Hell's Half Acre
- It's called Hell's Half Acre and most people in the area know that it used to be one of the wildest spots around.
The story of Hell's Half Acre began back when the area that is now Hopkins County was largely unclaimed woodland. Charles Wyatt, or Wiott -- both names appear on various records -- and his two brothers were traveling through the area. Charles' wagon broke down on the road and with no one to repair it he decided that was just as good a place as any to settle.
One of the brothers managed to make his way further west and eventually settled in Oregon. Another brother went to Warren County, Ky.
The brother that went to Warren County was named George. He decided to come back to Hopkins County and settle near his brother Charles.
Charles had claimed a great deal of land and had plenty to spare for his brother. George built his house on a half-acre plot in the middle of the land.
The land and the house were sold to a man named Lewis Wilson and Wilson sold the land to John Lynn in 1860. A tobacco factory was built behind the lot on some adjacent property.
Lynn ran a small grocery and supply store out of his house and it is thought that he also ran a boarding house for people who came to the factory to sell their tobacco.
When Civil War soldiers came through the area, they set up residence at John Lynn's house. The area around the house had already earned a bad reputation and local law enforcement refused to go near the land. It was a logical and desirable place for the guerillas, who were in no hurry to meet up with the law.
No one is sure exactly how long the guerillas stayed there, but the reputation of the half acre got even worse over the course of several years. It was notorious for gambling, drinking and wildness of the worst sort.
In the late 1800s a ball diamond was built on the land, as well as a race track. Most likely, both were for betting purposes.
There were tales of axe fights in the stands at the ball games, questionable women roaming the area and brawls galore. Drunkenness and debauchery were rampant and self-respecting, decent folk wouldn't have been caught dead there.
Some years after the area had become more calm, a man called Nut Knox lived in a cave near the half acre. Nut carried an axe everywhere he went, local residents' food disappeared mysteriously when he was around. Nut had a habit of lying on graves in the cemetery and frightening the already skittish gypsies that used to travel the countryside.
There are also stories that a great deal of gold and other valuable goods, obtained by the guerillas on their raids of houses, were buried under the house that originally stood on the land, but those excavating in hopes of finding the fortune have found nothing.
Some say that a man was also buried under the house, although there is no evidence to support this either.
Throughout the years many stories have been told about the land that came to be known as Hell's Half Acre. Nearly a hundred years later it is difficult to distinguish between those that are fact and those that are fiction. With its bad reputation, the half acre and the land surrounding it became fertile ground for pranksters and many a strange and mysterious tale.
Once, a man riding his wagon through the area claimed that a small, white dog appeared out of nowhere and began to trot alongside the wagon wheels. When the man would crack the whip at the dog it would disappear, only to reappear on the other side. Rumor has it that the man nearly whipped his horses to death trying to get out of the area.
Another story tells of a redbird that perched on the sill of John Lynn's window as he lie on his deathbed. The bird supposedly made the sound of the whippoorwill and flew away. When Lynn died, his casket was being transported to the cemetery on the property and the redbird landed on the casket and chirped like a whippoorwill all the way to the grave.
Amid the countless tales of strange sights and sounds are those of headless horsemen and odd feelings of doom by those who don't even know the history of the place.
More recent tales from the half acre include one about a group of deer hunters. Several men had traveled to the area early one morning. Looking to get a head start on the day, they found themselves in Hell's Half Acre while it was still dark. Suddenly, the entourage heard something running through the nearby woods. It ran out of the woods, onto the top of their vehicle, then off the other side. All in the group say they saw nothing and claim there were strange tracks on the roof of the vehicle.
Perhaps because of all the tall tales and ghost stories, or perhaps in spite of them, the land is a popular place for Halloween hayrides and pranks.
All traces of the civilization that once was Hell's Half Acre are gone except for a few stones that mark where the old tobacco factory once stood and the graveyard that gets an occasional cleaning by relative of those buried there.
What vividly remains however, are the stories, fanciful, yet immensely entertaining, of a place that was once the shame of the county.
Today the wildflowers bloom and the birds sing and it's hard to picture the place the way it once was, even knowing that some of the stories are true.
This feature story originally appeared in the The Messenger in the small towns section of their "Changing Face of Hopkins County" on September 6, 1996 and was written by Slone Hutchison, a summer intern from Murray State University working with The Messenger to gain practical news papering skills during her summer vacation.
My thanks to The Messenger for granting permission to publish on the Hopkins County, Kentucky KyGenWeb page.
Return to Hopkins County
Hopkins County, Ky