History of Christian County, Kentucky Roads

No doubt when John Montgomery and James Davis, the avant-couriers of the present civilization of Christian County, first stood upon the wooded heights and looked out on the broad expanse of barren or prairie land that spread out to the east and south at their feet, they were so entranced by its quiet loveliness as then and there to decide upon its adoption as their future home. A vast plain rising and falling in gentle undulations, and covered with a luxuriant growth of grass, stretched out on either hand, reaching into the dim distance till lost in the blue haze of the horizon. Herds of deer and buffalo here and there basking in the genial sunlight or lazily feeding on the rich pasturage, flocks of geese, ducks, pigeons and other and brighter plumaged birds wheeling their circling flight above, made a scene of rare lovliness that at once and irresistibly appealed to their highest sense of the beautiful, rude, rough pioneers though they were. And in all these vast plains not a tree or bush to obstruct the vision, except here and there an occasional grove of timber; not a house, wigwam, tent or camp-fire to mark or hint at the presence of that higher species of the animal kingdom-man. Only here and there a trail, made by the moccasined feet of the red man, told to their practiced eyes that this was a part of the ” hunting-ground ” of his aboriginal foe, and that his foot had been here.

Indian Trails

These trails, the highest effort of his genius at internal improvements and the type of his highest civilization, were the highways along which he migrated or took his stealthy march from point to point. The nearest of them passed from Nashville, through the present site of Hopkinsville, then deflecting more to the northwest, crossed the Ohio River at Shawneetown and penetrated to the Saline Works on Saline Creek in the State of Illinois. Another trail off to the northeast was that leading from Russellville, Logan County, then the oldest town south of Green River in Kentucky, in a northwesterly direction toward the Highland Lick in Lincoln, now Webster County. Near these celebrated licks, about two miles distant, and at a fork of the trail, there long stood a lone, solitary tree, like a grim sentinel of the desert, on which the head of Micajah, or ” Big Harpe,” the noted desperado and horse-thief, was hung after his decapitation by Stagall and the citizens who pursued and captured him.

Another trail was that from Russellville to Hopkinsville, where it fell into the trail first mentioned, that leading from Nashville to the Saline Works, in Illinois. And still another passed through the southwest portion of the county, and leading from the Cumberland River, near Palmyra, to join, at Pinceton, the trail crossing the Ohio River at Ford’s Ferry. This ferry, some ten or twelve miles below Shawneetown, was long reputed to be a very dangerous place, on account of a gang of counterfeiters, horse-thieves and cut-throats, who made it their chief rendezvous. They were finally suppressed by the Regulators after committing many depredations upon the defenseless citizens. Judge A. V. Long, when a boy, made several trips over these trails, then established as roads, to the Salt Works in Illinois, and was looked upon by his less favored comrades as something of a modern Marco Polo or Henry Stanley, of travel. These trails, ready made to the hand of the pioneer, and generally trending to the north or northwest, to some noted saline deposit, are only interesting to the reader now from the fact that they were long used by the early settlers as their thoroughfares in traveling to and from salt works, or from one settlement to another. As soon as the tide of immigration began to set in more freely, and the different communities became more densely populated, they were no longer sufficient for the purposes of travel and had to be supplemented by other trails or roads. At first these, as all other public improvements, were the joint, voluntary effort of the people, but in the course of time it became necessary to build additional roads by public enactment.

The Legislature of Kentucky, in 1797, first enacted a general road law, ” providing for the opening of new roads and the alteration of former roads” under surveyors appointed by the courts. All male laboring persons, sixteen years old or more, were required to work the roads, except those who were owners of two or more male slaves over said age, or else pay a fine of 7s. 6d. ($1.25) for each day’s absence or neglect thus to work. In the absence of bridges, mill-dams were required to be built at least twelve feet wide, for the passage of public roads, with bridges over the pier-head and flood-gates. The surveyors were authorized to impress Wagons, and to take timber, stone or earth for building roads, and a mode of paying for same out of the county levy was provided (Collins on Internal Improvements.) Under this provision, and as soon as the county was organized, on the 21st day of March, 1797, and on the first day of the meeting of the county justices, we find this order: ” Ordered that James Richey, George Robinson, Sr., Samuel Kincaid, Julius Saunders, James Decon, Charles Staton and James Kerr, or any three of them, be appointed to view the most nearest and best way from James Waddleton’s, on the Bigg eddy to the bigg Spring on Leviston (Livingston), from thence to the Claylick Settlement, and report the same to our next court.” This order is signed by Jacob Barnett, Moses Shelby, Jonathan Logan, Brewer Reeves and Hugh Knox, Gents, Justices of the county.

