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Padgett farm holds foundational legacy of life before Army post and during transition

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By ERIC PILGRIM

At the confluence of Otter Creek and Dry Branch, at the top of a hill nestled in the trees to the west of Fort Knox sits some old weather worn steps.

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Barely visible, the steps lead to a foundation from another time; another life for several members of the Padgett family.

“That’s where they lived for five generations. It was premium real estate,” said Chris Padgett. “Every year about this time the creek would flood, so it was really great for the farm.”

Now 41 years old, Chris has fond memories of the stories told to him of his family’s farm.

“When I was a kid we used to go there every year for Memorial Day,” Chris said.

The Padgetts origin- ally traveled to Kentucky from Mary-land. As Catholics, they were looking to escape religious persecution.

“In the late 18th century, Maryland became violently anti-Catholic,” said Chris. “They packed up, along with a bunch of other Catholics, they made this journey — it was called the Maryland to Kentucky Migration — and a lot of them settled in Hardin and Meade County. And they were all farmers.”

Upon arriving in the area, the burgeoning community quickly assimilated to life in the hilly, wooded region. After having traveled to both areas recently, Chris noted how similar the topography of central Kentucky is to those original farmlands in Maryland.

“It’s almost as if they were looking for a place that reminded them of home,” Chris said.

One of the Padgetts’ first achievements, along with other Catholics at that time, was the construction of St. Patrick’s Church. Today, all that’s left is a slab in the middle of a cemetery across from Fort Knox’s Post Cemetery.

Though the church is gone, the cemetery still proclaims the Padgett legacy. About a dozen or more Padgetts are buried at one end of the cemetery in an area referred to as Padgett Corner, shaded by a large oak tree that was planted by the grandchildren of George Washington Padgett.

Among the many tales passed down to Chris over the years by previous generations was the story of how James Baker Padgett first settled in the area. James eventually passed his farming legacy on to his son, George Washington Padgett, who eventually passed it on to his son, James Thomas Padgett, and finally to his son James Perry Padgett — Chris’ great grandfather.

Each successive generation birthed 10 to
12 children, expanding the Padgett name and reputation across the landscape.

“My dad, who passed away about five years ago, had
98 first cousins,” Chris said. “When you look at the family and how it’s spread out, we’ve got everything. In every generation we had veterans in every conflict; we had them in pretty much all branches of the military. We had teachers, doctors, engineers, you name it, they come from this family.”

Chris said he remembered his grandfather was considered the family storyteller. Every Memorial Day weekend when they visited the farm, his grandfather would talk a lot about life on the farm. He also told the story about the year when the Army rolled into the area and the news that soon followed — the Army was interested in their farm.

‘When it happened, they tried really hard to get the commander of the base not to take that land,” said Chris. “They all loaded up, they went over to the base and tried to get the staff there to change their minds. They wouldn’t.”

Rather than fighting the government over the land, the Padgetts decided on a more honorable apporach.

“The way my grandfather told the story was, there wasn’t a lot of good land for farming because everybody was looking for a new farm,” said Chris. “What my great grandparents did was they moved over to Rineyville.

“The farm they moved to is called Blueball Hill. That farm belonged to the Whelans, which was my great grandma’s family. My great grandfather went to work for the government.”

No longer able to farm the land, James Perry Padgett was hired on as a guard at Fort Knox, appointed to watch over the transfer of gold that arrived on the U.S. Postal Service trains to the Bullion Depository. His nephew, Alton Padgett, also took a job transferring the gold there.

Many Padgetts chose to sell to the government and find jobs elsewhere.

“It’s not just the Padgetts, either: it’s all the people who lived in that area,” said Chris.

He explained that at the end of the day, the Padgetts understood what was at state for a nation still reeling from a world war. They understood that the military needed the land to be able to build Fort Knox and expand it enough to adequately prepare Soldiers for an as yet unknown war against what would soon become an even greater foe.

“When my family thinks about it, we don’t think about it from a resentful standpoint, but this was an act of patriotism. It
was a sacrifice, but one that helped the country,” said Chris. “Still, when you’ve been on the land for five generations and then you have to move away, that’s big. It was a big event and these were good people.”

So many years later, though time has eroded the presence of the Padgetts’ efforts from the landscape, the farm never drifts too far from Chris’ thoughts.

“I went there last year. I just wanted to see if it was still
there,” Chris said.
“The foundation of the house and steps are still there, which
pacified me.” n