VANCEBURG | Once again, as the state of Kentucky celebrates its 220th year, today we look back at Lewis County and its rich Ohio River Valley history.
Named for the explorer Captain Meriweather Lewis, Lewis County was formed from Mason County in 1806; the first county seat was Poplar Flat; and it was the 48th (county) in order of formation.
There is a wealth of information about Lewis County waiting to be discovered at both the Lewis County Historical Society and the Lewis County Public Library.
The writings of Rev. O.G. Ragan, pastor of Grace Methodist Episcopal Church in Newport; and local historian Dr. William Talley are both available at the public library; both are available upon request from LCPL Director Marilyn Conway and the library staff.
Members of the Lewis County Historical Society have a vast collection at their location on Market Street. Volunteers like Janey Clark are happy to assist visitors wade through documents and books that tell interesting stories of the county, towns and people.
Two publications of particular interest are: City of Vanceburg 200 Hundred Years 1797-1997; and Lewis County History 200 Hundred Years 1806-2006, both published by the historical society.
Another source of information is the George Morgan Thomas Visitors Center. Restored in 2006, the 11 room home was built in 1883, for Judge George Morgan Thomas and his family. The home is furnished with items donated by Lewis County families and tells stories of the citizens and heritage of the county.
The Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad Depot Museum also has a collection of memorabilia and artifacts on the county's railroad history. The railroad was originally know as the Maysville and Big Sandy Railroad. The depot was restored in 2000 and opened as a museum.
Lewis County has seen its county seat removed from one town to another over the years. In 1806, a group of prominent settlers met and formed the new county government with Poplar Flat as the first county seat. In 1809, the county seat was moved to Clarksburg. In December 1863, the Legislature passed an act for removal to Vanceburg, which took place in January 1864.
In its earliest days, Lewis County was known to explorers and settlers for its natural resources and products: stone for building, tan-bark, hoop-poles, staves and cross ties; the timber of ash, hickory, oak, walnut, maple, dogwoods and kindred growths; apples, plums, peaches and pears; exports of cattle, hogs, tobacco, corn, wheat, timber, lumber and cooperage; and its mineral waters found at Esculapia Springs and Glen Springs at the head of Salt Lick Creek.
Early settlements of the county were Salt Lick, Kinniconnick, Quicks Run, Cabin Creek, Sycamore, Poplar Flat, Concord, Tollesboro (also spelled Tolesboro or Tolesborough), Vanceburg, Clarksburg, Quincy, Valley, Petersville, Garrison, and Burtonville. Other towns and communities over the years were: St. Paul, Montgomery Creek, Spy Run, McDowell, Red Brush, Tannery, Epworth, Ruggles Campground, Richland, Canaan, and Carrs.
Lewis County county contains 491 square mile, but that would have been different if Kentucky's proposed 121st county, Beckham, would have survived.
The story of Beckham County is such: in Februrary 1904, Beckham was formed from Carter, Lewis, and Elliott counties and named for Gov. J.C.W. Beckham.
The governor, a Democrat, named men of both parties to leadership posts. C.C. Brooks was named county judge; L.N. Raybourn, sheriff; E.A. Evans, county clerk; J.W. Lusby, county attorney; Lewis Gearhart, circuit clerk; and Tom Goodman, jailer. The circuit judge was Matthew M. Redwine and state senator was W.B. Whitt.
The new county took the southern third of Lewis County, the western third of Carter County and the northern top or about one fourth of Elliott County. Beckham was bordered on the west by Rowan and Fleming counties.
Beckham County ended with a Court of Appeals decision in April 1904. Opponents of the new county charged that the county must not have fewer than 400 square miles and must not leave another with less than that. It also was brought out that a county line must be 10 miles from another county seat.
The only remaining county records to indicate that it operated are 34 marriages performed during the 80 days of its existence.
One can't write about Lewis County without mentioning the springs that brought tourists to the county for many years.
Located in the Big Salt Lick area, Esculapia and Glen Springs were famous for two large hotels and mineral water. Esculapia Springs was thought of as the White Sulphur Springs of the West. It comprised 400 acres of "mountain, hill and dale" and was one of the oldest summer resorts in the country. The resort was famous from the 1840s to 1912. The hotel had a croquet court, a large parlor with a piano and a bowling alley.
There were two springs that people drank from: the Sulphur Spring and the Chalybeate Spring.
By 1853, the hotel business was diminishing and Esculapia went through a succession of owners and was run down by the end of the Civil War. Between 1867 and 1875, William F. Jones of Greenup County acquired the property and remodeled the resort. The hotel was destroyed by fire in August 1912.
According to a marketing pamphlet dated 1882, in 1852 the hotel was managed by Mr. M.T.C. Gould and there were 600 guests at the resort. In 1882, the proprietors were Jones and Stacey, according to the pamphlet.
Glen Springs was a popular health resort also. The springs were located at the foot of Esculapia Mountain at the head of Big Salt Lick Creek. Its early name was McCormick's Spring for James McCormick who operated a hotel there around 1850.
Glen Springs was later turned into a boarding school, but like its neighbor Esculapia, it was destroyed by fire sometime after 1917. Glen Springs Hotel contained 160 rooms; a magnificent ballroom; and a dining room that could seat 200 people.
*Material for this story was gathered from Lewis County History 200 Hundred Years 1806-2006, published by the Lewis County Historical Society.