The next road ordered by the court was in May (15th) 1798, and designated the State Line near David Smith’s ” as the starting point, and was to run to the ” Christian Court House.” The petitioner in this case was Brewer Reeves, and the Commissioners appointed, ” Obadiah Roberts, John Caudry, Shepard McFadin, Bartholomew Wood and John Roberts, or any three of them.” The same reckless use of superlatives, ” most nearest and best way ” occurs in this, as in the first order, and serves to show at least that Mr. John Clark, ” clerk and gent,” though liberal and large-hearted, was not as familiar with Kirkham and Lindley Murray as he should have been. At the same time, on petition of John Ramsey, a road was ordered viewed from the ” mouth of Cumberland River to the Christian Court House,” and Joab Hardin, George Hardin and Charles Hogan were appointed as Commissioners to view that part of it from the mouth of the river to Cal Fitsworth’s; and Isaac Fitsworth, James Richey and Isaac Shoat to view to Michael Pirtle’s; and Michael Pirtle, William Prince and James Wadlington to view to James Wadlington’s; and Willis Hicks, Samuel Bradley and James Reeves to the Sinking Fork; and Bartholomew Wood, Samuel Hardin and Michael Dillingham from thence to the Christian Court House.

These are a few of the first roads ordered by the court, and are only interesting as being such, and as associated with the names of some of the first and most respectable citizens of the county. From this on, the court was largely occupied with the making and altering of roads, which to follow in detail would be both irksome and unprofitable to the reader and would require a volume in and of themselves. In the year 1838 the Legislature passed an act establishing a State road from Hopkinsville to Morgantown, and appointed Daniel S. Hays and Leonard Wood, of Christian County, Charles Armstrong, of Todd, Henry Fitzhugh, of Logan, and James Moore and Hugh C. Reed, of Butler, as Commissioners, to ” view and mark out the best and most practicable route.” Two dollars per day to be allowed them, to be paid jointly by the counties of Christian, Todd, Logan and Butler. The road to be cleared at least twenty-five feet wide, and the stumps cut low and rounded at the top, the banks of the creeks and branches graded, and to throw bridges across the same where they may be deemed necessary, so as to admit of safe and convenient passage.”

SEC. 6. ” That the road heretofore marked and cut out from Morgantown, in Butler County, on the direction to Hopkinsville, Christian County, shall be the route so far as Logan and Butler Counties are concerned.” Approved February 1, 1838.

There is only one thing more to add in a general way of the roads in Christian County, though threading the county in every direction and at certain seasons quite passable, yet, in the winter and early spring, they are simply bottomless. It is but the same old tale of shiftlessness and improvidence so forcibly illustrated by the anecdote of the Arkansaw Traveler:

A. T – Neighbor, why don’t you cover your house?

Citizen- ‘Cause it’s raining.

A. T – Why don’t you cover it when it ain’t raining?

Citizen – ‘Cause it don’t need it.

A great many of the more enterprising citizens would fain change this primitive order of things, but unfortunately the sovereign majority” have settled down to the time-honored and convenient philosophy, we have good roads for the day,. let the roads for the morrow provide for themselves.”


