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What's in a (nick)name?


John C. Breckinridge


BY MOLLY HAINES


Today, Sweet Owen is primarily known as an unincorporated community in Owen County that plays host to the Sweet Owen Country Store, an old-timey business with a full restaurant of down-home meals and a potbelly stove that has served as a gathering spot for many local farmers. But in the 19th century, Owen County as a whole was given the nickname "Sweet Owen" in a fiery political battle that ended with John C. Breckinridge winning a second term as congressman in Kentucky's Eighth Congressional District.

The contention began in 1851, when Breckinridge, a Democrat, challenged the Whig incumbent Leslie Combs to the seat. His chances of defeating Combs were considered slim to none, and toward the end of the election, he was advised to concede in defeat. Breckinridge carried only three of the seven counties but held a two-to-one margin in Owen County — winning the election by 537 votes.

In 1853, Breckinridge faced former Kentucky Gov. Robert P. Letcher — who had not lost in 14 elections — to retain the seat. The total votes cast in Owen County in 1851 had been 1,677, but in 1853, the number swelled to 2,071, with 1,473 of the ballots for Breckinridge, once again securing a win for the underdog.

“‘Sweet Owen’ — God bless and forever protect her,” declared a close Breckinridge adviser. “She deserves to be a state instead of a county.”

Breckinridge, so indebted to his loyal Owen County following — and supposedly at the request of its citizens — gave his infant son, John Witherspoon, the nickname “Owen,” which he would carry throughout life.

Although decades have passed since residents of Owen County clung to this nickname, the Owen County Tourism Commission opted to title the magazine you now hold in your hands Sweet Owen.

It's both a throwback to a simpler time in our community's history and because, we too, believe she deserves to be a state instead of a county.

God bless and forever protect her.

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