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Edmund Lyne Starling, historian of Henderson County, Kentucky, was born Saturday morning, May 9, 1840, in Henderson, in a two-story frame building situated near the south-east corner of Elm and Second streets. He was the son of Lyne Starling and Mariam Dillon Starling. His mother, a woman of beauty and culture, died when he was nine months old, leaving her son to his grandmother, Anne Todd Starling, of whom he often said, “No sweeter or nobler woman ever lived.” His father, Lyne Starling, died when he was eleven years old.

The formative period of this orphaned boy’s life was spent on a farm on the Knoblick Road two and one-half miles from the town of Henderson. His environment was one of ease and culture, and it is easy to discern how he became the idol of doting grandparents. He was sent to the best schools the town afforded, but it was to his grandmother, Anne Todd Starling, that he owed more than to any other for his knowledge and love of books. She was the daughter of Thomas Todd, a Justice of the United States Supreme Court. She inherited rare mental qualities, and it was her delight to inculcate in her grandson a love of good literature.

When he was fourteen years old, his grandfather bought from Dr. W. B. Read the property situated on the corner of Green and Clay streets, gave up farming and moved to Henderson to live. The portals of the Starling home were always open to friends, strangers, and the distressed. It was there he grew into manhood, and counted among his friends men his seniors in years and experience.

When fifteen years of age, he was placed in the Circuit and County Clerk’s office under William D. Allison, who held the two offices for more than thirty years. A term of service with Mr. Allison was regarded by Edmund Lyne Starling’s grandfather as of great educational value to a young man. He started in as a record deputy clerk and resigned his position five years later while in full charge of the two offices.
In 1860, prior to the outbreak of the Civil War, Mr. Allison died, and the young Starling, his only deputy at the time, held the two offices until the appointment of a successor, for being a minor he could not legally succeed Mr.Allison. His health, too, had become impaired from close confinement, and on the advice of a physician he resigned, only to be recalled to assist the new clerk, Tignal J. Hopkins, in adjusting himself to the affairs of the office.
During the same year Fort Sumter was fired on — 1861 April 15 — and the tocsin of war was sounded. Governor McGoffin of Kentucky called for volunteers. Among the first to offer his services was Colonel John H. McHenry of Owensboro. Being commissioned by the State of Kentucky to raise a regiment for service, he established a camp at Hartford, Ohio County, Kentucky, and called for recruits.

At that time Edmund L. Starling was in command of a Henderson company of one hundred men, fully equipped with arms by the State. The company was the result of a largely attended mass meeting held at the Henderson Court House. The best citizens were enrolled. When nominations for the captaincy were in order, young Starling, then only twenty-one years of age, was elected by a big majority. He immediately assumed command and began preparing his men for any call that might be made upon them. For several weeks after the outbreak of hostilities he caused the town to be guarded at night and was the means of keeping order and quiet during that perilous time.

During the summer and early fall of 1861, Captain Starling received orders to take his company to Spottsville on Green River and there encamp and guard the lock and dam. It was suspected that an attempt would be made to destroy this important piece of property, and protection was necessary to keep the river open for transportation of troops and war materials.
Here Captain Starling was in command until relieved by a regiment of U. S. Volunteers.
He next received orders from Frankfort headquarters to proceed to Henderson and demand of Captain E. G. Hall, who was in command of what was known as a State Guard Company, the surrender of all arms. These consisted of rifles, swords, bayonets, sixty sets of accoutrements, a brass cannon, and twelve artillery sabres and belts. Lieutenant Samuel W. Rankin, the only commissioned officer in Henderson at the time; turned over the keys of the Armory. In a short time the guns were packed and taken aboard a steamboat, and in a few hours safely stored in Evansville.
A second order from military headquarters authorized Captain Starling to take charge of a complete outfit of cavalry arms in the possession of a company of which John S. Norris was Captain. The arms were secured and shipped to Evansville. Soon after this the various State military organizations disbanded for the purpose of letting the men enlist in either the Confederate or the Union armies.
Colonel John H. McHenry of the Seventeenth Kentucky Infantry tendered Captain Starling the position of Adjutant of his regiment, which he accepted. A month later the regiment was mustered into the United States service and went into Camp at Calhoun, on Green River, as full-fledged soldiers.

After camping for several weeks without anything of real interest to give them an idea of a soldier’s life, the call for action came in January, 1862. The regiment was ordered to embark on one of a fleet of steamers and directed to go to Fort Henry on the Tennessee River. The fleet arrived too late to take part in the battle. It was next ordered to Paducah and proceed with all possible dispatch up the Cumberland River to Fort Donelson.

On Friday morning, February 13, Lieutenant Starling took part in the bloody Battle of Fort Donelson. After the surrender of the Fort, on Saturday night, the Seventeenth Kentucky Regiment, to which be belonged, marched into the town of Dover, Tennessee, and received the surrender of several Confederate Regiments. On April 6 and 7 he was in the Battle of Shiloh or Pittsburg Landing.

