AHGP Transcription Project

Estill County

Estill County, the 50th erected in the state, was formed in 1808, out of parts of Madison and Clark, and named in honor of Capt. Jas. Estill. Parts of its original territory have been taken to help form the counties of Breathitt in 1839, Owsley in 1843, Powell in 1852, Jackson in 1858, and Lee in 1870. It is situated in the eastern middle part of the state, and bounded north by Powell and Clark counties, east by Lee, south east by Owsley, south by Jackson, and west by Madison. The Kentucky River enters the county at its south east corner, flows through it almost centrally, and out at the north west corner; its principal tributaries in the county are Red River, which forms the northern boundary line, Station Camp, Miller's, Buck, Drowning, and Cow creeks; some of these have large forks or branches. The southern and eastern half of the county is broken and mountainous; the river and creek bottoms are rich and productive. The eastern part is rich in mineral resources beyond almost any spot in the state. Coal and iron ore of the finest quality, abound, and lead has been found. The growth of the bottom land is oak, walnut, hickory, cherry, and sugar tree, and some pine and cedar; that of the uplands, oak and poplar.

Irvine, the county seat, established in 1812 and named in honor of Col. Wm. Irvine (see under Madison county), is 70 miles south east of Frankfort, and 25 miles nearly east of Richmond; located on a beautiful site, on the north bank of the Kentucky River, and contains a fine new brick court house, jail, 2 Methodist churches (M. E. and M. E. South), public seminary, 2 taverns; 3 dry goods, 2 grocery, 2 drug, and 1 shoe and book stores; several mechanics' shops, steam carding factory and grist mill, tannery and steam grist mill, 8 lawyers, 3 physicians; population in 1870, 224, and on Jan. 1, 1873, about 300.
Wisemantown, on south side of Ivy River, 2 miles from Irvine, contains a dry goods store, school house, steam saw and grist mill, and blacksmith's shop.

Members of the Legislature from Estill County, since 1851

Sidney M. Barnes, 1851-53;
Harrison Cockrill, 1862-65, '69-73;
Henry C. Lilly, 1865-69.

House of Representatives
Wm. G. Jackson, 1851-63;
Lewis M. Wilson, 1853-55;
Benj. F. Rice, 1855-57;
Oliver Crawford, 1857-59;
A. B. Stivers, 1859-61;
Albert A. Curtis, 1861-65;
Wm. J. Moores, 1865-67;
W. J. Webb, 1869-71;
Isaac N. Cardwell, 1873-75.

The Estill Springs, half a mile from Irvine, have been celebrated as a watering place for many years. The buildings are large and complete. The white sulphur is enclosed in a large gum, planted nearly half a century ago, and which is said to be in a state of petrifaction. The view from the top of the Sweet Lick Knob, at the foot of which the white sulphur gushes out clear as crystal, is one of the grandest and most romantic known. There are springs with at least five different medicinal waters, two of red sulphur, and one each of white and black sulphur, and chalybeate. Prof Robert Peter, of the Kentucky geological survey, analyzed them, and found them very valuable when drank fresh, at the springs; when carried any distance and exposed to the air, much of their virtue is lost by a change of the dissolved bi-carbonate of protoxide of iron to insoluble hydrated peroxide of iron; causing a brownish deposit.

An Indian Camping ground on the banks of Station Camp creek, near the mouth of the Red Lick creek, in the early settlement of the state, gave name to the creek. It is an understood fact that the Indians procured their supply of lead in this vicinity.

The "Red River Iron District" is mainly confined to Estill County. The iron ores of the region produce iron of unsurpassed excellence. The first iron works in the county were located on Red river, in the north east corner of the county, about 1810, and embraced a blast furnace, knobling fire and forge. About 1830, the Estill steam furnace was built, ten miles south east, on the mountain which divides the waters of Red River from those of the Kentucky, and smelting discontinued at the furnace on Red River; at the same time, the works at the "Forge" were greatly improved for the manufacture of bar iron, blooms, nails, and castings. The Red river iron works soon became celebrated for the good quality of the metal produced. About 1840, a new rolling mill supplanted the old forge, and coal from near the Three Forks of the Kentucky River, was employed as fuel; this coal was flat-boated from Beattyville down the river 50 miles, wagoned 9 miles up Red River to the iron works; it was not found suited to make good iron, and its use was abandoned. About 1860 the manufacture of iron at the mill was discontinued.

