Historical Maker #32 in Union describes the importance of the most famous landmark of the Big Bone area, Big Bone Lick, which is now the site of a state park. Extraordinarily large bones of mammoths and mastodons were found in the swamps around the salt lick. It was frequented by animals that needed salt in their diets and was the most notable feature to be found in the entire geographical region. Even the first maps noted it as “the place the big bones are found.” It was a source of huge bones for paleontologists for several centuries.
The area was discovered in 1739 by French Capt. Charles le Moyne de Longueuil. Early explorers found countless bones and teeth of extinct Pleistocene elephants, the mammoth, and the mastodon. Robert Smith, an Indian trader, recognized the significance of the large bones. From 1751-1780, Big Bone Lick had many visitors, including Christopher Gist, John Finley, Mary Ingles, John Floyd, and the McAfee brothers. Thomas Jefferson sent an expedition headed by William Clark to collect bones; the next largest collector was N. S. Shaler. Some tusks measured 8-10 feet long.
During the first half of the nineteenth century, Big Bone Lick once again became a center for activity when it became a resort. The mineral rich water drew people who wished to “take the waters” for their health. The Clay Hotel, built shortly after 1800, as well as at least two other hotels associated with the springs, catered to those guests. Other spas became popular at that time and by 1847 Big Bone Lick ceased as a health attraction.
In 1953, a local historical organization was formed called the Big Bone Lick Association; it was dedicated to promoting the site and urged the creation of a state park. The citizens of Boone County raised money to purchase land around the site, and in 1958, it was offered to the Kentucky Parks Board for the development of a state park. In 1960, the parks board accepted the land.