AHGP Transcription Project

Bath County

Bath County, the 56th formed in the state, was carved out of Montgomery County, January 15, 1811, and named from the great number of medicinal springs within its borders. It is situated in the eastern part of the state. Licking River flows along its entire eastern and northern sides, and its principal tributaries in the county are Flat, Slate, and Salt Lick creeks. The county is bounded north by Fleming County, east by Fleming, Rowan, and Menifee, south by Menifee and Montgomery, and west by Montgomery and Nicholas counties. The portion west of Slate creek, with its leading roads macadamized, is a limestone formation, some of it as fine for grain and grass as any in the world; the eastern is poor and hilly, a portion well timbered, and contains one of the largest deposits of iron ore in Kentucky, with some bituminous coal, but not in workable beds.

Owingsville, the county seat, first settled by Harrison Connor, but named after Col. Thos. Dye Owings, has a courthouse, 2 churches, and 2 banks, and is steadily growing, with prospect of rapid increase on completion of the Lexington and Big Sandy, and the Frankfort, Paris, and Big Sandy railroads; population in 1870, 550.
Sharpsburg, named after Moses Sharp, 11˝ miles west of Owingsville, is a larger business point, has 4 churches and a bank; population in 1870, 319.
Bethel, 4 miles north of Sharpsburg; population about 80;
Wyoming, on Licking River, 7 miles north of Owingsville; population in 1870, 120; and
Polksville, 7 miles from Owingsville; population about 40.

Members of the Legislature, since 1859

Major. Geo. W. Connor, 1869-73.

House of Representatives
John H. Gudgell, 1859-61;
Van Buren Young, 1861-63, but resigned August 15, 1862, and succeeded by Dr. Joshua Barnes, 1862-65;
Lander Barber, 1865-67, but seat contested, and declared vacant, Jan. 13, 1866, and succeeded by B. Dan. Lacy, 1866-67;
Geo. Hamilton, 1867-69;
Alpheus W. Bascom, 1869-73;
Henry L. Stone, 1873-75.

The Olympian springs, 8 miles southeast of Owingsville, is a watering place of considerable celebrity, with 3 springs, sulphur, salt sulphur, and chalybeate. During the war of 1812, (W. Thos. Dye Owings, while raising and organizing the 28th regiment U. S. infantry, had his camp here, and built most of the cabins. Many of them were burned during the recent civil war, but have been rebuilt.

The Old Slate iron furnace was built about 1790. It went out of blast in 1838, Beaver furnace and forge about 1826, Caney furnace in 1849, Clear creek furnace in 1854, Maria forge in 1850.

The only fortification or station in early times, in what is now Bath County, was a blockhouse, in 1786, on the old Slate ore bank, where Jacob Myers afterwards erected the Slate iron furnace, in which the furnace hands took refuge on the approach of Indians. The only thing now left to mark the spot is the well, which still furnishes excellent water.

First Court

This was held on May 5, 1811, at the house of Capt. James Young, on Flat creek, John Allen, circuit judge, presiding. Col. Thos. Dye Owings and Jas. M. Graham, associate judges. The court appointed John Trimble, attorney for the commonwealth, and Tandy Allen, clerk; the latter resigned, during the term, and Thos. Triplett was appointed. The grand jury returned only one indictment. The house in which this court was held was destroyed by fire in 1866.

First Settlers

Hugh Sidwell, Thos. Clark and his brother, and a Mr. Bollard settled on Slate creek, at the mouth of Naylor's branch, about 1783. In 1775, Elias Tolin made an "improvement," by building a temporary cabin and clearing a small piece of land, on Slate creek, where the old Bourbon furnace now stands. Wm. Calk was on Slate creek in 1779.

Ancient Fortifications and Mounds

A quarter of a mile north of Sharpsburg, are the remains of a fortification, which forms a complete circle, embracing an area of about eleven acres. In 1807, the embankment enclosing the fortification was three or four feet high. There are two small mounds near the embankment, and equidistant from it, one on the east, the other on the west side of it. On the south side, mainly within the embankment, but extending outside, is a pond or pool of water, at the head of a small branch; the pool evidently was made by excavating the earth for the purpose. Two hundred yards south-east of the fortification, is a third and much larger mound; and also a fourth mound, small, south-west of it. Large trees are, or have been, growing upon all of these mounds. In 1871 this remarkable work had lost much of its distinctness, cultivation having almost leveled it with the surrounding plane.

