"You've come a long way baby." As Independence celebrates its 175th birthday this year that statement keeps rolling around in my head. The phrase is reminiscent of an advertising slogan for a cigarette company in the 1970s. I recall in 1976, as our nation was preparing for its bicentennial, my elementary school had a contest. My mother convinced me I should borrow that tag line and surround it with a collage of pictures of America. Now, I love my Mom and always considered her one of the smartest people I knew. Right up to her passing two years ago she was one of the first people I went to for advice. Mom might have missed the mark on my bicentennial project, though. I don't know if it was the cigarette slogan or the edgy ad campaign it was part of, but I recall it was not well-received. Regardless, the phrase has popped back into my head of late.
We really have come a long way. Imagine it's 1840 and a new county is created by splitting Campbell County. To celebrate their newfound freedom, the small community, originally known as Crewitts Creek, renames itself Independence. A couple years later, the block around the new Courthouse was incorporated. Subsequently, that Courthouse burned down and the one we enjoy today was rebuilt on the site more than 100 years ago. When my house was built in 1887, the neighborhood was already thriving, as evidenced by a map on the City's website which depicts the Independence Magisterial District, circa 1880.
Fast forward another 60 years and take a look at all the hustle and bustle yourselves. There's a great video of Independence, circa 1938, on YouTube. Google "Independence Kentucky 1938" and you'll see the action. Great downtown shots include the old Independence High School (now an apartment and office building between Marathon and B&B Auto Repair), and school buses unloading at the newly opened Simon Kenton High School. Thanks to longtime Independence Postmaster Robert West for saving it and Steve Kitchen for restoring and uploading it. Jump to 1960. Not-so-sleepy little Independence grows when portions of the east side of town are annexed, including the Cherokee area. Then came westward expansion. The Beechgrove area was annexed in the 1970s and we reached the Boone County line by the mid-1980s. In the 1990s even more people wanted to live here, thus prompting more subdivisions to be built.
Now here we are, more than 26,000 people living in one of the largest cities geographically in the Commonwealth. We're still a small town at heart though, or as I like to put it, Mayberry on steroids. I coined this phrase a while ago and still see evidence of it regularly. Most recently at our Memorial Day parade. A half hour before parade time, the route was packed with folks decked out in red, white and blue and waving flags. That same multitude went completely silent as the American Legion Honor Guard stopped at each cemetery, fired a 21-gun salute and played taps to remember our fallen heroes. Just one more example of having small-town flair – and class.
I tell you this to remind you that you're part of something big, something deep-rooted and an integral part of something great. At the end of the day, all that is great about our community comes down to the people who live here, both past and present. So whether you're part of one of the old Independence families whose names can be found on street signs throughout the county, those in the middle who shopped at Riley's Market and looked forward to the Fireman's Picnic at the end of July, or one of the many transplants who more recently chose to call Independence home, I thank you. You've come a long way baby and I'm sure enjoying my small part of the ride. So let me personally invite each of you to the birthday party on June 30th and July 1st!
Mayor Chris Reinersman