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Kentucky's Frontier Highway

Kentucky's Frontier Highway: Historical Landscapes along the Maysville Road

Karl Raitz
Nancy O’Malley
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 424
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  • Book Info
    Kentucky's Frontier Highway
    Book Description:

    Eighteenth-century Kentucky beckoned to hunters, surveyors, and settlers from the mid-Atlantic coast colonies as a source of game, land, and new trade opportunities. Unfortunately, the Appalachian Mountains formed a daunting barrier that left only two primary roads to this fertile Eden. The steep grades and dense forests of the Cumberland Gap rendered the Wilderness Road impassable to wagons, and the northern route extending from southeastern Pennsylvania became the first main thoroughfare to the rugged West, winding along the Ohio River and linking Maysville to Lexington in the heart of the Bluegrass.

    Kentucky's Frontier Highwayreveals the astounding history of the Maysville Road, a route that served as a theater of local settlement, an engine of economic development, a symbol of the national political process, and an essential part of the Underground Railroad. Authors Karl Raitz and Nancy O'Malley chart its transformation from an ancient footpath used by Native Americans and early settlers to a central highway, examining the effect that its development had on the evolution of transportation technology as well as the usage and abandonment of other thoroughfares, and illustrating how this historic road shaped the wider American landscape.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-3666-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Maps and Illustrations
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Part I. Introduction

    • 1 Reading America’s Roads
      (pp. 3-16)

      The twenty-first-century road, whether in Kentucky or elsewhere in America, is sufficiently ubiquitous that its commonness may lull drivers into assuming its presence and passable condition. We tend to speed along, ignoring the road’s distinctive qualities, until a construction detour, accumulating snow, an outsize sign touting an outlet mall, or a highway patrol car’s flashing red and blue lights remind us that the road is a place of intersection, in both a literal and metaphorical sense, for a host of different actors, interests, and priorities all interacting through time. The product is a linear place that is at once part...

    • 2 Traveling the Road
      (pp. 17-32)

      Purposeful travelers have a common goal: to depart a starting point and reach safely a destination. But what of the experience that links a journey’s beginning and end? Travel is a multidimensional process that blends predictable and unpredictable events. The transport mode (stagecoach or automobile), trip length, and date or season of travel are largely predictable. Weather, traveling companions (chosen or voluntary), and road quality are marginally predictable. And many of the trip’s events and perhaps much of its scenery are wholly unanticipated, and therein, for some travelers at least, resides the pleasure of the journey, the joy of experiencing...

  5. Part II. Overland Roads and the Epic of Kentucky’s Settlement

    • 3 Coming to Kentucky
      (pp. 35-42)

      For more than three decades before Kentucky separated from Virginia in 1792 to become a state, explorers, hunters, surveyors, and settlers moved west across the Appalachian Plateau and associated mountain ranges in search of open land and social betterment. Their laudatory observations about the exceptional fertility of Kentucky’s lands west of the mountains passed back to the residents of Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and the other Atlantic coast settlements, promulgating the region’s reputation as the “Eden of the West.” Two routes permitted access, albeit challenging, to the Kentucky country that lay west of the great Appalachian topographic barrier: a mountainous southern...

    • 4 Regional Context
      (pp. 43-46)

      Kentucky’s territory is neatly demarcated into sharply contrasting regions by emphatic changes in bedrock, surface topography, and concomitant variation in soils and natural vegetation. Though scientists would eventually explain the rationale for these regional divisions, and their implications for resources—salt for food preservation, iron for tools and utensils, and fertile soils for farming—immigrant folk knowledge of one section’s advantages over another for economic development was couched in practical experience gained in other climes.

      The state’s entire topographic surface is underlain by sedimentary rocks, largely sandstones, limestones, and shales, and there are extensive coal measures in the eastern and...

    • 5 Road Evolution
      (pp. 47-50)

      America’s modern roads conform to many technical and operational standards—bed and surface material, grade, sight lines, curve radii, banking or super elevation, signage, driving rules and regulations, and surveillance. Adherence to such standards yields roads that permit safe and predictable travel. Perhaps standards and predictability also tempt an amnesiac public into an ambivalent attitude toward roads. It is easy for today’s traveler to accept the unproblematic view that roads simply follow logical tracks that represent the shortest distance between important places. That is, we tend to think of roads as without origins, ahistorical and ageographical; they simply exist as...

