Fort Boonesborough

Historical Marker #1520, located at Fort Boonesborough State Park in Madison County, commemorates the founding of this early Kentucky settlement and fort.

Fort Boonesborough was the final terminus of the epic journey that Daniel Boone and his group of trail cutters made when they carved out Boone Trace. In March and April 1775, these men opened the first road into what was to become Kentucky. Boone Trace was essentially a bridle path large enough for those traveling by foot or horseback.

Boone's party of early settlers arrived in the area near present-day Fort Boonesborough on April 1, 1775. They made a preliminary camp site at Sycamore Hollow, near the Kentucky River shore. When Richard Henderson arrived three weeks later, it was decided to move to higher ground, close by, where the permanent fort site was constructed. An on-going archaeological dig is being conducted to more accurately determine the exact position of the fort. A rock wall and monument at the park mark the site of the fort's first position. A replica of the fort has been built about one-half mile from the actual fort site and is open to the public. At the park, employees and re-enactors re-create frontier life in the late 1700s.

Pre-selection of the fort site was made by Richard Henderson, chief proprietor of the Transylvania Land Company, Daniel Boone, and a few others. Henderson had acquired a large amount of land from Native Americans near Boonesborough and hired Daniel Boone to open a road into what was to become Kentucky. His intention was to sell off portions of the land to settlers for profit. Boonesborough was chosen because of its proximity to the Kentucky River, and was intended to become the "Capital of the West."

After Henderson's arrival at the little settlement much work was needed to be done. One of the first duties was to survey lots for the settlers. In addition, a storage magazine was constructed for the fort's supply of gunpowder. In order to afford greater protection against potential Native American attacks, the construction of the fort began in earnest. The structure was not large. By the summer of 1775, Boonesborough consisted of twenty-six one-story log cabins, laid out in a hollow rectangle perhaps 260 by 180 feet. At each of the four corners was a blockhouse with a projecting second story, from which to fire down on attackers. Like many of the frontier forts, Boonesborough initially had no well inside the fort. That fact created an obvious weakness in case of siege, but the settlers believed attacks tended to be quick-strikes of short duration, rather than prolonged sieges.

Initially, there were gaps between the blockhouses and the nearest cabins. These gaps were intended to be stockaded, but the settlers kept deferring this important work. Henderson once spoke of how hard it was to get the settlement’s men to stand watch, and rigid discipline was never the strong suit of the independent-minded frontiersmen.

Boonesborough played an important role in the founding of Kentucky and the opening of the west. However, as time passed and conditions changed, Louisville became a more dominate municipal center. Part of the reason for Louisville's emergence was because the Wilderness Road, a formally designed and engineered wagon road, led to that Ohio River location. When activity on Boone Trace diminished, and the disbursement of settlers claiming their own lands increased after Native American attacks lessened, all that was left of Fort Boonesborough was the memory and history of this location's importance to the founding of Kentucky and America's westward expansion.