HISTORY OF CHRISTIAN COUNTY KENTUCKY
charles m. meacham
FROM INDIAN TRAILS TO GOVERNMENT HIGHWAYS
Indian Trails; The First Roads and Bridges; The Covered Bridges; The Early Turnpikes; The Toll Gates; The Toll Roads Made Free; The Bond Issues for Highways; the $2,500,000 Highway Program of 1930.
History tells us that no Indians lived in Kentucky. It was the hunting grounds of the tribes north of the Ohio River and in the country south of the present boundaries of the State. Here the Shawnees, Miamis and Iroquois, the Cherokees, Chickasaws, Choctaws and Creeks hunted and often battled for supremacy. The wild animals were found in the forests and the big game in the barrens. There were no regular trails, well defined, as in some of the settlements, leading from one village to another. There were no villages, no camps where long stays were made. The pioneers were confronted by the problem of making roads the very first thing. The new county of Christian tackled the problem energetically the first year. The old court records teem with the appointment of committees to locate and survey the nearest and best routes to widely separated points. One road was to Green River, another to Red Banks (Henderson) on the Ohio, and still another to Smithland at the mouth of the Cumberland. No attempt was made to improve the roads. About all that could be done at first was to locate the routes and let the settlers themselves chop down the trees and build their cabins along the primitive highways. It was a long, long step to the modern highway of 1930, over which vehicles never dreamed of in those days now annihilate distance at 60 miles an hour. There was a sort of Indian trail from Nashville, through Hopkinsville and on to the Ohio River at Shawneetown, Ill., as the names now appear. Another trail led from Russeliville across to the Ohio River to a point further up. There were salt licks in some places and these trails were made more by the animals than the Indians. Russeliville was the oldest town in Western Kentucky and as settlements were pushed westward the first road opened was to the Cumberland River at Canton. It was along this pathway that the claims of Bartholomew Wood at Hopkinsville, Brewer Reeves at Shiloh, Baker at Cadiz and Boyd and Hopson at Canton were staked out and thus became the outposts of civilization. It was on this crude roadway that the future city was laid out and the struggle with the wilderness began. In 1797, the Legislature passed a road law providing for opening roads and changing those already opened, under surveyors named by the courts.
When these officers went to work all men and boys more than sixteen years old were required to work the roads, excepting certain exempted classes. They had authority to impress teams and take any materials required, and a plan for paying for such was provided in the tax levy. At the first meeting of the county court, half a dozen committees were appointed to view road routes and report at the next meeting and many of the roads thus laid out became the permanent highways of the future. Among the men, who helped in this work were John Caudry, Shepard McFadin, Isaac Fits-worth, James Richey, Isaac Shoat, Michael Pirtle, William Prince and Michael Dillingham, whose names are now unknown in the county.
Brewer Reeves, John Roberts, Bartholomew Wood, James Wadlington, Willis Hicks, Samuel Bradley and James Reeves have descendants in the county after 133 years. From that day to this the road problem has been the greatest one in Christian County. In 1838 the Legislature established a state road still known as the Butler road from Hopkinsville to Morgan-town in Butler County. It was to be twenty-five feet wide and “the stumps cut low and rounded at the top,” and bridges were to be built, where deemed necessary. Travel was mostly on horseback and the small streams were easily forded and there were ferries for the larger ones. Convenient trees on the banks of small streams were often cut down and made good bridges for the pedestrians. A great many mill dams were constructed wide enough to allow them to be used to cross streams. Where bridges had to be built they were crudely constructed of logs and puncheon floors, fastened with wooden pins. They were rough but safe and serviceable for the first few years. Then came the sawmills and not only the bridges, but the houses showed a process of development. The country was being rapidly settled by a fine class of home-seekers, many of whom had left comfortable homes and public improvements in the older states to the east.
