From an article by Dr. Carl Bogardus, Sr. printed in the Scott County Journal and Chronicle, July 23, 1970.
The very first thoroughfares of Indiana, while somewhat remote from interstates of the present day, have yet some relation to the later history of the state, as well as possessing a certain historic value of their own.
Before anything like permanent roads could be established in Indiana a considerable population of settlers had taken up lands in the interior of the state, and there had to be makeshift thoroughfares, not only for guidance to various locations, but also for transportation of the immigrant’s possessions. These “traces” were the rudest of forest roads, sufficiently cleared away to permit the passage of the settler’s wagon and marked along the route by blazing (simply it is an intentional mark that you put on a tree to establish a direction of travel so that you can return or help can follow you. The traditional way is to cut the bark away leaving a scar on the tree that can be easily seen.) the trees with an axe. These trails from the south and east, with various branches leading to this or that settlement, were well-known to the immigrants of those early days, but like the Indian trails, they mostly have been obliterated and completely forgotten.
The oldest road in Scott County is still in use today throughout its entire length was the Cincinnati Trace, or as it was also called, Captain Kibbey’s Road. This east and west road, surveyed and cut out from 1799 to 1805 by Captain Kibby, traversed the entire Territory of Indiana from Cincinnati to Vincennes, a distance of 201 miles. It ran through present day Rising Sun, Vevay, Madison, Lexington, Vienna, Salem, Paoli, French Lick and Washington Indiana. Of course, when this road was laid out and built none of the towns mentioned were in existence except the ones at each terminus. However, the route of the road played an important part in the eventual locations of the various towns in later days.
Regarding this old road we find in an early newspaper, “The Western Sky,” published in Cincinnati, July 23, 1799, a very interesting news item, as follows: “Captain E. Kibby, who sometimes since undertook to cut a road from Vincennes to this place, returned on Monday reduced to a perfect skeleton. He had cut out the road seventy miles when by some means he was separated from his men. After hunting them some days without success, he steered his course this way. He had undergone great hardship and was obliged to subsist upon roots, etc., which he picked up in the woods.”
It was not too long afterward that the first white settlers’ cane to settle permanently in what is now Scott County. In the spring of 1805 John Kimberlin, of Virginia, with his two sons, Daniel and Isaac, floated down the Ohio River from Pennsylvania in a flatboat and disembarked at the present site of Madison. From there they moved westward over the Cincinnati Trace seeking greener pastures. Apparently, they liked the lay of the land in what is now Lexington Township for it was there that they erected their cabin on the stream of what we now call Kimberlin Creek. Then in the spring of 1907 the brothers, John and Jacob Stucker, settled on Stucker Creek.
In that year 26 roads were projected and as many sets of commissioners appointed to view the land and mark out the routes. By 1835 at least two thirds of the state was pretty well crisscrossed with highways other than local or county roads.
The revenue and labor for the opening and maintaining of these roads were diverted from three sources. The first was known as the 3% Fund and was a donation from the Federal Government. Out of the sale of public land 5% was set aside. Of this 2% was to be expended on works of general benefit, such as National Road (now US 40) and the remaining 3% was given to the state for improvement within her borders.
A special Agent was appointed for disbursing this fund. The second source of revenue was a “road tax” levied upon real estate. Such road tax the landowner was entitled to discharge in work on the roads at $1.50 per day, which was a great help in those days of scarce cash. The third source of maintenance was a labor requirement which made it incumbent on all male inhabitants between the age of 21 and 50, except preachers and certain other exceptions, to work on the roads two days in each year when called out or to pay an equivalent, therefore.
In 1818 Christopher Harrison was appointed the first agent of the 3% Fund. He received the money from the United States Government and paid it out according to appropriations by the General Assembly to County Agents, who used it in opening new roads through the forests of Indiana. Such roads, know as “State Roads,” were 100 feet wide, but the money was not sufficient to do more than clear them of timber until the country settled more thickly and there were consequently more “hands” to work the roads, they remained little more than bridle paths.
Scott County’s oldest State Roads were the McDonalds Ferry-Brownstown State Road and the New London-Lexington-Salem State Road, which were both established by an Act of the Legislature dated January 22, 1820. From Lexington to Salem the latter road followed the old Cincinnati Trace. In 1833 the road from Madison through Lexington to permanent settlement that we know the date of was along Pigeon Roost Creek, where an ill-fated group of twelve families from Kentucky settled in 1809.
The county rapidly became populated with emigrants from Kentucky, Virginia and North Carolina, as well as various states from the eastern seaboard. The settlers from Virginia and North Carolina came through the historic Cumberland Gap and over the famed Wilderness Road through Kentucky to the points where they were ferried across the Ohio River to Indiana. The settlers coming from the east came down the Ohio River, a great artery of travel in those days, in flat boats, or arks, as they were sometimes called, and made their way inland from various river landings such as Vevay, Madison, New London, McDonald’s Ferry (Charlestown landing) and Bethlehem.
It was not until four years after Indiana Territory had been admitted to the Union as a State that any definite system of roads was projected within her borders.
Part Two to be posted on March 18, 2021.