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For 20 years, I have searched for any old photos of this James family home that became the first Jesse James museum. James family lore had spoken about the museum for years. Recently Curtis Gilliland, a cousin who is vice-president of the Pulaski County Historical Society in Somerset, Kentucky notified me about a new accession received by the Society that arrived right before Christmas, 2016. At last, now we can see what the first Jesse James museum looked like.
D.A.R. HISTORIAN UNCOVERS ARCHIVE
Helen Vogt Greene, curator and museum historian of the Lake Worth Historical Museum in Lake Worth, Florida, donated the accession to the Pulaski County Historical Society.
Greene is an award-winning historian. In April of 2016, the Palm Beach Historical Society awarded Greene the coveted Fannie James Pioneer Achievement Award. The award is named for an African-American pioneer (of no known relationship to the Jesse James family) who served as the first postmistress of the post office in the settlement of Jewell, now Lake Worth.
In October of 2016, the Florida State Daughters of the American Revolution also recognized Greene for her demonstrated record of 45 years as a “historical, educational, social, religious, political, scientific, and cultural innovator.” The National Society of the DAR honored Past Honorary Regent Greene as one of its “Women in American History.”
The photo accession includes several photographic images, personally written notations, a business card, and Helen Vogt Greene’s written letter statement of provenance and donation.
In my personal interview with Mrs. Greene, she confirmed the facts of the letter and explained more of the story behind the photos. Greene, who was 7 years old when her family took these images around 1943, stated that a group from Poland had visited Somerset and Pulaski County in Kentucky at that time. The interest group was attracted to the county’s name and its namesake of Casimir Pulaski. Greene’s family joined their tour.
I informed Mrs. Greene that John M. James, a founder of Pulaski County and the grandfather of Frank and Jesse James per local lore, selected the name for the county. In the American Revolution, John M. James was a supplier to the Patriot cause together with Joshua Logan Younger, grandfather of the Younger brothers of the James gang. Also as a spy for Gen. Washington, John M. James was a great admirer of Casimir Pulaski as an American Patriot from Poland.
Helen Greene stated that she was unpacking some boxes recently when she uncovered the photographs that had been long stored away. As an historian cleaning house, Greene determined her family photos should return to their place of origination. So, she donated them to the Pulaski County Historical Society.
TEXT OF THE DONATION LETTER
December 31, 2016
Pulaski County Historical Society
304 South Main Street
Somerset, Ky 42501
Dear Mr. Elmore, President
Since 1980, I have been associated with the small Historical Museum of the City of Lake Worth, Florida. In all that time, first as the Curator and now as the Historian, I have never been able to tell families what they should save and what in the world do other people want? I add myself to that list.
Enclosed you will find three c. 1943 pictures and an advertising card for the Oak Leaf Tourist Cmp. I am quite certain we were traveling through. My father traveled from place to place working on government projects. He was an Electrical Supervisor. He wanted his family with him and we lived in a trailer. These pictures were just ‘unpacked”. If these are not ‘keepers”, please feel free to use File #13.
I find the card quite interesting. If you still have cabins for 50 cents a night, we may visit you…when it is warmer. Success in all that you do to protect and preserve your history.
Blessings and a Happy New Year…2017
(S) Helen Vogt Greene
Contact information of address, telephone number, and email for Helen Vogt Greene are redacted here.
HISTORY OF THE JESSE JAMES MUSEUM
When I first visited the site of the old Jesse James museum, it was in 2001. Cousin Virgie Herrin-Fuller 1922-2009, a James descendant and retired schoolteacher, took me there. Virgie lived on the same road as the old museum, just a few minutes away. Virgie grew up in Shopville, in the home that her grandparents Joseph Allen Herrin and Susan Harriett James had built on the original land of John M. James.
Virgie said at that time that she always recalled the old log cabin where we stood was used as a Jesse James museum. It was a tourist attraction. She further stated that the log cabin originally was built on the land of John M. James in Shopville where she grew up.
As we looked around that day, all that was left of the old museum were two standing brick chimneys. Virgie confirmed that the museum had burned down years ago. Everything that the museum contained, that was collected from the James homes in Shopville, was consumed by the flames.