As the country advanced, there came the era of good bridges, even when the roads continued to be of mud in winter and of dust in summer. The old covered bridges in time dotted the county and many a traveler in those days whipped up his team to reach the bridge when a shower caught him unprepared. The primitive bridges had been less pretentious. A pen of logs filled with stones on either side, other logs to hold up the floors and a rough railing on either side and the pioneers provided themselves with the crude bridges that served their purposes at first. The first bridge of this kind in the county was at the mill site in the eastern suburbs of the city of Hopkinsville. It was later replaced by a covered bridge and still later by a modern iron structure.
In 1816 an appropriation of $150.00 was made to build a bridge across the Sinking Fork of Little River, seven miles west of town. James Bradley and James C. Anderson were appointed Commissioners to have the work done. This bridge site remained a hundred years, until a few years ago the covered bridge was discarded and replaced by an iron bridge a little south of the old one, the road having been relocated for the Jefferson Davis
Highway. The same year $600.00 was appropriated to build a bridge across the “Main Little River” near town on the road to Boyd’s Landing on the Cumberland River, now Canton. This road was known as the Canton road, the bridge being a mile southwest of town. Two other bridges had to be built in town. One was on what is now Seventh Street and the other on North Main Street. When the county could afford it they were made covered bridges. The one on Main Street was replaced in 1858 by a stone double-arched bridge, with stone walls on each side. This bridge was replaced by the present steel span in 1908.
The covered bridge on Seventh Street was torn down in 1882 and replaced by the. present splendid double arched stone bridge 136 feet long. It cost $6,500.00 and the city paid $4,500.00 and the county $2,000.00.
D. R. Beard, F. J. Brownell and Wm. Ellis represented the city and Jno. B. Gowen, A. H. Anderson and E. P. Campbell the county. In 1908, the city council widened the bridge ten feet by the addition of an iron side wall on the south side.
At the present time the river also has an iron bridge across it at Second Street and there is a Louisville and Nashville railroad bridge in the northeastern part of town. The bridge on Seventh Street was probably one of the first built, as it was in the heart of town. The puncheon-floored bridge lasted until 1825, when the first bridge with stone abutments was constructed. The Main Street bridge erected in 1858 was the first all-stone structure. It was known as the Mill Pond bridge, as there had been a mill located on the river north of Fifth Street in the early settlement and the mill dam made a “Mill Pond” at the bend of the river. The architect was Wm. Hyde, who was paid $5,000.00. A. D. Rodgers was county judge at the time.
The Legislature in 1837 authorized the building of an improved “dirt turnpike on the Virginia plan” on the Madisonville road from Hopkinsville to Henderson, capital stock $75,000.00. The next year a charter was granted for a turnpike or macadamized road to Clarksville with $75,000.00 capital stock. Both of these projects failed for lack of enough capital subscriptions. Still another company was authorized to build a turnpike from Russellville to Eddyville. It was capitalized at $300,000.00 and could begin business when $50,000.00 had been subscribed. It was duly organized with Jno. P. Campbell, President, and Abraham Stites, Secretary and Treasurer. State aid was to be given as the work progressed and work was started in three counties and three miles in Logan,. five in Todd and three in Christian, 13 of the 73, were actually built when this project also failed. The three miles in Christian were on either side of Hopkinsville. Other futile attempts to build roads were made but not until 1857 was anything actually done. The plan to build a turnpike was again agitated by Charles M. Tandy, Isaac Garrott, Dr. W. H. Drane, J. R. Whitlock, Isaac Medley and Samuel G. Gordon. A meeting was held at Oak Grove and $40,000.00 was promised. It was decided to measure the road and prepare to incorporate under the old charter, but the Tennesseans were unwilling to agree that the Kentucky subscriptions should all be spent in the Kentucky end of the road and this effort also fell through. However, it was immediately revived to build to the state line and $26,250.00 was subscribed. A company was organized with Isaac Garrott, President, John R. Whitlock, Dr. James Wheeler, Charles M. Tandy, Isaac Medley and Isaac Garrott, Directors. It is said that work was begun at the state line because Hopkinsville citizens had not cooperated with the people along the road. The contract was first let to an Indiana firm for $34,000.00 but it failed to make bond and later a responsible contractor took it at $52,000.00 Only about half of this had been subscribed. The Directors called upon every subscriber to double his subscription and issued bonds to secure the contractor. The directors themselves bought the bonds in the absence of other bidders and the road was built by 1859, to within a few miles of Hopkinsyule. After the war, when the bonds fell due, the road was sold and was bought in by the bondholders. Toll gates had been established under state laws. The Tennessee end of the road had also been built by a different company. It was twenty years before Hopkinsville awoke from a Rip Van Winkle slumber and in 1879 organized a stock company to fill in the gap. It had taken nearly twenty-five years to build the first 18 miles of turnpike in the county.
