By Jan Sparkman
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
This week I’m backtracking a bit into the years before Laurel County was established. In 1792, the year Kentucky became a state, there was only one documented resident in the area that became Laurel County. Russell Dyche writes in his Laurel County History (1954) that “John Wood resided in what has come to be known as Wood’s Blockhouse at the Hazel Patch.” When settlers began to pour through Cumberland Gap into what was to become the new state of Kentucky, blockhouses along the way provided crude but welcome places for travelers to rest.
Wood built and operated Wood’s Blockhouse for a man named Remey who had bought many acres of land in the area, but who was an absentee land owner. I’m not saying there weren’t other permanent dwellings here at that time (who really knows?), only that no others have been documented.
Until these travelers came through, John Wood may not even have known that Kentucky had just become the 15th state or that Isaac Shelby was the new governor. Then again, he may have been the kind of man who kept up with current events. Just because he lived in the wilderness doesn’t mean he was ignorant. After all, we still remember him and honor his memory as our first pioneer.
We know quite a bit about him. We know that he was of German descent and that he was one of Kentucky’s early land surveyors. We know that his wife’s name was Margaret, that he had five sons and two daughters, and that he was named a constable when the first county government was formed in 1826. We know that when he purchased land from the George Thompson survey in 1808 he paid for it with English pounds. On Laurel County’s first tax list in 1826, recorded in the Commissioner’s Book of 1827, John Wood is listed as having 1,100 acres worth $2,200.
John Wood didn’t just appear briefly on the scene and pass through. He and his progeny were active in the life of the community up until and for some time after Laurel County was established. Wood died before the first census of Laurel County was done in 1830. The John Wood named in that census is his son, John Jr., who married Ann Cromer. Not too many years ago, the grave of the elder John Wood was discovered on private property in the northeast part of the county. It was marked and is being maintained.
Visit the Laurel County Historical Society to read more about pioneer John Wood.
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The Laurel County Historical Society is located at 310 W. 3rd St., London, (formerly the Laurel County Health Department). The library is open on Mondays and Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and on Saturdays from 9 a.m. until 12 noon. For further information, contact 606-864-0607 during library hours, or 606-224-3767 at other times. Visit the historical society’s website: http://www.laurelcountykyhistoricalsociety.org. Email the society at firstname.lastname@example.org or Jan Sparkman at email@example.com.