Four miles northeast of Sharpsburg is a mound twenty feet in height; and a mile distant, another of nearly its size, which has a promontory or backbone projecting eastward. On both of these mounds the trees are as large and apparently as old as those in the surrounding forest. East of Flat and Slate creeks, which flow through the county northward into Licking River, are but few mounds; while to the west of them, almost exclusively in the rich limestone lands of the county, they are quite numerous, many of them small, and some almost leveled by cultivation.

Mammoth Remains

On the land of John R. Wren, in Sharpsburg, on the highest ground in the town and as high as any in the vicinity, is a natural pond known as Fleming's pond, so called, tradition says, because Col. John Fleming secreted himself in or near it after being wounded by the Indians. In 1851, while clearing out and deepening this pond, which had become dry and full of mud (as it was again in 1871) at the depth of four feet, were discovered in a stratum of blue clay, slightly intermixed with dark loam, the remains of a mastodon; the overlying stratum was of decomposed vegetable matter, with chips of wood, evidently made by the axes of the first settlers. Several teeth, 3 or 4 inches broad and 6 inches long, perfectly sound; a tusk, 8 feet long and 7 inches in diameter at the base, which crumbled on exposure to the air; a hip joint 9 inches across the socket; a section of a rib, 6 inches broad, and some other bones correspondingly large, proved the animal to be of enormous proportions. Some of the specimens were sent to the Museum of Centre College; others are in possession of Dr. H. E. Guerrant, of Sharpsburg.

The following interesting incident in the early settlement of Bath County, is related in McClung's "Sketches of Western Adventure," a work published by the author of these notes in the year 1832:

"In the month of August, 1786, Mr. Francis Downing, then a mere lad, was living in a fort, where subsequently some iron works were erected by Mr. Jacob Myers, which are now known by the name of Slate creek works, and are the property of Colonel Thomas Dye Owings. About the 16th, a young man belonging to the fort, called upon Downing, and requested his assistance in hunting for a horse which had strayed away on the preceding evening. Downing readily complied, and the two friends traversed the woods in every direction, until at length, towards evening, they found themselves in a wild valley, at the distance of six or seven miles from the fort. Here Downing became alarmed and repeatedly assured his elder companion, (whose name was Yates), that he heard sticks cracking behind them, and was confident that Indians were dogging them. Yates, being an experienced hunter, and from habit grown indifferent to the dangers of the woods, diverted himself freely at the expense of his young companion, often inquiring, at what price he rated his scalp, and offering to ensure it for a six pence.

"Downing, however, was not so easily satisfied. He observed, that in whatever direction they turned, the same ominous sounds continued to haunt them, and as Yates still treated his fears with the most perfect indifference, he determined to take his measures upon his own responsibility. Gradually slackening his pace, he permitted Yates to advance twenty or thirty steps in front of him, and immediately afterwards descending a gentle hill, he suddenly sprung aside, and hid himself in a thick cluster of whortleberry bushes. Yates, who at that time was performing some woodland ditty to the full extent of his lungs, was too much pleased with his own voice to attend either to Downing or the Indians, and was quickly out of sight. Scarcely had he disappeared, when Downing, to his unspeakable terror, beheld two savages put aside the stalks of a canebrake, and look out cautiously in the direction which Yates had taken."

"Fearful that they had seen him step aside, he determined to fire upon them, and trust to his heels for safety, but so unsteady was his hand, that in raising his gun to his shoulder, she went off" before he had taken aim. He lost no time in following her example, and after running fifty yards, he met Yates, who, alarmed at the report, was hastily retracing his steps. It was not necessary to inquire what was the matter. The enemy were in full view, pressing forward with great rapidity, and "devil take the hindmost," was the order of the day. Yates would not outstrip Downing, but ran by his side, although in so doing he risked both of their lives. The Indians were well acquainted with the country, and soon took a path that diverged from the one which the whites followed, at one point, and rejoined it at another, hearing the same relation to it, that the string does to the bow."

