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Jefferson County Kentucky




In 2003 Jefferson County and the City of Louisville merged forming "Louisville-Jefferson County Metro Government."

Metro Hall is located at 527 West Jefferson Street, Louisville KY 40202; phone: 502-574-5000.

Jefferson County Courthouse
Photo: Jefferson County Courthouse, photographed by Bedford, (wikipedia username) 2007, en.wikipedia.org, accessed April, 2011.

Portions of the text below were adapted from the National Register Multiple Resource Document, Historic Resources of Jefferson County. [1] Adaptation copyright © 2010, The Gombach Group.

Jefferson County is situated in the extreme northwest portion of Kentucky's Bluegrass region and it is bordered by Oldham, Shelby, Spencer and Bullitt Counties. Jefferson County has over fifty miles of Ohio River frontage. The middle and western part of the county is an almost unbroken level plain, while the gently rolling hills of the eastern uplands are bordered by the river knobs. Jefferson was one of three original counties formed from Virginia's County of Kentucky in 1780. The name Jefferson County was in honor of Thomas Jefferson then Governor of Virginia. The territory of the county has provided land for twenty-six other counties or portions of them.

The most important geographic feature is the Ohio River and the Falls of the Ohio. The Falls are the reason this community developed as travelers going down river had to stop and portage around the Falls or risk the various chutes daring the periods of high water. The City of Louisville developed from 1778 when George Rogers Clark and his groups of settlers landed on Corn Island, and Jefferson County developed also with various stations which are shown on John Filson's map of 1784. Most of these stations developed along Beargrass Creek or its tributaries. Other important creeks along which settlement developed were Harrods Creek, Goose Creek, Pond Creek and Floyd's Fork.

The Wilderness Road which came west from the Cumberland Gap, came through the southeastern part of Jefferson County. Many settlers coming overland came into Jefferson along this route. Another important geographical feature was the presence of a vast alluvial plain in the south-central portion of the county. A great bed of New Albany shale, a result of the Denonian Age, lies close to the surface of the ground. This wet area was sparsely developed until the twentieth century.

Early Settlement to 1800

The first settlers in Jefferson County were recipients of Virginia land grants for military service in the French and Indian War. They came from Virginia, Pennsylvania and the area which would become West Virginia. Surveyors were in the falls area in 1773 and two of these surveyors, Dr. John Connelly and Captain Thomas Bullitt laid out a town after surveying several thousand acres.

In May of 1778, George Rogers Clark led one hundred and fifty militia recruits to the falls to conquer the British in the Illinois country. Families accompanied Clark and settled on Corn Island. By 1782 a second fort had been built on shore, Jefferson County had been established by the Virginia legislature and Jefferson County's first court was held.

At the same time that Clark and his settlers were fortifying near the falls and establishing the city of Louisville, Jefferson County was beginning to develop. Because of the Indian problem small fortified stations were established at various sites. None of these remain but the majority were in the northeast and southeast portions of the county where higher and more fertile ground could be found. The central portion of the county had to contend with the lowlands and marshes. There were settlers in the southwest portion of the county such as the Miller and Farnsley families.

One of the earliest industries was the production of salt in the southern part of the county. The Bullitt's Lick Saltwork in what is now part of Bullitt County was erected in 1779. Mann's Lick in Jefferson County began salt production about 1787. Salt was important for meat preservation. Early buffalo traces were visible in the area of the salt works. None of the vestiges of this industry remain.

Indian raids were intense during this early period. The most notable incidents included the Long Run Massacre, Floyd's Defeat, the murder of Abraham Lincoln's grandfather in 1786 and the Chenoweth family massacre.

Early structures were built to withstand these attacks and according to oral tradition the "Old Wilderness Fort" had gun holes in the logs and numerous arrowheads were found embedded in the log structure. Another early fortification was the sturdy stone house at Soldiers Retreat of which only the out buildings remain.

During this same period Colonel Richard Taylor, a Revolutionary War hero, and his family came from Virginia and settled in the eastern part of the county. His son Zachary lived there until the age of twenty-four and later became the twelfth President of the United States. Other early settlers were Alexander Scott Bullitt, nephew of Captain Thomas Bullitt, and his wife Priscilla who settled on a one-thousand acre farm in 1787 which they called Oxmoor.

Louisville which had been incorporated in 1780 was at the heart of the county and was thriving. However before 1800 there were several other incorporated areas within the county. Transylvania was a town laid out by the trustees of Transylvania Seminary in 1788. They had received the land from the Virginia legislature in 1780. It was at the mouth of Harrods Creek. The Creek had a number of mills on it and the town was active into the early nineteenth century after which it virtually disappeared. The inland waterway which Harrods Creek provided was not needed after the opening of the Portland Canal at the falls in 1830.

