|An early map of settler and native paths|
|A painting depicting the rescue of the Boone and Calloway girls|
According to John Richards' book A History of Bath County, Simon Kenton, John Strader and George Yader explored down the Licking River to the mouth of Salt Lick Creek in 1771, possibly the first explorers in the area. The earliest known settlement structure in what would become Bath County was a small cabin erected by Elias Tolin along Slate Creek near the Bourbon Iron Furnace site. Tolin was an Irish immigrant born in 1755 and served in the Revolutionary War with the 1st and 11th Virginia Regiments. After the war, Tolin was among those who migrated west into Kentucky and was granted land rights as a veteran through the Commonwealth of Virginia. In order to qualify for a land grant, settlers would have to build an 'improvement' on the property, stockade the property to defend against natives, and plant crops. John Allkire settled along the mouth of Slate Creek near the Wyoming community in 1777, being the second known settler in what was to be Bath County. Thomas French established a settlement along Prickly Ash Creek around 1778, about a half mile from where it empties into Slate Creek. That land and settlement would be absorbed into John Hensley's land grant of two thousand acres in 1780. This was a problem with many settlers of the time; overlapping land grants and confusing property lines would be debated in court for generations after the post Revolution migration period. Hugh Sidwell, Thomas Clark and his brother, along with a Ballard individual, built a settlement at the mouth of Naylor Creek around 1783; this being the first permanent settlement in Bath County. Today, a small white house stands at the junction of Naylor Road and Kentucky 111 on the approximate location of this settlement. Between 1784 and 1794, more settlers began moving into what is now Bath County and the Springfield Church was established in 1794.
By 1780, Kentucky was divided into three counties; Lincoln, Jessamine and Fayette. The far western area of the state was known as Chickasaw Lands. The land that would become Bath County was part of Fayette County until 1786, when Bourbon County was formed and encompassed the land. Jacob Myers, a German immigrant, surveyed and entered into patent around ten-thousand acres of land along Slate Creek and Mill Creek in 1785. Talks of rich deposits of iron ore and other minerals led Myers to the area, and in 1791, he began to construct an iron smelting operation with a large stone blast furnace. This would be the first iron furnace to be constructed west of the Allegheny Mountains and would be called the Bourbon Iron Works. The furnace went into operation in 1792 and remained a primary source for iron materials for many years to follow. While the furnace was in operation and the area was being settled, Native Americans began to harass, and in one instance kill arriving settlers. Soon after Jacob Myers surveyed the land where the furnace was to be erected, a blockhouse was built to defend workers and residents. The blockhouse was a fortification located just above the site of the furnace
|A typical pioneer blockhouse|
During those early days of Bath County and the surrounding region, many settlers established what were called stations as a form of protection. Ralph Morgan built a station along Slate Creek in what is now Montgomery County near present day Howard's Mill in 1789. It originally consisted of three cabins facing each other. Because of a few isolated incidents between the settlers and natives, Morgan and the other settlers erected a large stone house and stockade around the cabins to protect themselves. Two miles northeast from Morgan's Station was Peter Fort's Station, which, geographically, would have been in or very near Bath County near the Peeled Oak community. About a mile from Fort's Station, John Troutman built a station, also somewhere near Peeled Oak. Between the two stations, Thomas Hansford built a station in 1792. These stations provided a network of protection along the Slate Creek region between Bath and Montgomery Counties. Another station, Gilmore's Station, was located twelve miles east of Mount Sterling and built in 1792; undoubtedly in Bath County, but at this time, I am unaware of the exact location. Older stations in neighboring Montgomery County, such as Fort Baker (1790), Anderson's Station (1779) and Bradshaw's Stockade (1791) were integral for the settlements east of Fort Boonesborough and Fort Harrod. Along Flat Creek near Bethel,settlers in the area built the Old Stone Fort around 1791 to better protect themselves against natives who traveled from Blue Licks into inner Kentucky. The 'fort' was a large stone two story house built similar to Morgan's Station in Montgomery County, with thick walls and small ports from which settlers could fire at incoming native attackers if needed. Today, the house is nothing more than a shell of stone standing in the forest; a reminder of one of Bath County's earliest settlements.
|The Old Stone Fort from a 1961 publication|
|The Old Stone Fort site, May 2015|
Some of the earliest trade and stagecoach routes were established in Bath County. Early settlers and explorers found the mineral and salt springs in the southeast region near present day Mud Lick. The Olympian Springs became a renowned attraction for the 'medicinal values' of the springs that produced epsom, salt, black and white sulphur and soda water. Earliest mention of the Olympian Springs goes back between 1784 and 1790. The first stagecoach was established there in 1803 and ran to Lexington. Soon afterward, a resort hotel was built and was a widely popular stopping point for those who wished to recuperate or to heal from ailments of the day. Kentucky political leaders, including Henry Clay, often visited the resort. The resort survived the Battle of Mud Lick Springs during the Civil War, but the hotel burned down around 1920 and never rebuilt. Another early stagecoach route was the Mount Sterling-Maysville line that ran through Sharpsburg and Bethel along what is now Kentucky Route 11. This route was a vital link to the mighty Ohio River and trading stations along the way. The advent of railroads and later vehicular travel put the stagecoach business into oblivion, but the route is still used as a state roadway and still a vital link through the region.
Kentucky separated from Virginia and became a state in 1792; Bath County would be part of Montgomery County from 1797 until it was established as a county in 1811. By that time, settlements became small towns and thriving farms. Harrison Conner established a settlement in what would become Owingsville sometime around 1810-1811. The first county seat was located at a place called Catlett's Flat but moved to the present location soon afterward. The location of Catlett's Flat has remained a mystery to me; the area where Save A Lot grocery store was once owned by the Catlett family I have been told, and an old cemetery behind Creekside Mobile Home Park bears the name of Catlett/Shrout Cemetery. The proximity of that property to Slate Creek and the Bourbon Furnace would seem logical as an early location for the county seat. Two towns outdated Owingsville by two years, but have since been covered with the waters of Cave Run. Yale and Licking Union were prosperous towns along the Licking River in southeastern Bath County that boasted railroads, hotels, taverns and other amenities. The towns thrived on the abundant natural resources, with the lumber mills being the the primary sources for employment. Later, oil and natural gas wells were struck and added to the region's commerce. When the Cave Run Lake and dam project began, the towns disappeared completely and the area was flooded, erasing one of Bath County's earliest industrial hubs.
By the early nineteenth century, the tales of early explorers had become that of legend. The wild days of settlers fighting off Shawnee attackers were gone, but the stories lingered with the elder residents and in tavern talk. Exaggerations were often made to these stories as the years passed, some reaching mythological heights. There are so many other stories about the early exploration of Bath County and Kentucky yet to be told and I am sure there are more stories I have passed up while researching this writing. It is important to preserve these stories and pass them onto generations to come; so that those who come after us will know what it took to get where we are now.
A great resource for information regarding old settler and native trails in Kentucky is at http://kentucky1491.com/. This site also has a detailed eye witness account of the Morgan's Station attack and search for the station's captives.