Kentucky's Frontier Highway: Historical Landscapes along the Maysville Road
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Eighteenth-century Kentucky beckoned to hunters, surveyors, and settlers from the mid-Atlantic coast colonies as a source of game, land, and new trade opportunities. Unfortunately, the Appalachian Mountains formed a daunting barrier that left only two primary roads to this fertile Eden. The steep grades and dense forests of the Cumberland Gap rendered the Wilderness Road impassable to wagons, and the northern route extending from southeastern Pennsylvania became the first main thoroughfare to the rugged West, winding along the Ohio River and linking Maysville to Lexington in the heart of the Bluegrass.
Kentucky’s Frontier Highway reveals the astounding history of the Maysville Road, a route that served as a theater of local settlement, an engine of economic development, a symbol of the national political process, and an essential part of the Underground Railroad. Authors Karl Raitz and Nancy O’Malley chart its transformation from an ancient footpath used by Native Americans and early settlers to a central highway, examining the effect that its development had on the evolution of transportation technology as well as the usage and abandonment of other thoroughfares, and illustrating how this historic road shaped the wider American landscape.
Karl Raitz is professor of geography at the University of Kentucky.
Nancy O’Malley is the assistant director of the William S. Webb Museum of Anthropology at the University of Kentucky.
“Kentucky’s Frontier Highway is a very well researched and well-written book that makes a significant contribution to the study of American roads, U.S. settlement history, and Kentucky history in particular. The authors’ approach is broad and multifaceted, well organized, and keenly focused on the myriad aspects of an important path, the land and time it transits. This is a fine holistic study of an important and complex road and its many geographical and historical components.” -- Drake Hokanson, author of Lincoln Highway: Main Street across America
“The authors demonstrate quite convincingly that rich local history lies along our roads. They unearthed an abundance of behind-the-scenes information that is invisible to us as we barrel down the highway. It should give all readers pause to consider how much more they could know about the places they travel through.” -- Craig E. Colten, author of Perilous Place, Powerful Storms: Hurricane Protection in Coastal Louisiana
“This notable and ably-illustrated volume by geographer Karl Raitz and archeologist Nancy O'Malley captures the rigors of frontier Appalachian geography and the utter ingenuity of diverse peoples bent on moving west. The road is perhaps the greatest of American themes -- it encapsulates freedom, mobility, possibility, escape, commerce, crime and calumny, adventure, and romance. Thank goodness we have these two able storytellers to give us the narrative of the Maysville Road.” -- Paul F. Starrs, Regents & Foundation Professor of Geography (University of Nevada), and recipient, J.B. Jackson Prize, Association of American Geographers
"The Maysville Road is famous. Every student of American history reads about Andrew Jackson’s celebrated veto of federal funding for its construction on the high principle of separation of Constitutional powers between state and federal governments. Jackson fixed the road permanently in the great narrative of American history. But to Karl Raitz and Nancy O’Malley the road is anything but a static principle of the American past. For them, it is a malleable and mutable feature of a landscape in constant adjustment to the great forces of history and human agency. It is a cultural site for questioning the past and musing about its meaning. It is a vector of interrelated forces in science, engineering, and technology. At its intersections converge the economic, social, and political influences of each age. Most eloquently—and this is an eloquent book—the Maysville Road is a 'tableau of historical geography' richly portraying historic events and individuals of great significance at the same time it embodies the 'larger landscape of common people and common artifacts.' Reading this road with Raitz and O’Malley is one of the great rides in American history." -- Warren R. Hofstra, Stewart Bell Professor of History, Shenandoah University