    • 6 Indian Paths and Buffalo Traces
      (pp. 51-54)

      The establishment of early paths and “roads” across central Kentucky cannot be attributed solely to buffalo, elk, or deer, though this is a common assumption that oversimplifies the process of road creation.¹ The paths that became the Limestone Trace, as well as other regional trails, were probably used by members of prehistoric societies. Archaeologists have unearthed abundant evidence that records the presence of humans in Kentucky for at least 12,000 years before settlers of European and African origins entered the trans-Appalachian west. Prehistoric hunters and gatherers and, later, horticulturists moved across the landscape, following game animals and exploiting seasonal wild...

    • 7 Pioneer Road
      (pp. 55-60)

      A Virginia planter, David Meade, moved his family to Kentucky in 1796, leaving behind his plantation in Prince George County on the James River in eastern Virginia. Meade’s objective was to reach the three-hundred-acre farm near Lexington that he had purchased.¹ His traveling company included family members, slaves, and twenty-one horses drawing passenger coaches and baggage wagons bearing their belongings. He departed his Virginia property on June 8 and arrived via two houseboats at Limestone in Kentucky on July 4 after an exhausting trek across the Appalachians. Meade’s account of the trip from Limestone to Lexington is illustrative of cross-country...

    • 8 Turnpike Road
      (pp. 61-76)

      In November 1796 Andrew Ellicott, a surveyor, landed at Limestone on his way down the Ohio River. His journal entry about the site is not flattering: “arrived at Limestone about ten o’clock in the forenoon. It is a miserable village; left it in about an hour.”¹ Fourteen years later, in 1810, Fortescue Cuming traveled through Kentucky, and his published account recorded the rapid changes under way as the region made the transition from the inelegant pioneer frontier that Ellicott had encountered to a place where people were actively establishing the social and economic institutions and physical infrastructure that converted open...

    • 9 State and Federal Highway
      (pp. 77-86)

      In 1912 the Kentucky legislature authorized the creation of the Department of Public Roads, which was initially responsible for advising the counties in road and bridge construction and maintenance. Although the department’s formation marked a new era in the conceptualization of roads as developmental elements in state and regional transportation networks—rather than as matters of local travel convenience—and in the application of evolving engineering principles, legislators were reluctant to provide the financial resources required to adequately fund the hiring of departmental personnel. Road building now required technical expertise, a professional cadre of engineers, surveyors, draftsmen, and trained administrative...

    • 10 From Turnpike to Parkway
      (pp. 87-90)

      From its inception, the most heavily traveled portion of the Maysville Road was the eighteen-mile section that connected Lexington and Paris—long known as the Paris Pike. Beginning at Main Street in central Lexington, the original track followed North Limestone Street to Bryan Station Road, which then angled northeast across open farmland, eventually arriving at the courthouse square in Paris. By the 1820s farms lined the route, and more than a dozen inns and taverns provided meals and overnight accommodations for carriage and stagecoach passengers and drovers. In 1827 James Darnaby and William Ellis Jr., the state-appointed surveyors, completed a...

  6. Part III. The Maysville Road:: A Landscape Biography

    • 11 The Road as a Corridor of Complexity
      (pp. 93-96)

      America’s roads are enigmatic. Roads are linked together in local, regional, and national networks to the extent that they are essentially ubiquitous. Our modern day-to-day mobility is vested in roads that are so common that we tend to take them for granted until they are in need of repair or choked with traffic. We are inclined to regard the road simplistically, as though it were an accessory, a subsidiary feature lurking in the background. But historically, roads were often the foreground to travel—their routes and attributes such as gradient and condition were of primary concern to stagecoach line operators...

    • 12 Lexington
      (pp. 97-118)

      Mile 0.0 Lexington at Limestone and Main Street. On July 9, 1796, the general merchandise store operated by Abijah and John Wesley Hunt at the corner of Mill and Main streets, two blocks northwest of the Limestone and Main intersection, stood open for business. John Moylan operated another general store nearby. David Meade had arrived in central Kentucky two days earlier, having moved his family and belongings from Prince George County, Virginia, to his new Jessamine County farm home, La Chaumiere des Prairies, on July 7. This day Meade traveled the nine miles from his farm to Lexington in search...

    • 13 The Original Limestone Trace—A Side Trip on Bryan Station Road
      (pp. 119-132)

      To follow the original Limestone Trace to its termination at Hutchison Road, turn right at the Loudon Avenue intersection and proceed for one block before turning left onto Bryan Avenue, which intersects Loudon on the left near the point where the raised median in Loudon Avenue begins. Bryan Avenue–Bryan Station Road is closely aligned with the old Limestone Trace, as its flexuous track suggests. The trace, in turn, is said to follow an old buffalo road that ran from Lexington to Paris and Millersburg.

