Cartwright’s Station

Historical Marker #1339 in Marion County notes the location of Cartwright’s Station, an important frontier post between the Cumberland Gap and the Falls of the Ohio River.

Samuel Cartwright was an early explorer into what eventually became Kentucky. In 1774, he journeyed with the famous frontiersman Simon Kenton into the Ohio River and Sandy River valleys to hunt and trap for furs. The next year, Cartwright settled at Harrods Town with the party of James Harrod for protection from Native American raiders. In 1779, Cartwright established a station along a branch of Beech Fork, which was tributary of the Salt River. Located in present-day Marion County, the stream where Cartwright positioned the station was named Cartwright Creek and the station took his name as well.

When Cartwright established his station Kentucky was a county of Virginia. At that time Virginia law required that land claims meet certain specifications including some proof of settlement in order to claim the land. A crude cabin was often built and a crop of corn planted in order to show that the claim had been established. Some land claimants chose not to stay permanently, but rather established their claim and then sold it to settlers who wished to remain. Those settlers required protection.

Scores of stations like Cartwright’s dotted the Kentucky frontier in the last quarter of the eighteenth century. These structures provided an important defensive fortification against Native American attacks and allowed for some sense of security for inhabitants. Stations varied from place to place depending on a number of factors. Size was often determined by the number of people who lived there, the location of the station, and time the station was built.

Usually more than one family lived at a station, but often they were related by blood or marriage. Early settlers understood that numbers improved their chances of successful defense. Stations were normally situated near a spring for a ready water supply, and, when possible, on high ground to provide a defensive advantage. Stations were also usually built near larger forts and along trails or roads. Stations that were built during Kentucky’s early settlement were often stockades with log walls, while those built after Indian attacks subsided were little more than joined residences.

Stations were most often temporary structures. Settlers briefly lived in them for protection and then moved on to buy or claim their own land. As towns and cities grew and Indian threats diminished, stations became almost obsolete. However, many of those station names remain as subdivisions and neighborhoods of the towns and cities that took their place in the nineteenth century.