In the good old times of the early pioneers, when people traveled mostly on foot or horseback, there was but little use for other than foot-bridges. These were of the most primitive style of architecture: a tree cut and thrown across the stream, or a series of heavy slabs or planks on exaggerated legs, making a continuous footway from bank to bank, and the site usually selected for these rude structures was at some shallow crossing or ford of the stream. One of the older citizens of Hopkinsville says, among the earliest recollections of his boyhood days was a rude slab or puncheon bench that long stood in his father’s yard, just across the West Fork of Little River, that had in the earlier times referred to served as a foot-bridge across that stream. Years before it had been superseded as a bridge-way by a more pretentious structure, and was then being used for the ignoble purpose of a support or stand for his father’s bee-hives. Fallen trees and rude foot-ways did well enough for the pedestrian, but when carriages and wagons began to multiply, more substantial and commodious structures became necessary. These soon came with the steadily increasing influx of immigrants. There were few carriages among them indeed, but almost every family came in its covered wagon, and soon across the different streams, at the more important crossings, began to appear substantial, if not elegant, bridges. They were uniformly made with wooden abutments, in the form of log-pens filled with stone, on either bank, and from these, spanning the stream, were two parallel sills or streamers, on which was laid a rough, uneven floor of , slabs or puncheons, securely fastened down by wooden pins. Over these the horse took his stumbling way, or the four-wheeled vehicle jolted and rolled, much to the detriment of each particular joint, and the great discomfort of the occupants. Like the earlier roads, these were built by common consent and individual effort, and were the common property of the people. The first bridge built in this way that we have any account of was that across the East Fork of Little River, on the road to Nashville, about one and one-half miles from Hopkinsville, but when or by whom does not appear. In 1816 the Commissioners appointed by the court made their report, recommending an additional appropriation of $150 to complete an unfinished bridge at that point. Edmund Guthrie and Daniel Preston were designated as Commissioners in place of Franklin Wood and Cordell Nofflett, resigned or displaced. At the same term of court an appropriation of $150 was also made for the construction of a bridge across the Sinking Fork of Little River, on the Saline road, and James Bradley and James G. Anderson were appointed Commissioners. The next appropriation made by the court for this purpose was in November (3d) 1818, and appropriated the quite liberal sum of $600 for a bridge across Main Little River, on the road to Boyd’s Landing on the Cumberland River. It was required to be completed by December 1, 1819, and Samuel Orr, John Goode, Abraham Boyd, John W. Cocke and David Moore were appointed to supervise its construction,

The first bridge with stone abutments and pier was ordered built by the court November 9, 1825, across the Town Fork of Little River at the foot of Nashville Street on the road to Princeton. It is thus described: ” Stone abutments at either end, stone pier in the middle, and sills of wood covered with plank, and hand-rails on either side.” At this point there had been an old-style bridge with log-pen abutments and pier as early as 1818, and possibly much earlier. In 1857 the old covered wooden bridge at the north end of Main Street, known as the Mill Pond bridge, gave place to the present substantial stone structure. It is quite an improvement on the old wooden affairs, and marks the beginning of a new era in bridge building. The architect was William Hyde, and it cost when completed $5,000. May 21, 1878, the old bridge across the east fork of Little River at Edward’s Mill was superseded by a stone structure, costing when completed $2,550, John Flynn and John Connelly, contractors. Several other smaller single-span stone bridges or culverts have been built at intervals over less important streams since then, but it remained for 1882 to complete the final architectural triumph of bridge improvements in the county. In this year was completed the present elegant and substantial stone bridge across the town fork of Little River at the foot of Bridge Street in the town of Hopkinsville. The material is of flawless blue limestone set in cement, and is from one of the best native quarries near the town. Messrs Hall and McClelland were the contractors, and it cost when finished $6,500, of which the county paid $2,000, and the city the balance. It is of the following dimensions: 136 feet long, with two arches 35 feet each; wagon way, 20 feet wide; sidewalks, one on each side, 4 feet wide; and parapets 3 feet high and 2 feet thick. The commissioners upon the part of the county were A. H. Anderson, John B. Gowan and Edward Campbell, and upon the part of the city D. R. Beard, F. J. Brownell and William Ellis.


