Upper Howard’s Creek

Upper Howard’s Creek takes its name from John Howard, who claimed 1,000 acres at the mouth of the creek by virtue of an improve­ment he made there in 1775.  He estab­lished an inspec­tion ware­house on his land and a fer­ry across the Kentucky River.  A num­ber of Clark County and Montgomery County roads con­verged at Howard’s ware­house, a pop­u­lar ship­ping point for goods and pro­duce bound for New Orleans. 

Like many oth­er set­tlers land, Howard’s suf­fered from over­lap­ping claims.  The prob­lem arose because Virginia issued grants to more than one per­son for the same land.  The land office had no maps show­ing what lands had been sur­veyed and, thus, no way of know­ing whether the land had already been grant­ed to some­one else.  This result­ed in near­ly a cen­tu­ry of law­suits all across Kentucky over land own­er­ship.  The land grant prac­tice changed after the Revolutionary War, when the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment began issu­ing patents for fed­er­al land, which were sur­veyed before they were sold by the government. 

Howard’s grant on Upper Howard’s Creek inter­fered with two oth­er land claims.  Thomas Maxwell had a 200 acre mil­i­tary sur­vey that had to be bought out, as mil­i­tary claims trumped all oth­ers.  Joseph Combs had 500 acres in the same area, part of which he lost to Maxwell and part of which Howard had to buy out.  He engaged John Holder to set­tle these inter­fer­ing claims for him.  In exchange, Holder received title to Howard’s land at the mouth of Lower Howard’s Creek.

This sketch made by John Howard of claims at the mouth of Upper Howard’s Creek shows the 1,000 acre survey Holder made for Howard and the interfering surveys of Joseph Combs and Thomas Maxwell. John Howard’s and Joseph Combs’ cabins are marked . (North is to the right of the page.)
This sketch, made by John Howard of claims at the mouth of Upper Howard’s Creek, shows the 1,000 acre sur­vey Holder made for Howard and the inter­fer­ing sur­veys of Joseph Combs and Thomas Maxwell. John Howard’s and Joseph Combs’ cab­ins are marked . (North is to the right of the page.)

For a time, there was a thriv­ing com­mu­ni­ty at the mouth of Upper Howard’s Creek.  Roads from Winchester and Mt. Sterling were opened to pro­vide access to Howard’s land­ing and ware­house.  John Howard retired to his land in Fayette County and left his son Benjamin in charge of the busi­ness­es.  Periodic Kentucky River floods even­tu­al­ly did in the fer­ry and warehouse.

Upper Howard’s Creek, which begins about a half mile south of Schollsville, has numer­ous small trib­u­taries along its course.  Starting from the head­wa­ters and mov­ing down­stream, the first sig­nif­i­cant trib­u­tary is Little Howard’s Creek, which heads just east of Pilot View.  The next named streams are Lick Fork Branch, Duncan Branch, Kings Branch and Still House Branch, all of which flow into Upper Howard’s Creek from the north. 

Clark County pio­neer Cuthbert Combs Jr. said that “Duncan’s Branch was named from old John Duncan, Baptist preach­er that set­tled on it ear­ly.”  John Duncan was on the county’s first roll of tax­pay­ers in 1793.  I sus­pect Kings Branch was named for a mem­ber of the King fam­i­ly but have not been able to prove it.  Continuing down­stream, the next major branch is the Dry Fork, which begins a lit­tle south­west of Pilot View, flows about 5 miles in a south­west­er­ly direc­tion and joins Upper Howard’s Creek just east of Allensville.  Dry Fork Creek Road, which criss­cross­es the stream today, dates back to the ear­ly 1800s.  Clare and I drove this lit­tle road dur­ing wild­flower sea­son last spring and were impressed with its wild beau­ty, and also a lit­tle intim­i­dat­ed in sev­er­al spots where the road actu­al­ly fords the creek.  The last trib­u­tary before the Kentucky River is Cotton Creek, named for William Cotton, who set­tled there soon after the coun­ty was formed.

Detail of the 1926 Kentucky Geological Survey map of Clark County showing Still House Branch (red underline).
Detail of the 1926 Kentucky Geological Survey map of Clark County show­ing Still House Branch (red underline).

One of the more inter­est­ing­ly named streams is Still House Branch.  This small stream — approx­i­mate­ly 2 miles long — heads about a half mile south of Ruckerville and flows in a souther­ly direc­tion to Upper Howard’s Creek.  The first men­tion I found of the name in pub­lic records was in 1882, in the divi­sion of Nathaniel Ragland’s estate whose lands bor­dered on the branch.  Still House Branch is shown on the Kentucky Geological Survey map of Clark County pub­lished in 1926; how­ev­er, the name does not appear on con­tem­po­rary maps.  The ori­gin of the name is unknown but sug­gests asso­ci­a­tion with a whiskey dis­tillery.  In the late 1800s and ear­ly 1900s, this was the neigh­bor­hood of Conkwrights, Raglands, Bushes, Goolmans, Haggards, Foxes, and Devarys.  A pub­lic road began just south of Ruckerville and ran down Still House Branch, con­nect­ing to the Cotton Branch Road.  CSX Railroad runs par­al­lel to the branch today, along the ridge just east of the stream.

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