The Bullitt County History Museum

The Immigrant Casper Herps

The following article by Charles Hartley was originally published in The Pioneer News on 8 Feb 2024.

Recently while working with the History Museum staff to add the T.C. Carroll plats to our museum website, I had a chance to view many of the fine plats that had been drawn by either Casper Herps or his son W. C. "Bill" Herps, both men serving as the county's surveyor.

Casper Herps was an immigrant in every sense of the word. He was born in Rügheim, Bavaria in 1822, a son of Kasper L. and Hanne Herbst, and immigrated to the United States in 1840, arriving in Baltimore. His parents had preceded him, arriving at the port of Philadelphia in July 1839, before moving to Baltimore the next year.

It is interesting to note that the ship manifest indicated that he had the intention of traveling inland to Louisville upon arrival, which likely means that he already knew someone there, perhaps a relative or someone who had a job waiting for him.

We usually think of an immigrant as someone who has left one country to enter another one, but the word immigrant comes from a Latin word, migrare, which means "to move from one place to another." So in that sense, a large number of folks presently living in Bullitt County could be considered immigrants, having come here from another county, state, or even country. I stand included in that number, having arrived here nearly sixty years ago.

Bullitt County has seen quite a lot of folks moving from another place to live here. There were 11,349 people living in Bullitt County in 1950 according to that year's census. By 1960, the total population of Bullitt County was 15,726. a decade later it was 26,090. Taking births and deaths into consideration, that suggests that more that 9,000 of those folks had come here from somewhere else during the previous ten years.

Then in the next decade leading up to 1970, the county's population grew dramatically up to 43,346. This suggests that about 17,000 more people were either born here or more likely moved here during that time. While the growth has moderated somewhat since then, by the last census in 2020, the county's population stood at 82,182.

All this should remind us that, while there are still long lines of family reaching back to the earliest history of our county including many of my readers, by and large most of the county's current population either came here from somewhere else in the last 60 years, or are the children and grandchildren of those who did.

Our research into the life of Casper Herps begins with his and his son W. C. Herps' obituaries which were discovered by Michael T. Herps, Casper's great-great grandson, taped to the inside cover of an empty plat book belonging to William Casper Herps which he found on the floor of a plat cabinet in the County Clerk's office.

Michael shared a great deal of his family research with David Strange which formed a good part of David Strange's earlier writings about Casper and his son W. C. Herps. David has graciously allowed me to quote extensively from his work.

He wrote almost a decade ago that Casper's father ...

"was a doctor and surgeon during the Napoleonic Wars, serving in the Prussian Army. After Napoleon was defeated and banished to the Isle of Elba in 1814, Kasper Herbst served in the army in Paris under Lord Wellington, and eventually returned home to Germany."

David continued,

"Michael Herps tells me that there is some question about where the parents went. Two brothers came to Bullitt County for a while. But apparently only the young Casper came and stayed, mostly in the Cedar Grove and Deatsville area then known as Leaches.

"This is where life made a turn in which Casper converted tragedy into success. You see, the energetic and talented Casper Herps, as a young man, loved hunting. One day, Casper was hunting deer when his gun accidentally fired, badly injuring his left hand and crippling him for life.

"Mike tells me that he suspects Casper then applied his math skills and learned the profession of land surveyor. His new skills were rewarded in 1854 when he was elected as County Surveyor for Bullitt County, an office he held for the next forty years."

According to his obituary, Casper first moved to Nelson County and lived with Jack Thurman where he began working as a tanner at Doom's tanyard at Cane Spring in 1842. By the 1950 census, Casper was listed in Bullitt County in the same household with James B. T. Mann who was the same age. Both were listed as tanners by occupation.

According to a transcription of his obituary, in 1854 Casper "was elected County Surveyor of Bullitt County and held that office continuously until 1894, except for one term of four years when Captain Abbott was elected. During his incumbency in office he surveyed every farm in Bullitt county and was frequently called to find lost boundaries and corners in other counties. He was an expert surveyor, and a fine mathematician, having graduated in the high school of Germany at the age of 18. He was a great student of economics and a man of very wide information."

Casper was familiar with the lands of Bullitt County before he became its surveyor. As early as May 1853 he had identified 70 acres of land along the headwaters of Long Lick Creek and the West Fork of Cox's Creek that was considered vacant or unappropriated land, that is it was not claimed by anyone. He proceeded to petition the County Court for a patent on the land which he received in March 1859; likely the first land he owned.

His surveying work, both public and private, was earning him a decent income, and in September of that year he bought shares in multiple tracts of land mostly along Wilson Creek from R. J. Stoner as an investment. They would later be sold to Adam and Ben Chapeze, perhaps for the lumber and other resources available there.

In the next decade Casper was involved in locating and obtaining three other unappropriated tracts, two along Cedar Creek and one on the waters of Long Lick Creek. He appears to have made his home along the road leading from Cedar Grove Church to Cane Spring as several of the tracts he obtained were in that area.

