Clays Ferry

Dublin Core


Clays Ferry


Over half of Madison County borders the Kentucky River, so naturally over the years there have been numerous ferries connecting our county with the lands across the river. In an earlier column, I described as many of these ferries as I could find a reference to. I only remember seeing three of these ferries — Valley View, still in existence, the ferry at Boonesborough, and the ferry at the end of the College Hill road, leading to Clark County and the mouth of the Red River.

Along I-75 where it crosses the Kentucky River, there are many signs referring to Clays Ferry. Thus a short sketch on Clays Ferry.

The first ferry between Madison and Fayette counties at Clays Ferry was built in 1792 — the same year Kentucky became a state. Originally spelled Clays Ferry, it was named for Green Clay who bought the ferry in 1798. Upon his death, the ferry business was left to his famous son, Cassius Marcellus Clay. Cassius sold it and its approaches to a stock company and retained a role as stockholder in this company.

In 1869, the ferry was replaced by a steel and wooden bridge. This structure, amended and replaced over the decades, still is used as U.S. 25 crosses the river via this bridge. This originally was a toll bridge, but lost money. Trade was damaged by the opening of a railroad between Richmond and Winchester. The stock company owning the toll bridge tried to sell the bridge to Madison or Fayette counties, but both refused. So the bridge was sold at auction in 1906 for $4,755.

Over the years, both Harold and Bobby Jennings would ask me which span of what is now the I-75 bridge (western-southbound or eastern-northbound) was built first. I did not know — until now. The northbound bridge was begun in October of 1941. With steel going to the war effort, this northbound bridge was not finished until 1946. At the time it was the highest traffic bridge in the United States east of the Missouri River. The southbound span was completed in 1963 as part of the interstate development project. The bridge is nearly 250 feet above the Kentucky River. A major lane expansion and refurbishment of the bridge was done in 1995.

So there you have it, a short history of the Clay crossing of the Kentucky River — first by ferry and then by bridge.

Note: The recent column on the Woods family brought this writer an extraordinary number of calls from readers. Thanks to you all for your kind and instructive comments. One or two points may update our readers. First, there was only one Harold Kirby — who was sheriff and county judge in the 1970s and 1980s. A number of readers mentioned Ernest Woods, long time Chevrolet dealer (on South Second Street as I recall) and the builder and owner of our county’s first airport (located in the Green’s Crossing area). I agree he was a prominent member of the illustrious Woods family, but recall our column was originally from the Richmond Climax of January 1900 and this was a little before Ernest’s time.


Dr. Fred Engle




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Dr. Fred Engle, “Clays Ferry,” Madison's Heritage Online, accessed March 3, 2024,