In the photo at right, taken in 1807 (just kidding!) the only thing we're not sure about is the degree of sophistication in the horses' harness for the salt wagons. Otherwise, we think the little community that became Manchester (Langford Salt Works) would have looked pretty much like this when the first county court met there in April, 1807. We know that the beautifully preserved Dillion Asher's cabin on Red Bird predated this scene by several years. The Clay Co. Genealogical and Historical Society hopes to reconstruct a village like this one on the actual site Langford's occupied.
Manchester was a lively little town from the very beginning, which by all accounts, seems to have been in the early 1790s when the area's first commercial salt-making operation started up on the banks of Goose Creek at the mouth of present-day Y Hollow (in East Manchester). When in 1807 the Kentucky Legislature created Clay County as a way to keep a better eye on the gritty feuding known as the "Cattle War" the first county court met at this little community, known as the Langford Salt Works. The county officials first called their new town Greenville, and began constructing it a stone's throw down stream and on what became known as "Courthouse Hill".
From that time until the Civil War in 1861 Manchester more or less existed according to the whims of the powerful salt entrepreneur families who came to the wilderness to make their fortunes on the manufacture of salt at works like Langford's (later called the Lower Goose Creek Salt Works), White's (Upper Goose Creek Salt Works), Garrard's (Union Salt Works), the Bates brothers, Francis Clark and several others owned and operated by the Reid, Horton, May, Chastain, Gibson and other families.
The Civil War wreaked havoc in Manchester as foragers from both sides came to the town on numerous occasions looking for food for their troops and animals. The Confederates were especially interested in the salt, apparently having less access to it than the Union. But the Union was just as keen on keeping it out of Rebel hands as the Rebels were on getting it. This resulted in the Union Army destroying the salt works in 1862, even though one of their celebrated officers, Brigadier General T. T. Garrard, was the owner of the Garrard works.
Garrard had recruited a substantial number of men in Manchester in the summer of 1861 when he organized the Third Kentucky Volunteer Infantry there. Hundreds of Clay County men served in the Third (later referred to as the Seventh) and other regiments in the Union Army. Most of the local men fought outside the state, but while they were gone from home considerable action was taking place in Manchester and all over Clay County.
The Confederates held the upper hand when it came to causing mischief in and around Manchester, and the mischief led to several deaths at the hands of the Rebels. Though the Union was in town in huge numbers at times there is no evidence that they did any physical harm to the citizens. Nevertheless, the period following the war was a time of unrest and distrust. Animosities developed during this time fed fuel to the fire of growing resentment between some of the powerful salt families, primarily the Whites and Garrards and their supporters.
By the end of the century Manchester was the unchallenged capitol of violence in America, or at least it seemed that way as the little town became famous -- or infamous -- far beyond the borders of Clay County for the gun-play that seemed to be an everyday thing around town. Scores of newspaper articles in papers such as the "New York Times" created an image of runaway lawlessness in the town, and some of its citizens seemed to feed on the attention like fish in a feeding frenzy.
Gradually, the feud violence disipated after the 1930s and Manchester settled down into an almost idealized version of small town America. After World War II the town pretty much kept pace with the rest of the country, albeit with an Appalachian patina. Coal and timber had long since replaced salt as the income-generating industries but before long they, too, dwindled as an economic force. Poverty slowly gained the upper hand in the 1960s and 70s and the character of Manchester seemed to loose some of it's former tone.
Like many Appalachian towns Manchester developed a drug problem in the 1980s as dealers took advantage of the remote Daniel Boone National Forest surrounding it to grow marijuana at a rate that drew newpapers such as USA Today and the Wall Street Journal to town to see what was going on. In the 1990s the pot trade was overshadowed by a more insidious threat from prescription drugs and home-manufactured killers like meth. Finally, in 2004, the town decided to fight back. A famous banner headline in the Manchester Enterprise spelled it out in one word, printed in huge letters. "ENOUGH!" read the headline over a story about a march of hundreds of church affiliated protesters who made their way through Manchester. The march was publicized nationwide when TV's 700 Club learned of it and reported on it in several programs. Newspapers from around the U. S. followed suit with numerous stories of how one small mountain town fought back with notable success. Inquiries started coming in from states far and wide seeking advice on how other small towns might follow Manchester's example. Manchester gave itself a new moniker: "The City of Hope" which it displayed on signs, logos and in interviews with city and church officials .
