Ferries Around Madison

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Ferries Around Madison


About a dozen ferries operated on the Kentucky River and the creeks which constitute the county line for most of Madison. These ferries span the time from 1775 when the Boonesborough ferry was established on the Richmond-Winchester Road to the present single remaining ferry at Valley View.

For most of Madison's history, roads were narrow, winding rock and dirt tracks which wandered along the property lines between farms. There were frequent fords through creeks and very few "cuts" or "fills" to make the road more level. Floods, ice and droughts all interrupted ferry service. It was a serious and necessary thing to ask about road conditions whenever a fellow started on a trip by wagon or buggy.

The first ferry, the one at Boonesborough, was established in 1775. Richard Calloway (of Fort Boonesborough fame) secured the rights in 1779 and operated it for a number of years. After a succession of operators over a period of 156 years it was discontinued when the bridge at that place was built in 1931. A section of the old ferry road of the Madison side can still be seen running through the underbrush at the edge of the camping area of the state park there.

Clay's ferry, according to several local historians, was originally called "Stone's ferry" after Valentine Stone who ran the service there on the Kentucky River near the mouth of Boone's Creek after it was ordered by the Madison Quarterly Court in April, 1792. The place had formerly been used as an Indian and wild animal crossing. It was bought by Gen. Green Clay in May, 1898, and it remained in the Clay family, which held large parcels of land in that section of the county, until June, 1865, when Brutus J. Clay and R.C. Rogers sold it to Daniel Breck, president of the Lexington-Richmond Turnpike Co. A toll bridge a little downstream was started in 1869, and apparently opened for business in 1871 or '72, bringing an end to that ferry.

Fayette County records show that a ferry service at the mouth of Boone's Creek was operated by Eli Cleveland in 1781 as a part of a mill and settlement on the Fayette side called "Cleveland's Landing."

Down the Kentucky River from Clay's Ferry, at the mouth of Tate's Creek, is Valley View, the site of the only remaining ferry service in Madison. Other ferries downstream were Carver's ferry; Hunter's ferry, at the mouth of Silver Creek; and Sanders' ferry, near the mouth of Paint Lick Creek. Goggins' ferry was on the road from Kirksville to the river, just across the Garrard County line.

Going upstream on the Kentucky River above Clay's Ferry were Combs ferry, at Combs pike; Boonesborough ferry (mentioned above); Jackson ferry, at the mouth of Muddy Creek near Doylesville; Larimore ferry, at the mouth of Howard's Creek, named for the large home of John Larimore nearby; Noland's ferry, near the mouth of Muddy Creek near mouth of Red River, in the general area of the historical Old Cane Springs Church; and Cobb and Oldham ferries which apparently were operated on the Kentucky River and Drowning Creek between Madison and Estill Counties, named for two early pioneer families.

These are the Madison County ferries which we have been able to identify. Perhaps some of our readers can tell us if any others ever existed. Comments may be addressed to the editor of this newspaper.


Dr. Robert Grise




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Dr. Robert Grise, “Ferries Around Madison,” Madison's Heritage Online, accessed July 13, 2024, https://madisonsheritage.eku.edu/items/show/682.