Gateway to the Big South Fork

Howard H. Baker Sr.

Howard H. Baker Sr. was born in Somerset, Ky., an hour’s drive north of Scott County. But the Baker family moved to Huntsville when the future congressman was just a kid, and he spent most of his formative years here.

The son of attorney and newspaper publisher James F. Baker, Howard Baker moved to Huntsville in 1909, when he was seven. He later went to school at the University of Tennessee, graduated law school and was admitted to the bar in 1923, and returned to Huntsville to partner in his father’s law practice after marrying Dora Ladd.

In 1925, Howard and Dora had a son, Howard H. Baker Jr., who would go on to become one of America’s greatest statesmen. Dora died when young Howard Henry was just a child, and Howard Sr. remarried Edith Irene Bailey in 1935.

Howard Baker was publisher of a weekly newspaper in Huntsville, and also served on the Scott County Board of Education. Later, he became district attorney general. But he was already making a name for himself outside Scott County, and won election to the Tennessee House of Representatives in 1928.

Baker ran for governor of Tennessee in 1938. He won the Republican nomination, but lost in the general election to Democrat Prentice Cooper. In 1940, he won the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate, but lost to Democrat Kenneth McKellar.

The two setbacks did not deter Howard Baker. He continued to play an active role in Republican politics, serving as a delegate to the Republican National Convention four times between 1940 and 1956. In the meantime, he was Vice President of the Oneida & Western Railroad that linked Oneida and Jamestown through the heart of Tennessee’s coal country, and also served on the board of directors of First National Bank of Oneida.

In 1950, Baker was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. He subsequently won re-election in 1952, 1954, 1956, 1958, 1960 and 1962.

On Jan. 7, 1964, Baker suffered a heart attack and died at Fort Sanders Presbyterian Hospital in Knoxville. He was 61. His wife, Irene Bailey Baker, served the remainder of his term in Congress but did not seek re-election. Instead, winning election in 1964 was another native Scott Countian, John J. Duncan Sr.

Today, S.R. 63 through Huntsville is named the Congressman Howard H. Baker Highway in Baker’s honor. The Baker Reservoir in Oneida, which serves as the primary source of water for Oneida and much of northern Scott County, is also named for Baker. A replica of his law office is located at the Museum of Scott County, on the campus of Scott High School in Huntsville.

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