In the year 1837 the Legislature passed a bill granting a charter to the Henderson, Madisonville and Hopkinsville Turnpike Road Company to build a road styled ” a dirt turnpike on the Virginia plan ” from Henderson via Madisonville to Hopkinsville; capital stock, $75,000. It directed that subscription books should be opened at the three above-named places on the first day of June under the supervision of the following Commissioners: Wyatt H. Ingram, George Atkinson, Smith Agnew and John McMullin, at Henderson; Iredell Hart, John E. Woolfolk, James Armstrong and Enoch Hunt, at Madisonville; and at Hopkinsville, Z. Glass, George Ward, F. C. Sharp and J. B. Crockett. As soon as the necessary amount of stock should be subscribed, after due notice of thirty days in one or more principal papers, the subscribers should meet, organize and proceed to elect a ” President, ten Directors, a Treasurer and other necessary officers.”

Section 6 reads: Be it further enacted, That the whole width of said road shall be fifty feet, the graded part whereof shall be at all places, where the ground will admit of it, at least thirty feet in width, and ” the thrown-up part ” at least twenty-two feet, with ” an elevation in the center sufficient to prevent the water from lying on the same, and a ditch on either side to conduct the water off.”

This project, the first of the kind south of Green River, fell through by reason of the failure of its projectors to secure the necessary subscription. Indeed, it appears there was never enough money subscribed to entitle them to commence its construction under the restrictions of the charter. This restriction was that the road shall not be commenced or be put under contract from any of the aforesaid points (Henderson, Madisonville and Hopkinsville), till a sufficient amount is subscribed to finish five. miles from each point.” The next year (February 16, 1838), the Legislature granted a charter to another turnpike project styled the Hopkinsville and Clarksville Turn-pike Road Company. It was to pass through Oak Grove to the Tennessee line in the direction of Clarksville, and was to be ” paved with stone or macadamized with stone or gravel, at least eighteen feet wide,” capital stock, $75,000. The Commissioners appointed were John P. Campbell, Daniel S. Hays, L. L. Leavell, James Clarke, Samuel Gordon and David W. Parrish of Christian County. The company were allowed six years to complete it. This, like its congener, the H., M. & H. Turnpike Road, failed for lack of funds.