      At the Bryan and Loudon intersection (at 138 Loudon Avenue) stands a five-story redbrick warehouse...

    • 14 The City-to-Country Transition
      (pp. 133-138)

      Mile 1.5 North of Loudon Avenue, from Devonia north to Carlisle Street and beyond, 1920s single-family residential housing predominates. The next intersecting street on the left beyond Devonia is Fairlawn Avenue. By the mid-1930s North Broadway Avenue, one long block to the left and the present route of U.S. 68, ended ignominiously in a farm field, and Fairlawn served as its connector with North Limestone (and Paris Pike–U.S. 68). In 1937 the Kentucky Highway Department developed plans to extend North Broadway 1.2 miles north as a bypass of North Limestone. Broadway was subsequently extended to connect with North Limestone...

    • 15 Gentleman Farms and the Inner Bluegrass Landscape
      (pp. 139-170)

      Mile 4.8 The roadside from this point to near Paris hosts a congregation of modern gentleman farms that produce horses, especially Thoroughbreds, and blooded cattle. This is one of the world’s most extraordinary landscapes. A gentleman farm is often an avocation for the owner, rather than a vocation. The farm, furthermore, is often engaged in the production of amenity livestock such as racehorses, and much of the land is reserved for aesthetic bluegrass pastures enclosed by oak-planked fences. These are not, generally, traditional farms that produce grain and corn or swine and poultry for the commercial markets. Though rural landscapes...

    • 16 Siting Paris
      (pp. 171-184)

      North, beyond Houston Creek, auto-oriented roadside businesses and subdivisions announce the entry into Paris; in 2010 the city was the third largest urban place on the road, with a population of 8,553 (a decline of 630 people from 2000).¹ The city’s retail and commercial core, its oldest section, is two miles farther along the road. To interpret and understand transitional landscapes such as this one requires patience and considered observation. Imagine this transect two centuries ago, when the surrounding land stood open. The only landmarks here were isolated farm building clusters, the Limestone Trace’s muddy track, and perhaps some smoke...

    • 17 Side Trip: High Street from the Bourbon County Courthouse South to the Juncture of High and Main Streets
      (pp. 185-186)

      Beginning at the Bourbon County Courthouse, one may circle back on U.S. 68 by way of southbound High Street. High parallels Main Street and is now a one-way street that is connected to Lexington in the southwest.

      Mile 0.0 St. Peter’s Episcopal Church stands near the head of High Street across from the back door of the courthouse. It was built about 1833, and the parishioners subsequently enlarged and modified the church in the early 1870s. City officials erected the Paris City Fire Station nearby in 1874–75. Atop the town’s topographic high point and directly across High Street from...

    • 18 Nineteenth-Century Paris
      (pp. 187-190)

      Since Bourbon County’s inception, Paris has served as its political center. As county seat, the settlement was predisposed to become the county’s largest town, an advantage that was unremittingly reinforced by its strategic location on the Maysville Road, a kind of transportation subsidy that greatly enhanced its political and economic position. Many county primary and secondary roads were improved with macadam surfacing from the 1830s through the 1860s, which allowed farm and small-town residents easier access to Paris markets and merchants, further advancing an expanding prosperity. Travelers availed themselves of the amenities offered by Paris hotels, and local merchants stocked...

    • 19 Paris toward Blue Licks
      (pp. 191-202)

      Mile 0.0 From the Bourbon County Courthouse Square, the road leads northeast toward Maysville. The Elks/Masonic Lodge/Bourbon Hotel building, built circa 1901–5, stands on the left at the corner of Main and Bank Row. The four-story structure is of brick construction with stone trim in a Romanesque-inspired style. The Elks Lodge, B.P.O.E. no. 373, erected the building and used the upper two floors as club rooms. The Freemasons rented part of the building for several years and then bought it in 1926. The Bourbon Hotel moved here in the 1940s from a former Main Street location. Along Main Street...

    • 20 Millersburg
      (pp. 203-216)

      Mile 8.0 U.S. 68 crosses Hinkston Creek entering Millersburg from the southwest. In 1950 the highway followed the old track that crossed the river upstream of the dam spillway and stands left, or west, of the Louisville & Nashville Railroad bridge. Upon crossing the creek, the road followed an S-curve that connected to the old turnpike route, later renamed Main Street.¹

      Millersburg is in Bourbon County, just south of the Bourbon County–Nicholas County boundary. The town was established on land owned by Major John Miller. A native of Pennsylvania, Miller emigrated to Kentucky in 1775 with his brothers, Robert and...

