Boone Trace

The new hike and bike trail going in along Brushy Fork just south of campus is coming along so nicely.  The rock-bottom creek provides a peaceful atmosphere with its scenic and pleasant sounds and creates a sort of oasis of tranquility right by town.  This trail follows the historically significant Boone’s Trace and is a great example of Berea College and the City of Berea working together to accomplish something meaningful and useful to area residents as well as visitors.  

Growing up at near the terminus of the Cumberland Road; otherwise known as the Old National Road, at Vandalia, Illinois, I have always been interested in the nation’s historic westward expansion and subsequent cultural implications.  It was the completion of the National Road around 1840 which lead to the abandonment of the Wilderness Road (which followed the same route as the Boone Trace through Kentucky) and replaced it as the major east-to-west route in America.   

I became especially interested in the Boone Trace and Wilderness Road as realized I was following it back and forth to visit my now wife, Christine.  It turned out, not only did it lead straight to where she lived, but even continued into North Carolina and passed her brother’s home near Boone where we often visited. We learned that the man who hiked the entire length of the trail a few years ago to document the route, was named Curtis Penix…same surname as Christine’s step-dad. Noticing the historical markers along the way, I discovered that they were placed by a woman named Lucy Patterson…a founder of the Daughters of American Revolution North Carolina Chapter, from Salem, NC.  

Really, her name was Patterson?! From Salem, NC, where Boone had lived in his youth? I was familiar with the Moravian settlement of Salem, as the small town of West Salem, IL is where a portion of these settlers relocated due to their opposition of slavery in North Carolina.  Some of my own relatives…Pattersons, Fruits and Storms…had migrated through the Cumberland Gap and settled along the trail near London.  One of them, a circuit-riding preacher, relocated to Illinois and founded a church…hence that branch ending up in Illinois.  Another, George Fruits, had fought alongside Daniel Boone soon after he had settled in Kentucky.

It is no wonder that many coincidences in surnames, shared histories and genealogies, would accompany Boone’s Trace, as it is estimated at around 47 million Americans’ heritage is linked to this historic trail as so many who settled the interior of America travelled this route.  Walking along Brushy Fork and listening to the flow of the stream over the rocky bottom of the creek reminds us of the flow of time.  We are only here for a while, but we leave behind a trace…an impact…upon the land, the communities we inhabit and the people we meet. I imagine that many folks visiting Berea may have connections to this place too.  Now, while visiting Berea, folks can walk the path many of their ancestors did…settlers and Native Americans…and reminisce. 

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