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Kentucky: a road trip through the state - Part 53 - Orlando / Florida Guide

Florida Guide > Travelling

The Cumberland Gap National Historic Park is situated at the point where Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia all meet. This natural pass provided the main route for settlers and traders crossing the Appalachians into the Midwest. It is now a National Historical Park and the 12 mile long pass is known for its views and geological features, including the three-mile-wide Middlesboro Crater. It was also the inspiration for a classic bluegrass tune. Those of a certain age may well remember that Lonnie Donegan had a No. 1 UK hit with a skiffle version of ' Cumberland Gap' in 1957. If you don’t you may want to do a search on YouTube as an old black and white film of their performance has turn up.

The passage created by Cumberland Gap was a well travelled route by Native Americans long before the arrival of European settlers. The earliest known written account of the Cumberland Gap dates back to the 1670s and was made by Abraham Wood of Virginia.

As the Cumberland Gap had long been used by Native Americans it was no surprise that it was brought to the attention of settlers in 1750 by Dr. Thomas Walker, a Virginia physician and explorer.

The gap was named after Prince William, The Duke of Cumberland. He was the son of King George II and had many places named after him in the American colonies after the Battle of Culloden. The explorer Thomas Walker gave the name to the Cumberland River in 1750, and the name soon spread to many other features in the region, such as the Cumberland Gap. In 1769 Joseph Martin built a fort nearby at what is today Rose Hill, Virginia, on behalf of Dr. Walker' s land claimants. However Martin and his men were forced to leave the area by Native Americans and Martin himself did not return until 1775.

It was in 1775 that Daniel Boone was hired by the Transylvania Company. When he arrived in the region he was leading a company of men, their job was to widen the path through the gap to make settlement of Kentucky and Tennessee easier. When he arrived Boone discovered that Martin had beaten him to Powell Valley, where Martin and his men were clearing land for their own settlement. This became the most western settlement in English colonial America at the time. Within fifteen years the original trail that Boone and his men had made had been widened so that wagon traffic could pass through it with relative easy. It was at this point that it became known as the Wilderness Road and there is a famous painting ‘Daniel Boone Escorting Settlers through the Cumberland Gap’ which was produced by George Bingham in 1851.

It has been estimated that around 250, 000 migrants passed through this gap in the Appalachian Mountains on their way into Kentucky and the Ohio Valley before 1810. Currently around 25, 000 cars a day pass through a tunnel beneath the site.

U. S. Route 25 used to pass overland through the gap before the completion of the Cumberland Gap Tunnel in 1996. Once the tunnel had been completed then the original trail was fully restored.

In part 54 we will have a look at the park itself and some more of its history.

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