Two Breathitt County Thanksgivings- 1947 & 1951

The pages of The Jackson Times through the years were filled with the details of community and school Thanksgiving celebrations. The descriptions of dances, dinners, days of gratitude, plays, and religious services often gave insights into how the people of Breathitt County celebrated the last Thursday in November each year.

The Morris Fork School was photographed by Marion Post in 1940.
Sam and Nola VanderMeer.

In 1947, Nola P. VanderMeer was the correspondent for the Morris Fork News, which appeared weekly in the newspaper. She included in her report from Thanksgiving week many details of the celebration that occurred at Morris Fork.

Her report, which was printed on page four of the December 4, 1947 edition, provided a glimpse into a community’s celebration and included details of the visit from the Lucky Fork Church community who walked to the school from Owsley County to join the celebration.

The annual Morris Fork Thanksgiving celebration was held at Morris Fork Church last Thursday with the Lucky Fork community, Owsley county, participating.

The morning service was conducted to a full house.   Special music was rendered by the combined Morris Fork and Lucky Fork choirs under the direction of the Rev. Chester Ranck.  The stirring Thanksgiving message in song by these young people was greatly enjoyed.   The message of the morning was given by the Rev. Thornton Thompson of Philadelphia, who, with his family, is making his home at Lucky Fork.

After the service, the children scattered to the hills to hunt for “wild” turkeys, chickens, bears, wolves, etc., that had been scattered for the hunt.  A prize was awarded the one who returned with the most game.  Then all gathered in the schoolhouse basement which had been most attractively decorated, and where long tables had been set for the Thanksgiving feast.  Approximately 125 persons were present.

During the meal, the school children presented a short program of Thanksgiving songs and two short Thanksgiving skits.  Older girls, dressed in Pilgrim and Puritan costumes, served the tables.  After the dinner, all adjourned to the large upstairs schoolroom where several hours were spent in games and happy recreation.

The offering of the morning, amounting to $27, was sent as our Thanksgiving offering to the Orphanage at Buckhorn.
A view of the Arrowood School near Canoe about 1959.

A few years later, The Jackson Times included a synopsis of the Thanksgiving celebration in the Arrowood community of Canoe. The November 29, 1951 edition printed the report on page 6. The short review of the events of the day indicated a deeply religious service that welcomed more than 100 from the community.

Thanksgiving Celebration at Arrowood

More than 100 persons gathered at the Arrowood school house on Wednesday, November 21, at 9:00 a.m. to celebrate Thanksgiving in a manner the Pilgrim forefathers would appreciate.  The ladies came bringing food consisting of cakes, pies, chicken, canned vegetables, sweet potatoes, pickles, etc. and the dinner was finished and the menu completed in the lunch room by the cook and the ladies.  The men came with their song books and assisted with the children.

Martha Jane Bellamy, an eighth-grade pupil, led the morning devotional with the appropriate song, “Come Ye Thankful People, Come” and gave from memory the 100th Psalm after which Kelly Bowling, one of the parents present, led in prayer.  After more songs by the parents, Walter Strong, of Haddix arrived and took charge of the services.  Rev. Strong gave a very beautiful picture to the children and younger folk of the woman who had an issue of blood for 12 years and had suffered many things of many physicians and has spent all that she had and was nothing bettered but rather grew worse as the story is related in the 5th chapter of Mark, until she met the Great Physician.

Taking for his text, “Nothing bettered but rather grew worse,” Rev. Strong said that the doctors of the treaters, barrooms, and gambling hall, etc., took what he had and he grew no better and rather grew worse until he overcame the obstacles between himself and Jesus and touched the hem of His garment.  He warned he children against thinking that the pleasures of this world and places of amusement would make them any better and assured then that it would only make them worse.

Rev. Strong was followed by Rev. Bob Herald, of Talbert, and Rev. John D. Arrowood, of the Arrowood community, who delivered fine sermons.  These were followed by the community dinner in the school room.

After service was resumed Rev. Strong preached another fine sermon taking as his text, “Be sure your sins will find you out.”  He was followed by Rev. Carl Creech, of Whitesburg, presently of Canoe. And Rev. Kelly Spicer, also of Canoe.  They concluded the service with appropriate sermons.

Mr. Sebastian, the upper grade teacher, made some announcements and thanked all who had contributed to the day’s success either by food or labor, adding that he did not know when he had spent a happier day.  Rev. Arrowood closed with a prayer in which he asked God’s blessing on the school.

These two differing reports of Thanksgiving celebrations provide us with brief glimpses of how the people of Breathitt celebrated important holidays. While different in particular details, each community chose to gather and remember their blessings together. From these events, true community is created and nurtured while families are strengthened through shared experiences.

Let us never forget to thank God daily for the many blessings that he has given us daily. Even through the hard times and difficulties we face in this life, we must remember that everything has a purpose. We may never discover the purpose of many events during our time on this Earth, but I believe there is a plan in all things.

I want to stop and thank each of you who take the time to read my little writings. I appreciate your love of history, and I am thankful to have this platform to share my writings with you in an effort to keep Breathitt County’s amazing history alive. Happy Thanksgiving!!

© 2022 Stephen D. Bowling


About sdbowling

Director of the Breathitt County Public Library and Heritage Center in Jackson, Kentucky.
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