New Lewis & Clark auto trail
to include stops in Oldham County
Historians say the explorers spent time
near Westport, Ky.
(October 2021) – Oldham County (Ky.) Tourism has just joined in the efforts to establish an auto trail marking the Eastern Legacy of the Lewis & Clark Expedition of 1803-1806. Organizers say they hope it will encourage more visitors to get out and explore Oldham County’s historic connection and attractions, whether they are tourists or locals, and become a bit of an explorer themselves.
“Our leg of the Trail starts on U.S. Hwy. 42, so it is our goal to create our own ‘Lewis & Clark Trail Loop’ in Oldham County,” said Kim Buckler Hydes, executive director of Oldham KY Tourism & Conventions. The goal is to focus on Westport at first, which branches off of U.S. Hwy. 42 via Hwy. 524.
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An historical link with the Westport area involves Capt. William Clark, who was leader of the expedition along with Capt. Meriwether Lewis. “Clark had a connection to Oldham County before the expedition when he would have likely visited his sister, Fanny, and then brother-in-law, Charles Thruston, on their farm near Westport and on his travels up and down the Ohio while in the army and as a civilian,” said Jim Holmberg, a recognized authority on Lewis & Clark and Curator of Collections for The Filson Historical Society in Louisville.
“After the expedition, he also traveled by boat up and down the Ohio, with one documented trip being his September 1807 fossil dig for Thomas Jefferson at Big Bone Lick,” continued Holmberg. “Whether he stopped at Westport or other sites in today’s Oldham County isn’t known. With it bordering the Ohio, however, Oldham County is part of that 1803 leg of the Lewis & Clark Expedition and erecting signs signifying that to educate and guide people is worthwhile.”
Lewis’ only tie to Oldham County around this time is that he “would have passed it in October 1803 in heading for his rendezvous with Clark in Louisville. It is possible that he stopped at the little town of Westport, but he wasn’t keeping a journal at the time, and that isn’t known,” Holmberg said.
Photo by Helen E. McKinney
Oldham County Tourist & Conventions Executive Director Kim Buckler Hydes and Jim Mallory, vice chairman of the Lewis & Clark Trust Inc., display one of the new auto trail signs that will go up in the county.
Jim Mallory, vice chairman of the Lewis & Clark Trust Inc., agreed with Holmberg, saying, “When Lewis passed the Oldham section of the Ohio, he was in one of his “quiet periods.” Lewis stopped recording daily activities at Cincinnati and did not start again until Fort Massac, near Paducah. However, he did pass Oldham County in 1803.”
Another reason Westport was chosen to be a focal point on the auto tour is because of its proximity to U.S. Hwy. 42. At the time of the expedition, Westport was a thriving river port destination, with goods and services coming in and being sent out from its docks. The first courthouse of Oldham County was in Westport, marking it as a focal point in Oldham County’s development and history. Oldham didn’t become a county until 1824, formed from parts of Henry, Jefferson and Shelby.
“While in Westport, there are other important attractions to see and or learn about,” Hydes said. “Oldham County Tourism and the Oldham County History Center just installed a historic bronze marker at the original Westport Courthouse, a notable Underground Railroad landmark. Visitors will have the opportunity to learn about Lewis & Clark and our Underground Railroad history in Westport. They can pick up lunch at Knock on Wood and eat at Westport’s Schamback Park. They can also visit Morgan Conservation Park on the other side of the Loop.”
The Eastern Legacy portion of the Lewis & Clark Expedition covers several states: Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Washington, D.C. In 2019, the John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management and Recreation Act extended the Trail an additional 1,200 miles along the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, covering these states.
The goal of the Lewis & Clark Trust Inc., the entity behind this project, is to place auto trail signs along the Eastern route of the Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail. The chosen route follows the Ohio River as closely as possible, since Lewis came down the river to meet up with Clark at the Falls of the Ohio in Clarksville, Ind., on Oct. 14, 1803, which is 218 years ago this month.
Several months prior to this, on Aug. 31, 1803, Lewis noted in his personal journal that he departed Pittsburgh and began his 981-mile voyage down the Ohio River. He and his crew of 11 encountered thick fog and low water, making the travel slow and arduous at times. After arriving at the Falls, he and Clark spent 12 days in the Louisville-Clarksville area making final preparations for the expedition and training the men Clark had recruited.
“The Eastern Legacy portion of the Lewis & Clark Trail is an integral part of the expedition’s history. It was in the East that the all important foundation of the journey was laid. Much of the planning, supply and recruitment for the expedition occurred east of the Mississippi,” said Holmberg.
