Gardens to Gables

Names and Places: Frances, Crittenden County, Kentucky

There are as many origin stories about the names of Kentucky’s small towns and crossroad communities as there are these spots on the map. Sometimes the postmaster (or postmistress) got to choose the name. Perhaps a nearby industry inspired the name of a place, or a popular elected officials. I had a wonderful cousin named Frances (my grandmother’s first cousin), so perhaps that is why I am especially fond of the small village of Frances, in Crittenden County.

 Section from the 1931 15-minute Eddyville quad map, showing the communities of Frances and Mexico.

Section from the 1931 15-minute Eddyville quad map, showing the communities of Frances and Mexico.

I’ve been known to veer off my of my intended route if I think I can find a crossroads community. So many have vanished completely, which is why Frances, which still has a cohesive feel, lingers in my mind. Frances, originally known as Needmore, developed in a curve of the Marion and Dycusburg Roads. The crossroads community received a post office in 1892, but Metcalfe County already had a post office with the moniker “Needmore” so the residents decided to name the post office after the wife of President Grover Cleveland.[1]

One of the handful of homes in Frances.

One of the handful of homes in Frances.

The Free and Associated Masons opened a lodge in Frances in 1874. In 1880, Frances consisted of “one store house, one blacksmith shop, a Masonic Lodge with a membership of twenty five.”[3]

The Free and Associated Masons Lodge in Frances.

The Free and Associated Masons Lodge in Frances.

Schools and a post office are vital ingredients for a crossroads community. The first few schools for Frances children were not located in Frances proper, but in the area. A school known as the “Duvall School” opened in 1844, but closed in 1851. It was succeeded by the Oliver School, District Number 5, which served the students of Frances until after 1900. Sometime during the first two decades of the twentieth century, Frances received its own school, with a three-room school constructed in 1919.[4]

The WPA gym (greatly modified) in Frances.

The WPA gym (greatly modified) in Frances.

The WPA assisted in the construction of a gymnasium at Frances in 1938. This structure still stands and is one of three National Register of Historic Places-listed sites in the county. The budget for the project was small, under $10,000, and stipulated that workers:

Construct an auditorium and classroom addition, with basement, adjacent to present frame school building, wreck an abandoned school building, and salvage materials for use on this project. Construct a corridor and passage between the new gym and old classroom section of Francis (sic) School; and perform incidental and appurtenant work, including grading and landscaping grounds, at Frances, Crittenden County.[5]

The Frances gym is adjacent to the 1960s Frances Elementary School, which closed in 1998 and consolidated with the Crittenden County Elementary School.

The abandoned Frances Elementary School.

The abandoned Frances Elementary School.

The growth of Frances mirrored that of the fluorspar industry, which reached its peak right after World War II. Mines located near Frances in the 1930s included Keystone Mine, Mary Helen Mine and the Silver Star Mine. The mine’s closure severely impacted Crittenden County, and the small communities of Mexico and Frances in particular.

A former garage in Frances.

A former garage in Frances.

Although the school, post office and store are all now either closed or demolished, Frances retains a strong sense of association with its crossroads history. On a day dedicated to memory, I not only call to mind the people I’ve known and loved, whose graves I visited this weekend, but the places I’ve been lucky enough to explore across this amazing Commonwealth.

The Frances Presbyterian Church.

The Frances Presbyterian Church.

 

[1]Stella Simpkins. The History of Frances Community. 1947. Posted online at the Dycusburg blog, http://www.dycusburg.com/frances1to12.pdf

[2] Underdown, Brenda. Forgotten Passages, http://ourforgottenpassages.blogspot.com/2008/04/community-items-from-year-1880.html

[3] Simpkins, 2.

[4] Marty Perry. “Frances School Gymnasium.” Nomination to the National Register of Historic Places. Section 8, 2. Copy on file at the Kentucky Heritage Council, Frankfort, Kentucky. Listed 1993.

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