By Patricia Beech –
The village of Blue Creek rests amid the rolling hills of Jefferson Township in southeastern Adams County. A picturesque and isolated valley town surrounded by rich farm lands and towering hills, Blue Creek inspires both loyalty and a little humor from those who call it home.
“The older people around here say that Blue Creek isn’t at the end of the earth – but if you look hard enough you can see it from here,” says LeAnne Liston, who moved to the village 19 years ago.
“This is just a beautiful place to live, the people here are salt of the earth – there’s no place that could ever feel more like home to me.”
Jefferson Township Trustee Jack Lewis has lived in Blue Creek since 1963. “The people who live here are the kind of people you can depend on in hard times,” he says, and his fellow trustee, Lawrence Shivener agrees, “You can depend on people around here – they’re all like family.”
Like many small towns across rural America, Blue Creek has been transformed by economic circumstances that forced the closing of the community’s school. For many decades Jefferson Elementary and Jefferson High School were the hub of community activity and the fuel of community spirit.
“There’s been a lot of change since the school closed – we had 500 students, but now you hardly see any kids running around here anymore,” says Lewis. “When I was young there were kids everywhere in Blue Creek, but there aren’t many now, they’ve all moved on.”
The same forces that precipitated the loss of the village’s school also decimated the community’s businesses.
“When I was a kid there were stores in our town,” says Larry Evans, whose family has lived in the Blue Creek community for nearly two centuries. “Right here in the mouth of this holler there was an old general store where we used to loaf, and play horse shoes, and baseball, and softball, but now, it’s nothing like it used to be.”
Now the patriarch of his family, Evans bemoans the changes that have been forced upon his community.
“They tore down everything,” he says. “The old houses and Jefferson High School, they tore them all down. We had families who lived here generation after generation, but the older people have all died off and the younger people have moved on – it’s just not the same now.”
At the reception hall next to Moores Chapel, his family gathers to celebrate a birthday.
His daughter Shona Ross points to the pristine white chapel towering above the reception hall, it’s stained glass windows reflecting the afternoon sunlight.
“Our ancestor, John Evans, my dad’s grandfather, was pastor here,” she says, “It’s the oldest Methodist Church in Ohio.”
Sitting atop a steep hill, the church is surrounded by tombstones with faded inscriptions dating back to the Revolutionary War. Inside sunlight filters through the sanctuary’s stained glass windows, illuminating the double row of empty pews leading to the narrow alcove that houses the chapel’s dais. “There’s a lot of history in this church,” says Shona, “It’s where our family’s roots are.”
While her memories do not reach as far back as her fathers, she shares his devotion to their home town.
“It’s a tight knit community where everyone is willing to help each other and be a good neighbor and a good friend,” she says.
Her husband Mark Ross is also a Blue Creek native, and he shares her appreciation of the town’s long history.
“My great-great grandfather came here from Ireland, and my ancestor, Hugh Ross, fought in the Civil War – they’re all buried here at the chapel,” he says. “This church truly is an important part of the Blue Creek Community.”
Jeff Newman grew up in Blue Creek and attended Jefferson Elementary. Like Ross, he appreciates the history of his home town. “Most people here go way back,” he says. “For generations the same families, friends, and neighbors have shared a strong sense of community.”
Standing outside the old Jefferson High School gymnasium – now the town’s Community Center – Newman reflects on the loss of the village school. “I went to Jefferson Elementary, my Dad graduated from Jefferson High School and it was difficult to watch the old schools being torn down, but maybe it had to be done,” he says. “We still have the old school bell here standing in front of the gym as a reminder, and instead of an empty lot, we have a community building that has become a gathering place.”
Liston and Newman, along with several other Blue Creek residents and “out-of-towners” from across Adams County gathered Saturday evening, Aug. 27 at the village Community Center for the ninth annual Cowboy Copas Memorial Concert, sponsored by the Adams County Historical Society.
Known as “the country gentleman of song”, Copas was a honky tonk singer and member of Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry. He was born Lloyd Estel Copas in Blue Creek in 1913, and by age 14 he had mastered the guitar and developed his own unique style of playing with a thumb pick. A natural performer with a good sense of humor and an easygoing personality, Copas began performing on stage with another favored son of Blue Creek, Fred Evans, and his Ramblin’ Hen Cacklers String Band.
“Our Uncle Fred and Cowboy would play music on the street corners in Blue Creek,” recalls Evans. “Cowboy played the guitar, but Uncle Fred, he could play anything.”
According to some accounts, Copas got his nickname as he walked onto a stage with his guitar while performing with Lester ‘Natchee the Indian’ Storer, a young fiddler from Peebles. “Let’s see what you can do, cowboy,” someone shouted from the audience, and the name stuck. Copas died in a 1963 plane crash that also killed country stars Patsy Cline and Hawkshaw Hawkins as well as his son-in-law, Randy Hughes, who was piloting the plane.
His daughter, Kathy Copas Hughes, was a surprise guest at Saturday’s memorial concert. It was not her first visit to her father’s home town.
“When I was a child I always loved coming to Blue Creek and spending time with my cousins and aunts,” she said. “We didn’t get to come very often, but I always looked forward to it.”
Copas, who spent much of her childhood playing back stage in the Grand Ole Opry’s Ryman Theater, was center stage at Saturday’s concert, entertaining the crowd with stories and songs.
For many, she served as reminder of days gone by, however, at age 82, Copas says she isn’t looking back.
“Life is ironic – the things I never thought would happen, happened, and the things I thought I couldn’t live without, I do – and believe me, I’ve got a lot of living left to do.”
Copas was clearly moved by the community’s effort to keep her father’s legacy alive.
The concert is sponsored by the Adams County Historical Society (ACHS).
“We thought Cowboy Copas should get some recognition,” said ACHS member, Mary Fulton. ” A plaque was put at the courthouse recognizing his achievements, then John Simon wrote the book about him, so we thought we’d try to keep it going. For a few years we held the concert at the Red Barn, then we moved down here because he is from here, and it’s worked out wonderfully. Everybody’s been so cooperative and appreciative.”
Appreciation seems to be the linchpin that holds the Blue Creek community together – the people’s appreciation of their common history and of the ties that bind families, neighbors, and friends together into a single community.
“We have our problems, every town does, but I don’t worry about my kids playing in the front yard, I feel safe here, and when I go anywhere else in the world, I just want to come home,” says Liston. “Blue Creek’s not like any place else in the world.”