The following article by David Strange originally appeared in The Courier-Journal on 26 Dec 2011. It is archived here with additional information for your reading enjoyment.
Few people now remember the little community of Sugar Valley in Bullitt County. Indeed, it was almost forgotten entirely until the state came through widening a road some years ago, and an engineer, using an outdated map, went around trying to find a "Sugar Valley" that showed on that map.
Located about a mile south of Mt. Washington exactly where Hoagland Hill Road meets Highway 31E (Bardstown Road), sets a small private house, wedged between a raised 31E and Whitaker Run creek.
That house is said to have once been Sugar Valley Schoolhouse, and I presume the center of activity of the area.
In December 25, 1914 it was recorded that Sugar Valley teacher, Miss Ollie Welch, had 32 students in "a good, roomy house, well painted" with good water, new blackboards, and a fine daily average.
There might have been a distillery in the community in the 1800's. There is a mention in the book Lawyers & Lawmakers of Kentucky, edited by H. Levin in 1897, of the marriage of Joseph O'Neal and Lydia E. Wright, saying that Ms. Wright was the daughter of Joseph Wright, who "is a prominent merchant & distiller operating Sugar Valley Distillery in Bullitt County." And a publication on distilleries in Kentucky mentions a Sugar Valley Distillery beginning operations in 1806 and that David Franklin Brooks, of northern Bullitt County, operated the Sugar Valley distillery for twelve years. But Sugar Valley Distillery is also described as being located near Bloomfield in Nelson County. So at this point, I am not sure if all these facts are about the same community.
About 1934, Emma Wright Rivers, sister of Lydia mentioned above, wrote a story said to be remembering her life in Sugar Valley. That story tells many interesting tales. It tells of simple rural life and children playing hide & seek along the creek and hilly terrain. It tells of slaves and Civil War soldiers.
The Bardstown Road was a route traveled by thousands of soldiers in the Civil War, and Sugar Valley residents were witness and victim to much of it. Confederate soldiers traveled it in force on their way through Mt. Washington into Fern Creek, and back again as they retreated to what would become the battle of Perryville. Armed soldiers from both sides often stole everything from silverware, to pots & pans, to livestock at all hours of day and night, time after time. The families would often hide their valuables, and families would have to hide themselves in the woods or risk being killed themselves by the thieves.
Once, children were playing when the mother called out seriously, "Children, come into the house, the soldiers are coming." Shortly, one of the family friends, a Confederate soldier named Jim Pratt, was seen galloping down the road, with Union soldiers hot on his heels, and firing rapidly. In the children's eyes, soldiers were just mean men trying to kill their friend. Pratt was wounded, but he recovered. We have a photo of Pratt, along with his discharge papers, at the museum.
Smallpox raged in the area during the war, and the local doctor went around inoculating residents. Due to a teasing relative, some of the children were afraid the inoculation would cause their arm to fall off, causing them to weep bitterly when the doctor showed up!
Despite war-time hardship, Sugar Valley residents could be generous. When the war was ending, a small group of ex-confederates, released prisoners of war who were starving and just trying to get home, stopped by one of the houses asking for food. The household greeted the ragtag group warmly and gave them comfort & rest from their misery, before the now-civilians headed on.
Today, Sugar Valley appears to be simply a couple of houses on the side of a busy road. The Bardstown Road has been straightened and raised so high that the old schoolhouse is now downhill from the road. It's now one of those places that the passerby would hardly notice as a community as he races on to some other destination.
But the people of Sugar Valley, like people everywhere, share a history that goes deep if examined closely enough.
Real people, living on land that has a history almost beyond memory.
Copyright 2011 by David Strange, 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.