Making the journey west
As to the men who made the journey, “the Corps of Discovery personifies the importance of teamwork,” he said. “Under the leadership of Lewis and Clark and the sergeants, the members of the Corps all worked toward the common goal of moving the expedition ahead by water and land, over mountains and through dangerous rapids, sometimes on starvation rations and suffering the extreme cold of winter and the stifling heat of summer, day by day to reach their goal of the Pacific and then to travel back across the West to return home. With only a couple of exceptions, all the members endured the hardships and dangers of the journey to successfully move the party forward.”
The western portion of the Trail marks the route from Illinois to Oregon. This auto tour route winds through the additional states of Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Washington and many tribal lands.
The original Trail, administered by the National Park Service, is more than 4,900 miles long and follows the historic route of the expedition as they journeyed west. The Trail was established in 1978 and designated by Congress to commemorate the historic 1803-1806 expedition.
The goal of the 1803 federally funded journey, commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson, was to explore the North American West after obtaining the Louisiana Purchase. Members were to survey the Missouri and Colombia rivers, locating routes that would connect the continental interior to the Pacific Ocean. While the eastern section of the country was widely settled, the region west of the Mississippi, including 828,000 square miles of new U.S. territory, remained an unfamiliar and uncharted frontier.
Because Lewis and Clark relied upon a major portion of the Ohio River for their voyage, all auto tour marked trails will follow the roads the public uses today. “The Lewis and Clark National Trail is the river, the middle of the river,” said Mallory. The committee had to “determine the highways nearest the river that the public used the most,” to place signs.
Hydes said, “We are hoping to develop our part of the Lewis & Clark Trail to promote our location on the Ohio River, with Oldham County’s only access to the river being in Westport. With the vast view of the river and the recent developments at Schamback Park, we are excited to bring visitors to Westport and the possibility of annual events developed around the Lewis & Clark theme.”
Hydes recently approached Oldham County Parks Director Gary Parsons with the idea of a joint Oldham County Tourism and Oldham County Parks program that would “allow us to incorporate both county parks and the Junior Ranger part of the program.” The Lewis and Clark Trail Junior Ranger program, an activity based program conducted in almost all National Park sites, is based on an activity booklet and helps kids earn a Junior Ranger badge at participating locations.
Photo by Helen E. McKinney
The Filson Historical Society in Louisville houses a collection on Lewis & Clark's journey west.
She plans to include additional L&C Trail signage to guide visitors up Hwy. 42, then to the 524 Loop, which will take them through Westport.
“We will also include additional L&C signage as needed as we expand the loop to include surrounding areas and points of interest,” Hydes said. “Only 25 signs were given to the Kentucky leg of the Trail. The sign we were given signifies the start of our Trail. We will use signage to direct visitors to stops and attractions of significance along the Oldham County Trail Loop.”
Hydes said Oldham County Tourism is excited “to include other areas of Oldham County in their Lewis & Clark Trail Loop and sees it as an opportunity to showcase the rest of Oldham County to visitors while they are here on the Trail. The Trail might be up Hwy. 42 and through Westport, but we plan to cross-promote other parts of the county that makes sense, such as our countywide lodging and attractions along the way.”
“Tourism is a form of education and education leads to preservation of the story and Trail,” Mallory said. There are many components to the story, and Mallory believes the values of the Lewis and Clark story – perseverance, shared responsibility and pride in accomplishment – are values still needed by society today. Tourism can help in this mission while providing a new and exciting tour that is both educational and fun.
“Trails go to the people,” he said. This is also a less expensive form of traveling and is easier for those who cannot physically hike long trails but can still enjoy Oldham County’s many attractions.
Trails such as this one and other historic Trails, “draw very specific groups of people depending on the type of trail,” Hydes said. “We know that this particular trail will be a great trail to promote Oldham County as a multi-generational destination. Grandparents will love bringing their grandkids on this trail.”
“The story and value of the Auto Tour Route Signs and the Trail is a value to the American people,” said Mallory.
He and his wife, Paula, have been involved in Lewis and Clark history for more than 35 years, he said. “While I was serving on the Kentucky Lewis & Clark Bicentennial Commission (2003-2007), the Commission focused on the contributions of the Eastern story of the Lewis & Clark Exploration – the planning, equipping and especially the “manning” or staffing.”
Success and sadness followed the expedition
“It is a Kentucky story,” he said. Mallory noted that there were at least 11 members of the exploration party that were Kentuckians, although history records the “Nine Young Men from Kentucky.” Several had ties to Indiana as well, and the Expedition, or “Corp of Discovery,” left Clarksville on August 31, 1803, returning to St. Louis, Mo., on Sept. 25, 1806.
After reaching the Pacific Ocean in November 1805, the Corps established Fort Clatsop, near present-day Astoria, Oregon, as its winter quarters. After a few months, the weary explorers headed for home on March 23, 1806, and their final destination of St. Louis. Reaching St. Louis on Sept. 23, 1806, Capt. William Clark noted, “We were met by all the village and received a hearty welcome.”
