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The Land Time Forgot

By Kathy Cummings

In January of 2006 I was introduced to the area known as Lower Howard’s Creek Nature and Heritage Preserve. I think of it as the land forgotten by time.


This land was purchased by The Clark County Fiscal Court with assistance from Friends of Lower Howard’s Creek and available state funding through the Kentucky Heritage Land Conservation Fund. The site is being preserved both for the unique ecology and also for the remains of some of Kentucky’s earliest industries. I have long been fascinated by the waterways used by the early settlers. It reminds me of a tongue-in-cheek sign on the way to Squire Boone Caverns. It says something to the effect of “we would have moved the cave closer to the highway – but…it just wouldn’t budge.”

Often times as we travel the back roads looking at historical markers and visiting historic sites you wonder just how did the early pioneers find this place? But of course we are thinking in terms of access from modern highways. A good clue is usually to check the waterways of an area. If the settlers did not arrive by water it is as least certain that they built near a good water source.

Among the early settlers were a group of forty Baptist families led by Capt. William Bush, who settled on Lower Howard's Creek in 1785. Today one can see the remains of the John and Rachel Martin house. Built as one of the first homes of these families in the 1780’s these people were living away from a station or a fort when regular Indian attacks were still prevalent on the frontier.

Although it is often thought that the settlers lived a sparse existence away from civilization their lives were very much governed by the courts and even the churches.


The land that time has forgotten includes such things as this partial wall.

There are a wealth of land claims, sales, transfers and tax records that exist. Lower Howard’s Creek had over 300 people living there in the 1790’s. In addition to the warehouses there was a sawmill and gristmill, a fulling mill. A fulling mill is described as one of the necessary steps involved in the manufacture of cloth - “to tread or beat newly woven woolen cloth in order that it might by cleansed of it’s animal grease and soil, shrunken to a firmer weave, smoothed of it’s knots and excrescences, and stretched to dry.” Additional signs of industry also included distilleries located there.

So how is it today that this area now encompassed by the Nature and Heritage Preserve has remained so intact and untouched? According to Clare Sipple, executive director of the preserve it was a shifting of industry with the times. Water power was the necessary element that brought the settlers to the area. Lower Howard’s Creek provided that ingredient and the people settled there accordingly. Steam power and later rail travel were the demise of this industrial section of Kentucky. When it was no longer necessary to utilize the water as either a power source or a transportation source,  the families moved to higher more accessible areas. The houses and mills were worked by a hardy few into the late 19th century and then gradually abandoned. Up until 1900 one mill was still standing and there are existing photos of the Martin house in 1950.

Visitors today can see the remains of these structures. Surprisingly the road that led to the area is still visible along with partial sections of the stone walls. The walls are being rebuilt in the existing dry mount style by the Lower Howard’s Creek Nature and Heritage Preserve. Work has also been done in the saving and restoring of the John and Rachel Martin house.

Being self sufficient on the frontier takes on new meaning with the size of the structures. The stones quarried from the site that built the structures known to exist in this area are a testimony to the hardiness of the early families.


History tells us it was men like John Holder and Orson Martin that led the way. In every age there are men with the entrepreneurial spirit to forge ahead. It was the water of Lower Howard’s Creek that drove the mills. It was also the waterways that transported produce down river to markets in New Orleans. Tobacco has long been a Kentucky industry and tobacco warehouses and inspection points were necessary. While we might think of sawmills and gristmills as huge undertakings for an entrepreneur, they were built because they were needed for an area to grow. In a time when nearly everyone farmed, did their own blacksmithing and gun repair, turning these into industry was the next logical step. 

During these early years of Kentucky when merely surviving was a struggle, Martin had thriving business enterprises. Holder’s enterprises were cut short by his death in 1799. Martin’s lasted longer, but were brought to ruin by alcoholism, a common problem on the frontier. We know of the problems that Orson Martin faced because of early court and church records uncovered by author Harry Enoch. Divorce proceedings were well documented between Martin and his wife Nancy. The Baptist church to which these early families
belonged also kept detailed records of the families and their standing within the church.


Remains of the Martin House (like this fireplace) while they were being shored up by contractors.

So even though it is true that the early settlers struggled for the most common of items like food and clothing it is also true that within the span of less than 10 years industry was well under way.

For more information on The Nature and Heritage Preserve at Lower Howard’s Creek visit

Sources: The Kentucky Encyclopedia, University Press of Kentucky

Friends of Lower Howard’s Creek Website and documents collected by Harry Enoch.


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