Marvin & Mary Cunningham: The 8601 Mystery Continues

Research can be tough.

I say that not as a fun opening cliché or an attempt to state the obvious (though, in retrospect, I suppose I have inadvertently accomplished both), but simply as the truth.  There are some projects where the reality of situations years and years ago seems to actively elude the researcher, and unfortunately, I can say with some confidence that I feel the 8601 case is one of those instances.

I have spent a bit of time over the past week or so looking into Marvin B. Cunningham and his wife, Mary, who were suggested as the potential builders/original owners of the home on 8601 Dixie Highway.  It’s been…interesting.  Inconclusive, but interesting.

My first hit for Marvin B. Cunningham on ancestry was his death record.  He was listed as having been born on 21 Jun 1897, died 25 Apr 1976.

I then jumped into the census records and found him almost immediately in 1900 at the tender age of 3, living with his parents, Alexander (40) and Ida (33) at a home at 2318 4th Street, Louisville, KY.  His was a full house with five other children and one servant listed as well: Carl (14), Bruce (12), Alice (9), Margaret (6), and Louis (9/12, born Sept of that year).  The most interesting tidbit from this census record is that in the census, Marvin was reportedly born in May, whereas in his death record and on his tombstone, he was listed as having been born in June.  However, I believe this to a be a minor discrepancy that is likely nothing more than an error on the part of the census-taker–hardly a novelty.

In 1910, Marvin B. Cunningham (13) is still living with his parents, Alexander (52) and Ida (43).  They are now at 1328 South Second Street, Louisville, KY.  In the home are Carl (24), Bruce (22), Alice (19), Margaret (16), and Alex Jr. (4).  According to Ida, she has 8 children, 6 of whom are living.  It would appear based on the number of children in this census that Louis (the infant in the 1900 census) died and another child also was born and died between census years.

In 1920, Marvin (23) has struck out on his own.  He’s now married to one Mary Cunningham (21) and they are living on 18th Street, Valley Station, KY (no house number given).  To make things better for the young couple, the newlyweds are hosting Mary’s mother, Emma C. Adams (51).

After 1930, Marvin and Mary drop entirely off the census record radar.  Unfortunately, I’ve also run into this little snag while conducting research, and there are a few possibilities as to why this has happened:

  • 1. Marvin and Mary moved out of state.
    While it’s possible that the couple picked up and relocated elsewhere in the US as there are a few Mary and Marvin Cunninghams in the US in 1930 and 1940, I don’t believe this is the case.  The Cunningham couples that could be our Cunninghams claim to have been born in entirely different states from our Cunninghams.  Their ages also don’t line up very nicely.
  • 2. The census records are incomplete.
    Because ancestry.com is a relatively new site, this happens more than you’d like to think it does.  I’ve been ready to take a bat to the computer in an attempt to coerce the internet into coughing up the record I need only to go to the local library, conduct a manual search of the census records and find the information I need ready to bite me in the face.  After heading home to make sure I wasn’t crazy, I did a second search and hit the same problem–the records just aren’t there.
    Mary and Marvin may be one of the unfortunate couples whose information didn’t make it, wasn’t linked correctly or simply hasn’t been added yet to the 1930s/1940s census records.
  • 3. Mary and Marvin moved locally, but lived in a rural area that wasn’t consistently surveyed by the census-takers.
    This is another possibility.  Because people back then had a tendency to be a bit more casual and arguably a bit more transient to boot, Mary and Marvin may have chosen to live in a rural location–say, 8601 Dixie Highway–before such a location had a formal address.  It’s also possible that if such a location was, say, a hotel, that the census taker skipped it, assuming that no one lived there permanently.

It was with this in mind that I opened the search from the census records to the public directories in Louisville and Valley Station.  What I found was telling.

In the late 1920’s to early 1930’s, the directories show a Marvin B. or M.B. Cunningham whose only address is listed as the “L&N” (railroad line) and whose occupation is listed as either salesman, fireman, or hostler (stableman).  As you may recall, the house at 8601 sits right on the train tracks–the old L&N line–and was rumored to have been a depot at one point.  Was Marvin working on the L&N as a fireman and working at the 8601 location when it was a depot/hotel as a hostler, picking up salesman work when he needed to?  It’s very possible.

After 1933, the records resume in the 1940’s and 1950s.  Marvin is consistently listed as a fireman working on the L&N line, though his addresses are a bit more specific in these entries and place him in Valley Station proper versus in the country.  This would be consistent with what has been suggested about the Hicks family, however–that the Hickses bought and took up residence at 8601 in the 1940’s.

Below, I’ve made up a table with the information I was able to gather from the public directories between 1928-1959.

YEAR NAME LOCATION OCCUPATION
1928 Mary A. & Marvin B. Cunningham Valley Station None
1928 Ida M. % Marvin B. Valley Station None
1928 Marvin B. L&N Hostler
1928 M.B. L&N r Valley Sta Fireman
1929 Marvin L&N Hostler
1929 M.B. Valley Sta KY Auto Parts Co.
1929 M.F. None C,I,L&Ry Fireman
1930 Marvin Lyon Battery Wks Salesman
1931 Marvin B. L&N r Valley Sta Fireman
1932 Marvin B. Route 5 Salesman–Koch Auto Elec Co.
1933 Marvin B. Valley Sta Salesman–Koch Auto Elec Co.
1946 Marvin B. & Mary A. L&N r525 Denmark Fireman
1952 M.B. L&N Engineer
1956 M.B. L&N r RD 3 Valley Sta Fireman mmo
1959 Marvin B. L&N r1807 Whitten Dr Fireman

Having exhausted ancestry’s public directories, I headed over to the land office for Jefferson County and searched for Marvin Cunningham.  I found zero records.  A few popped up for Mary Cunningham, but they are not visible via the internet and would require an in-person investigation.