David wrote,

"His survey plats, possibly numbering in the hundreds, are works of art. Many of them are THE reference for original land ownership in the county, and are frequently used for historic, genealogical, and legal research. Even if you don't see his name on a map, you can recognize his work by the whimsical, ornate, 'north arrow' drawn on each one."

Casper Herps married Susan Shoptaw in June 1863. He was 40 and she was 27. Although they started their marriage a bit later than most folks at that time, they proceeded to rear a family of seven beginning with a daughter, Artaminia (nicknamed Artie) in 1864, followed by four sons, John Mack (1865), William Casper (1868), George B. (1870) and Thomas W. (1872). Three years later a daughter they named Nora Jane was born; and then in 1878 Susan delivered their final child, Lee Vernie Herps. By this time, Casper was 56 and Susan was 43.

Artie Herp had married G. W. Swearingen and had her first child, a daughter they named Blanche, when her mother died in December 1887. Casper and Susan had weathered the Civil War and all that life threw at them, but it seemed Casper could not endure the loss of his wife. Now 65 years old, his began to decline in health.

At some point his eldest son, John Mack joined with his brother-in-law, G. W. Swearingen and opened a general store in the Woodlawn area east of Bardstown along the railroad line to Springfield. We know that by 1896 Swearingen was postmaster and express agent while John Mack Herps was the railroad agent there.

William Casper "W.C." "Bill" Herps began to take care of the family business, and in 1894, when his father could no longer continue, was himself elected as Bullitt County Surveyor, serving in that office into the 1900s.

David wrote that

"the elder Herps very much wanted to sign his son's County Surveyor bond papers, but was too ill to go to the courthouse. But proud fathers always find a way. Great-grandson, Michael Herps, showed me a document in which Casper authorized E.E. McCormick to sign his name for him on the bond papers. So, on December 18th, 1894, W.C. Herps' papers were signed (sort of) by his father."

"W.C. was a skilled surveyor, recognized even today for the accuracy of his drawings. Current County Surveyor, John St. Clair, tells me that he has used the Herps surveys to resolve a number of modern-day property issues. Mr. St. Clair says that they are remarkably accurate, especially considering the surveying instruments of the day."

Bill Herps was a civil engineer, and designed some of the local bridges. He was also a licensed lawyer, and occasionally wrote and drew cartoons for the local newspaper. In fact, he sometimes filled in for the editor, J. W. Barrall, when he was out of town.

Casper Herps died in 1900 at the age of 77, after a long illness. He suffered from what was then known as Bright's Disease, now called Chronic Nephrites, a long, painful illness, often inherited. Son, Bill, would also eventually die from the same affliction.

Of Casper's other children, George B. Herps married first Nina Bolton and they had a son Leslie and a daughter Amy before Nina died in 1907. George then married Lizzie Durr, a widow with two children, in 1910. Following her death in 1928, George next married Mary Frances Rice, another widow with two children. By this time he had left the farm and moved to Louisville. George was 56 and Mary was 34 when they were blessed in 1927 with a son they named George Edward Herps. He lived until 2007, making the span of time between his grandfather's birth (1822) and his own death (2007) being a remarkable 185 years!

One other of Casper's children that we want to highlight is his youngest, Lee Vernie Herps who was 21 when his father died. He married Bessie Sprowl in December 1902, and by 1910 they were living in East Pittsburgh where Lee was working as a watchman at the electric works. On his 1918 World War I registration card, he is listed as a jeweler and optician, living in a community called Verona which lay along the Allegheny River upstream from Pittsburgh. By this time Lee had his own shop which he seems to have kept through the depression for he was still there in the 1940 census. Then, in the 1950 census and in his obituary, he is identified as Dr. Herps, an optometrist.

All in all a remarkable family begun by one man, as an immigrant to America, perhaps speaking little English, who made his way by working hard and using the skills God gave him to carve out a life here. A reminder, perhaps, that given the chance, anyone can do the same and become a successful citizen of our community.

Copyright 2024 by Charles Hartley, Shepherdsville KY. All rights are reserved. No part of the content of this page may be included in any format in any place without the written permission of the copyright holder.

The Bullitt County History Museum, a service of the Bullitt County Genealogical Society, is located in the county courthouse at 300 South Buckman Street (Highway 61) in Shepherdsville, Kentucky. The museum, along with its research room, is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Saturday appointments are available by calling 502-921-0161 during our regular weekday hours. Admission is free. The museum, as part of the Bullitt County Genealogical Society, is a 501(c)3 tax exempt organization and is classified as a 509(a)2 public charity. Contributions and bequests are deductible under section 2055, 2106, or 2522 of the Internal Revenue Code. Page last modified: 09 Feb 2024 . Page URL: