John and Emma Jane were both born in Rockcastle County, Kentucky, and lived there their entire lives. John may have only left the county once—for a visit with their son, Hartford, in Chicago, Illinois. Emma Jane traveled a little more, visiting their daughter Emma and her family in Loyall, Kentucky, and also visiting Hartford and his family.
John Cook Taylor was born on 25 December 1863 near Renfro Valley. He was the fourth of James Francis Taylor and Margaret E. Ramsey’s eleven children. His siblings were William Thomas, Josiah L., Martha Ann, Rhoda Nell, Margaret Lou, Robert Burke, Milton, Alford, Sue, and Nannie..
The Taylors lived on what is now Old Highway 25 Loop 6. It was the main road in those days but only a small stretch remains today. That stretch runs parallel to US Highway 25, starting north of the intersection of Highways 461 and 25 and dead-ending at I-75. Their house was behind where Wendy’s and KFC are today. That entire area on both sides of Highway 25 was their farm.
Emma Jane Owens was born on 16 April 1882 in the Freedom community. She was the youngest of Madison Crawford Owens and Cecilia Owens’s seven children. Most of her siblings were much older than her. Elizabeth married and had a child before Emma Jane was born. Siblings Sally and George were both married before she was six years old. Another sister died as an infant before Emma Jane was born. For most of her childhood, only brothers Wesley Alfred and William David, ten and seven years older than her, were at home with Emma Jane and their parents.
John married Sarah A. “Sally” Ramsey, daughter of Goldman P. Ramsey and Serena Green, on 8 June 1885. John and Sally had two daughters—Grace born on 27 August 1886 and Susan born on 3 February 1889. Sally was about twenty-four years old when she died on 12 February 1892.
On 22 August 1894, John married Margaret F. “Fannie” Warren. Fannie, the daughter of Fielden L. Warren and Jane Keeney, was born on 21 March 1876 in Rockcastle County. Their son William Robert was born on 16 May 1895 and their marriage ended in divorce on 16 February 1898. John’s daughter Emma and Bill in later life told that John chased after the wagon, begging Fannie not to take his son away but could not stop her.
John and Emma Jane married on 16 January 1900 at her parents’ home at Freedom. Emma Jane was seventeen years old when she became step-mother to thirteen-year-old Gracie and ten-year-old Susie. The three of them were close for the rest of their lives.
John and Emma Jane started their marriage in a house on West Main Street near Fairground Hill in Mt. Vernon. Their daughter Emma Ewers was born in that house on 24 October 1900. John ran a blacksmith shop in Mt. Vernon on Spring Street. Their son, Hartford Conn, was born on 11 April 1905.
On 6 December 1906, they bought a two-story house on Main Street, near Elmwood Cemetery, in Mt. Vernon from R. B. And Emma Mullins. They sold this property on 11 November 1910 to A. B. Furnish and moved back to West Main Street. This house was near, but across the street from, their first home. Susie married August Krueger in this house on 11 September 1911. In 1917, they sold that property to Tom Penicks and moved to a brick two-family house, known as “the Krueger bricks,” on West Main Street. The Krueger bricks were down the street from Susie and her husband’s family owned them. Their next move was to a house on Crawford Street, behind what is now the Rockcastle County Board of Education. That house burned to the ground while they were living there.
After the fire, John, Emma Jane, Emma, and Hartford stayed with Susie and her family at their house on West Main Street, then moved back to the Krueger bricks. While living there, their third child, Anna Rose, was born on 10 June 1918 and daughter Emma eloped with Elmer Dennis Hopkins to Jellico, Tennessee on 11 October 1920.
John sold the blacksmith shop and, on 29 December 1921, bought a small, forty-acre farm about a mile from town on Buckeye Road. They had chickens, cows, horses, and goats and raised a big garden. John was happy on the farm, but for reasons unknown, they sold it on 15 November 1927 and again moved in with Susie. It is unclear if they lived with Susie the entire time between 1927 and their next documented move in 1932. It is possible that they again lived in one of the Krueger bricks part of that time.
Their son, Hartford, married Elizabeth Josephine Mulliner on 9 November 1928 in Galesburg, Knox County, Illinois. Hartford was a musician. In the early 1930s, he moved to Chicago, where he performed on the WLS barn dance and the WJJD supper time frolic.
On 18 December 1932, John and Emma Jane’s son-in-law Elmer bought a small farm near the one they sold in 1927. John, Emma Jane, Gracie, and Anna Rose moved there. Like most, if not all, other places they had lived, the house on this farm did not have electricity or running water. They had a spring, which supplied drinking water and kept butter and milk cool. They caught rainwater for laundry. Emma Jane would build a fire under a big pot of rainwater and stir their clothes and linens with a big paddle that John made for her. She did not have a clothesline, so everything was hung on the fence.
