Big Bone, Kentucky
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Big Bone is an unincorporated community in southern Boone County, Kentucky, United States. It is bounded on the west by the Ohio River, and Rabbit Hash, on the south by Big Bone Creek, which empties into the river at Big Bone Landing. The northern extent is along Hathaway Road, and the eastern portion extends not further than U.S. 42, and is approached from that direction by Beaver Road (Route 338) coming from either Richwood or Walton. Geographical features of interest include the now disappeared Big Bone Island and the Palisades of Big Bone Creek.
The area is rich in history, and was the site of a "Watering Place", a hotel that catered to the well-to-do in the early part of the nineteenth century. There have been at least three hotels associated with the springs. The area has traditionally been primarily agricultural. Early transportation was by river. There were a few steamboats built in the 1830s (until the white oak timber gave out). The largest town, now extinct, was Hamilton, named after an early magistrate, Joel Hamilton; family descendants still live in the area. Hamilton, on the river, was originally known as Landing, and was located at the mouth of Little Gunpowder Creek, now generally known as Landing Creek. The nearby village of Normansville was never incorporated, and was just a mile or so from Hamilton. There were several businesses there in the 1880s and following.
There were several schools in the area, the earliest before 1843. The earliest church was the Mud Lick Baptist Church, established about 1805, but it went out of existence after 1845. The Big Bone Baptist Church was established in 1843. The house of worship was built on land donated by Gen. John Wallace and Thomas Huey. Until then most of the inhabitants of the area attended Middle Creek Baptist Church (now called Belleview in Belleview Bottoms, Kentucky). The only other church in the immediate area, the Big Bone Methodist Church, was established in 1888. The Methodist building, the upstairs of which was owned by the Masonic lodge, is still standing, and the land is now owned by the park; the building is undergoing repairs. There are a number of cemeteries in the area, the largest being at the Baptist Church. The oldest graves in this cemetery are from the 1840s.
There have been excavations of several of the prehistoric sites in the area, as well as at historic sites. A number of the farms in the area were tended by slaves before the American Civil War, though the density was probably not as high as in some other areas of the county because of the nature of the terrain. Probably the most famous visitor at that time was Gen. John Hunt Morgan, who passed by the Lick on a cold snowy day, with Capt. Hines. They were escaping from prison after being captured in Union territory. The hamlet of Big Bone gained some status in the early 1900s, and a "traction road" (railway) was proposed several times, but never materialized. The park itself became a reality due primarily to the efforts of John Uri Lloyd (1849–1936), a notable researcher and writer from the county who founded and served as the first president of the "Big Bone Lick Historical Association."
The name of the area has often elicited comment. The area was named after the extraordinarily large bones, including mammoths and mastodons, found in the swamps around the salt lick frequented by animals, who need salt in their diets. The fossil deposits were the most notable feature in the entire geographical region. Even the first maps noted it as "the place the big bones are found."
Big Bone Lick
The most famous landmark in the immediate area of Big Bone is Big Bone Lick, now the site of Big Bone Lick State Park. The salt lick, or lick, as it is more generally known locally, was long known to the original inhabitants of the area. It was discovered by people of European descent about 1735, the first recorded instance being one Robert Smith, an Indian trader. Other notable visitors were Daniel Boone, Lewis and Clark, William Henry Harrison, Christopher Columbus Graham, Mary Draper Ingles, Constantine S. Rafinesque, and many others.
Big Bone Creek
Big Bone Creek enters the Ohio River at mile 516.8 below Pittsburgh. The mouth is at the division of Boone and Gallatin Counties, Kentucky, near the site of Big Bone Island. It is navigable for several miles, and flows through Big Bone Lick State Park.
Big Bone Island
Big Bone Island is a small island in the Ohio River near the mouth of Big Bone Creek at Big Bone, Kentucky. It plays a part in local lore and history of the area, and many tales are told about it. Unfortunately, the island has disappeared due mostly to the raising of the river by the Markland Dam, but also due to large slabs of floating ice which destroyed much of the vegetation and carried away most of the soil. It seems to have disappeared entirely in the 1970s. Some people say the island was kidnapped but will turn up again some day — probably when the dam breaks.
Big Bone Island existed until the mid-1980s. A large spring flood washed away all the dirt and silt, most of it was deposited downriver at the mouth of Goose Creek and in front of the Patriot, Indiana boat launching ramp. For a number of years the remains of the trees that grew on the island were visible and the Coast Guard placed buoys to warn boaters. Over time all traces of Big Bone Island have disappeared and the buoys are now gone.
The primary history of the lick is Willard Rouse Jillson, Big Bone Lick, Louisville, 1936.
Adrienne Mayor, "Marsh Monsters of Big Bone Lick", Fossil Legends of the First Americans, (Princeton University Press, 2005), p. 1-31. ISBN 0-691-11345-9