In 1794 the town of Newtown was laid out on land owned by James F. Moore, an early settler. Newtown, near Mann's Lick, did not take hold probably because of the swamp and lowlands in this area. Two other towns were incorporated in 1797 in the eastern part of the county. Middletown was laid out by William White, a member of the state legislature who had emigrated from Virginia.

The other early town was Brunerstown or Jeffersontown. The land had been owned by Colonel Frederick Geiger who sold land to Abraham Bruner in 1794. Bruner platted town. No known structures remain in the town proper from this very early period, although many from the early nineteenth century survive.

Another industry that was important in addition to the salt works was the erection of mills. Mills provided the early settlers with a device for grinding their corn and wheat. George Hikes had come from Pennsylvania in about 1790 to the Buechel area. Hikes built a grist mill, a saw mill and a carding machine, in addition to planting orchards and operating a distillery. John Smith built a mill on Cedar Creek in the Fern Creek area in the 1780s. A man named Mundell operated a grist and saw mill on Floyd's Fork and later sold it to John and Peter Funk.

During this early period of development the materials used for houses included log, brick, and stone. The majority of early log structures have vanished or have been drastically reworked.

Early churches in the community included the Chenoweth Run Baptist Church founded in 1792 and a German Lutheran and German Presbyterian Reformed in Jeffersontown. In the southwestern part of the county a group of Presbyterian settlers from Pennsylvania built the Pennsylvania Run Church. There were also early schools in the county but no structures remain from this period.

1800-1850

The first half of the nineteenth century was a period of rapid growth and development. Incorporated areas such as Middletown prospered. A fine general store opened in Middletown in 1813 known as the Head, Hobbs and Laurence General Store. The town also had a cigar factory, a comb factory a cabinet shop, a blacksmith shop, a tailor and several manufacturers of leather and woolen goods. Middletown's commercial importance over Louisville faded after-the opening of the Portland Canal at the falls in 1830.

The area in general after 1800 assumed a more civilized atmosphere, one that was conducive to the social, political and structural progress of the county. The number of mill sites multiplied on all the major streams; these mills included flour and saw mills. Other industries included expansion of the salt works in the southwestern part of the county but only until the appearance of steamboats on the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. As it became cheaper to import, by 1830 the salt industry had ceased.

The City of Louisville had numerous factories such as tobacco, nail and carriage works. Louisville had a foundry, a sugar refinery, brick yards and other amenities which were used by the citizens in the county. Churches and schools continued to develop. Although very few of these early church buildings remain, the Pennsylvania Run Church from 1840 does remain.

The transportation routes included the Ohio River. Harrods Creek at Transylvania was a place where goods were shipped inland on timbered routes. The Lexington and Louisville turnpike, which became the oldest pike in the state, was built in 1820 and ran through Middletown from Louisville.

It was the state's first road with a rock bed and tollgates provided one source of funds for its maintenance. Stagecoaches carried passengers while freight wagons carried goods on the regular roads. Beside the regular stage route going east from Louisville was the Salt River Road, part of which later became Dixie Highway. At first it ran to the Salt River at what later became known as West Point, and then about 1837, it became the Louisville and Nashville Turnpike. Tolls were collected and stagecoaches made regular runs on the pike. Later, in 1849, construction began on the Louisville and Taylorsville Pike.

The structures built during this period, aside from churches and a few commercial structures were sturdy farmhouses, the majority in brick burned on the place. The most popular style was a vernacular Georgian five-bay I-house — although a few double pile existed. As the decades passed the detail became Greek Revival and then turned to the Italianate.

1850-1890

Jefferson County continued to prosper in the latter half of the nineteenth century and the agricultural base of the economy flourished. Mills were still abundant. The remaining mill in the county was built at mid-century on the Wolf Pen Branch by Herman Miller. Robert Fisher's mill in Fisherville was in operation by the 1840's as he had bought it from a man named Howard. Fisher's mill prospered and the town of Fisherville grew up near the mill site on Floyd's Fork in the 1850's. Mid-century brought a substantial change in transportation modes for the Louisville and Nashville Railroad was chartered by the Kentucky State Legislature in 1850. The network of tracks in the region was not complete until several decades later but this rapid mode of travel for both goods and passengers would bring about a change in development. The railroads played an important part in the development of small communities such as Hobb's Station, which later became the town of Anchorage. In 1851 the Louisville and Frankfort Railway was built and Hobb's station grew up at the tracks. This route allowed businessmen to commute to Louisville by train and establish country homes. Thus, the town of Anchorage blossomed. The section of the county to the north of Hobb's Station underwent similar development when the Louisville and Cincinnati Railroad laid tracks through the area.