The house was small, only four rooms. The kitchen ran across most of the back of the house. It had a cabinet, a washstand, a wood/coal stove, and a table. The table had several chairs and a bench with storage under the seat. A bucket of water with a dipper that everyone drank from was always on the washstand, along with a bowl. A small room off the kitchen served as Gracie’s bedroom. It was the only room in the house with a door.
The two front rooms were open to each other and the kitchen. Each room had a door to the front porch, which ran most of the length of the house. One room had a leather couch that made a bed, a chest of drawers, a crank-style Victrola, and an iron bed. The other room had two beds, a warm morning stove, a library table, and a sewing machine. They also had several straight-back chairs and rockers that were used in both the front rooms and on the porch, where the family often gathered.
The house had no closets, but Emma Jane put up poles in the corners to hang clothes and hung a drape in front of them. The floors were covered with linoleum.
John kept a few cows, goats, pigs, and chickens. He also had a couple of horses that he used for plowing and to pull a wagon. He raised a big garden and Emma Jane canned enough vegetables to last them until the next year’s garden. They often had a dog that started out belonging to their granddaughter Faye, then coming to live on the farm when Faye’s parents could talk her into that.
John played the fiddle and sang. Some of his favorite songs were “Cripple Creek,” “Shortening Bread,” “Turkey in the Straw,” and hymns. His hair turned gray early, but he still had a thick head of wavy hair when he died.
Emma Jane was a great cook, even though she never owned a cookbook and only had a wood cook stove. Her daughter, Emma, had a long list of favorite foods that her mother cooked, including biscuits, fried chicken, gravy, fried apples, cornbread, and chowchow. She churned her own butter and make cottage cheese, and she made pies and jam with wild blackberries the girls picked. She baked pies in the lard can lid.
John’s brother, Bob, lived in their parents’ old home on a farm just over the hill. It was a few miles by road, but they had a shorter path worn over the hill and took turns making that walk almost every Sunday afternoon.
Elmer bought the Krueger bricks in December 1938. When John’s health started failing in the late 1940s, Elmer sold the farm and moved them back to one of the bricks on West Main Street.
Daughter, Anna Rose, married Holt Chesnut on 3 February 1947 in Cook County, Illinois. They lived in Detroit, Michigan for a few years, and then Anna Rose returned to Mt. Vernon with her young son.
One thing Emma Jane and John never agreed on was politics. He was a staunch Republican and she a Democrat. That fact alone shows what an independent woman Emma Jane was. Many women of her time deferred to their husbands in politics. But even though they had been married for twenty years before she gained the right to vote, Emma Jane always voted as she wanted.
John died of uremia and nephritis at home on 7 September 1953 at eighty-nine years old. John and Emma Jane were both members of the First Christian Church, which was just across the street from them on West Main Street. John’s funeral was held at the church on 9 September and he was buried in Elmwood Cemetery in Mt. Vernon.
Emma and Gracie continued living together in the bricks on West Main Street. Gracie died on 25 September 1961 at the Rockcastle County Baptist Hospital in Mt. Vernon. Emma Jane and John’s son, Hartford, died of a stroke on 17 October 1963 in Illinois.
Sometime in the 1960s, Emma Jane got a television. She enjoyed it very much even though she could hardly hear by that time. When visitors stopped by while she was watching TV, she would explain what was happening on the show. Her explanation rarely had anything to do with the actual plot since she could not hear it. But she was perfectly happy and entertained by the stories she made up to go with what she saw.
Emma Jane always enjoyed having company and visiting with family and friends. A family friend once saw her walking home from a nearby funeral home and stopped to give her a ride. When the friend asked who had died, she told them she did not know. She had just gone to the visitation to see if anyone she knew from out in the country might be there. “Out in the country” meant the Freedom area where she grew up.
A few years before Emma Jane died, her daughter Emma started organizing a party to celebrate her birthday every year. The parties were held at Emma Jane’s house and were potluck. Everyone brought a dish and stayed all afternoon. Guests included her daughters, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and nieces and nephews with their families.
On 17 March 1968, Emma Jane died at the Rockcastle County Baptist Hospital in Mt. Vernon—one month before her eighty-sixth birthday. She had chronic bronchitis for several years and suffered a stroke three days earlier. Reverend Norman Howard, of First Christian Church, officiated her funeral at Cox Funeral Home Chapel on 19 March. Emma Jane was buried in Elmwood Cemetery next to John.