    • 21 The Eden Shale Hills
      (pp. 217-226)

      Mile 12.1 At the junction of U.S. 68 and the SR 36 connector to Carlisle, the old Maysville Road turned nearly 90 degrees to the left, or northeast, to follow the Brushy Creek valley. The creek flows south toward Hinkston Creek, the trunk stream in this section, so the road was heading up gradient into the heart of the Eden Shale Hills. A small tributary of Brushy Creek runs through this intersection, necessitating two bridges or culverts, one under U.S. 68 and the other under SR 36. Before 1948 the road continued about two hundred feet beyond this intersection and...

    • 22 Blue Licks
      (pp. 227-234)

      Mile 21.0 The old turnpike road, the Blue Licks cutoff, ran to the left here on its southern approach to the Licking River crossing. To follow the old route, turn left and cross Stony Creek on the concrete bridge. At the junction with SR 1244 stands a small frame building at the corner; a Freemason emblem is attached to the front facade. The upper story now serves as Blue Licks Lodge no. 495. The stone foundation and an unusual water-control structure behind the building suggest that it was once a hillside mill, although it is not clear how water would...

    • 23 Commemoration, Heritage, and a Battlefield Park
      (pp. 235-238)

      Mile 21.7 The entrance to Blue Licks Battlefield State Resort Park is on the left. The Kentucky General Assembly established Lower Blue Licks State Park on March 27, 1926, to commemorate the settlers who fought and died in the Battle of Blue Licks in 1782. The Blue Licks Battlefield Commission acquired land here that included the battlefield and presented a deed to the Kentucky State Park Commission on January 25, 1927. Officials formally dedicated the park the following August. After making a dedicatory speech, former governor William J. Fields unveiled a new cenotaph modeled after the Revolutionary War monument erected...

    • 24 Blue Licks toward Maysville
      (pp. 239-242)

      Mile 22.1 The back road into Blue Licks Battlefield State Resort Park intersects on the left. The old Maysville Turnpike alignment, now renamed Redbud Road, departs from the modern road here and for about a mile and one-quarter loops east and north before rejoining U.S. 68. Most of the abandoned segments form short loops that now function as farm and residence driveways. About one-half mile ahead on Redbud Road, one may gain a spectacular view of the Licking River valley to the south, or right. A Kentucky Historical Society roadside marker here identifies the home and grave site of George...

    • 25 Fairview and Ewing
      (pp. 243-250)

      Mile 26.1 The intersection of U.S. 68 and SR 165 marks the drainage divide between the Licking River to the south and Johnson Creek to the north and the center of the small roadside community of Fairview (also known as Oakwood). In the 1950s Bill’s Snack Shop and Gas Station replaced a wood-frame grocery store that stood at the corner. The concrete-block building has since entertained sellers of used home furnishings and used cars. Crossroads country stores are common across the greater Bluegrass, and although such stores do not provide the breadth of goods sold at a grocery store on...

    • 26 Fairview toward Mason County
      (pp. 251-254)

      Mile 0.0 Fairview marks the point where the Maysville Road traverses the center of Fleming County’s western “panhandle,” which stretches from Blue Licks Battlefield State Resort Park to the south to the vicinity of Johnson Creek to the north. In 1947 the road at Fairview was bituminous packed macadam, a road surface of sufficient quality to be rated as “paved road” by the State Highway Department.¹ The use of bituminous or asphaltic materials in road paving marks a transition in highway construction from basic broken-rock macadam-type road surfacing commonly used in the nineteenth century to the modern hard-surface asphalt or...

    • 27 The Outer Bluegrass
      (pp. 255-260)

      Mile 3.4 The large, shallow-angle sinkhole on the left signifies that the road has regained the Outer Bluegrass limestone country. Sinkholes such as this one drain vertically into an unseen underground drainage system that probably includes cracks and crevices enlarged by solution, and perhaps an underground cave. This sinkhole has served as a local landmark for more than a century.

      Mile 3.7 Intersection with Nepton Road.

      Mile 5.2 The old road alignment is to the right here. A Maysville Turnpike tollhouse may have stood near this point in the nineteenth century. A burley tobacco–curing barn stands near the entrance...

    • 28 Mayslick—“The Asparagus Bed of Mason County”
      (pp. 261-276)

      One enters Mayslick (also spelled May’s Lick) from the south on Pike Street (as in Turnpike Street), at the point where the new road begins a sweeping curve to the right, bypassing the village on the east. The ruins of a brick house stand in the field to the left, or west, at the turn, marking what may have been the old turnpike track. Ahead, Pike Street passes the town cemetery on the right, followed by a Baptist church on the left and a Christian church a block or so farther along. Burns Alley begins about six-tenths of a mile...