In 1865 "The Red River Iron Manufacturing Company" was chartered and organized with a cash capital of $1,000,000, which sum was actually expended in the purchase of all the estate belonging to the Red river iron works and in the improvement of that property. The works at the old forge on Red river were not revived, but the mills there were rebuilt and improved. Estill furnace was put in blast in May, 1866; many buildings erected, turnpike roads built, and the iron wagoned 8 miles, to Red River, and shipped by flat-boats. In 1868 the company began and in less than two years completed two of the largest charcoal furnaces in the world, with inclined planes, tramways, macadamized roads, mills, and shops, and homes for over 100 families; employing 1,000 men for more than a year. A town was chartered at the new furnaces, called Fitchburg, after the two brothers, Frank Fitch, the general superintendent, and Fred. Fitch, the secretary and treasurer. In 1869, the iron from Estill furnace was diverted from the Red River route, and wagoned 3 miles to Fitchburg; thence, together with the product of the two great furnaces which went into blast March 4, 1870, taken by a new tramway, 6 miles, to Scott's Landing, on Kentucky River, near the mouth of Miller's creek. In 1871, nearly 10,000 tons of pig iron were turned out, valued at $600,000.

In 1871, the "Estill Iron Co.," a new concern, in the hands of skilled men and with abundant capital, purchased the Cottage furnace property. As soon as either one of the projects for reaching these works by railroad is completed, the manufacture will be still more largely increased. The irregularity and uncertainty of transportation is the great barrier to the development of the mineral wealth of Kentucky.

Captain James Estill, in honor of whom this county received its name, was a native of Augusta County, Virginia. He removed to Kentucky at an early period, and settled on Muddy creek, in the present county of Madison, where he built a station which received the name of Estill's station. In 1781 in a skirmish with the Indians, he received a rifle-shot in one of his arms, by which it was broken. In March, 1782, with a small body of men, believed to be about twenty-five, he pursued a similar number of Wyandots across the Kentucky River, and into Montgomery County, where he fought one of the severest and most bloody battles on record, when the number of men on both sides is taken into the account.* Captain Estill and his gallant Lieutenant South, were both killed in the retreat which succeeded. Thus fell (says Mr. Morehead in his Boonsborough address), in the ripeness of his manhood. Captain James Estill, one of Kentucky's bravest and most beloved defenders. It may be said of him with truth, that if he did not achieve the victory, he did more, he deserved it. Disappointed of success, vanquished, slain, in a desperate conflict with an enemy of superior strength and equal valor, he has nevertheless left behind him a name of which his descendants may well be proud, a name which will live in the annals of Kentucky, so long as there shall be found men to appreciate the patriotism and self-devotion of a martyr to the cause of humanity and civilization.

The Rev. Joseph Proctor, of this county, was one of the intrepid band of Captain Estill, in the bloody battle noticed under the Montgomery head. His coolness and bravery throughout the battle, were unsurpassed. A savage warrior having buried his knife in Captain Estill's breast. Proctor instantly sent a ball from his rifle through the Wyandottes heart. His conduct after the battle, elicited the warmest approbation. He brought off the field of battle his wounded friend, the late Colonel William Irvine, of Madison, who is noticed under the head of that county.

In an engagement with the Indians at Pickaway towns, on the Great Miami, Proctor killed an Indian chief. He was a brave soldier, a stranger to fear, and an ardent friend to the institutions of his country. He made three campaigns into Ohio, with the view of suppressing Indian hostilities; and fought side by side with Boone, Callaway and Logan. He joined the Methodist Episcopal Church in a fort in Madison County, under the preaching of the Rev. James Hawkes and was ordained in 1809, by Bishop Asbury. He was an exemplary member of the church for sixty-five years, and a local preacher upwards of half a century. He died at his residence on the 2nd of December, 1844, and was buried with military honors.

* See a full account of this battle under the head of Montgomery County.

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

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