Upon their return in 1806, Lewis wrote to President Jefferson stating that “It is with pleasure that I announce to you the safe arrival of myself and party.... In obedience to your orders we have penetrated the Continent of North America to the Pacific Ocean, and sufficiently explored the interior of the country to affirm with confidence that we have discovered the most practicable route that does exist across the continent by means of the navigable branches of the Missouri and Columbia Rivers.”
After the great expedition had ended, both Lewis and Clark were generously rewarded for their services, each receiving large parcels of land and double pay. President Jefferson appointed Lewis governor of the Territory of Upper Louisiana in March 1807, but afterward his life took a different turn. Lewis became severely depressed over financial issues and attempted suicide twice. Upon arriving at a roadhouse in Tennessee on Oct. 10, it is presumed the 35-year-old explorer ended his life by shooting himself with two pistols.
Although Clark did not get the captain’s commission that Lewis had recommended, Clark was granted two appointments: brigadier general of militia and superintendent of Indian affairs for the Territory of Upper Louisiana. In 1813 he was appointed governor of the Missouri Territory, a position he held until 1820. Clark died in 1838 at age 68 in the St. Louis home of his firstborn son, Meriwether Lewis Clark.
The Filson has some expedition-related items, but the only artifact currently available for viewing from the collection is the ca. 1813-ca. 1817 portrait of William Clark. It hangs in the reading room on the second floor and can be viewed as part of the Monday through Friday 2 p.m. tours of the campus.
Letters and a big horn sheep horn collected on the journey are not on display, and special arrangements need to be made to possibly see them, said Holmberg. “The portrait of George Rogers Clark, whom Thomas Jefferson first asked to go on a journey to the Pacific in 1783, also hangs in the reading room.”
A discovery was made of the letters of William Clark to his oldest brother, Jonathan, which Holmberg edited in “Dear Brother: Letters of William Clark to Jonathan Clark.”
“Among the many significant topics the letters include are the expedition (there were five expedition dated letters in the group), York’s sad post-expedition life, the death of Meriwether Lewis and a much better understanding of William Clark, the man beyond the iconic explorer.”
The letters were passed down in Jonathan Clark’s family and were tucked among other family papers in a trunk opened by family members in 1988. He said, “I heard about them and first saw them in February of 1989. The six owners of the letters (and the rest of the family papers) were the grandchildren of Louisville attorney and historian Temple Bodley. They realized the historical importance of the letters and generously donated first the Clark letters and later the rest of the papers to the Filson.”
Holmberg said, “Holding such historically priceless letters in my hands gave me chills. And they still do today. To know that you are reading the answers to questions that historians have sought answers for some two hundred years is quite a rush. And to be able to edit the letters for publication and give talks about the letters to interested groups are some of the highlights of my career as a curator and historian.”
“The Eastern Auto Tour Route of the Trail connects to the Western Exploration story,” Mallory said. “Failure to tell the full story leaves the first Military Exploration of the west “dangling “without a background need or explanation.” The details of what occurred after their return to St. Louis are equally important.
“The Lewis & Clark Auto Tour Route signs are only the first of many assets that can be shared along the Ohio River in Kentucky and the other eastern states along the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers,” Mallory said.
“There’s always a niche for auto tour visitors and especially those that want to trace a historic route,” said Jim Epperson, executive director for SoIN Tourism (Clark County, Ind.’s tourism bureau). “That’s still certainly a powerful motivator for many travelers. We mostly appreciate the attention to the story of Clarksville’s contribution to the Lewis & Clark expedition because it cements an important part of our local history into the national story.”
The Falls of the Ohio State Park in Clarksville has also received auto tour signs to designate its contribution to the Eastern Legacy.
“They worked with Indiana Department of Transportation to identify the desired route for the auto tour through Indiana and, at the suggestion of the Ohio River Scenic Byway Inc., board, that route was chosen,” Epperson said. “INDOT is responsible for further sign placement from the Illinois boarder to the Ohio border along the Byway, and we think they will co-locate Lewis & Clark signs on the same posts as the Byway signs,” he said.
Epperson, who also sits on the board of the Indiana Lewis & Clark Foundation Inc., calls the Expedition “the first great American road trip. The journey itself proved the West could be accessed. The things that were learned enticed future settlement. The Corps largely survived and returned, which was quite a feat. The long-term impact on indigenous people and cultures was dramatic and devastating.”
Oldham County Tourism plans to have an unveiling ceremony once the first sign is installed, said Hydes, but no definite date has been selected.
• For more information, visit https://lewisandclark.travel/or https://lewisandclarkinkentucky.org.
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