Martha Lillian Fannin

b. February 22, 1953   d.  March 26, 2010

Photograph of Martha Lillian Fannin as a child.
Martha Lillian Fannin - Click on photo to view larger image.

If you ask around in eastern Kentucky, nearly everyone will remember the old Gertrude Ramey home for children in Ashland, Kentucky. Now, its function has been combined with the Hack Estep home for boys, and moved into a 21st Century facility out in the country. But the portals, through which hundreds of homeless children passed, were closed in November 2003 as custody of the thirty-two room ancient red brick home, was officially turned back to Boyd County Government under the care of Judge Bill Scott. My cousin, Martha Lilian Fannin and I were there that day when it was locked up for good.

Once it served as the Boyd County Poor farm, built in 1910, where poor souls of the nineteenth century found safe haven.  Children had played on the grounds then too, because families were welcomed.  By the 1960s, Gertrude Ramey transformed the grounds again and reinterpreted its purpose. Under her direction, it vibrated with voices of children at play.

Well known is the story of Dora Artrip, who may have been eight years old when she came to stay at the Poor Farm. Dora believed that after her mother died, her father remarried and she was summarily deposited at the Poor Farm. For whatever reason, he could not return for her. Dora Artrip lived here until 1955 when at the approximate age of 98, she died.

It was much later that the Poorhouse where Dora grew up became the Gertrude Ramey Home for Children. And still years later, in November 2003 when my cousin, Martha Lillian Fannin and I enjoyed the fall season on its lawn. Martha reminisced while we watched Ann Perkins director for the Safe Harbor Woman's' shelter dismantle and load up the last of the rickety furniture that had been the Gertrude Ramey Children’s Home.

Outside on the grounds, even in late November, the day was mild; the lawn grass was still green. We sauntered by the weathered merry go round, its arm broken and tilted crazily like a wounded flying saucer.  Martha Lillian, fifty let her hand slide over its peeled paint. She had lived here at the Ramey Home three different times. First in 1959 for five months, when America Holbrook ordered her and her siblings into protective care; then again in 1961 for six months, after they were found living out of doors under a rock cliff, and finally in 1965 when they lived on Paradise Hill, they were removed from their parents’ custody for the third time for another two years.

Photograph of Martha Lillian Fannin.
Martha Lillian Fannin - click on image for a larger photo.

Martha stepped gingerly down the concrete steps leading to the bus stop as she'd done so many times, then stood for a moment on the bottom step, before she grasped the shiny steel rail to climb back up. Her red sweater outlined her fulsome bust, and her dark hair.  Martha Lillian is a pretty woman whose smile is compromised by missing teeth; and whose features favor her ancient Fannin ancestors with their dark brown eyes and flawless skin.

"We had dance classes at June Conn," she said. "There was always something to do. I liked living here." She pointed to a small white building now taken over by the Boyd County Sheriff's dispatch, "There,  we learned to roller skate." 

Ann returned to find us; embraced Martha Lillian with a broad arm hug laid all the way across her back and shoulders. Experienced in offering comfort to women, she knew Martha Lillian needed a hug. She hugged me too. Then she drove off the hill, taking with her, the last tangibles: furniture, window curtains, and items to recycle at her Center. Martha Lillian and I stood watching her pickup disappear. It was quiet except for the rustle of a few leaves over our heads, tenaciously clinging to a sycamore tree. But, I thought I heard silent sobs of anguish, the voices of visitors on Sunday, the shouts of children at play, and at suppertime, the high-pitched echo of Miss Gertrude Ramey calling,

"James, James, where are you? Would somebody run up on the hill by the old Winslow cemetery to fetch James Fannin home for supper."

"I liked it here," she said again, the sound of her quiet voice pulled me back. "I don't remember the first two times I came here, I was too little I guess, but I remember when I left for good." Martha Lillian nodded, “I was nearly fifteen years old. I missed my parents a lot."   She looked back down towards the Poor House cemetery nestled in a shallow near the old mansion before she said, "When I left, my sister, Hallie Ann was still here, and James and Mary Lou, too.  But, Hallie Ann ran off and came home after I did."

"Pretty soon after I moved back home, I met Hager Stewart. Hager moved in with us for about a year, then we moved out together, got our own place, and we lived together for fifty-three years. He died last year in 2004. Hager was twenty years older than I was.  We had seven children. They all died but one. Later, my sister, Hallie Ann married Hager's brother, Wm. Henry." She looked down, “You know, Hallie Ann’s ole man is still in prison for killing that boy at the Starlite Drive In?” 

November, 2003

Additional Photos of Martha Lillian Fannin

Chapter 2 - James Valentine Fannin