"The two paths were at no point distant from each other more than one hundred yards, so that Yates and Downing could easily see the enemy gaining rapidly upon them. They reached the point of re-union first, however, and quickly came to a deep gully which it was necessary to cross, or retrace their steps. Yates cleared it without difficulty, but Downing, being much exhausted, fell short, and falling with his breast against the opposite brink, rebounded with violence, and fell at full length upon the bottom. The Indians crossed the ditch a few yards below him, and eager for the capture of Yates, continued the pursuit, without appearing to notice Downing. The latter, who at first had given himself up for lost, quickly recovered his strength, and began to walk slowly along the ditch, fearing to leave it, lest the enemy should see him. As he advanced, however, the ditch became more shallow, until at length it ceased to protect him at all."

"Looking around cautiously, he saw one of the Indians returning, apparently in quest of him. Unfortunately, he had neglected to reload his gun, while in the ditch, and as the Indian instantly advanced upon him, he had no resource bat flight. Throwing away his gun, which was now useless, he plied his legs manfully in ascending the long ridge which stretched before him, but the Indian gained on him so rapidly that he lost all hope of escape. Coming at length to a large poplar which had been blown up by the roots, he ran along the body of the tree upon one side, while the Indian followed it upon the other, doubtless expecting to intercept him at the root. But here the supreme dominion of fortune was manifest."

"It happened that a large she bear was suckling her cubs in a bed which she had made at the root of the tree, and as the Indian reached that point first, she instantly sprung upon him, and a prodigious uproar took place. The Indian yelled, and stabbed with his knife; the bear growled and saluted him with one of her most endearing "hugs;" while Downing, fervently wishing her success, ran off through the woods, without waiting to see the event of the struggle. Downing reached the fort in safety, and found Yates reposing after a hot chase, having eluded his pursuers, and gained the fort two hours before him. On the next morning, they collected a party and returned to the poplar tree, but no traces either of the Indian or bear were to be found. They both probably escaped with their lives, although not without injury."

One of the pioneers of Bath County, James Wade, long since deceased, delighted to tell the following incident in the life of Daniel Boone:

"In 1780, while passing alone, which he frequently did, from Boonesboro to the Upper Blue Licks, Boone diverged to the eastward of the direct route, down Slate creek. Fresh signs of Indians near Gilmore's station (then deserted), 12 miles east of Mountsterling, caused him to move with great caution. Passing over several miles of level forest, now the property of Judge Ewing, 2 miles south of Owingsville, he reached the brow of a gentle slope extending to Slate creek, and halted to quench his thirst at a clear spring. A rifle-ball whistled near, and scaled a piece of bark from the beech tree which overhung the spring. Bounding rapidly down the slope to the creek, he swam to the opposite bank, and disappearing in a thick cane-brake, parted his way stealthily down the creek, a hundred yards. The Indians, two in number, had also gone down the creek, and were cautiously advancing towards the water's edge, suspicious that the hunter had treed and was watching for his victim. Boone determined to kill both at one shot, and bringing his gun to his shoulder aimed at the foremost and waited anxiously for the other to fall in range. He did so, and Boone fired, the ball passing through the head of one and lodging in the other's shoulder. The wounded Indian, with a yell of alarm and pain, dropped his gun and darted off. Re-crossing, Boone selected the best of the Indians' guns, and throwing the other into the creek, where it was afterwards found, made his way undisturbed to the Blue Licks, The scar of the Indian's ball on the tree was plainly visible for many years."

The court house at Owingsville is adorned with an excellent portrait of Bath's most distinguished citizen, Richard H. Menifee—from which was copied the engraving in the group of statesmen opposite page. [See sketch under Menifee County.]

Andrew Trumbo was born September 13, 1799, in that part of Montgomery now included in Bath County; at 15 entered the county clerk's office, and rose to be clerk himself; studied law and began the practice in 1824; was commonwealth's attorney; in congress for two years, 1845-47; and presidential elector in 1848, casting his vote for Gen. Zachary Taylor; removed to Franklin County, and died there August 11, 1871.