    • 29 Old Washington
      (pp. 277-294)

      Washington, now called Old Washington, was a prosperous place in the early decades of this area’s frontier development. Nineteenth-century affluence, however, gave way to economic decline; recently the town has been revitalized through its reinvention as a popular tourist destination. Early settlers entering Kentucky by the Ohio River route disembarked at the Limestone landing but rarely stayed the night there because of its exposed position and inadequate accommodations. Four miles inland, Washington welcomed travelers with shelter for them and their horses. Travelers’ trip narratives invariably included comments on Washington. The Baptist preacher William Wood and Arthur Fox, a young Virginia...

    • 30 Slavery, the Underground Railroad, and Hemp Production
      (pp. 295-300)

      Before the Civil War Kentucky’s enslaved population was concentrated in the prime agricultural counties—the limestone lands of the Bluegrass and central and western Pennyroyal, and the alluvial river plains along the Ohio River near Owensboro.¹ In 1790 Kentucky counted 11,830 slaves, who accounted for about 16 percent of the state’s total population. Only 114 free African Americans lived in the state at that time. By 1860, the eve of the Civil War, the state’s enslaved population had increased to 225,483, or 19.5 percent, while the free black population was 10,684, or less than 1 percent of the total population.²...

    • 31 Intersections and Commercial Roadside Development
      (pp. 301-304)

      Mile 15.2 U.S. 68 enters the south edge of the Maysville suburban commercial strip.

      Mile 15.5 Kentucky SR 9, also popularly known as the AA Highway because it links Alexandria in Campbell County to Ashland in Boyd County, intersects U.S. 68. A Maysville-Lexington Turnpike tollhouse stood along the old road in this vicinity. Though this intersection is relatively new—this section of SR 9 was completed in the 1990s—highway-oriented businesses have already colonized the adjoining lots and a new, dispersed business district is beginning to emerge, strung out at relatively low density along both highways.

      Commercial and retail businesses...

    • 32 Maysville
      (pp. 305-324)

      The Maysville town site had special qualities that made it an attractive place to establish a settlement. The Ohio River, in its present engineered configuration, lies at an elevation of about 460 feet at Maysville. South of the river, Limestone Creek rises at an origin point near the 900-foot elevation. From there the creek and its short tributaries flow about three miles north, cutting a low-angle valley down to the Ohio River at a rate of about 146 feet per mile, or a gradient of about one in forty. Though of comparatively low gradient, this potential route was complicated by...

    • 33 Living with the River
      (pp. 325-328)

      Maysville’s riverfront continues to be its most dynamic landscape. The historic river landing area that extended from the mouth of Limestone Creek west to Wall Street has been transformed by the razing of buildings, the installation of railroad tracks, and, most recently, the wholesale removal of much of Front Street. The space is now filled by a concrete flood wall that defends a new street, McDonald Parkway, a motel, and associated parking lots and buildings. The riverfront transformation is so comprehensive that only through historic maps, photographs, and personal accounts from the period can one attempt to reconstruct the scene...

    • 34 East Maysville
      (pp. 329-332)

      Before engineers redirected the Maysville Road (termed the Lexington Road in Maysville) in the 1950s from its steep and winding historic entrance into Maysville’s west side to the bypass that led into the lower Limestone Creek valley, traffic and travelers focused on the city’s western side. This geographically favored place included the original river-landing site at the mouth of Limestone Creek, a locational advantage that fostered the area’s transformation into the city’s retail, governmental, and service area. A traveler bound from southern Ohio to Lexington via the Kenton Bridge and the old Lexington Road might not be aware that east...

  7. Part IV. Reflecting on Roads and American Culture

    • 35 The Changing Landscape of Mobility
      (pp. 335-340)

      Engineers completed reconstruction on the twelve-mile segment of the Maysville Road between Lexington and Paris in 2003. Reconfigured as the four-lane Paris Pike parkway, the new road was acclaimed as an aesthetic triumph and a splendid example of collaborative design work by professional engineers, landscape architects, and the public. Yet the new parkway has effectively expunged the old road. Local residents who travel the route routinely and knew intimately the old road’s character recognize little of the original roadbed in the new corridor. That the new road is immeasurably safer than the old pike is laudatory—the ultimate purpose of...

  8. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 341-342)
  9. Notes
    (pp. 343-370)
  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 371-388)
  11. Index
    (pp. 389-412)