Thursday, December 17, 2015

Founding Fathers

To build a good house, you must first build a good foundation, as the saying goes.  That foundation must be able to stand and bear the weight of the entire structure, but it takes a visionary to plan and build that foundation.

Bath County

When Kentucky was known as the "far west" during the English colonization period, it was largely untamed wilderness used for hunting by nomadic tribes of natives.  Around the early to mid 1700's, explorers began trekking into the wilderness and establishing settlements along the Kentucky, Ohio and Licking Rivers.  The land we know as Kentucky was part of Virginia until 1792, and Bath County as we know it was initially Fayette County, then Bourbon and finally Montgomery Counties before becoming the state's 56th established county in 1811.  Kentucky's then governor, Charles Scott, commissioned the first county court of Bath County, consisting of Thomas Isles, Jacob Sorency, John Hawkins, Paul Skidmore, Elisha Owings, Josiah Richards, Francis Hopkins, William Donaldson, Issac Gray, Andrew Gudgell and James Blair. The first county court meeting was held February 25, 1811 at a home on Flat Creek belonging to James Young.  James McIlhenny was commissioned by Governor Scott as being the first Bath County Sheriff, Thomas Fletcher was commissioned by the Court of Appeals to the title of County Clerk and James Hughes as State's Attorney.  James Young was appointed Jailer and Joseph Dawson appointed Coroner during the same session.  Abraham and John Thompson, William Hughes, Spencer Boyd, George Routt, John Arnett, Robert Mitchell, Edwin Oakley and John Alexandra were also appointed as the first county commissioners of the newly formed county, rounding out the core government.  These men were the foundation of Bath County; others who came after solidified that foundation by establishing other vital communities within the county.


Thomas Deye Owings
Jacob Myers, a German immigrant, traveled from Baltimore, Maryland into what is now Bath County in 1782 and patented over ten-thousand acres of land along Slate Creek.  He had heard talk of rich iron ore deposits in the area and once the claims proved to be true, he and Christopher Greenup started constructing the Bourbon Iron Work.  In the meantime, John Cockney Owings, a wealthy businessman from Cockneyville, Maryland, purchased around seventy-thousand acres of land in Bath County that included Myers' tract where the iron furnace was being constructed.  The first blast of the iron furnace was in 1790 and in May the following year, the operation was purchased by John Cockney Owings & Company.  Owings sent his son, Thomas Deye Owings, to manage the Bourbon Iron Furnace operations in 1795.  Thomas Deye and his family resided in Lexington, Kentucky after his relocation and obtained full ownership of the iron works after the death of his father in 1810.

A small settlement near the Bourbon Iron Works known as Catlett's Flat was established as the original seat of Bath County shortly before the county's formation. Around the same time, a notable Irishman named Richard Menefee moved from Virginia and purchased land adjoining the Owings tract.  It was decided that the county seat be relocated atop the hill that dominated the area, partly due to the strategic location and easy defense along access roads, but mostly due to the number of prominent families who were starting to settle there.  Both Owings and Menefee offered to donate a portion of their land to create the new county seat, but only if the new settlement would bear the name of the donor.  To settle this, the two men decided on a friendly wager; the one who could build the most luxurious home in the shortest amount of time would have the honor of naming the new town.  Between the two tracts of land, approximately 200 acres was set aside for the new seat.  Menefee began construction of his home on property he owned along what is now West Main Street, approximately in the location where the Bath County Middle School now sits;  Owings' home would be built about half mile east of Menfee's.  The men spared no expense in building their homes and Owings hired renowned architect Benjamin Latrobe of Washington, D.C. to design his residence; it is unknown if Menefee hired any such architect to construct his home.  Thomas Deye Owings' house was the first home completed in 1814 and was the lap of luxury for the time.  Menefee conceded to the terms of the wager, thus the new town would be called Owingsville.  The Owings House is a massive three story structure with a magnificent free standing spiral staircase as it's center piece attraction.  The walls are made of brick twenty-four inches thick; almost fortress like with heavy wooded shutters to close the windows tight in the event of an Indian attack.  The exterior looked much different than it appears today and was described in An Illustrated History of Bath County as "severely plain...a rectangular plan of 75 by 52 feet". Richard Menefee's home was a brick structure and probably very elegant, however there are few records regarding what the home looked like.  The Menefee home stood for many years, but disappears off plat maps sometime around the Civil War.  Thomas Deye Owings died October 6, 1853 and is buried in Brenham, Texas; far away from his namesake town.  Richard Menefee died in August, 1815 and his burial location seems somewhat a mystery; quite possibly in the cemetery that lies beneath the parking lot behind the People's Bank at the corner of Slate Avenue and Coyle Street in Owingsville.  While Menefee may not have had the honor of a town's name, neighboring Menifee County bears his family's surname, albeit misspelled.  Thomas Deye Owings can be credited as the town's namesake, but both he and Richard Menefee should be credited as Owingsville's founding fathers.


