933 DeSoto automobile, which, according to the girls, "held all seven of us, plus Miss Georgie!" One memorable trek was to Atlanta in the summer of 1934, to visit Mrs. Moffett’s brother, John Moore, who worked for a shipping rate company there. Martha was fighting appendicitis, but the family decided to forge on with the trip, which included an overnight in a blistering hot Andrew Jackson Hotel in Nashville. While in Atlanta, they visited Stone Mountain (then under construction) and other local 'sights'. On the return trip, the Moore family (Uncle John, Aunt Allie, Jane, and John Allen) drove along in their Model-A Ford for a visit to Kentucky, and there were several flat tires. The families initially attempted to spend the night at the Southern Baptist assembly grounds at Ridgecrest, North Carolina, but there was “no room in the inn.” and they spent another hot night in an Asheville hotel. Even though rarely living in close proximity, the Moffett girls and "Uncle John's family" have remained close. As a teenager, Jane Moore would spend several weeks each summer with the girls on South Main, while John Allen would stay at "Aunt Martha" Goodlett's house on Broadway.
The Moffett Girls along with Melwood Stevens, Uncle John Moore, and his children John Allen and Jane Moore
The fall of 1934 provided another memorable experience. On November 16 President Franklin D. Roosevelt was scheduled to come to nearby Harrodsburg to dedicate a federal monument to George Rogers Clark at Fort Harrod. The sisters recall rising before dawn on a bitterly cold day to get to Harrodsburg in time to find a good place to stand. The family had a good vantage point for Roosevelt's address, then ran quickly to get a good place on the route his departing car took. They are convinced that FDR waved directly at them and smiled as he drove by. More frequent family outings included jaunts to Salt River for picnics and wading and to annual Fourth of July celebrations.
Church attendance was at Sand Spring Baptist Church, the family church of the Moore clan. Each of the girls was active in church life and at the appropriate time was baptized into the church membership. They recall the fun of being taken to Sunday School by “Miss Georgie” Wise in her pony cart. As teenagers, each became a leader in the children’s work of Sand Spring, a tradition they had inherited from “Aunt Sallie” Short and “Aunt Mary” Williams. “Aunt Sallie” frequently drove the horse (“Old Billy”) and buggy home from church carrying the girls to Sunday dinner at the Moore home place in Ripyville.
The Moffett girls attended the public schools of the town, the grade school on Woodford Street and the high school (“City High”) on North Main Street. Memories include skating to town on the newly created sidewalks of Lawrenceburg, leaving their skates at “Uncle Robert” Hanks’ gas station near the school. Kitty and Bitty were the first to graduate from City High, in 1933 and 1934, respectively. Kitty was class salutatorian, Mary Lois the class valedictorian. Mary Lois recalled her terror at having to give her valedictory speech in the high school gym on North Main Street. Mr. Moffett was evidently so upset about the whole affair that he “drove his car all over the county” the day before the evening’s event.
After a year off from school to learn typing and shorthand from Eueth Crossfield, the two oldest daughters were off to Eastern Kentucky State Teachers College in Richmond in the fall of 1935. The painfully homesick Kitty did not return to Eastern after the Thanksgiving holiday, but Mary Lois finished her first full semester in January, 1936. Meanwhile, in 1935, Ira Moffett had suffered a major heart attack (at the age of 45), including a six-week hospital stay and a year’s convalescence in bed, and the family's resources were focused on his recovery and everyone doing what she could to help. Kitty began a job as receptionist at the Anderson County Health Department in December, 1935, a position she would hold for over 40 years. Mary Lois withdrew from college to begin work at the ASC office in the spring of 1936, where she endured farm survey trips all over Anderson County during the blazing hot summer of that year, the hottest July and August on record in the state. Squire Gordon, a good friend of Ira Moffett, helped the girls find these jobs.
