Story by Cathy Gilkey, The Winchester Sun
Photographs by James Mann, The Winchester Sun
Copyright 2000 and 2001 The Winchester Sun. Used by permission of The Winchester Sun. We wish to thank Cathy Gilkey, James Mann and the Winchester Sun for their support of LHC.
what life was like in the 1790s still remain today in Lower Howards
Creek, only now they just tell a small part of the story. The old mill, more
than 200 years old, still stands. Even more preserved is the old Martin House,
which was home to some of the first settlers in Clark County.
Surrounded by thick vegetation, the sites are a hike from any paved roads. But its that lack of access which has allowed the remnants of Clark Countys past to be relatively untouched by humans.Standing before the old structures, visiting John and Rachael Martins grave site and seeing the channel where water was funneled to the mill from Lower Howards Creek, one can only imagine what these early pioneers had to do to survive, and thrive, in time so different from this one.
The benefit of all of this is spiritual as much as anything, Dick Gamble, chairman of the Clark County-Winchester County Heritage Commission, said as he stood in front of the mill. It brings inner peace out here.
Commission and the Friends of Lower Howards Creek continue to plan the
Lower Howards Creek Heritage Park and Nature Center, the preserve purchased
last year by the county with grant money from the Kentucky Heritage Land Conservation
The park will be a preserve, which will help maintain a link to Clark Countys past for future generations. About 200 of the 244 acres have been designated as a Kentucky State Nature Preserve, which means no logging, littering, camping or destruction of any sort. If a tree falls, it will more or less stay where it lands, explained Will Hodgkin, a member of the Heritage Commission who also has worked on preserving the site. The only development will be at the front of the property off Athens-Boonesboro Road, where a welcome center and entrance is planned.
As the park progresses, all exotic vegetation will have to be removed, Gamble explained. Exotic is anything that is not native to the area, he said. What will remain will be the running buffalo clover, a plant listed by the federal government as endangered, and the water stitchwort, which is listed as threatened by the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
A more-defined path will be cleared, but the original road used by the settlers, lined by two rock walls, can be seen. Residents in the area during those pioneer days, which may have numbered in the several hundred, worked diligently to construct the rock walls, mill, house and dam, and half-mile channel that leads from the creek to the mill. The mill may also have been dry stone construction, meaning workers formed the stones to fit the space as the three-story building was constructed. There are signs of mortar, but that was most likely used later on during repairs.
None of the floors remain in the mill, but nearly all of one wall stands, towering over the remains. The main floor was where the product, either timber or corn, was processed or ground up, and it was sent down Lower Howards Creek to the Kentucky River, where it then traveled to New Orleans. Landowner John Holder was one of the first successful traders from the area using the river and the mill, explained Hodgkin.
Although most of the old Martin mill has fallen down, visitors can still get an idea of how it operated. A large wheel was on the side, behind the large opening, where the water was used to generate power. The mill was once three stories tall and was the hub of the early Clark County settlement.
As Holder became more and more successful, the area around Lower Howards Creek began to thrive. His shipping business helped farmers sell their products and make money in the frontier land, allowing the area to prosper. By 1820, the valley had become an industrial corridor with many mills, distilleries and manufacturing operations. Kentucky historian R. S. Cotterill described the area in 1812 as one of the largest manufacturing areas west of the Allegheny Mountains. When the industrial revolution came to Kentucky, water-powered mills became antiquated. Instead of using the river to transport goods, the railroad was quicker and more effective.
When the steam engine came along, the mills shut down, Hodgkin said. It was very active over decades, and then it was obsolete.
By the turn of the 20th century, the settlement at Lower Howards Creek was all but abandoned. The last inhabitants of the Martin House moved out in the 1940s, and very few have been in the area since. Very few except for treasure seekers and vandals. Just in the past few years, the mill and the house have been damaged by people going there, seeking old artifacts and antiques. Gamble and Hodgkin, who are regular visitors to the area due to the preserve project, can point out visible signs of damage done by the vandals.
Its a travesty, Gamble said.
Gamble said while its not feasible to have a patrol of the area 24 hours a day, they are actively looking for trespassers and will not tolerate any destruction of the now-protected land. While the Friends of Lower Howards Creek, which oversees the progress of the Heritage Park, have a ways to go before the park will be open to the public, they have come a long way in a year.
Archeological and biological surveys are being conducted, and the Friends are seeking an architect to help them stabilize the mill and Martin House. They have applied for state and federal funds to assist the park in paying for repairs and stabilization, and they are looking for more members of the Friends to assist in getting the park opened, which is expected in 2002.
The Friends hope to hire an executive director and professional guides to lead visitors through the park, they said. They dont think unguided tours will be allowed due to the sensitive nature of the vegetation and buildings.
Volunteers and donated services have given the park a good boost, Gamble said. Survey work donated by Palmer Engineering helped define the boundaries of the park and pro bono legal assistance by Jim Clay has helped them with various legal issues.
The Friends hope to form a relationship with the Clark County Schools, since this is a unique opportunity for children to learn about Clark County history outside the classroom, Gamble said. This is in our back yard, agreed Hodgkin.
As work continues, all those involved eagerly await to find new treasures on the property. So far, waterfalls, endangered plants, the historic buildings and the creek itself are the highlights of the property.
Who knows what well find here, Gamble said. There could be things we dont even know about yet.
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