Moses Sharp was born in Virginia May 2, 1757.  He served a three year term in the Virginia Militia during the American Revolutionary War under several different commands and campaigns.  He was honorably discharged after Cornwallis' capture in 1781, and by some reports was at Valley Forge his last duty station.  After the war, returning veterans were able to obtain land grants in Kentucky for settlements.  Sharp moved to Kentucky sometime around 1787 and settled in the northern section of what is now Bath County.  It is said that he worked as a spy for Daniel Boone at the time of his move, but to what extent remains a mystery.  At the time, the area in northern Bath County was mostly forest with open grasslands filled with native flowers, and Sharp was so inspired, that in 1814, he laid out a plat for a town in which he would call Bloomfield.  Moses Sharp and his wife, Mary, reared eight children and established a farm on his land just north of the present day town.  Sharp died in 1820, and soon after, a post office was established in Bloomfield.  Bloomfield's name was changed around 1825 by the town's postmaster due to another city bearing the same name; that name, Sharpsburg, would honor the man who founded the town.  Sharpsburg remained a quaint, but thriving, little town, with several merchant shops lining the business district.   The town was along the Maysville/Mount Sterling turnpike and was along the vital stage coach route that ran to the Ohio River.  Today, Sharpsburg still thrives as a small town, with agriculture being the primary industry.  Many descendants of Moses Sharp still reside in the area and some their farms have been passed along over many generations of the Sharp name. Moses Sharp's burial location is in an overgrown section of land known as Goodpaster's Field between Ramey and Ratliff Roads just outside of the town that bears his name.  Take a look at the site to see the location and a restoration effort to the Sharp Cemetery.


The town of Bethel was first platted around 1817, but the founder's name has sadly been lost to history.  The vast, fertile fields on the ridges and valleys along the Licking River and Flat Creek attracted farmers to this area of Bath County very early in Kentucky's history.  Settlers began moving into the area in the late 1700's, along Flat Creek's banks.  The Old Republican Meeting House was located along what is now Sanderson Road, just down from where Bethel would be established.  A cemetery close to the spot of the old meeting house bears several interments with the Hawkins surname, so it is a fair assumption the Hawkins family were the first inhabitants of the area.  A large house constructed of limestone was situated along a tributary stream of Flat Creek and used as a 'fort' against Indian attacks; the early records show this house was built in approximately 1791.  The remains of this house are still standing on a farm near the Old Republican Cemetery.  After Bethel was established, a police judge and officers were commissioned to keep the peace, but their names are not known.  Lucy Harper spoke at the dedication of the new school building in 1924 and stated, "I cannot find a record of the early history of Bethel, but tradition tells that the first building was an old log church situated in the old cemetery".  Ms. Harper then stated that the church was named Bethel, or "House of God" and that the town's name originated there.  During the Civil War, rebel guerrilla forces stormed the town and burned most all of the old records, erasing the early documented story of Bethel.   

Salt Lick

The story of Salt Lick begins with a group of pioneers who explored the Licking River down to Salt Lick Creek around 1771.  These explorers, Simon Kenton, George Yader, and John Strader, were possibly the first white men to ever explore into what would be Bath County.  The southeastern area of the county where Salt Lick now sits was a vast, heavily forested region of rich hardwoods and had several natural mineral and salt deposits where buffalo, bison and other animals gathered.  A few people settled here and there during the early to mid 1800's, one being Lafayette North who settled on 700 acres after his service in the Mexican-American War around 1848.  Around 1882, a town then known as Vail was platted out along the newly constructed Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad and James Colliver established the post office.  Vail, according to the Kentucky State Gazetteer and Business Directory published in 1884, boasted a population of fifty, a saw mill and four general stores.  Sometime around 1884, the town was renamed Salt Lick, but the post office retained the Vail name until 1888. Salt Lick became a booming industrial and shipping hub and remained prosperous until well into the Twentieth Century, mostly due to the abundant resources and trains that rolled through.  It's not known who exactly the founding father of Salt Lick was, but a number of family names from that early period still appear today; Dickerson, Maze, Shouse, Razor and Staton are a few examples.