Another attempt to build a turnpike was made by the Logan, Todd & Christian Turnpike Company, under a charter granted February 16, 1838. The road was to run from Russellville, through Elkton to Hopkinsville, thence through Princeton to Eddyville, on the Cumberland River. Capital stock to be $300,000, divided into shares of $50 each. The Commissioners appointed were, for Logan, W. R. Whitaker, Richard Bibb and William Owens; for Todd, John A. Bailey, Francis M. Bristow and John Graham; for Christian, John P. Campbell, J. H. Phelps, J. B. Crockett, A. Stites, B. Shackelford, J. H. Evans and W. C. Gray; for Caldwell, J. C. Weller and C. Lyon; and for Trigg, James. J. Morrison, James McCallister, E. Bacon and Joseph Waddill. Section 8 provided that ” when the President shall notify the State Board of Internal Improvement of the subscription of $50,000, then the State shall subscribe $2 for every $1 subscribed by individuals, or by bodies corporate.” Section 9 directed that the President and Directors of the Green River and Ohio Railroad Company should call a meeting of the stockholders of that company, and should they agree to transfer their stock to the Logan, Todd & Christian Turnpike Road Company, then on notification of such transfer, the State to subscribe double the amount. Under the provisions of this charter the company was duly organized, with John P. Campbell, President, and Abraham Stites, Secretary and Treasurer. Thus organized, they proceeded to grade the road-bed under the specifications and restrictions of the charter. Bridges and culverts were also built wherever necessary, and eighteen or twenty miles out of the seventy-three miles of the road, metaled, about three miles in Logan, five miles in Todd, three miles in Christian, and the balance in the other counties. The individual stockholders promptly paid up their subscriptions as called for by the Board of Directors, and the work went on till the panic of 1840-41, when the State withdrew her aid, and the road still remains unfinished. The three miles of this road built in Christian County, and lying on either side of the town of Hopkinsville, still stand, Micawber-like, the “stupendous remains of a once magnificent enterprise.” The next effort to build a turnpike in the county was made by L. L. Leavell in 1838. He procured a charter for a road from Hopkinsville to Clarksville via Oak Grove, on pretty much the same route of the former contemplated road. Capital stock required $75,000, divided into $50-shares. The Commissioners appointed were John P. Campbell, Daniel S. Hays, L. L. Leavell, James Clark, Samuel Gordon and David W. Parrish. Beyond this no further steps were taken, and the project fell through for the time. But in 1856 or 1857, the friends of this road began once more to agitate it. Notably among these friends were Isaac Garrott, Dr. William H. Drane, John R. Whitlock, Charles D. Tandy and Isaac Medley. A meeting was called at Oak Grove, at which were present, beside the gentlemen mentioned, Samuel G. Gordon, Mr. Sawyer (now of Sawyer, Wallace & Co., of New York) and many others. Ascertaining that $40,000 stock could possibly be raised, it was determined to take measures to build the road. But before doing so, it was proposed to the meeting that all moneys subscribed and raised in Kentucky should be expended on that portion lying within the State, that is, between Hopkinsville and the Tennessee line. This met with strenuous opposition from the Tennesseans present, and neither party being willing to yield the point, the meeting was dissolved without accomplishing anything. This meeting was some time in the summer of 1857. Immediately there-after the Kentucky friends of the road convened another meeting at Longview. After a careful canvass for subscriptions among the friends present, it was ascertained that $26,250 had been subscribed. With this sum as a nucleus, and having the promise of additional help, it was deemed advisable to undertake the immediate construction of that part of the road lying within the State limits. To this end a company was organized, with Isaac Garrott, President; John R. Whitlock, Dr. James Wheeler, Charles D. Tandy, Isaac Medley and Isaac Garrott, Directors. The stockholders, in view of the fact that only $750 had been taken by citizens of Hopkinsville, instructed the Board of Directors to begin the construction of the road at the Tennessee line, and run it to Rosebrook Branch, about five miles south of the city of Hopkinsville, a distance of eleven miles from the State line terminus. Thus instructed, the Board proceeded after due advertisement, to let the road to the lowest bidder. An Indiana firm making the lowest bid, $34,000, secured the contract. On ac-count of the impossibility of securing a sufficiency of slave-labor here at any price, these contractors, through their agents, imported white labor from Cincinnati. At last the work commenced, and seemingly under favorable auspices, and the friends of the road congratulated themselves that now it would soon be completed. But just at this juncture, and while they were hugging the flattering unction to their souls, the Indiana firm, finding there was no money in the job, threw up the contract, abandoned the work and went home. Not being so instructed by the stockholders, the Board of Directors had failed to exact security of the contractors, and they being worthless and irresponsible there was no remedy for it but to submit. In this dilemma the Board called another meeting of the stockholders at Longview, laid the case before them, and asked for further instructions. They were instructed to again let the contract, and this time take security of the contractors. It was suggested by one of the Directors that there. was only $26,250 of subscription to meet $52,000, the estimated cost of the road, and the question was asked what kind of security the Company could offer to the contractor for the deficit. Mr. Sebree would take the contract for $52,000, and give satisfactory security, but in return required security from the company for the unsubscribed balance. The stockholders agreed to secure the balance by doubling the amount of their stock. The Directors thereupon, relying upon the good faith of the stockholders, proceeded to let the contract to Mr. Sebree.

The work was again resumed and the road pushed on toward completion as rapidly as circumstances would permit. Labor, both white and black, was scarce and difficult to procure, and the metal, such as was suit-able, in some cases, had to be quarried and hauled a distance of four or five miles. Nevertheless, the work went bravely on, and all things seemed auspicious for the future of the enterprise. After a while, however, the funds began to run low, and the Directors began to call on the stockholders to redeem their pledge to double the amount of their subscriptions, and then it became apparent that they did not intend to keep faith, and that the burthen of raising the additional $26,000 of stock would fall on the five Directors. But having already taken $7,000 of the $26,250, they did not feel willing or able to assume the responsibility of so large a sum. Thus embarrassed, the company then, having authority under act of Legislature, issued their bonds for $35,000, less 25 per cent, to raise the deficit. These bonds were offered at public sale at Longview by the Directory, but, the stockholders declining to purchase, they were bought in by the five gentlemen composing the Directory. This step was necessary to secure themselves against loss under the contract with Sebree. In the meantime the work progressed under that gentleman, and in 1858 or 1859 the road was completed. The stockholders failing to meet the payment of the bonds as they fell due, the bondholders, after the expiration of the war, brought suit for their payment, and by decree of Chancery the road was ordered to be sold, subject to the payment of the bonds. It was offered at public sale to the highest bidder at the court house in Hopkinsville, and the bondholders became the purchasers at $8,500. Thus the road passed into the hands of the bondholders, and is now held and owned by them or their descendants.

