Book details rich history of highway from Maysville to Lexington

jbrammer@herald-leader.comDecember 29, 2012 

Professor Karl Raitz and Nancy O'Malley wrote Kentucky's Frontier Highway, published by University Press of Kentucky.

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  • Maysville Road exhibit and book signing

    The Hopewell Museum in Paris is to present a special exhibit Feb. 10 through June 2 about sites and scenes on the Maysville Road. The exhibit contains archaeological excavations conducted during recent road improvements to interpret the road's geographical and societal history.

    A free reception for the opening of the exhibit is on Feb. 10 from 2 to 4 p.m. at the museum, 800 Pleasant Street in Paris. Karl Raitz and Nancy O'Malley, authors of Kentucky's Frontier Highway: Historical Landscapes Along the Maysville Road, will sign copies of their book.

    The exhibit is sponsored by the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, Kentucky Archaeological Society Survey and the Williams S. Webb Museum of Anthropology at the University of Kentucky.

Once an ancient footpath used by Native Americans and early settlers, the 67 miles of highway from Maysville to Lexington known today as U.S. 68 helped shaped Kentucky and the wider American landscape, according to a new book.

The publication, Kentucky's Frontier Highway: Historical Landscapes Along the Maysville Road, details the rich history of a roadway traveled by Daniel Boone, Henry Clay and Andrew Jackson.

In the late 1700s, settlers and merchants from the mid-Atlantic Coast colonies found the easiest route to the heart of the fertile Bluegrass region of Kentucky was traveling from southeastern Pennsylvania down the Ohio River to Maysville instead of tackling the Appalachian Mountains.

Authors Karl Raitz, professor of geography at the University of Kentucky, and Nancy O'Malley, assistant director of the Williams S. Webb Museum of Anthropology at UK, capture that history and the road today in a 340-page book that took about 10 years to complete. It is published by University Press of Kentucky.

Mark Wetherington, director of the Louisville-based Filson Historical Society, said the book is "an excellent compilation of the history of the most critical connector coming down the Ohio River to the Bluegrass."

The book is chock-full of historical nuggets and current information. They include:

■ The initial terminus of the Maysville Road in Lexington was Limestone and Main Streets. Limestone Street got its name from the first name of Maysville, Limestone Trace.

■ Gov. Joseph Desha, a Mason County resident, successfully advocated in 1826 for a turnpike road that would link Maysville to Louisville by way of Lexington and Frankfort.

■ The famous rock walls that adorn much of the road from Lexington to Paris were built mostly by Irish immigrants in the mid-19th century. Many Irish immigrants, as well as singer-actress Rosemary Clooney, are buried at St. Patrick's Cemetery, off U.S. 68 in Washington.

■ President Andrew Jackson, a frequent traveler of the Maysville Road, which was a key connection between his home in Nashville and Washington, D.C., vetoed a bill providing federal funds for the road. He claimed the bill would only benefit Kentucky. The veto greatly upset Henry Clay of Lexington, another frequent patron of the road who proposed the bill, and is believed to have hindered economic development in the region for decades.

■ In 1835, the Kentucky General Assembly set up a bounty schedule to pay any person who delivered runaway slaves on the Maysville Road to their owners.

■ In the late 1800s, an office at Short and Mill streets in Lexington served stagecoach lines connecting the city to surrounding county seats and more distant cities on the Ohio River, including Maysville.

Besides detailing the overall history of the Maysville Road, the book provides a mile-by-mile historical account of the highway with information on various buildings and farms along the road today.

In addition to Lexington and Maysville, chapters in the book are devoted to communities such as Paris, Millersburg, Blue Licks, Fairview, Ewing, Mayslick and Washington.

Raitz and O'Malley said the book stems from their scholarly work on the road. Raitz, the state geographer, is a co-author of "Rock Fences of the Bluegrass" and O'Malley has been involved in archaeological excavations along the road.

Jack Brammer: (502) 227-1198. Twitter: @BGPolitics. Blog: bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com

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