During the rehabilitation of 128 York Street by the North Limestone CDC, a handwritten ledger was discovered which was incredibly informative about a small aspect of the North End’s history. The double entry ledger was contained in a Herald Square Account Book which, according to the frontispiece, was “Made Expressly for F.W. Woolworth Co.” Handwritten above it read:
J. W. Miller
128 York St
An examination of Lexington’s 1943 City Directory identified J.W. as James W. Miller. He and his wife, Susanna, lived at 128 York Street, and James was a painter at the University of Kentucky. A couple with the same names, living in Lexington on American Avenue, appeared on the 1940 census. In 1940, the couple had two children: Goldie, 14, and Louise, 2. James Miller, 40, was listed as a painter who had attended school through the eighth grade while Susanna, a homemaker, had attended school through the sixth grade.
At some point between 1940 and 1943, the young family relocated from Lexington’s south side to the North End. The property on American Avenue was a rental property, and York Street consisted primarily of rental property as well.
The ledger began in January 1943 and continued through May 1944. Most of the accounts were paid, though several accounts remained due in a list compiled at the rear of the ledger.
Miller’s entrepreneurial spirit found him four customers in his first month. In June, that number had risen to eighteen. His second customer was Mrs. Ethel Peel. She paid $2.25 for parts and service of her radio. Her husband, Mr. Homer Peel, returned the following month to have a radio serviced at the cost of $1.25.
According to the city directory of 1943, Mr. and Mrs. Peel resided on Forest Park Road which is just south of Waller Avenue on the city’s south end – near Miller’s former residence on American Avenue. Relationships developed in multiple areas of town, as well as his University connections established as a painter at UK, helped to support his enterprise. And, Mr. Miller must have done good work: in addition to being repeat customers, Homer Peel sent family members to Mr. Miller for radio repair work.
The ledger itself is a unique snapshot into 1943 Lexington, revealing connections between parts of town and individuals that would otherwise be unknown. Miller identified many customers by name, though often the identifier was less specific like “Lady on Maple Ave.,” “Paper Boy,” or “Man in Country.” Other times, he might reference an address, a street name, or an occupation.
James Miller conducted this side business of repairing radios in an era when radios were a primary source of household entertainment. The radio was introduced to Lexington in the 1920s and, by the mid-1940s, the appliance could be found in most households. It isn’t known how Miller learned this craft, but it is clear that this occupant of 128 York Street took initiative and had an entrepreneurial spirit. His connections to various parts of the community benefitted him financially, though the ledger also reveals that he repaired the radios of his neighbors, irrespective of their racial identity, as well.
Unlike Miller, most lived in the North End because of the industrial employment opportunities that existed up until the 1950s. These large factories - including hemp, tobacco, and malt brewing - provided walkable and reliable employment opportunities for neighborhood residents.