A Contract for Sobriety?
“He lived to a good old age, three score and ten. He was an honest man and a good citizen. May the sod rest lightly upon him.” So was the blessing of an old friend on hearing of the death of James William “Gee” Pool in 1907.
A member of one of the oldest families of Metcalfe (formerly Barren) County, Kentucky, Gee wore several hats during his life, one of them being, as we have seen, that of a hotel-keeper in Horse Cave. In addition to having a wide circle of lady friends (one of whom referred to her rivals as his “sugar plums”), in his youth Gee appears to have enjoyed raising a glass or two with his cousin and contemporary, John I. Pool.
Feigning regret at such indulgence (and possibly under the influence at the time), the two entered into an agreement. “It is highly necessary that we should curtail the use of ardent spirits,” read their contract. Therefore, under penalty of one gallon of “good rye whisky,” they covenanted “not to get drunk but three times in the next twelve months,” said times being July 4, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day.
But there was a mile-wide loophole in the contract. Given the obvious benefit of spirits to “our health, morals & good name,” the cousins also agreed to “get gentlemanly tight on all Election days, horse races, shows, Temperance celebrations and on all irreligious and religious occasions”. . . and, for good measure, on January 8, February 19 and March 4, dates having a significance known only to these two drinking buddies.
Gee and John Pool’s “contract” is part of the Howard and Anne Doll Collection in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives section of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections. Click here for a finding aid. For more of our collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.
Albert Shirley’s hotels
After the Civil War, the Pool and Shirley families of Metcalfe County, Kentucky added hotel-keeping to their many commercial ventures. Albert H. Shirley (1842-1895) operated the Garnett House in Richmond, Kentucky, and later the Hotel Shirley in Glasgow. In 1876, when his cousin James W. Pool (known as “Gee”) and his father William C. Pool leased a hotel property in Hart County, Albert drew on his own experience to offer advice to this new family enterprise.
As the risk of being “officious,” Albert wrote Gee, he had thought “a great deal” about the business and believed it would be a success if managed properly. His greatest concern, however, was that his cousin would be too soft-hearted: “Your entire patronage almost will be acquaintances and friends, . . . & I have feared you would pass too many without charging them any bill.” Only friends paying a “special visit” should expect a complimentary stay; the rest, Albert believed, should not look for such indulgences and ought to be charged the same as any other business.
Albert had another suggestion: When a drummer (that is, a traveling salesman) stopped in, he should get “the very best room.” Able to spread the word quickly about a bad experience, these customers were the equivalent of a hotels.com review. “I have often heard your predecessor, Mr. Biggerstaff,” wrote Albert of the hotel’s previous proprietor, “abused for his dirty rooms and especially mean beds.” Albert also urged his cousin to drive a hard bargain with food suppliers, for it was at the dining table that he could make a good profit from his hungry guests.
Finally, in what sounded like the pilot for a 19th-century reality show, Albert told Gee of his wish to make an on-site visit and “be with you for about half a day, I could then say a good many things to you that would be of service to you.”
Albert Shirley’s letter is part of the Howard and Anne Doll Collection in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives unit of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections. Click here to download a finding aid. For more of our family collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.