One of Clark County’s hidden treasures is the Lower Howard’s Creek Nature and Heritage Preserve. Until this year, due to conditions imposed by state agencies, the Preserve had only been allowed to provide guided hikes.
That changed when the Friends of Lower Howard’s Creek’s petition to construct a public trail was approved. In April, the John Holder Trail was officially opened for public hiking. The trailhead is located beside Hall’s on the River; the restaurant allows hikers to use their parking lot. Judging by the number of brochures given out, the trail is being used on a daily basis. (Trail brochures are available on the trail and at the Clark County Tourism office.) The trail is 1.4 miles long (2.8 miles for a round trip) and has very gentle inclines and descents. For most hikers the trail would be designated as “easy,” although there is a creek crossing where you will usually get your feet wet. The trail is open every day and encompasses all the natural beauty of the main preserve. Spring wildflowers bloom in profusion and fall colors are gorgeous. You may encounter deer, turkey or signs of beaver.
The trail is named for Col. John Holder. Holder was one of the defenders of Boonesborough and became commander of the fort after Daniel Boone left. He established a pioneer station on this land in 1782 and settled here with his wife, Frances “Fanny” Callaway. She was one of the Callaway girls, daughters of Richard Callaway, who were kidnapped by the Shawnee and rescued by Daniel Boone. Holder was an enterprising businessman involved in many successful ventures including a ferry, boatyard, inspection warehouse, tavern and mill. He led the way for Lower Howard’s Creek to become one of the first industrialized areas in Kentucky.
Most of the trail is situated on land once owned by Holder. When he surveyed his land in order to receive a Virginia patent, he marked the beginning at William Bush’s corner, “a sassafras and double dogwood” on the bank of the Kentucky River and from there ran his line with Bush’s almost due north straight up the hillside. This corner, a landmark in deeds for many years, was located about 700 feet up the river from the mouth of Lower Howard’s Creek. Holder’s land included the lower reaches of this creek and ran down the river all the way to Jouett Creek.
The John Holder Trail goes by numerous historic structures and ruins. Some of these date back to the settlement period of Clark County, while others were in use during the late 20th century. These sites have an interesting place in the history of the Lower Howard’s Creek valley. This article is the first in a series that will focus on the families and occupations of those who lived along the trail. The Robert Martin House is marked as stop no. 1 on the trail brochure.
Robert Martin was a great-grandson of Clark County pioneer John Martin who settled on Lower Howard’s Creek in about 1786. William Martin, one of John’s sons, lived on a tract of land he purchased from William Bush that lay on the south side of Deep Branch. During the Revolutionary War, William fought in the battle of Brandywine and was later allowed a pension for his service. He died in 1835, at about age 78. In his will, William gave “to the children of my son Hudson Martin that part of my tract of land on which he now lives.” Two of Hudson’s sons, William and John, later sold their share “in the land left us by our grandfather, William Martin, deceased, it being land our brother Robert Martin now lives on.” Hudson gave his occupation as carpenter and stonemason. His son Robert was also a stonemason. There are many quarry sites that they worked in the hillside near the house.
All that remains of the Robert Martin House is a foundation of massive cut stone blocks. In 1995, Homer Martin, great-grandson of Robert, sat in front of the house for an interview. Homer said the house was essentially a log cabin that was built in about 1856. It was constructed of 12 to 18 inch hewn poplar logs with poplar board and batten siding and two end chimneys. The 25 x 50 foot house had two large rooms divided by a hall and a basement with an outside entrance that served as a root cellar. There is an ever-flowing spring about 100 feet down the hill. Robert and his wife, Mary Richards, raised nine children in the house. Their son William was Homer’s grandfather.
Homer was born in 1924 and grew up in the house, one of four generations of Martins to reside there. He recalled that the trees were cleared from the top of the hill all the way down to the creek. They kept a large, fenced in garden above the house and raised corn in the creek bottom. Much of the Lower Howard’s Creek area was kept treeless as long as people were living in the valley. Nature has reclaimed the area since the last residents moved away. Unfortunately, bush honeysuckle and other invasive plants have become a serious problem which Preserve volunteers constantly battle. These exotic species form a thick understory and choke out native plants.
In the 20th century, life on the creek was not easy. Homer said he and his brother Arthur helped put food on the table. They caught rabbits with deadfalls and kept a trotline in the creek. He said the creek was full of fish and turtles. They tried to keep chickens “but the hawks and foxes lived on them.” There was no electricity or running water and the family had no car. He recalled “many a time” walking to Winchester and back. His father, John Martin, worked as a night watchman at the now abandoned rock quarry on the Athens-Boonesboro Road and his mother could not read or write, but they provided a happy home life for their children and instilled in them the values needed to succeed in life. Although he only attended one semester of high school, Homer went on to a successful career as a field engineer for NCR Corporation. Homer passed away in Lexington in March.
The second stoop on the trail is at a ford of Lower Howard’s Creek. This ford is on the old Salt Springs Trace, which the Fort Boonesborough pioneers used when they traveled to Lower Blue Licks to make salt in 1775. The trace was originally made by buffalo and was later used by Native Americans. Blackfish and his 400 warriors came down the trace on their way to besiege the fort in 1778. From the ford, the trace continues along beside the creek; however, the John Holder Trail veers inland and follows an old dirt road, the Athens Boonesboro Turnpike. The trail then traverses Thompson Ridge, which is the subject of the next article.
Sources: Clark County Fiscal Court, Final Resource Management Plan, Lower Howard’s Creek Nature and Heritage Preserve, May 9, 2003; Winchester Sun, April 24, 2012; a copy of John Holder’s 1,000 acre survey at the Kentucky Land Office is available on line at http://sos.ky.gov/land/search/default.htm; William Martin’s Revolutionary War pension application, S-36070, Virginia; Clark County Will Book 8:320; Clark County Deed Book 1:403, 35:408, 309:441; U.S. Census, Clark County, 1850-1930; Homer Martin interview by Will Hodgkin, April 17, 1995; Lexington Herald-Leader, March 3, 2012; William Bush deposition, Clark County Complete Record Book (Land Trials), 1817-18, p. 477.