In further research, I found many others among the James family and in the town of Somerset who recalled the old museum as Virgie did. Nowhere I looked did I ever find someone who could provide photographic evidence of the building’s existence. Now, thanks to Helen Vogt Greene, that is changed.
GRAFFITI CONFIRMS JAMES FAMILY LORE
Now the lore of the James family is confirmed by the newly recovered photographic images. Graffiti painted on the building walls in the period, presumably when the structure became a museum, tells the story of the building.
This house built in 1816 was
123 years old when rebuilt in 1938.
Jesse James Funeral (illegible)
Rev. J.M. Martins (illegible)
I have chosen this day
24th chapter of (illegible)
44th verce (sic)
John M. James settled the land on Buck Creek that became Shopville, from two land grants he acquired in 1799. John’s son, Rev. Joseph Martin James operated a store house on nearby Flat Lick Creek, that gave the area its name.
The reference to a reverend is unclear. The text could refer to Virgie’s great-grandfather Rev. Joseph Martin James, at times referred to as Martin among his congregation, at other times referred to as Joe among his family. For many years, Rev. Joseph Martin James served as pastor of the Flat Lick Baptist Chruch, of which his father was a founder. A history of Flat Lick Church acknowledges the James in the formation and operation of the church, and also in their relationship and kinship with Frank & Jesse James. Rev. James later founded the First Baptist Church of Somerset, Kentucky, also serving there as pastor. Joseph Martin James was a very popular preacher.
Rev. James was the son of John M. James and Clarissa “Clara” Nall. The congregation of Flat Lick Church defrocked Rev. J. M. James due to his becoming an alcoholic bigamist who sired 24 children, among three wives, his last four children being born in consecutive years by two alternate wives, one of whom was a teenager from his congregation. Remaining very popular nonetheless after his demise in 1848 for his preaching ability, his congregation memorialized him as being “talented, but erratic.”
The biblical reference that appears on the museum building is reminiscent of the notation Jesse’s wife Zee Mimms-James made in her bible, following Jesse’s assassination. In very precise handwriting, Zee inscribed her bible, “Jesse killed this day April 3, 1882, in St. Joseph.” Her inscription appeared below the bible verse: I Thessalonians, Chapter V: “But of the times and seasons, Brethren, you have no need that we write to you, for you yourselves know well that the day of the Lord is to come as a thief in the night.”
A side view of the building reveals additional graffiti, which states:
The hangout house of Jessie (sic) & Frank James
Moved from Shopville & reblt.
A letter from Frank James telling how
They began their life.
We began slaying Yanks one by one
We joined Quantell (sic). He had 37 men.
We made things hot
Now & then.
ADDITIONAL CONFIRMATION FOUND
Around the time of the discovery of the of the Zee James Collection of historical images and artifacts by Al King of Somerset, Mr. King found himself at an estate sale on Main St. in Somerset. A small number of items attracted King’s attention. The seller stated the items came from the Jesse James Museum on North Route 1247 outside Somerset when the museum went out of business. Mr. King purchased a photo, not knowing who was pictured in the image.
During the first meeting with Mr. King to authenticate the artifacts he purchased from the historical home of Judge James Madison Lindsay, King alerted me to the photo he had bought on Main St. King asked me if I could identify the person in the photograph. When the photograph was produced, I knew instantly who was in the picture. The photo was of Mary Harriett James, a daughter of Rev. Joseph Martin James and Rhoda May. The image reflected other known images of Mary Harriet James in the family archives. This was corroborating evidence that the first Jesse James Museum actually contained artifacts produced from the Shopville homes of the James family.
The James family expresses its deepest appreciation to historian Helen Vogt Greene for this valuable contribution to our James family history.
OAK LEAF TOURIST CAMP & S. L. WILSON
The former site of the first Jesse James Museum was part of the Oak Leaf Tourist Camp, N. Rt. 1247 near Abbott Rd., 3 miles north of Somerset, Kentucky. Except for two remaining brick chimneys, the site sits vacant today, but conitnues to be talked about and visited.