The Tennesseans in the meantime were not idle. Realizing the great advantage to themselves and the business interests of their metropolis, Clarksville, they were busily at work pushing on to meet the road at the State line. The two roads, or rather the two sections of the same road, were completed at or about the same time, thus giving Clarksville a continuous turnpike road to within four or five miles of Hopkinsville. The people of the latter place, with a blind stupidity seldom equaled in an intelligent community, were slow to realize the great disadvantage this placed them under in their competition with Clarksville, their formidable rival across the line, for it was not until some ten years later that any effort was made to repair the mistake. In 1878 the more enterprising citizens of Hopkinsville and vicinity began to bestir themselves, and a company was organized to complete the road to the latter place. The company was styled the Hopkinsville & Clark’s Branch Turnpike Road Company, and John C. Latham was elected President, and J. K. Gant, James M. Clark, S. G. Buckner and J. O. Cushman, Directors. H. R. Littell was appointed Secretary and Treasurer. The length of the interval from the Clark’s Branch terminus of the Christian County & Clarksville Turnpike to the corporate limits of Hopkinsville being between four and five miles, it was let to a contractor for the sum of $11,000. It was finished some time in the fall of 1880.

The history of this road from Hopkinsville to Clarksville, Tenn., is thus given in detail, not so much on account of its general interest or importance as because it serves to illustrate the pluck and enterprise of a few individuals in contrast with the general apathy of the public. Though but fifteen or sixteen miles in length to the State line, it took twenty-three years of indefatigable effort upon the part of its friends to complete it. Indeed, the whole history of the turnpike legislation of the county for the past few years also serves to illustrate the same general sentiment, if not the actual hostility, of the public toward all turnpike enterprises.

In 1879-80 the Hon. John Feland secured the passage of an act by the Legislature allowing the County Court to aid in building turnpikes. Thereupon Mr. Thomas Green and others urged the county to vote an’ appropriation of one-half or two-thirds of the actual cost of each mile of turnpike that might be built in the county, taking security for the amount thus appropriated in preferred bonds at par, and receiving all tolls in payment of interest. It was urged, among other things, in opposition to this, and more especially by the magistrates from the northern part of the county, that the measure would alone benefit the wealthier southern sections, and thereby be oppressive to the rest. These objections, whether well taken or not, were urged against, and finally secured the defeat of the measure. Again in 1882 Hon. James Breathitt, who then represented the county in the Legislature, secured the passage of an act allowing the people to vote a tax of 50 cents on each $100 worth of property, and a per capita of $1. The same causes, together with some defection in the ranks of the pro-turnpike men, conspired to defeat this measure also. The question entering largely into the last canvass for Representative, M r. Breathitt was defeated for re-election, and his opponent, Mr. Brasher, was elected.

The Hopkinsville, Newstead & Canton Turnpike Road Company was organized in 1878 with J. D. Clardy, President, and B. S. Campbell, Charles B. Alexander, J. R. Caudle and H. H. Abernathy, Directors. Capital stock, $10,000, divided into $100 shares. It is three and three fourths miles in length, has one toll-gate, and cost $2,300 per mile. It has been paying thirteen per cent per annum since its completion. The officers for the present year, 1884, are: President, Col. Charles B. Alexander; and B. S. Campbell, Dr. J. D. Clardy, J. R. Caudle and M. C. Forbes, Directors.


Perrin, William Henry, ed., Counties of Christian and Trigg, Kentucky, Historical and Biographical, Chicago : F. A. Battey Publishing Co., 1884.

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