5/24/1990: Clinton native sought to reduce national debt

Will Clayton Part 1 24May1990 2by Virginia Jewell
(First of two parts)
(Appeared in The Hickman County Gazette, Clinton (Hickman County, Ky.) on May 24, 1990)

Although the national debt is now in the trillions the situation would have been worse had it not been for a Clinton woman who willed approximately twenty-five million dollars “to my beloved country, the United States of American, to be used in retirement of the national debt.” The woman with the generous heart and love of country was Susan Vaughn Clayton who grew up at “Bellwood,” her home on the Old Spring Hill road north of Clinton. She died in 1960 at age 78.

Mrs. Clayton was married to Will L. Clayton, a founder of Anderson, Clayton & Co., the world’s biggest cotton firm. Will Clayton, a philanthropist in his own right was known as one of the world’s foremost cotton brokers and in 1944 became Assistant Secretary of State for Economic Affairs. He developed the concept of the Marshall Plan for European recover after World War II, aided in administering the program and has been recognized as guide and mentor for General George C. Marshall for whom the plan was named.

The U.S. Treasury was not the only recipient of the Clayton’s liberality as their contributions along with Miss Ila Caldwell’s initial gift of $20,000 paved the way for construction of the Clinton-Hickman Hospital.

The hospital was closed in 1984 because of the nation’s health climate brought on largely by changing Medicare regulations, but investments from the Claytons’ stock and cash continue to provide capital for a wing of the hospital used as a nursing home facility. The street by the facility is named Clayton Drive.

The Claytons also gave the University of Kentucky funds to purchase Cave Hill in Lexington with its mansion to be used as a residence for Kentucky’s Medical Center, a home now owned by former Governor and Mrs. John Young Brown.

Blond, blue-eyed Susan Vaughan with a complexion like unto an apple blossom, met Will Clayton quite by accident. The sixteen-year-old had left her Clinton home to go to Jackson, Tenn., to nurse her sister, Hattie, who had become ill with typhoid fever while visiting a friend. Will, who was working in New York happened to be at his home in Jackson at the time and went to inquire about Hattie’s health when Susan answered the door. He was immediately attracted to the beautiful girl who was scarcely five feet tall and had a quick wit an spirit.

To help support his family, Will had left school at age 13 but by studying at night he completed the seventh grade and soon qualified as an expert court stenographer in Jackson; one of his early customers, William Jennings Bryan, made him retype a speech he had copied because the margins were too narrow.

Against his mother’s wishes, the lad had gone to St. Louis at age 15 to become secretary for a cotton agent. After a year there “the boy wonder” moved to New York with the firm but returned to Jackson briefly and set up a business of his own and also continued court reporting.

After Sue went home, Will and a buddy hatched a scheme to ride their Century bicycle a hundred miles a day, not only to qualify for membership in the National Century Club but to get in training for a trip to Clinton to visit the Vaughan sisters who had invited them.

“Nearing Clinton,” his daughter, Ellen Clayton Garwood, wrote, “the boys coasted down a long hill, and there at the bottom where Sue and Hattie in their Stanhope, ‘trap’ with the top down. In her biography of Will Clayton, Mrs. Garwood described the setting as follows: “The girls – dressed in their daintiest white, with ruffles, and sashes – were protected from the sun by parasols: Hattie’s of a robin’s egg blue, and Sue’s of a brilliant cherry color.”

“It was then, Will said, that he saw his ‘finish’. The drive up ‘Lovers’ Lane,’ a wide path arched over by a green canopy of branches of hickory and walnut trees, led then to the Vaughans’ … farmhouse, called ‘Bellwood’. Here Sue’s mother, a widow whose husband had died years before, lived with her several unmarried sons and two daughters. And her Will spent some of the happiest days of his life.”

Sue Vaughan’s father, Columbus Montgomery Vaughan, a Kentucky senator, was making plans to build the new home on a rise overlooking his beloved woods and farmland before his death in 1884. His wife, Nancy Faulks Vaughan, carried out those plans and the house is occupied today by Susan Clayton’s niece, Carolyn Vaughan Bone, and her husband, Bill. Carolyn, the daughter of Willis and Roberts Vaughan, explained that for many decades the house was Victorian in appearance, twice as large as it is now and embellished with gingerbread trim.

When she was but a small child in the 1940s, a storm ripped off the front half of the house. “Rather than replace it,” she said, “the decision was made to add a large front porch with Southern style columns.

She also said that during the years previous to her father’s death in 1946 that the woods lot near the house, known as Vaughan’s Grove, hosted many picnics and dances. “The ditches alongside the road were dug out to barbeque various meats. Sawdust was brought in and spread for dancing and often a plane was hired to take the more ‘daring’ for rides,” she said.

“Gone are many of the outbuildings,” she continued, “including the school of Enterprize (which was the neighborhood school), the tenant houses and barns.

(To be continued.)

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