By Carrie Dillard
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — It is said that no other road is of greater historical significance to the founding of Kentucky and opening of the west than Boone Trace.
“This was a little road, but a big deal,” said John Fox, president of the Friends of Boone Trace Inc., as he spoke to approximately 50 people awaiting the unveiling of the new historical highway marker to commemorate the Hazel Patch pioneer trail.
The re-dedication of the original 1950 highway marker was held Saturday at Levi Jackson State Park. Following the unveiling ceremony, the marker was transported to its permanent site in Hazel Patch.
“Daniel Boone blazed a trail through this very park, that wasn’t a park at the time, and traveled 10 to 15 miles up to Hazel Patch on Ky. 490, and then proceeded on up to Boonesborough,” Fox explained.
Dressed in period costume, re-enactors from the Fort Boones-borough Foundation helped the audience envision Boone and his party’s journey through the park and on to Hazel Patch.
“When you leave here today, I want you to remember two things: 1) Levi Jackson Park and Hazel Patch are connected by Boone Trace; and 2) Boone Trace and Laurel County played a central part in the opening of the west, and for that I think you ought to be very proud,” Fox said. “The spirit of America was born in part because of this little road.”
That same spirit lives today, said the Rev. William Woods, fifth great-grandson of Daniel Boone and pastor of Middletown Baptist Church in Berea. Woods and several other descendants of Boone were present Saturday for the re-dedication, as well as the foremost expert on Boone’s route, Neal Hammon, who documented his March 1775 journey on modern-day maps. Other special guests included Kent Whitworth, executive director of the Kentucky Historical Society; State Rep. Marie Rader, 89th District; Laurel County Judge-Executive David Westerfield; London Mayor Troy Rudder; and London City Councilman Jim Hays.
“The spirit of exploration is still alive. I am proud to be a descendant of Daniel Boone,” Woods said. “His ‘pioneering spirit’ can inspire us all today.”
With more than 2,000 markers, at least one in every county, Kentucky has the second largest marker program in the nation; second only to Pennsylvania.
In hopes to inspire future generations to learn about the history that happened in their own backyards, the Kentucky Historical Society (KHS) is moving their marker program into the 21st century, Whitworth said.
KHS has developed and launched the ExploreKYHistory smartphone application that connects historical markers across the state with digital tours, related images, historical archives and articles.
“This new app allows communities to tell ‘a more robust story.’ It brings hundreds of markers across the Commonwealth to you, linking to maps, artifacts, paintings and more by way of your smartphone,” Whitworth said.
But it all begins with dedications of markers like the one at Hazel Patch.
“This is a grassroots program. These stories were brought forth by local communities like yours,” Whitworth continued. “They aren’t dictated by Frankfort, but by people who are passionate about Kentucky history – historical societies, chambers of commerce and community people – who say these stories are important.”
Mayor Rudder commended the state historical society, Friends of Boone Trace Inc. and Laurel County Historical Society for coordinating Saturday’s re-dedication.
“You have to look to the future, but we must remember the past,” he said. He encouraged parents and grandparents to share history with their children, and plan educational vacations around markers like the one in Hazel Patch. Otherwise, he warned, we will lose our community identity.
Judge Westerfield agreed.
“I love history. But I don’t think this is taught enough in our schools – about what happened right here, how Kentucky became a state, and how it was explored,” he said.
The rich history of Kentucky, he said, is an invaluable tourism tool. In many ways, said State Rep. Marie Rader, Daniel Boone was the first business/tourism leader in the state.
“No other person or trail is better known in the founding of Kentucky and opening the nation’s number 1 western trail than Boone. Hazel Patch was an important crossroads for Boone and his party,” she said. “Boone Trace is referred to as a pathway to a new nation.”
At the closing of the ceremony, Rep. Rader offered her congratulations to Laurel County, and specifically to Fox. She presented him with a commemorative photo of Boone’s grave in Frankfort.