Angela Townsend still remembers the creaking sound from decades ago at her neighbor’s house. It was the sound of people – black and white – crowding on the wooden porch of Nettie Milliken Cox, who lived at 1038 Kenton St. and was famous for her home cooking.
“She had these secret recipes ... and she cooked everything on this big, black coal stove,” Townsend said.
Cox was just one of the figures once well known in Bowling Green who populated a small African American neighborhood that is now slated for demolition. The area of Kenton Street and Greenwood Alley, bounded roughly by East 10th Avenue and Collett Avenue, was once apparently called Black Alley. But former residents said Greenwood Alley was better known as Fairground Alley and the Kenton Street area was simply called Kenton.
Whatever name they called it, former residents agree on one thing: It was an especially close-knit, peaceful place.
“It was a nice, quiet neighborhood,” said Joyce Gurley, 72.
She lived on Kenton Street from 1953, when her family moved from Tennessee, to about 1969, when she got married.
Ladine Whitlow, 78, lived on Greenwood Alley her entire life until last year. Her extended family occupied most of the homes.
“We were all kin to each other,” she said.
Whitlow lived in one of the larger houses on Greenwood Alley. It was built in 1914 and is among the houses slated for demolition.
Townsend is a direct witness to the eradication of another African American neighborhood in Bowling Green.
She was born in a house in the Jonesville area, which was infamously demolished to make room for an expansion of Western Kentucky University in the 1960s. With the loss of that home, she then lived with her grandmother in a house on Kenton Street, which has also since been torn down.
When she moved there, the Kenton Street house made an impression in that “it was new,” she said. Records indicate that most of the remaining homes on the streets were built in the 1940s.
“I really, really enjoyed it,” said Townsend, who has numerous positive memories of her neighbors. Townsend said she used to rush to the bus stop to meet one favorite neighbor, and the woman “would give me a nickel or a dime or whatever she had.”
Townsend said the area, despite being relatively small, was the home of many notable African Americans, including doctors, lawyers, teachers and pioneering business owners.
The area, however, has been on the path toward demolition for several years, and many of the residents have relocated after the homes were purchased by the current developer.
At the time, they said, they were told that new housing would take the place of the older homes. The current plan is for rental space geared to contractors.
Deborah Anthony, 57, lives on Kenton Street with her family on a home adjacent to the proposed development. She has lived there for 47 years.
“We were under the impression that it would be apartments,” Anthony said. The proposed rental project “won’t help the community.”
She also looks back on the neighborhood as one where “Everyone looked out for each other. I wouldn’t feel comfortable anywhere else. It’s home,” Anthony said. “It’s family.”
Whitlow has been out of her childhood home since last year and moved to Church Street.
“I have never lived across the tracks,” she said, adding that it has been a difficult adjustment.
“I wish it was like it was ... I feel lost,” she said.
While the remaining homes, left vacant except for two in anticipation of their demolition, feature broken windows, crumbling woodwork and obvious neglect, photos from just a few years ago show small but well-kept houses with manicured lawns.
That’s the Kenton Street that Townsend recalls.
Her grandmother, Mildred Carr, was a Tennessee native and became well known in Bowling Green as a cook, seamstress, gardener and storyteller.
Townsend, a retired educator who in 2015 was inducted in the Kentucky Teacher Hall of Fame, is a storyteller in her own right. She wrote a book called “Growing up Black in Bowling Green, Ky” and has numerous tales of the once thriving neighborhood she lived in.
“To tear those memories down,” Townsend said, “it’s reprehensible.”