MAYSVILLE AND LEXINGTON TURNPIKE. The road between Maysville and Lexington dates to prehistoric times and has been an important transportation link ever since the time when Kentucky’s first settlers traveled it. The road has also been at the center of local and national debate.
Both prehistoric and historical animals, especially
American bison, beat down a path or trace from the Ohio River at Maysville
to the salt springs at Blue Licks and then on to Central Kentucky. A large Fort Ancient village near Mayslick once flourished along the route, attesting
to the path’s early use. The Indian trail was called Alanant-O-Wamiowee, or the Warrior Trail, and used by American Indians into the historical period. The path was also used by early Kentucky explorers such as Daniel Boone and Simon Kenton. In the early pioneer period, the route from
Limestone to the Licking River was also called Smith’s Wagon Rd.
In the 1790s, Limestone (later Maysville) was the departure point for western settlers. Unless they traveled on down the Ohio River, their usual
route in those early years was westward into Central Kentucky. The first stop was Washington, three miles from Limestone. It was a day’s journey because the first part of the trip was up a steep hill, and with livestock, belongings, and family, it was a difficult trip. Communities eventually sprang up along the road to Lexington. After Washington, Mayslick was the first substantial town along the route. Blue Licks was desired for the salt it provided pioneers, but later it developed into a substantial town anchored by a large spa. It attracted visitors from around the country in the mid-19th century. The next community was Ellisville, which was the county seat of Nicholas Co. until 1805. Millersburg came next, and then Paris, the county seat of Bourbon Co. These towns were approximately 10 miles apart along the route, and each eventually had a tollhouse on what became the Maysville and Lexington Turnpike.
The road was seen as key to the development of the western United States. Even before the National Road was built, Ebenezer Zane was concerned
about the dependability of the Ohio River route from Wheeling, Va. (today, West Virginia), to Limestone, and about access from there to the road
to Lexington. When Congress in 1796 granted Zane’s request to build an overland route, he began building a road (Zane’s Trace) from Limestone to
what became Zanesville, Ohio. This reduced the distance to Maysville from Wheeling by 100 miles and was not subject to difficult Ohio River conditions and the pirates who troubled travelers. When the National Road reached Wheeling in 1818, Maysville and points west were already connected by Zane’s Trace. Some 19th-century cast-iron highway markers remain in Maysville, showing the directions to Zanesville, Lexington, and Nashville, Tenn.
Local residents understood the importance of the Maysville and Lexington Turnpike and continually made improvements. Mail had long traveled along the route, but in 1829, during the Andrew Jackson (1829–1837) administration, the road was made part of a mail system that connected it to the North, to the East Coast via the National Road, and to the South from Lexington all the way to New Orleans. The Maysville and Washington Turnpike Company was formed on January 29, 1829, and by November 1830 the road between those two cities had been paved, based on the principles espoused by John McAdam. The McAdam system, the preferred road system, was adopted throughout England and the United States in the
1800s. The road between Maysville and Washington was the first macadamized road in the West.
The turnpike company became the Maysville, Washington, Paris, and Lexington Turnpike Company and by 1835 had completed the road. It included six covered bridges and 13 tollgate houses.
Henry Clay proposed that the national government should support this company by buying stock and thus completing this major internal improvement. The road was an important part of Clay’s American System, and it was also a road that Clay traveled often on his journeys between Washington, D.C., and his hometown of Lexington. Congress passed the bill in 1830, because roads and canals were seen as central to the growth of the
republic and worthy of national support. President Jackson, Clay’s political enemy, used the Maysville Road Bill veto to make his point that the federal
government should not support projects of a “local character.” The message was sent that internal improvements were the responsibilities of the states,
and this philosophy prevailed for a generation.
The Maysville and Lexington Turnpike, like most 19th-century roads, was kept in poor repair and was difficult to travel, particularly in winter.
However, travelers, settlers, teamsters with commercial goods, and slaves made the trek. Coffles of slaves were often seen moving in either direction,
generally traveling after having been sold or going to a slave auction. By the 1890s, Kentucky citizens had become weary of paying tolls, and violence
against the road system became so widespread it was termed the “tollgate wars.” County governments, and later the state government, took over
the highway and abolished the tolls. One of the last tollhouses was on the Nicholas Co. line near Millersburg.
Eventually, the road was paved and the covered bridges replaced. However, the Maysville-to-Lexington road still essentially followed the original buffalo trace. It was thus a curvy, dangerous highway. Beginning in the 1950s, the state began making major improvements. By the 1970s, the old
highway to Blue Licks had been replaced, often taking a slightly different route, bypassing the towns of Washington, Mayslick, and Blue Licks. Now called U.S. 68, the road was straighter with fewer hills. It had wide shoulders and passing lanes.
The road between Lexington and Maysville remains the link between northeastern and Central Kentucky. With its natural setting, limestone road
cuts, horse farms, and attention paid to the preservation, it is one of the most picturesque roadways in the country.
Friend, Craig Thompson. Along the Maysville Road—The Early Republic in the Trans Appalachian West. Knoxville: Univ. of Tennes See Press, 2005.
“To Straighten Road,” KP, February 21, 1931, 3.
Quoted from pages 597-598 of THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF NORTHERN
KENTUCKY THE UNIVERSITY PRESS OF KENTUCKY ISBN 978-0-8131-2565-7