In many ways, this information just opens up more questions.  Did Marvin work at 8601?  Was he a hired hand for either the family that resided there or the folks who owned the building as a hotel?  Did he build the house at 8601 while working and/or living at a location nearby?  Was he the one who sold the land and house to the Hickses in the 40’s or 50’s?  At this point, it appears that only a trip into Louisville to check out the land records, census records and other related historic documents will tell.

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9 thoughts on “Marvin & Mary Cunningham: The 8601 Mystery Continues

  1. You don’t have a clue about the history of this residence. My Great Grand father was John Howell Hicks. He did live at this house for many years and did use part of the home as his office. He owed many homes in Louisville and also had a Medical office on Market St. The address that you got as Dr. Hicks’s address from the internet is more then likely a home that he owned and rented or his office in down town Louisville. His Son My Great uncle (John Howell Hicks Jr.) is still alive and has a very good memory. He could provide you with the correct information on the home and property. I could put you in contact with several relatives that can provide you with the truth about the house at 8601 Dixie Hwy. Thank You Christopher Hicks.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Christopher,

      It is an unlikely pleasure to make your acquaintance. Let me start my reply by telling you that I approved your comment because out of the many, many people who have approached me claiming to be Hicks descendants, your comment was 1) minimally argumentative, 2) coherently written and 3) believable.

      With that said, let me quickly review what this blog is and what it is not, just in case you missed the “about” section and/or my first post and/or the caveats in all posts that follow.

      This blog IS: a methodical, structured attempt to understand some of the history behind structures that are out of the ordinary, curious, and often forgotten; a research-based probing into what history I can find on these structures using reliable sources (such as the census records, public directories, etc) and occasionally, internet records that are always linked for reference; at its worst, an educated guess as to the history of the structures and families I research based on the information at hand and the reliability of said sources.

      This blog is NOT: a bunch of baseless assumptions portrayed as fact; a bunch of quasi-supported assumptions portrayed as fact; a claim to knowledge about structures or a family histories that cannot fully be understood based on partial census and public records; an attack on anyone or anything, whether personally or otherwise.

      As to your assertion that I know nothing about the history of this residence–well, you’re only partially right there, and you’re not telling me or my readers anything we don’t already know or that I haven’t acknowledged on numerous occasions.

      While you may think that my information is simply based on internet searches and conjecture, I speak as to the locations of both the residence and office of Dr. Hicks from the available public directories from the 1920-1950’s and the 1940 census, which actually list Dr. Hicks as residing at 4136 Market St, Louisville and having his office at 524 S 28th Street. That information was based on what was available in the records at the time, and new information is becoming available just as quickly as people can get documents transcribed and uploaded (see below).

      The Hicks house is a curiosity largely because its history is so murky. There isn’t an interpretive sign out front, a guided tour, or a gift shop with books on the house and family history. While I have reported on some information I’ve been able to dig up on 8601, you’ll notice that I have made a point throughout this blog of never claiming to know more than I can see in public records, and if I do cite information outside of the census or public directories, the source is linked so that people can verify what I’m saying. As such, I cannot see a point in the census records (which are now public up to 1940) that Dr. Hicks ever lived in this home, but as you’ll see below, I am continuing to look as new records become available, and I am bringing the readers that information in an effort to get to the bottom of the Hicks House’s history.

      It doesn’t surprise me to find out that Dr. Hicks owned more homes in Louisville and in the surrounding area given the number of houses that were reportedly on the family’s landed in Valley Station. However, I recently found information on 8601 that I’m having a hard time meshing with the info in your post above. Perhaps you can give my newest post a look and let me know if you or your relatives have any insight/corrections to make to the information at hand.

      https://thewaywardwanderlust.wordpress.com/2015/03/16/8601-continues-the-hicks-house-history/

      If you’re able to garner more information regarding this home should your relatives be willing to tell you about it, I think I speak for myself and many others when I say we’d be most curious to hear it straight from the Hicks family.

      Thanks!

      WW

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  2. I would like to start by saying that a lot of information that is in the US census is incorrect. I have recently had a genealogical report done on my family history and found many mistakes that were made buy the US. census. My father and his three sisters and one brother grew up on this property. There was another house just to the north of the 8601 residence that was my father’s childhood home. So I believe I have reliable information on the property and its history. My grandfather was Stanley Hicks ( Doctor. Hicks’s oldest son ). I will be passing this blog onto my relatives so they can weight in, and maybe provide you with more information about the history of the house and the property. I was just at the residence this past summer with my son and my father and seen the condition of the house. It is sad to me and my family that this house is in it’s current condition.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’ll hear no disagreement from me on your assessment of accuracy in census records. In the process of researching several families, I have also found information in census records that was completely and blatantly incorrect. I was told by other researchers that sometimes back in the day, when census-takers came around and a family wasn’t home, they’d actually ask the neighbors for names, ages, etc., which explains why some years are so far off base. However, in research situations where one doesn’t have the benefit of descendants to verify information, census records are often the best you can get, which is why I’m glad to have you commenting here!

      Thanks so much for passing this blog on to your family! I’ll be very excited to hear what they have to say regarding the history of the house, etc. Please pass on my condolences regarding the condition of the house as well. Despite its present state, it is abundantly apparent to anyone with eyes that the home used to be a lovely place and very well-cared for. I think that’s some of the reason it has attracted the level of attention that it has.

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  3. Is there a reason my comments were removed from this column? I spent years inside that house as a child? Kevan Hicks, oldest daughter John H Hicks Jr.

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