Historical Marker #1426 in Bell County notes the historical significance of Cumberland Ford. This important natural crossing point on the Cumberland River was used by Native Americans, early explorers, and pioneer settlers.
The Cumberland River was crossed at Cumberland Ford by Daniel Boone and his party of road cutters during March 1775, when they created Boone Trace. Therefore, Cumberland Ford represents a notable location along Boone Trace as well as the Wilderness Road, which later evolved out of Boone Trace in 1796. The Warrior's Path, the ancient trail along which Native Americans waged their wars, also crossed at this point, making the section of trail at Cumberland Ford one common road for all three routes.
The Cumberland River flows through a gap in Pine Mountain in this area known as "The Narrows" and represents a "water gap" in the mountains similar to the "land gap" in the Cumberland Mountain ten miles south near Middlesboro. Often, the water at Cumberland Ford would be too high and swift to allow a secure crossing of the river. A notable large rock at the ford site, if visible, indicated to experienced travelers that the water was low enough for a safe crossing. This rock still exists at the site today.
Historical accounts of the Cumberland Ford include a quote for Dr. Thomas Walker, the famous explorer who preceded Boone. Walker noted in his journal on April 18, 1749, "Still Cloudy. We kept down the Creek to the [Cumberland] River along the Indian Road to where it crosses. Indians have lived about this Ford some years ago." Twenty-six years later, on April 9 and 10, 1775, Richard Henderson, who employed Daniel Boone, and who followed his trail into what was to become Kentucky, camped and hunted on both sides of Cumberland Ford.
Additionally, the British Governor from Canada, Henry Hamilton, reported in his journal as he was being transported along Boone Trace as a captive that he "forded the Cumberland" on April 25, 1779, which was "200 yards over." Hamilton also described a difficult crossing of another creek "which being very rapid, I did not chose to trust my horse and rather than attempt it had a raft made & was ferryed over by two who could swim the raft being only large enough for one."
Today, Highway 25E conveniently and safely crosses the Cumberland River via a modern bridge system at Pineville, Kentucky. However, present-day travelers can still get a sense of that pioneer atmosphere as they travel through this location between the high rocky ridges and over the swiftly flowing Cumberland River.