Dan Birdwhistell

05/02/2016

The Five Moffett Girls and How They Grew


Ira D Moffett was the youngest son of John Warner Moffett, a Civil War veteran from Glensboro, Kentucky.  Ophelia Moffett was the youngest daughter of William Dudley (W.D.) Moore, a prominent Baptist preacher from the town of RIpyville, just outside of Lawrenceburg, kentucky.   When the two married on May 7, 1914, they united two families which had lived in Anderson County since the early 1800's.  This is the story of their lives and that of their young family from 1910-1941 as recorded by their grandson, the late Ira Vinson "Jack" Birdwhistell.

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Ophelia (top left) at Georgetown College in 1913

Ophelia had spent the academic year of 1912-13 at Georgetown College, where her father, Rev. William Dudley Moore, had attended from 1878 until 1880. But fate intervened. Ophelia’s older sister, Martha, married to a teller at the bank in Glensboro, had introduced her to a handsome son of that village, Ira Moffett, and they were both “smitten.” So, just as W. D. Moore had left the college to marry Alice Hedger Williams in January, 1881, his daughter Ophelia left Georgetown after her first year there to marry Ira Moffett in May, 1914.

They had five children, all daughters, all of whom spent their entire lives in Lawrenceburg, the county seat of Anderson County. Alice Katherine (Kitty), Mary Lois (Bitty), Martha, Frances, and Georgia made up the "Moffett Girls", all well known in the community for their intelligence, integrity, capability, and Christian commitment.

Ira and Ophelia went to housekeeping in a large log house on Willow Creek Road near Glensboro, which had belonged to his grandmother, Mary Sherwood. Their first daughter, Kitty, was born April 24, 1915, at the Moore “home place” in Ripyville. A second daughter, Mary Lois, was born September 25, 1916, in the log house on Willow Creek Road. During 1918, both Ira’s father, John Warner Moffett, and his mother, Kitty Sherwood Moffett, died. (After Grandfather Moffett’s death, Ira’s little family moved into the Moffett house to take care of “Grandmother” Moffett.) Upon her death, Ira Moffett and his brother, William (“Uncle Willie”) held a major auction involving the two family properties on Willow Creek Road.

Ira D. Moffett and his five daughters posing outside his family home and where two of his daughters were born. 

In late 1918 the Ira Moffett family moved into Lawrenceburg, into a house recently built on South Main Street by Rev. W. D. Moore. On moving day, the wagon carrying their furniture went off the steep road, crashing into the Glensboro Bridge over Salt River, and Ophelia's sewing machine, among other pieces, was a casualty. Once settled in Lawrenceburg, they experienced a major crisis early on. All four of the family came down with the “Spanish flu,” a serious epidemic which ravaged the United States in the fall and winter of 1918-1919. Ophelia Moffett was especially vulnerable, as she was pregnant with Martha (born April 21, 1919) at the time. Several of the flu's victims in Anderson County were expectant parents. "Mom" told the girls how frightening it was to watch the daily funeral processions which passed in front of the house on South Main, on the way to the Lawrenceburg Cemetery. Fear of the deadly disease was so pervasive that the venerable "Brother Moore," instead of visiting his daughter inside her home, peered through her sick-room window and waved his good wishes. A young man who had been a flu survivor during World War I, Lester ("Leck") Inman, along with Dr. J. L. Toll, helped to nurse the Moffetts back to health.

Mr. Moffett initially held a job at the Cedarbrook distillery and later sold fire insurance for a living. In early 1923, Ira Moffett took his part of the money from the sale of his father’s estate [$2965 down payment with a $10,000 plus ‘note’] and bought a farm with a large house, the “Lillard Place’ on the Jennie Lillard road right outside of town. He proudly announced to the Anderson News that he planned to move to there soon. It would have made a splendid place for the girls to grow up. They recall visiting to play and wade in the creek, but they never lived there. Due to the economic problems of the early 1920s, Mr. Moffett, unable to make the payments on the note, was forced to give up the farm [September, 1924], a fate shared by many families throughout the nation.

Mary Lois, Kitty, and a young Martha Moffett enjoying some watermelon at the home on South Main Street. 

By the early 1920s, Ira Moffett had started work as an agent for the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. One of his first assignments was in Versailles, where the family rented a large house on Elm Street in the fall of 1924. It was a rather upscale neighborhood, but “Daddy” insisted on taking along the family cow, to the consternation of some of the Versailles neighbors. One vivid memory from that time. Each Tuesday Mr. Moffett came to Lawrenceburg for his work, using the train which crossed the famous “Young’s High Bridge” over the Kentucky River at Tyrone. Since Martha was not yet in school, one day she got to take the train with “Daddy” to Lawrenceburg, being met by his brother, “Uncle Willie,” at the depot and walking to Gatewood Street to spend the day with “Uncle Willie” and “Aunt Ella.”

When Ira Moffett became the Metropolitan agent for Lawrenceburg, the family moved back to Lawrenceburg (with great rejoicing!), back to the house at 564 South Main. Here Mr. Moffett worked day and night as an insurance agent, taking a break only to come home for supper, milk the cow, slop the hogs, and tend his garden. “Hog-killing” in the fall was an annual highlight, especially when accomplished with the assistance of Christopher Columbus McKee, one of the semi-legendary black members of the community. By now, Frances (b. July 29, 1921) and Georgia (b. September 11, 1922, and named for the family's beloved neighbor, "Miss Georgie" Wise) had joined the family. The older girls took piano lessons from “Miss Jessie Mae” Lillard at her home down South Main Street. The “Dr. Asa Overall family” were wonderful next door neighbors, at 562 South Main. Joyce, Hazel, Irvine, John, and Linda became lifelong friends of the Moffetts. Since the Dr. Overall house had running water inside (in contrast to the house at 564 South Main), the girls were treated to occasional “bathtub baths” there. Dr. Overall also cared for the girls during their various illnesses, including Frances’ bout with polio in the late 1920s, which left her with a slight limp.