Page 44

Old Fort Harrod State Park Thomason described William Whitley as a caring person who was eager to advise travelers and furnish them with needed supplies. He would go to great lengths to protect Wilderness Road travelers. “And don’t forget,” Thomason continued, “that Esther Whitley was known to be an excellent shot—better than most men of the time. She never hesitated to fire away when threatened!” Continuing for several miles along the Wilderness Road on U.S. 150, I biked into the town of Stanford and to the original Presbyterian Church. This treasure was built in 1788 and is preserved inside the Old Presbyterian Meeting House & Museum on Main Street. Another mile or so along the road brought me to the place where Logan’s Station once stood and is being painstakingly reconstructed according to its original 150-by-90-foot size. Logan’s Station, established in 1775, was one of Kentucky’s earliest forts and a popular location for frontier families who sought sanctuary from dangers outside the fort’s walls. Logan’s Station became the town of Stanford. Knowing that there was a station or fort nearby when they needed it, settlers would clear land claims of trees and undergrowth, build a cabin and plant crops—usually corn. Chestnut was the most popular wood, since its logs could be used to build cabins and rail fences that protected crops from wild animals. Chestnut also could be split into shingles, and its bark was used to make medicine and tannic acid for tanning and dyeing. In the fall, the chestnut tree’s rich nuts were used to fatten hogs. I continued my bike ride over the Wilderness Road by taking U.S. 150 to Danville, where in the 1780s settlers could find stores, taverns, inns and churches. Inns charged 21 cents per day for food and lodging. Stores supplied bacon, cheese, coffee, flour, sugar, raw leather, linen, stockings, blankets, furniture, tools and other necessities. In 1786, the settlement of Danville already included 40 houses. It is said that Bardstown and Louisville each had 50 by then. Kentucky was growing its towns and supporting services. Entering Danville from Stanford, I turned right onto Old Wilderness Road Street, which continues for a few blocks to the intersection of East Lexington Avenue and Kentucky Avenue. That seems to be all that’s left of the original Wilderness Road route in Danville. While in Danville, I also discovered a new distillery a couple of miles outside the city on Lebanon Road. It’s named the Wilderness Trail Distillery. Given its name, I hope that in time the distillery will develop a well-researched exhibit that describes the history of the distilling and consumption of spirits along the Wilderness Road. 42

K E N T U C K Y M O N T H LY • F E B R U A R Y 2 0 1 8

As I pedaled over increasingly hospitable rolling hills on U.S. Hwy. 127 to Harrodsburg, I began anticipating a visit to Old Fort Harrod State Park, about which I had heard so much. For years, Fort Harrod was the main destination of the western spur of the Wilderness Road. In fact, it was the first permanent European settlement west of the Alleghenies. In 1774, Capt. James Harrod and 32 others left Pennsylvania and set out for Kentucky to claim land and develop a settlement. After three months of travel, they came upon a place strategically located near a huge spring that provided an “inexhaustible supply of pristine water.” Today, Old Fort Harrod in Harrodsburg is a superbly scaled replica of the original fort and a terrific site to visit. I lingered for a couple of hours, stepping inside the fort’s cabins and blockhouses that look like they did in Fort Harrod’s early days. Knowledgeable guides dressed in period clothing were eager to describe the lives of late-18th century settlers. The guides performed tasks such as gardening, weaving, woodworking, broom making, blacksmithing, soap making and doll making. I was especially intrigued by a rare collection of pioneer tools and utensils. John Curry, a loquacious resident historian, described in amazing detail the lives of the 319 men, women and children who depended on Fort Harrod for protection when life on their small farms outside the fort was threatened by American Indian attacks. Settlers didn’t travel all the way to Kentucky just to live inside crowded, dirty forts. Fort Harrod and other stations along the Wilderness Road were sanctuaries of last resort when life in the wilderness became too dangerous. KENTUCKY’S CATHOLIC PIONEERS The Wilderness Road continues on Ky. Route 152 from Harrodsburg to Springfield and then to Bardstown over U.S. 150. As I biked past Springfield, I recalled reading that a group of 25 Catholic families decided to leave Maryland in 1785 and migrate to the American wilderness, where they’d be free to worship as they wished. They made their way through dangerous American Indian territory to what would become Holy Cross in Marion County. How dangerous was this area? Later, it was reported by Catholic Bishop John Lancaster Spaulding that tribes killed 1,500 Catholic pioneers between 1783 and 1790. It’s understandable that the Catholic settlement at Holy Cross would become a center of frontier Catholicism for those who survived. The area’s wonderfully fertile land supported those industrious farmers, builders, distillers and, I might add, prodigious procreators. When Leonard

February 2018 | Kentucky Monthly Magazine  

Kentucky Monthly magazine February 2018

February 2018 | Kentucky Monthly Magazine  

Kentucky Monthly magazine February 2018