The hardship of camp life and exposure brought on camp dysentery, and his health was so impaired that it necessitated his resignation from the army. His Colonel complimented him in his report to the Department for bravery and attention to duty during every engagement, and in a personal letter to his family said, “He won not only the confidence and esteem of the officers associated with him, but he endeared himself to every private soldier in his Regiment.” He resigned as First Lieutenant and Adjutant of the Seventeenth Kentucky Volunteers.
His honorable discharge from the Army was signed by Major-General Halleck and General U. S. Grant. He returned home and was welcomed as one of Henderson’s favorite sons. Many months passed before he regained his health.
On October 6, 1863, he married Mary Belle Stewart of New Orleans and Louisville. The wedding was solemnized in St.
Paul’s Protestant Episcopal Church, Henderson, the Rev. Daniel H. Deacon officiating. Mrs. Starling was born March 31, 1844, and died January 17, 1920. They were the parents of eight children: Edmund Lyne Starling, Jr. (born July 31, 1864); Stewart Starling (born March 7, 1866); Anna Marie Starling (born August 11, 1867), wife of Samuel Beresford Childs; Lyne Starling (died in infaney); Mary Stewart Starling (born December 3, 1870), wife of Sterling Worth Price; Thomas Stewart Starling (born February 4, 1872); Miriam Starling (born October 25, 1873); and Susanna Lyne Starling (born July 9, 1879), wife of Chapman T. Blackwell.
Edmund L. Starling possessed a bass voice of unusual beauty and timbre, and for years, under the direction of Professor Carper F. Artes, was the leading bass singer in the choir of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, where his solos delighted large congregations. He was a devout member of St. Paul’s and long served this church in the capacity of vestryman and warden.
In 1864 he organized the firm of Starling, Norris & Co., then the largest grocery in Henderson. They occupied what is now known as the P. A. Blackwell Building, on Main Street.
When Thomas L. Norris went to California to live, he was succeeded in the firm by N. Shelby Nunn. Later Mr. Starling erected the three story building now occupied by The Henderson Publishing Company, where he continued in mercantile pursuits with David Burbank, Jr.
In 1868 he was elected Mayor of Henderson, holding the office for six years. His administration was a good one. During the first year of his incumbency in office he impressed upon his council the paramount importance of a good Public School System. In 1869 an act was passed incorporating the Henderson Public School. Bonds to the amount of $50,000 were issued and the first Board of Trustees was elected with Mr. Starling as President Ex-officio. During the same year the High School was incorporated with him as the first President of its School Board.
In 1870 the building now known as the Center Street School was completed and the first public school opened to the youth of Henderson. Professor Maurice Kirby, later of the Louisville Male High School, became its first Superintendent, and Miss Lydia Hampton, afterwards of Hampton College, Louisville, became the first Principal of the High School.
As Mayor during Henderson’s formative period, Mr. Starling was a fearless executive, and he planned wisely. Pavements, public ways, the terminus of the Evansville, Henderson and Nashville Railroad were secured by him, and so were the gas works and the city buildings; even the town clock was a result of his efforts. During the latter part of his administration plans were formulated for the construction of the Water Works System. After six years as chief executive of Henderson he retired, leaving a record of accomplishments that will always stand as a monument to his memory.
In 1875 he entered the field of journalism. First he was associated with the Henderson Reporter, then the Henderson Journal, and ultimately closed his newspaper career as Managing Editor of the Henderson Gleaner. Some forty years of his life were devoted to newspaper and journalistic work. He used his pen and the press as a means of helping make the world better within the corner of his habitat. He upheld the cause of Christianity, democracy, and education at all times, and continually advocated public improvements, many of which he had the satisfaction of seeing materialized. His success was not counted in dollars, but was that of a duty well performed.
He believed in Henderson and proclaimed it unceasingly.
It was while Editor of the Henderson Reporter that he decided to write the history of the county, a subject he knew and loved so well. He was qualified for the task, for his mind was a storehouse of knowledge – knowledge of a character that would lend value to a book of historical import. Only those nearest to him could appreciate his effort and the labor involved in the compilation of his History of Henderson County, for the work entailed long and patient research. It also required courage to go forward in the face of indifference on the part of many who not until later recognized and valued his book as their own history. In the preface he says: “Through the pity of some, the derision of many, the rebukes of others, and with the good wishes of a few, I have pursued my course in quiet to the goal of my ambition. By perseverance I have revived from the wreck of almost destroyed memories matter that would soon have been lost.”
In the completion of this history a great purpose was fulfilled and the history of Henderson County prior to 1887 was saved for all time. The title page of his book reads: “History of Henderson County, Kentucky, by Edmund L. Starling.
Comprising history of County and City, precinets, education, churches, secret societies, leading enterprises, sketches and recollections, and biographies of the living and dead. Illustrated. Henderson, Kentucky, 1887.” The volume contains 840 pages; the first two-thirds is a carefully prepared history of the county; the last third is devoted to biographical sketches. The work stands as a monument to Mr. Starling and a credit to the county.
The book has been out of print for more than twenty years and copies are eagerly sought by Kentucky historians.
In the spring of 1893 Mr. Starling suffered an accident to his knee that left him a cripple the remainder of his life. After a year’s illness he resumed his journalistic work which he pursued with interest and continued until a few months before his death. He died Sunday, May 15th, 1910, aged seventy years.
He was a gentleman of the old school. In politics he was a Democrat, in which cause he vigorously used his pen. It was said of him, “he was indeed of and in truth part of the warp and woof of his beloved city and her people.”
I close this humble tribute by quoting from an editorial that appeared in the Louisville Times shortly after his death:
“The death of Edmund Lyne Starling at his home in the City of Henderson with which he had been so long and so favorably identified, removes a picturesque character from among the seniors of the newspaper craft in this state. A man of varied and accurate information, a local historian of note, singularly retentive of memory, unfailingly ready with his pen, Colonel Starling has been besides, a public servant of distinguished record. In spite of his seventy years and physical handicaps, Colonel Starling retained a keen and youthful interest in the work of the world and the fortunes of his home city; his mind was as alert, his pen as forceful, his satire as well directed as when first he joined the ranks, and while regretting the loss of a good citizen we must not fail to mark the passing of an accomplished journalist.



Filson Historical Society