When I was planning our visit to Kentucky, Mark mentioned to me a few times how he hoped we would be visiting Cumberland Gap. During our travels Mark has had few requests for places he is hoping to see. He usually leaves that up to me and my “wisdom,” but the Cumberland Gap was different. I think I missed learning about it in history classes or it didn’t make an impression on me, so it was here that I learned the significance of this place in the Appalachian Mountains. The Park is situated in three states, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia, with the National Park Visitor Center located in Kentucky. We started there to get the passport book stamped, see the exhibits and watch an interesting film on Daniel Boone. The mural in photo above is of Daniel Boone leading settlers through the Cumberland Gap in 1775.
At one time in the history of our country, the rugged Appalachian Mountains (photo above) were seen by easterners as a barrier to exploring and settling the country out west. In the 1700’s this area was considered the frontier with abundant fertile land that was a draw for pioneers. The Cumberland Gap was first used by buffalo and other game animals to cross the Appalachians followed by Native Americans who used the route for hunting and trading with other tribes. It was subsequently discovered by hunters and traders with explorers like Daniel Boone developing the Wilderness Road to pass through the Gap. Today, you can still walk the Wilderness Road and follow the footsteps of many former pioneers. But before heading over to the trailhead, we drove up to the Pinnacle Overlook, one of the most popular places to visit in the Park. From this lofty point, we had views of the Appalachian Mountains as well as views into three states.
From this point we were not only able to see the beautiful, wide vistas but also boundaries of the three states of Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky in relation to the Gap. In the photo below is a rough circle around the Gap. While standing here it took us a long time to figure out exactly where the Gap was, LOL.
Leaving the overlook, we drove down, passing through a mountain tunnel from Kentucky to Tennessee and the starting point for our trek to the Cumberland Gap.
Between 1775 and 1810, 200,000 to 300,000 people crossed the mountains here on the Wilderness Road into an area they called “Kaintuck,” which became Kentucky. We learned that they often made the journey during winter time so they could arrive to their new land in time for spring planting. Below are photos of our walk including a creek crossing on a log bridge.
I liked arriving to find this sign that we had made it to the Gap and who had passed here before.
We found a monument erected here commemorating Daniel Boone as a trail blazer. Due to his efforts the first settlements in Kentucky were made including the town of Boonesboro where Boone established a fort in 1775. Kentucky became the 15th state in 1792.
From here I continued on up the Tri-State Peak trail to the top where a monument has been erected for Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia. At this point all three states meet which is kind of cool to find at the end of a trail. There is a view looking out into Kentucky but not as good or expansive as the ones we saw at the Pinnacle Overlook. Below is a photo of the three state markers.
I thought I would close this post with some pictures from Levi Jackson Wilderness Road State Park in the town of London, Kentucky about 56 miles north from Cumberland Gap. At this park you can also walk a portion of the historic Wilderness Road. We didn’t spend any time walking the trails here, but we did stop to look at one of the more unusual collections I have seen – several dozen historic millstones once used to grind corn and grain. They are lined up along both sides of the walkways leading to McHargue’s Mill. We have seen a number of millstones throughout our travels, but never a collection like this, said to be the largest in the U.S.
A sign explained how the millstones were “dressed” and kept in working order. Another explained where they came from (many from Europe). As heavy as they look and weigh, it must have been a feat to get them placed and lined up here. Besides the historic Wilderness Road and millstones, this park has another claim to fame. In 1786 one of the most tragic events occurred in Kentucky’s history when 14 families traveling through stopped to camp and failed to post a guard for the night. They were attacked by Indians with twenty-four people killed and only three survivors.
In the next blog I plan a post in real time on where we are now!
2 thoughts on “Cumberland Gap National Historic Site”
I have so much admiration, but very little envy, for early explorers. Very intimidating terrain for sure. Thankfully we can just enjoy the beauty and marvel at the history without the worry of native’s arrows or roaming bears. I think the first time i heard of “cumberland gap” was in Darius Rucker’s song “wagon wheel”
Matt, great to hear from you and I totally agree. So nice to travel through these historic places without worry about harm and deprivation. I too have lots of admiration for those willing to sacrifice so much to explore and develop this country. They sure suffered to do it!