Grainger County stood at a crossroad; one of the most important crossroads in America. Centuries ago a wild herd of buffalo discovered Cumberland Gap. This “Buffalo Trace” slanted across four modern states, keeping away from lowlands or marshes where their vast weight would cause them to sink as the mastodons had in the Kentucky salt licks centuries earlier.
The buffalo had discovered Cumberland Gap at the point where Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia came together.
This buffalo trail came through Bean Station and up Hog Hollow across Clinch Mountain and then on to Cumberland Gap.
After the hard climb up over the rocks they paused to pant and blow at the top before thundering down the slopes into Kentucky. From Cumberland Gap their track went northwest, crossing the Ohio River between New Albany and Louisville, slanting across Indiana and crossing the Wabash at Vincennes. The ancient route was almost exactly followed by Abraham Lincoln’s family.
This route became known as the Wilderness Road. It was only a pack trail which climbed countless ridges, ran through almost impenetrable valleys and across rushing streams. It was 20 years before it could be negotiated by anything on wheels. Yet, in this period a human tidal wave of 100,000 restless souls took themselves and their possessions on foot and horseback over the mountains to Kentucky.
Henry Clay once said that he stood at Cumberland Gap listening “to the tread of coming millions.”
Today, motorists can take Highway 25E from Bean Station to Cumberland Gap and travel over much of the same route taken by the early settlers. The scenery is unsurpassed. On the steep climb up Clinch Mountain, pause at the top to get a view of the beautiful valley below which was once Bean Station.
Cherokee Lake took the original site of this once famous place. It was there that Thomas Whiteside, an extremely wealthy landowner, operated his famous tavern and it was there the famous racehorse track was laid out.
Bean Station did not only stand at the famous crossroads to see the millions heading west, but it too catered to the greats in the early 1800’s.
Unfortunately, many of those who struggled so tirelessly across the mountains never lived to see the plains of Kentucky. As many as 100 per year were killed by Indians while dreaded diseases such as smallpox and the strange milk sickness took their toll.
Yes, Grainger County ranks as one of the most historic counties in the state. It stood silently by as millions trod through its virgin forest to the west.
Some of this information came from the late Thomas Roach’s book, The History of Grainger County.