Wilderness Road State Park | TheFencePost.com

Wilderness Road State Park

Candy Moulton
Encampment, Wyo.

A replica cabin at Wilderness Road State Park.

Something more than two hours on the bus took me and a group of Western Writers of America members from Knoxville, Tenn., to the region around Cumberland Gap and the Wilderness Road State Park, which lies in Virginia, just over the line from Tennessee, but really a journey that took us back more than two centuries.

Daniel Boone and his axe men carved the Wilderness Road through the dense forests of Virginia in 1775, ultimately hacking their way through the Allegheny Mountains of Virginia and into Tennessee along Powell’s Valley, where the first settler, Joseph Martin, had come in 1769, building a small fort enclave. Indians in the region strongly resisted Martin’s incursion into the valley and he withdrew, abandoning his station, for several years, only to return in January of 1775.

Boone and his men helped with the eventual settlement of the area by building the Wilderness Road, a pathway over which more than 300,000 settlers traveled to move into Tennessee, Kentucky, and the Midwest by the 1800s. Martin’s Station served many of those travelers, but the region was really opened further by Boone who located the Cumberland Gap, situated about 10 miles west of Martin’s Station. This gap, a natural break in the long ridge separating what is present Kentucky from Tennessee, was a way for the travelers to move north into present Kentucky and ultimately to the Midwest.

Today Martin’s Station has been recreated by volunteers and park interpreters who rebuilt the station’s log cabins, storehouses, and palisade walls using locally available timber and the tools of the late 18th century.

Their handiwork is outstanding and enhanced by the fact that interpreters living the same type of life are at the station routinely to give visitors a sense of life at such a station when it was the only European-developed outpost in this rugged land.

To me, a Westerner, the lush Eastern forests are nothing short of amazing. They are dense, green, and seem to be impenetrable. Admittedly they could have been of somewhat different character in 1775 when Boone was blazing a trail (road) through them. Imagine that, at the same time George Washington was leading our country’s first Army of the Potomac to ultimately claim independence from the British, Boone was already setting the stage for westward expansion; ultimately more than 300,000 people would follow the Wilderness Road and pass through Cumberland Gap.

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The Martin’s Station enclave today really is a great place to get a sense of our earliest expansionist history.

I had not even heard of Martin’s Station prior to the plans for the Western Writers Convention tour to the site, although I did know of the Wilderness Road, considered by many to be the earliest road in the country, and certainly the earliest developed route into the “West.” I had also, of course, heard about Cumberland Gap, a place that you see from the highway, but can learn more about at the National Park Service site in Kentucky, accessible by taking the highway and traveling literally through the limestone mountain in a tunnel. If you have more time than we did, and possibly are diving in a smaller vehicle, you can tour to the top of the gap. Although the NPS site is interesting and gives a good overview of the area history (told through a film created by Gary Foreman and Carolyn Raines-Foreman), the better location for experiencing life on the frontier is at Martin’s Station, 6 miles to the east. There you will also find a modern visitor’s center and yet another good interpretive film created by the Foremans.

For the continued tour of the area, our group also visited Morristown, Tenn., site of the Crockett Tavern, a replica of the tavern owned by David Crockett’s father John, and where Davy spent his teenage years. This large two-story establishment is furnished in the style of Crockett’s day and downstairs one of my friends, Bill Gronoman, a Crockett biographer and aficionado, spied an original copy of Davy’s autobiography, published in 1834. It was rather incredible to see that little book displayed in a simple display case, but a fitting end to a good day of touring in Tennessee and nearby frontier points.

Something more than two hours on the bus took me and a group of Western Writers of America members from Knoxville, Tenn., to the region around Cumberland Gap and the Wilderness Road State Park, which lies in Virginia, just over the line from Tennessee, but really a journey that took us back more than two centuries.

Daniel Boone and his axe men carved the Wilderness Road through the dense forests of Virginia in 1775, ultimately hacking their way through the Allegheny Mountains of Virginia and into Tennessee along Powell’s Valley, where the first settler, Joseph Martin, had come in 1769, building a small fort enclave. Indians in the region strongly resisted Martin’s incursion into the valley and he withdrew, abandoning his station, for several years, only to return in January of 1775.

Boone and his men helped with the eventual settlement of the area by building the Wilderness Road, a pathway over which more than 300,000 settlers traveled to move into Tennessee, Kentucky, and the Midwest by the 1800s. Martin’s Station served many of those travelers, but the region was really opened further by Boone who located the Cumberland Gap, situated about 10 miles west of Martin’s Station. This gap, a natural break in the long ridge separating what is present Kentucky from Tennessee, was a way for the travelers to move north into present Kentucky and ultimately to the Midwest.

Today Martin’s Station has been recreated by volunteers and park interpreters who rebuilt the station’s log cabins, storehouses, and palisade walls using locally available timber and the tools of the late 18th century.

Their handiwork is outstanding and enhanced by the fact that interpreters living the same type of life are at the station routinely to give visitors a sense of life at such a station when it was the only European-developed outpost in this rugged land.

To me, a Westerner, the lush Eastern forests are nothing short of amazing. They are dense, green, and seem to be impenetrable. Admittedly they could have been of somewhat different character in 1775 when Boone was blazing a trail (road) through them. Imagine that, at the same time George Washington was leading our country’s first Army of the Potomac to ultimately claim independence from the British, Boone was already setting the stage for westward expansion; ultimately more than 300,000 people would follow the Wilderness Road and pass through Cumberland Gap.

The Martin’s Station enclave today really is a great place to get a sense of our earliest expansionist history.

I had not even heard of Martin’s Station prior to the plans for the Western Writers Convention tour to the site, although I did know of the Wilderness Road, considered by many to be the earliest road in the country, and certainly the earliest developed route into the “West.” I had also, of course, heard about Cumberland Gap, a place that you see from the highway, but can learn more about at the National Park Service site in Kentucky, accessible by taking the highway and traveling literally through the limestone mountain in a tunnel. If you have more time than we did, and possibly are diving in a smaller vehicle, you can tour to the top of the gap. Although the NPS site is interesting and gives a good overview of the area history (told through a film created by Gary Foreman and Carolyn Raines-Foreman), the better location for experiencing life on the frontier is at Martin’s Station, 6 miles to the east. There you will also find a modern visitor’s center and yet another good interpretive film created by the Foremans.

For the continued tour of the area, our group also visited Morristown, Tenn., site of the Crockett Tavern, a replica of the tavern owned by David Crockett’s father John, and where Davy spent his teenage years. This large two-story establishment is furnished in the style of Crockett’s day and downstairs one of my friends, Bill Gronoman, a Crockett biographer and aficionado, spied an original copy of Davy’s autobiography, published in 1834. It was rather incredible to see that little book displayed in a simple display case, but a fitting end to a good day of touring in Tennessee and nearby frontier points.