Other communities

While Owingsville, Sharpsburg, Bethel and Salt Lick are the most established towns in Bath County, many more communities were founded.  The oldest place was the settlement called Yale, first settled by Samuel Gill around 1807-08.  It was there that Gill constructed a mill and over the next several years, the settlement became a boom town of sorts.
The long gone town of Yale
Yale would boast hotels, a saloon, a post office, several merchant shops, a railroad, and a population of around three-hundred in its hey-day.  Wyoming was a town situated at the confluence of Slate Creek, White Oak Creek and Licking River.  It was founded in 1820 from land that belonged to Thomas Deye Owings, and originally called Mouth of Slate.  The first true proprietor of Wyoming isn't known, but the county court appointed Jacob and John Trumbo, Isaac Conyers, Archibald Ramsey, William Atchinson, Phillip Clark and Coleman Smoot as the town's original trustees soon after it was surveyed in 1819.  Today, nothing is left of the once thriving towns that were Bath County's earliest industrial hubs; Yale is now under Cave Run Lake and Wyoming was bypassed by the modern age. 

Moore's Ferry, located on Kentucky 211 north of Salt Lick, was named for a man only known as Mr. Moore, who established a ferry across the Licking River to Grange City in Fleming County.  In the same vicinity, William Isles settled sometime in the early to mid 1800's and established a mill along the Licking River.  The mill was successful business and a hotel was established to accommodate those who had interest in the mill operations.  The mill ran until 1912 and the log dam across the river was dismantled soon afterward.  Today, the only trace of the old mill is the name of the road that led to it.

The southwestern portion of Bath County was settled very early by pioneers such as Peter Cassidy, who established a fortified station in the Saltwell and Stepstone area of Bath County in 1777.  Others who settled along with Cassidy found a salt well that had been walled with stone; however there is no mention of who may have constructed the well.  Kendall Springs was first settled around 1815 by Ransom Kendall who built a cabin next to an abundant well located near what used to be Carpenter's Store at the corner of Ely's Branch Road. The location of the spring was probably well known to the natives before the settlement was established, as it was an area known to be along an important hunting path.

 The town of Olympia was laid out sometime between 1876 and 1884, but it is not known who founded it.  Old precinct maps from those dates show a few houses and structures; however, the maps prior to 1876 show a sparsely populated area. The famed Olympian Springs Resort was located a few miles south of the town and was first opened by William Ramsey around 1796, long before the birth of Olympia as a town.  When the C&O railroad was constructed, Olympia Station
Olympia, 1884.
was established and connected the narrow gauge rail lines that ran to the nearby iron ore mines.  The date of this establishment was around 1883, giving an approximate date of the town's birth.  It is known that Cal and Riley Ingram had purchased an extensive amount of land and leased it about this same time.  They operated a couple of saw mills along Mill Creek and used the railroad to ship their timber; quite possibly the first proprietors of Olympia.

Preston was founded in 1881 as Preston's Station for William Preston who donated property for the C&O railroad.  The post office was established shortly after, but named Crooks after a prominent family who resided in the area.  Later, the town's name changed again to simply Preston, and was a regular stopping point for passengers and freight along the railroad line. Over the years, Preston has retained that small town feel and hosts the annual October Court Days festival that brings in thousands of people from all over.

Other, smaller communities sprang up throughout Bath County, and are still known today.  Wes and J.S. Blevins settled just outside of Preston around 1900, purchasing tracts of land and building some small homes.  The Carter family moved in the area soon after and a community was established, known as Blevins Valley.  Polksville was laid out and established in 1844 by Robert Warren, naming it after President James K. Polk.  The post office there was called the Marshall P.O. and there was a general store, blacksmith, school, church and a population of about fifty in the early days.  Reynoldsville was named for Joseph Reynolds, a doctor from Virginia who built the first home there around 1870.  Many more small hamlets dotted Bath County's landscape but were never officially established as towns or they were absorbed into larger communities.  Each of these settlements and towns have a history and story to tell on their own. Those who blazed the wilderness trails, laying the cornerstones and foundations of the communities within Bath County, left a lasting legacy for all generations.  


An Illustrated History of Bath County, John A. Richards


  1. I get excited when I see a posting of yours. Always such interesting reading. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and Merry Christmas to you and your family!

    1. Thanks!!! Hope the holidays were good to you!

  2. Back when I was doing my Crouch family tree I found where Cuthbert Crouch sat on the seat that made Bath a County. I can't remember who else was with him. I'm sure somewhere in all my papers it's tucked away

  3. Back when I was doing my Crouch family tree I found where Cuthbert Crouch sat on the seat that made Bath a County. I can't remember who else was with him. I'm sure somewhere in all my papers it's tucked away