The question of building turnpikes by taxation then began to be considered. In 1880 Hon. John Feland had an act passed allowing the county court to aid in building turnpikes, by a vote of the people. The taxpayers were not ready for public road building and the measure was defeated. In 1882, Hon. James Breathitt secured the passage of an act allowing a per capita tax of $1.00 and a property tax of 50 cents on the $100.00. This was also defeated and Mr. Breathitt was defeated for re-election, so intense was the opposition to taxation.
Following these efforts other corporations built short turnpikes on other roads and put up toll gates. One of these was on the Canton and Newstead road, others on the Palmyra and Cadiz roads for five miles and still another on the Russellville road. These corporations paid well as travel increased, but along near the end of the Nineteenth century the people of Christian County, along with the people of many other Kentucky counties, began to rebel against toll-gates. In some counties there were serious disturbances and toll-gates were torn down and the trouble became a burning issue in more senses than one. Progressive counties began to vote bond issues to buy up the turnpikes and make them free. Christian, being a progressive county at heart, in spite of its dilatory record, soon caught step in this movement and a bond issue of $75,000.00, early in the present century, bought up the toll roads at a special low price and opened all of the toll-gates and soon more new roads were started. In 1916 another issue of $400,000.00 was voted to continue the work, but Christian County is a large county. It is 40 miles long and 20 miles wide and covers 780 square miles. It has many roads not yet improved.
In May, 1929, a real road building movement was started, when the people, now thoroughly alive, with but little opposition voted $650,000.00 for improved highways. Of this, $450,000.00 is to be supplemented three dollars for one by the State Highway Commission and thus $2,000,000.00 is made available during a progressive period of five years.
This big road program was sponsored by the Hopkinsville Chamber of Commerce through its Special Road Committee, composed of ten of the leading citizens of the city, and being a bi-partisan committee.
Those serving on this committee were T. Hunter Moss, Ed. L. Weathers, W. E. Keith, Joe McCarroll, Jr., Tom C. Jones, Col. E. B. Bassett, 0. L. Bass, H. A. Keach, M. C. Boyd, and A. H. Eckles, chairman. S. L. Cowherd and Dr. L. A. Tate were in active charge of the campaign headquarters and the success of the undertaking was largely due to their efficient and capable handling of the affair. Speeches were made in every part of the County and as before stated, the victory was a credit to the progressive spirit of the City and County, there being little opposition to the voting of the issue, which was carried by about seven to one. Much credit is due Judge L. K. Wood, County Attorney John C. Duffy and all members. of the Fiscal Court.
The above Special Committee recommended to the Fiscal Court the appointment of ten Highway Commissioners to handle the funds and to supervise the expenditure of the two million dollars, whereupon the Court unanimously appointed the Democratic members in the persons of Wm. H. Jones of Pembroke, Kentucky, W. R. Ledford of Oak Grove, Kentucky, Andy B. Hail of Northwest Christian County, Ed. L. Weathers, A. H. Eckles of Hopkinsville, and the Republican members, W. C. Binns of Pee Dee, Kentucky; Chas. T. Williams, of Ovil, Kentucky; Dr. M. E. Croft, of Crofton, Kentucky; W. E. Keith, and Joe McCarroll, Jr., of Hopkinsville, Kentucky.
The citizens once being convinced that there was no politics in the voting of the big bond issue, supported it almost unanimously.
The building of the roads will be begun in April, 1930, and after the primary roads of the county shall have been finished out of the funds voted, Hopkinsville will have more important highways passing through it than any city in the State, except Louisville and possibly Lexington.
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