While marchers were protesting drug dealing in Manchester and Clay County, federal agents came to town to back them up, which developed in a much wider, and widely publicized, investigation into official corruption in the county by the FBI. Manchester voters elected a progressive new mayor, and embarked on a binge of community pride projects that led to a palpable change in the character of the town that is evident to this date.
March, 1795 -- First reference to the salt works on Goose Creek in Lexington's "Kentucky Herald" newspaper. This would have referred to Langford's, depicted above. It is the earliest documented date we have for the salt works and thus, for the community that would become Manchester.
1802 -- Kentucky Legislature passed an Act that called for the construction of a road from the Wilderness Road near the Rockcastle River to the salt works on Goose Creek, thus paving the way for visitors to the community that would become Manchester.
1806 -- The account ledger for Hugh White's mercantile store. White had moved to the Langford community from his salt works on Collins Fork of Goose Creek. The following year he bought a fourth-interest in the Langford Works, which he called the "Goose Creek Salt Works."
April 13, 1807 -- The new Clay County government, which took effect April 1st, met in the cabin of Robert Baker at the salt works. Until a courthouse could be built on nearby "Courthouse Hill" the salt works community was the county seat.
December 1807 -- After having initially named the new town Greenville, after General Green Clay, the county court justices chose the name "Manchester."
1810 -- Legislature authorizes Daniel Garrard to raise money to clear Goose Creek of obstructions from Manchester to the South Fork to facilitate navigation for salt boats.
1812 -- Daniel Garrard raises a company of men in Manchester to fight the British and Indians in the War of 1812.
1814 -- Brick courthouse constructed on Courthouse Hill
1821 -- The Estill Road is authorized by the county court to be constructed between Manchester and Irvine.
1827 -- Clerk issues certificate to allow Elijah Griffin, a black man, to travel freely around the county. Certificate seemed to indicate that no one really knew why Griffin was not a slave but assured the reader that he was not.
1832 -- Hearings held in Manchester to allot pensions for Revolutionary War soldiers
1834 -- New York magazine writer visits Manchester and finds much not to like. Reading between lines it appears the locals were having some fun at the New Yorker's expense.
1835 -- State proposes building canal to Manchester, thru Cumberland Gap that would connect with the Savannah River all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. Scheme shot down by railroad interests.
1844 -- Saltman Daniel Bates murdered by Dr. Abner Baker Jr. Trial drew widespread national attention because Baker was declared insane but was hung anyway. County divided along White/Garrard family lines; said to be precursor of feuds that plagued county in late 1800s.
1844 -- Manchester is incorporated.
1848 -- T. T. Garrard raises company of men in Manchester and takes them to Mexico during the Mexican/American War.
1856 -- Hugh White, one of the founders of the Clay County salt industry, and one of the most influential citizens of the county, dies.
1861 -- T. T. Garrard begins recruitment of soldiers in Manchester, who make up a large portion of Garrard's Seventh Kentucky Infantry. The mountaineer soldiers almost immediately are thrown into the first battle of the Civil War at Wildcat Mountain in Laurel County.
1861 - 1864 -- Hundreds of local men serve in various units of the Union Army during the Civil War. Garrard is promoted to brigadier general for his bravery and leadership. Manchester is visited, sometimes plundered, on several occasions by Rebels, and by Union soldiers looking for food and supplies.
1862 -- The "Magnificent Retreat" of the Union Army fleeing the seige of Cumberland Gap march through Manchester in their thousands. -- Private Lewis Stivers executed by firing squad in Manchester. -- Salt works destroyed by Union to keep salt out of hands of Confederates.
1867 -- Manchester attorney D. Y. Lyttle makes empassioned speech to Legislature to pass a tax for educating all Kentucky children. He becomes known as Kentucky's "Father of Education" for his successful efforts.
1875 -- John D. White elected to U. S. House of Representatives from Clay.
1877 -- Manchester becoming a regular by-line as newspapers begin to give more attention to feud violence.
1879 -- Some 400 indictments stolen from clerk's office in Manchester.
1880s - 90s -- Manchester is site of frequent stories in papers like the New York Times about growing violence in its streets, primarily in the square downtown. Feud violence captures imagination of the country, culminating in the shooting of Tom Baker at the courthouse in 1898 in the midst of state militia troops sent for his protection.
1902 -- General T. T. Garrard, hero of the Civil War, leader of the Garrard factions during the feuds, died at his mansion at Garrard, ending the era of the saltmen in Clay County
Manchester was a lively town from the beginning
Key Events in Early Manchester History