John C. Mason was born in Virginia; came to Bath, and engaged extensively in the iron business; was a representative in the Kentucky legislature in 1839, 1844, and 1848, and in the 35th congress, 1857-59; served in the war with Mexico, in the quartermaster's department, with the rank of major, and took part in the storming of Saltillo; died in 1865, in the city of New Orleans, on his way to Kentucky from Texas, where he then resided. Gen. John B. Hood was born in Owingsville, June 29, 1831; educated at Mountsterling; entered West Point military academy in 1849, graduating in 1853; served with the 4th infantry two years in California; was transferred, July, 1855, to the 2nd cavalry, then commanded by Col. Albert Sidney Johnston and Lieut. Col. Robert E. Lee, on the western frontier of Texas, and was wounded, July, 1856, in a fight with the Indians; was ordered from Texas to West Point as instructor of cavalry; resigned his commission April 16, 1861, and entered the new army of the South as first lieutenant; May, 1861, captain of cavalry, and while such, in the fight at Great Bethel; September 30, 1861, colonel of infantry; March 3, 1862, brigadier-general; for distinguished services at Gaines' Mill, promoted to major-general; for gallant services at Chickamauga, September 20, 1863, and previously, made lieutenant general; July 18, 1864, succeeded to the command of the Army of Tennessee; fought the desperate battles of Peach Tree creek, Atlanta, Jonesboro, Franklin, Tennessee, on November 30, 1864, and of Nashville, December 16, 1864; January 23, 1865, at his own request, was relieved of the command of the army, and after publishing his official report of the disastrous Atlanta campaign, retired to his home at San Antonio, Texas.

Henry S. Lane, a native of Bath County, where many of his relatives still live, removed when a young man to Indiana; practiced law; was a representative in congress for two years, 1841-43, and U. S. senator for six years, 1861-67.

Ambrose Dudley Mann, special agent of the United States government to Austria in 1846, to Hungary in 1849, and to Switzerland in 1850, and who filled other honorable missions, was a native of Bath County, and an editor. Key. Benjamin Snelling.

It is generally believed and reported in Bath County that the daughters of Cols. Boone and Callaway, when captured at Boonesboro, in July, 1776, were rescued from the Indians on Bald Eagle, a branch of Flat creek, at a point 3 miles east of Sharpsburg, on the buffalo trace, yet plainly to be seen leading to the Upper Blue Licks. A similar belief obtains among the residents further west, that the rescue occurred in Harrison County. The earliest printed account which gives the location is in Bradford's Notes on Kentucky in 1826, which says it occurred "a little below the Upper Blue Licks." But the proximate location was recently ascertained by the author of this revision, from a deposition of a son-in-law of Edward Boone, Daniel's brother, who passed over the identical ground in 1780, in pursuit of the Indians who had murdered Edward Boone; he says the recapture took place "2 or 3 miles south of the Upper Blue Licks."

From the reports of the state geological survey, made in 1858-59, is copied or condensed the following:

Falling Waters

The traveler over the old state road along the crest of the Dry Ridge (which forms the center of the mineral section of Bath County) by a few steps to the right or left, finds himself at the edge of high precipitous cliffs, over which, at short intervals, plunge numberless waters, wearing for themselves deep and narrow channels in the conglomerate. At the Laurel Spring meeting-house, the streams falls over a projecting ledge to a depth of 110 feet; further east. Raccoon creek falls 41 feet down upon a shelving mass of the conglomerate, and then with another plunge of 44 feet reaches the bottom of the gulf Instances of this kind are as common as they are picturesque and beautiful.

Springs are abundant, of two kinds, one of cold, hard water, issuing at the base of the limestone; the other a soft water, not cold, issuing higher up in the hills, and marking the place of the coal.

The Coal Area of Bath County is in the southeast corner, and small; its outcrop in the ridge which divides the headwaters of Gilladie and Indian branches of Red River from the headwaters of Beaver, Blackwater, Duck, and Salt Lick creeks, as far west as the head of Slate creek. It contains only the sub-conglomerate bed, which is here a double vein of workable thickness, which ranges from 28 to 36 inches, most of it with a clay parting. Much of it is hauled to Mount Sterling, for blacksmith purposes and the grate. This bed of coal is within three to six miles of the two lines of railroad surveys made in 1852-53 near the Olympian Springs.


Analyses of fourteen samples of Bath County limonite ores ranged from 26.61 to 60.41 in percentage of metallic iron, an average of 49.10; and of three of carbonate of iron, 27.22 per cent. One or more furnaces in this county were worked about 1790.

Source: History of Kentucky, Volume II, by Lewis Collins, Published by Collins & Company,
Covington, Kentucky, 1874

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