West Point historian, author has roots in subject

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By Robert Villanueva



City of birth: West Point

City of residence: West Point

Family: Late wife, Judith; and sons, James, Richard and John.

Favorite music: Bluegrass, traditional country

Favorite TV: St. Louis Cardinals baseball and news and weather programming

Favorite book: Nonfiction on towns along the Ohio River

Hobbies: Gardening and preserving historic photographs


Author Richard A. Briggs is not just a keeper of West Point history, he is part of it.

Witness to the great flood of 1937, a World War II draftee while in high school, co-publisher of a newspaper and former postmaster of the river town, Briggs has collected as many memories as he has memorabilia.

“I’ve been interested in history all my life,” he said.

In a back room in his Elm Street home, just down the road from the Elm Street house in which he was born, the 87-year-old is surrounded by books, photos and maps from West Point. A microfiche machine sits near notebooks Briggs has filled with information gleaned from microfilm of The Elizabethtown News from the 1890s until World War I.

Even outside, his property holds history.

“My great-great-great-grandfather is buried in my back yard,” Briggs said.

The author or co-author of about 10 books, most of which are on West Point history, said about eight graves are part of the family cemetery. It was there long before the current home was built in the 1950s.

So rooted is he in the town’s history, Briggs can trace his ancestry to James Young, who is credited with founding West Point. The Elm Street house in which he was born and raised is known as Young’s Inn.

When a record flood occurred in West Point in 1937, Briggs was 12 years old. He recalls being evacuated to Fort Knox for 30 days.

During his junior year in high school when he was 18, he was drafted into the Army to serve in World War II. Some say drafting out of high school did not happen, Briggs said, but it did for a short time and it did to him shortly after he turned 18 on Jan. 18, 1944.

“By March 11, I was in the Army,” Briggs said.

Briggs served from ’44 to ’46.

About 10 years ago, Briggs received a high school diploma thanks to the Kentucky legislature which passed a resolution to award diplomas to those who didn’t graduate because of military service.

After his service he worked as assistant editor to the Hardin County Enterprise from 1947 to 1950 before taking a job with a Shepherdsville newspaper for a brief stint. In 1951, he became postmaster of West Point until he retired at the end of 1984.

Recalling his tenure as postmaster, Briggs noted he first took on that role at a time when some mail was delivered by boat across the Ohio River.

“By the time I retired, we had a man on the moon,” he said.

Being postmaster did not abate his interest in history. In 1955, Briggs published his first book, titled “The Early History of West Point.”

Since then he’s published other books, including books about West Point’s Civil War site, Fort Duffield, and his latest, “West Point, Kentucky: Rivers, Roads, Rails and Resolve,” which was released last fall. He has collaborated with other area historians on books, too.

For some of his books, he has given over the rights to the Fort Duffield Heritage Committee and Ancestral Trails Historical Society.

Also in the 1950s and ’60s, Briggs and his wife published a community newspaper called The West Point New Era.

“The ’64 flood put us out of business,” he said. His wife has since passed away.

Briggs also was active in the community, his son, John, said.

In the ’60s and early ’70s, Briggs coached Little League baseball and was commissioner of the Hardin County Little League Baseball program. John said that role was important.

“The positive impact that he’s had on all of those boys is just tremendous,” John said.

Though he does not plan to write any more books, Briggs has left quite a legacy, as far as his son is concerned.

“He has preserved the history of this area which no one else would have done,” John said.

Being part of history, it seems, has been as agreeable to Briggs as writing about it.

“I’ve enjoyed living here,” he said. “It’s been a pleasure.”

Robert Villanueva can be reached at (270) 505-1743 or rvillanueva@thenews