So Well Remembered

By Mary K Franklin, Kelley Employee

Editor’s Note: A key part of what makes The Walter T. Kelley Company special is our dedication to our founder’s values and philosophy of life. In the months ahead we’ll provide more insights into the remarkable man our founder was. We’re delighted to share this early piece of history about the company, from one of its treasured employees, and why we now call Clarkson home.

When I arrived in the office this morning there was a beautiful card and a note from Mary Elizabeth Alexander Wurth, one of the (and perhaps the only living) employees of the Kelley Company when it was located in Lone Oak area of Paducah, Kentucky.

From humble beginnings in Houma, Louisiana in 1924, the Kelleys moved their manufacturing facility from Louisiana to Kentucky in 1934. The Paducah location gave them access to railroad and river barge traffic as well as US Mail and bus transportation for securing raw materials and shipping their finished products.

Being more centrally located also made shipping costs more economical for customers in the north and east. It was a brilliant move for his mail order business. (Remember, this is the era before FedEx, UPS or DSL existed.)

Mary Elizabeth Alexander came to work for the Kelleys during the summer of 1937, the year of the great flood. However, her stay was short-lived since was not yet 16. She took other jobs but later returned to the Kelley plant. Her brother, along with her soon-to-be husband Charles Roy Wurth, worked there, with about 25 other employees. She lived with the Kelleys for three years and still treasures the friendship quilt given to her by Mrs. Kelley the day she turned sixteen. Mary Wurth will be 90 in April of this year.

The Wurths married in 1940. Charles Roy and Mary ran Kelley’s 500-acre bee farm in Houma, Louisiana for many years but returned to Kentucky in 1951. By then, tens of thousands of people had moved into the area to build the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant. Mr. and Mrs. Kelley became discouraged because their plant wages were ‘frozen’ by the government (due to the Korean conflict) and many of their workers moved to the much higher-paying plant. They began looking for another place and decided on Clarkson, Kentucky in 1952, meaning 2012 is our 60th year in this same location.

Mary Elizabeth Wurth, who occasionally travels to visit family in Lexington, stops in to visit. And she stays in touch with an occasional card or letter. Today’s note included wonderful newspaper clippings and photos of the 2007 demolition of the old Paducah bee hive manufacturing plant and Kelley home. The Kelleys sold the property soon after leaving Paducah. It was used as a kids’ recreational center in the 1960s. At the time the article was written, the new developers had not yet revealed plans for the newly cleared real estate.

I telephoned the Paducah Chamber of Commerce. I was told the plot of land, once home to the Kelley Company, is now the site of a subdivision of townhouses, fronted by a small office park. Remember the song made famous by Joni Mitchell back in the 70s? “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”

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