Robert Hodgen, who at first lived in Phillips Fort and later built a plantation home and slave quarters near a fine spring by the little Nolynn River, saw the need of a mill for the people of a considerable territory around him and applied to the Nelson County Court at Bardstown for a permit to build a mill “at Gum Spring on Nolynn River.” Why Bardstown? Because at that time Hardin County (from which LaRue County was later carved) was a part of Nelson County and Bardstown was the county seat of an extensive territory, Salt River to Green River. Hardin County came into existence in December 1792 at the first session of the newly formed state of Kentucky, and Robert Hodgen was one of the first Justices of the Peace and later was the representative from Hardin County to the State Legislature, also a deacon in the Severns Valley Baptist Church for many years.
The petition for the mill was taken to Bardstown on December 9, 1788, the permit granted and the mill was in operation in 1789, so Hodgen’s Mill and the spacious home also a stopping place for travelers, became the center of interest in an extensive community.
When Hodgen’s Mill was built there was no church and no post office for the community, so a road was badly needed to Severns Valley and Valley Creek, and on March 13th 1790, the Nelson County Court appointed Phillip Phillips, Jacob Van Meter, Patrick Brown and Robert Hodgen to report, on oath, the best route for a road from Phillips Lane near Hodgen’s Mill to Capt. Jacob Van Meter’s Mill on Valley Creek and this was to be the first public road from Hodgenville to Elizabethtown. Conrad Walters, of the Amos Walters Place, was overseer.
Robert Hodgen’s useful life came to an end on February 5th, 1810. He left six sons and six daughters, but from all the six sons no descendants have lived on here, to carry on the family name, but the daughters married local sons of the Hardin County territory, Vertrees, Wintersmith, Keith, two LaRues and one died unmarried. Rebecca Keith and her cousin, Margaret LaRue Walters, according to word-of-mouth tradition assisted in the home of Thomas Lincoln at the time of the birth of little Abraham, future president. Robert and Sarah Hodgen and an unmarried son and daughter are buried in the Nolin Church Cemetery but the others are in many different places.
Some years after Robert Hodgen’s death, his widow Sarah LaRue Hodgen and sons Isaac and John, executors of their father’s estate, responding to the requests of the people near and around, petitioned the Hardin County Court for the establishment of a town on the plantation of the late Robert Hodgen, the town to be limited to twenty-seven and a half acres at that time. This was done and on February 9th, 1818, the town of Hodgenville came into being. And when we sometimes see it spelled “Hodgensville” that just means the name came from Hodgen’s Mill.
The plan of the town submitted to the Court, was the public square and streets in the central part of the town much as they still are. The trustees began to sell lots and before the town became the county seat of the county, yet to be, there were two churches, a schoolhouse, some stores, a brick hotel, and some thirty homes. In 1849, a two story building called the County Seminary was built, only six years after the county was established, thus the town extended the opportunity for bright-minded students from the little log schoolhouses around to further their education. And later came a nice brick building called “Kenyon College.”
The first post office for the town did not materialize until 1826, eight years after Hodgen’s Mill became Hodgenville. The first train came in 1888 when the Illinois Central R.R. Built a branch line from Cecilia with stops at Elizabethtown and Tonieville, and then Hodgenville and the county were really connected with the outside world, both for travel and transportation of merchantile and agricultural products, livestock, building materials and everything needed for progress. And the little railroad was destined to have the honor of carrying Presidential trains as well.
The court house was burned during the Civil War, and each side of the town on Main Street and the public square have been burned out. There is a well under the Lincoln Monument plot which once had a pump with an iron dipper chained to it, and a watering trough for tired horses bringing people into town. The dipper may still be seen at the library.
Long before our territory was to become a county, it was generally known as the Nolin section of Hardin County, while that around the Hines-Haycraft-Helm settlement was called the Valley, and there were now enough people to need a courthouse. Both communities wished it to be placed on their side of the creek, and the controversy became so heated it is said that at least fifty fist-fights happened among them and that they would sometimes meet on the opposite sides of the creek for their arguments. The Valley finally won and the Nolin people had to wait a few years longer until they could become a separate county.
In March of 1843, LaRue County came into existence, and John LaRue Helm had it given the name in honor of his mother’s family, his grandfather being John LaRue. And at the time of its hundredth anniversary another world war was on and no celebration could be observed.
Forty-two names were on the petition to establish the county, with the suggestion to call it Lynn.
The county clerk’s office was where the Lincoln Statue now sits. The signers agreed to LaRue, however, which Gov. Helm suggested, which has proven appropriate, since here have been no Lynns since Benjamin, and whose name has been honored anyway, but LaRues on down to the present day.
The Coat of Arms is a shield headed by the name LeRoux, one third of the surface black, two-thirds silver in which are three black crescents, above each of which is a gold star, showing they had fought by sea and land, and the silver ground indicates they were victorious.
More than a century ago in the days of stage coach travel there was a stage stop about one mile north of the present location of the town of Magnolia. There were enough people in the vicinity to need and want a post office, and it was given the name Magnolia, not from the Magnolia tree but because that was the name of the man who was to be the postmaster, their names we have not been able to learn.
Read more about the history of Larue County here, and the history of the Lincolns here.