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.
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.
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.