The town of Lyndon sprang up along the Louisville and Nashville Railroad tracks just west of Anchorage. Lyndon was named by Alvin Wood who bought about two hundred acres there in 1865. Although the L&N tracks went through the community, travelers had to go to Gilman's Point, later known as St. Matthews' to catch a train. Wood and the L&N Railroad reached an agreement where he furnished the land and built a station, after which trains began stopping. In 1871, the station that Wood built became a regular stopping place for L&N trains. Also a Post Office was installed in the station.

In 1874 the Elizabethtown-Paducah Railroad, later known as the Illinois Central, was laid through the southwest portion of the county. Valley Station was built in the vicinity of a few houses and a nearby store; the residents adopted the name of the depot for their community.

The L&N tracks of course went south and they passed through the Wetwoods, across Big Island, bringing this section of the county in closer to the city of Louisville,

The Louisville, Harrods Creek and Westport Railroad company began operating in 1875. The tracks never reached their original destination of Westport in Oldham County; instead it terminated at Sand Hill, or Prospect, which is what the workers called the end of the line. In 1887 a new station was built at Glenview for the rail line. This contributed to the development of the community known as Glenview.

Another development at the end of the century was the area known as Nitta Yuma in the eastern part of the county. This area also depended on the train. On the opposite, southwest side of the county special excursion trains took people to Pleasure Ridge Park picnic area and dance hall which were located on Muldrough Ridge. A frame hotel, now gone, provided vacation rooms for summer guests.

The railroad had also been a crucial factor in Jefferson County during the Civil War. The area became a supply depot due to the network of tracks already in existence, There was little disruption except for the division between the Northern and Southern sympathizers. In 1862 the hills surrounding Middletown were the scene of the county's two most notable Civil War skirmishes. Union forces pushed back attacking Confederate troops several miles east to Floyd's Fork. The Southern troops attempted assault on Louisville was resumed but the Northern troops prevailed. These encounters were among those that prefaced the Battle of Perryville. During the same year there were frequent guerrilla skirmishes in the Jeffersontown area. Soldiers from both armies camped in the extreme southeastern part of the county, the Fairmount precinct, and forced farmers of the area to supply them with food. Raids upon fields, orchards and stables occurred frequently. The war disrupted agricultural production and normal commercial activity in Jefferson County and repressive polices stifled economic and social development after the war.

However, Louisville and Jefferson County were quick to recover since Kentucky had maintained a politically advantageous position as a border state with an established railroad system. The area had the extra advantage of being an important trade route center with the accompanying commercial control.

Consequently, the increased product demand that resulted from the Civil War eventually acted as a stimulus to economic activity throughout the county. The racing tradition which began early in the city was enlivened with the founding of the Woodlawn Race Track, hailed as the "Saratoga of the West." It was built in 1866 in the St. Matthews area near the L&N Railroad tracks. The Woodlawn went bankrupt in 1871 but racing was revived in 1875 with the opening of the Louisville Jockey Club later known as Churchill Downs.

Various enterprises flourished including a tavern in the Buechel area which became a stopping place for drovers and their cattle on their way to the Bourbon Stock Yards in Louisville. Grocery stores sprang up along the Brownsboro Turnpike in 1885 and in 1899 in the Okolona community. A fair was held by the Farmers and Fruit Growers Association which had been established in 1880. The fair near Fern Creek encouraged agriculturists. The St. Matthews area also flourished in the last quarter of the century and became known for its potato farms. A nursery began in 1880 called Nanz & Neuner Florists who cultivated thirty acres. Also a general store organized by the Bauer Brothers in 1887 soon became the largest in the county outside the city.

An increase in the number of schools in Jefferson County was another result of economic acceleration during the last half of the nineteenth century. There were three private schools in Anchorage. Bellewood Seminary, an exclusive school for girls, was famous throughout the South during the Civil War. Two other schools were Pine Hill Boarding School and Forest Military Academy. The Jefferson Female Academy had been founded in Middletown in 1855. The East Cedar Hill Institute was begun in 1869 by Cleo F .C. Coon in her father's home near Fisherville.

  1. Jones, Elizabeth F., et. al., Jefferson County Office of Historic Preservation, Jefferson County Multiple Resource Area, nomination document, 1980, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.
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