Historical marker #2217 at Cumberland Gap commemorates the exploits of famed explorers Lewis and Clark, who passed through the Cumberland Gap in 1806. This marker also serves as a reminder for Boone Trace, which traversed this section of the Appalachian Mountains during the epic journey of Daniel Boone and his group of trailblazers. During March and April 1775, thirty-one years prior to Lewis and Clark, Boone and his men marked the first road into what was to become Kentucky.
Boone Trace is of great historical significance to the founding of Kentucky and the opening of the American West. The Warrior's Path (a Native American byway) and the Wilderness Road, which evolved from Boone Trace, both utilized the natural route that the Cumberland Gap provided as well. Boone Trace began at Long Island on the Holston River (present day Kingsport, Tennessee), ran across a portion of southwest Virginia, and then went through the Cumberland Gap. Boone Trace then turned north and proceeded on to Boonesborough, where a fort was established for protection against Native American attacks.
Colonel Richard Henderson, founder of the Transylvania Land Company, hired Daniel Boone to open the road. Henderson's intention was to use the road to bring settlers in; he would then sell them land which he had acquired from the Cherokee Indians during the Treaty of Sycamore Shoals. Although the anticipated profit was never achieved, the effect of Boone Trace on history was that it provided a proven example that the Appalachian Mountains could be traversed, the wilderness could be tamed, and that western lands were available for those willing to make the attempt.
Therefore, one might say that the spirit of American western expansion—to conceive a dream of opportunity, seek it, and achieve it—was born in part because of Boone Trace. History was changed with the opening of the trail as evidenced by the fact that thousands of settlers soon followed Boone through the Cumberland Gap, and eventually established Kentucky as a state in 1792, just seventeen years after the path was blazed.