First Coal by Rail

Historical Marker #743 in Daviess County commemorates Robert Triplett, a coal magnate who constructed the first railway in the state.

Triplett was a Virginian who arrived in the Owensboro area around 1817. He was employed to survey land claims, but soon became interested in the industrial potential presented by coal in the area. He began digging in a thin vein near the banks of the Ohio River at Bon Harbor, but a hunter showed him a more prosperous seam further inland. Triplett began stockpiling the coal on the riverbanks and selling it to steamboat men, becoming western Kentucky's first coal magnate.

The wealthiest man in Daviess County, Triplett was responsible for the construction of Kentucky's first railway, powered by gravity and animals. The track, built in 1826, was used to transport coal from a mine at Bon Harbor the three-quarters of a mile to the Ohio River. Triplett became the first coal operator to attempt to substitute coal for wood as fuel on the river boats below the falls at Louisville. Coal was also shipped south by boat and sold by the barrel. New Orleans was a popular final destination for the coal, powering their tug boats and used for the sugar industry, though this market was short-lived.

Coal was not Triplett's only business venture in Bon Harbor. He branched out into a variety of enterprises, including a small woolen factory and cotton mill and a whiskey distillery. Triplett wasn’t alone in his optimism for the Daviess County area to grow into an industrial power, as the 1830s were considered "boom times" for Kentucky and the rest of the Ohio Valley. While he was a very successful coal producer for a time, Triplett's other business ventures in Daviess County proved to be largely unsuccessful. Triplett and his family moved to Philadelphia in 1853, where he died as a man of independent means thanks to his many land-holdings throughout Kentucky.