John was born in Burkesville (KY) where his father, Nick Nelson, was ferry man at a place called Neeley’s Ferry on the Cumberland River. Nick died in November 1878. Amanda Firquin Nelson – being 5 months pregnant – moved with her 8 children to Glasgow where they lived in a tenant house on the Judge Bowles’ property at Dugantown. Amanda died 3 years later in 1882. John was an orphan at age 15, but Judge John Bowles and wife Ellen took John and 4 younger daughters “under wing” and educated them.
In 1894, John got a job painting and papering the Old Mammoth Cave Hotel. The same year led John to guiding tours through the Cave. In 1899, he married Orpha Jane Rigdon, and they lived in a cottage on Mammoth Cave Estate, and later moved to Cheaumont. He remained an official guide until 1905, having made some 4,500 trips through the Cave. He then guided Colossal Cave for 2 years and was able to explore a good many caves in the region. By 1907, they moved to Glasgow, where they bought a house on Columbia Avenue, behind which was teh Burkesville stagecoach barn.
He became Glasgow fire chief in 107 – a job he had until he retired in 1942 at the age of 75. He officially became “Pa” Nelson in 1909 when son, John Uri, was born and then in 1911 when twins Dink and Lorien, were born. “Pa’s” wife Orpha died in 1918, the boys were 9 and 7. and he was 51 years old and must have been a busy man.
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