During Mr. Moffett's convalescence, two local black men, 'John Bill' Searcy and Chris Thurman, helped the family with chores such as gardening and milking. Mr. Moffett was very precise in his supervision of his beloved vegetable garden. In later years, John Russell helped with the milking. It was also about this time that Alice Johnson joined up as the designated 'ironing lady' for the family. Soon thereafter Rose Huggins Penny became the family's beloved 'cleaning lady,' a position she held faithfully for fifty-nine years, until her death in 2001.
It was about this time that the two older girls needed to learn to drive, because Mr. Moffett was still confined to bed. A family friend, Dick McGurk, who worked at the Ford garage in Lawrenceburg, was their driving instructor, giving each girl two lessons and “turning them loose.” They recall learning to drive about the time that Lawrenceburg installed the first sewer line on South Main Street, which necessitated installing boards over the ditch so that cars could get out of the driveways.
Another interesting memory. In the early 1930s the family’s cousin, Forrest “Aggie” Sale, became an outstanding basketball player at the University of Kentucky. Occasionally, Aggie’s parents, “Cousin Fauster” and “Cousin Mary” Sale would visit the Moffett home in an attempt to hear their son’s games on the radio. This began the girls’ long fascination with Kentucky basketball.
They were also fans of the local high school teams. When City High played in the Kentucky State Tournament in 1928, the team went to the semi-finals, where they were a heavy favorite over Carr Creek, a team from the mountains which had no indoor facilities to play in. “Mom” and “Daddy” drove to Lexington to see the game, leaving the girls under the care of “Aunt Liza” Rice, a black woman who lived with her husband on South Main Street. Unfortunately, City High lost to Carr Creek, 37-11. In March, 1930, Mr. Moffett took 'the girls' to a showdown game between Kavanaugh High and Lawrenceburg High at the district tournament in Frankfort. When the game went into overtime, the Moffetts had to leave, because Mr. Moffett had an insurance meeting later that evening. When they arrived home, "Mom' gave them the news that Kavanaugh had prevailed.
Meanwhile, the family needed more room than was available at 564 South Main, which they had purchased from the ‘heirs’ in 1936 upon the death of Rev. Moore. Several of the daughters would spend the nights next door at 566 South Main Street, with “Miss Georgie” (Mrs. Harry) Wise. Upon Miss Georgie’s death in the summer of 1938, the Moffetts bought her house and, after some serious “fix-up” work, moved next door to a much roomier setting in early 1939. The “girls” recall the excitement of the auction. When it was clear that the Moffetts had won the bid, the assembled crowd cheered. Their Lawrenceburg friends rejoiced that this beloved family finally had a house with enough room. “Mom’s” inheritance from her father’s estate made possible the purchase.
Meanwhile, Martha Moffett had graduated as valedictorian from City High in 1937, joining her older sisters in the work force, with a year of employment at the local Thread Factory, later joining the work force at the County Agent's Office in Lawrenceburg.
At this point the family experienced its greatest crisis up to this time. Frances, who had been the valedictorian at City High in the spring of 1939, went off to Eastern Kentucky College in the fall. Later in the semester, Mary Lois went to Richmond to visit her sister, driven by her new 'beau,' Carl Birdwhistell, only to find Frances very ill. They brought her back to Lawrenceburg, only to find out that Frances had a severe case of strep throat. With no suitable antibiotics available to fight the infection, this vibrant young woman died on January 14, 1940. In many ways, the family never recovered from this loss.
But life went on. Georgie graduated from City High in 1940, part of a brilliant class which also included W. J. Smith, George Gilbert, and "Pud" Goodlett. She went to work at the "Dime" Store downtown.
The other girls continued to work at their jobs, while Mary Lois continued a lively courtship with Carl Birdwhistell. As the family gathered at "Aunt Lucy" Hanks' house on Sunday afternoon, December 7, 1941, to celebrate "Mom's" forty-seventh birthday, they had no idea what lay ahead a few thousand miles west in Pearl Harbor. This day ended the youth of the Moffett Girls and started a new era for the whole family and country.
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