Yesterday's News

Dedicated jurist

Well-respected judge had distinguished career

By FRANK BOYETT, The Gleaner
September 25, 2005

Dixon's long monopoly of the Tri-county's circuit court bench ended 50 years ago with the death of Judge Marlin L. Blackwell.

Blackwell served as circuit judge for Henderson, Union and Webster counties from the first of 1928 until his death this week in 1955 -- a record of nearly 28 years.

He probably holds another record, also, according to Francele Armstrong's Sept. 28, 1952, column in The Gleaner, which commemorated Blackwell's silver anniversary on the bench.

"In his 25 years of rendering decisions, Judge Blackwell has had only two reversals by the Kentucky Court of Appeals," she noted.

Before I tell about Blackwell's career, though, I should explain how he was the last in a seven-decade stretch of Webster County lawyers to preside over the 5th Circuit Court, of which Henderson County was a part until 1971.

For most of 70 years -- between 1886 and 1955 -- the local circuit court bench was occupied by a lawyer from Dixon. The run of Webster County judges began with M.C. Givens, followed by J.W. Henson, S.V. Dixon, N.B. Hunt and Blackwell. The sole exception to that monopoly was Henderson attorney John L. Dorsey, who served 1898-1903 and 1918-1921.

Blackwell defeated Hunt for the seat in the 1927 election. After winning that race, he was challenged only one time, by G.E. Jones in 1939. The job was the only elective office Blackwell ever held.

When he died at age 75 he was serving his fifth six-year term and had been ill for most of the previous year.

He was a native of Clay, the son of George Washington and Sally Pride Blackwell, a farm family who highly valued education. They joined with other residents of the Clay area to hire Prof. C.S. Lamb of Sturgis to prepare their children for college.

Blackwell attended Ohio Valley Baptist College in Sturgis, but received his legal education from Cumberland University in Lebanon, Tenn., where he graduated in 1902. He passed the Tennessee bar exam shortly thereafter, and was admitted to practice in that state, before returning to Kentucky and passing the bar exam here.

In 1904 Blackwell moved to Dixon, which became his home until his death. Over the next 24 years he built a successful law practice before challenging Hunt for the circuit court bench in 1927.

Armstrong's 1952 column indicates Blackwell was a highly dedicated jurist: "Time away from the bench is devoted to the reading of statutes and cases and other forms of legal materials.... Judge Blackwell's steady (reading) diet is the law and his devotion to it has made him an outstanding judge during the years he has spent on the bench."

To be sure, he had other interests. He was fascinated by scientific and mechanical developments. "He has made many pieces of furniture and has repaired many a household gadget in his basement workshop," Armstrong wrote.

He was also quite the athlete in his day. "One of the little known facts about the judge is that he was one of the best baseball pitchers in parts hereabout -- but that was some years ago."

Irving LaRue, one of Blackwell's closest friends, told the following story to Armstrong about the judge, which illustrates his humanity:

"The judge had just sentenced a young fellow to a term in prison. As the court adjourned, Blackwell joined the young man and talked to him for some time in his characteristically quiet manner. At the conclusion of the interview, the prisoner turned to several people and said:

" 'I'm glad Judge Blackwell sentenced me to the pen. He should have done it. I deserved it and I should serve out my term for what I did against society. When I've done my time I'm coming out of that jailhouse and making a success of my life to prove to the judge that I'm the sort of fellow he thinks I am.' "

100 years ago

Balloonist Verne Vaughn lost his balloon when it malfunctioned during an exhibition flight, according to a 1905 article in The Gleaner.

"Vaughn sailed westward across the Corydon road and down the river about one thousand yards and then cut loose his parachute. The balloon failed to open and permit the gas to escape. It sailed diagonally across the river and is thought to have fallen either in the river or on the Indiana side."

75 years ago

Automated washing of apples headed for market was the highlight of a look into the operations of the Henry P. Barret apple-packing plant in 1930, according to an article in The Gleaner.

The washing machine used 350 gallons of water a minute and processed about 2,000 bushels a day. The packing plant, which operated in the Soaper tobacco warehouse where the Water Street tennis courts are currently located, employed about 160 people and was expected to process 70,000 bushels in 1930.

25 years ago

Construction of the railroad overpass on Second Street began in earnest in 1980, closing one of the community's busiest streets to traffic, The Gleaner noted.

Detours were set up along Fifth Street to the north and Washington Street to the south, although all commercial and industrial traffic was required to use the U.S. 41 Bypass as a detour.

The road closure was expected to last a year, but it was Dec. 18, 1981, before the ceremonial first ride was taken over the structure by state and local leaders.


Contributed by Netta Mullin, HCH&GS
Copyright 2006 HCH&GS