By Lowell & Kaye Christie, F47246
Daniel Boone didn’t actually blaze the trail that bears his name; American Indians had used the trail for commerce and raids since before Christopher Columbus landed in America. Boone wasn’t even the earliest non-native American to make the trek. Still, he played a major role in establishing the route that would be traveled by thousands of settlers into Kentucky and westward.
The Daniel Boone Wilderness Trail that we know today begins where the borders of southwestern Virginia and northeastern Tennessee meet. Kingsport, Tennessee, marks the official start. Then the trail crosses the Virginia border, swings north and then west, ending at the Cumberland Gap in Middlesboro, Kentucky. “Wilderness Trail Marker” signs designate places of particular historical interest. We’ve chosen some of those that we found most interesting.
If you’d like to see a map of the trail, along with trail marker information, visit www.danielboonetrail.com/html/trailmap.html.
1. Netherland Inn, Trail Marker #1, Kingsport, Tennessee
Kingsport isn’t the village it was a couple of centuries ago; today it’s a small city. The Netherland Inn stands on Long Island of the Holston River. There a sign reads, “The nation’s only registered historical site which was both a stagecoach stop and a boatyard.” Visitors to the inn are invited to tour the restored building and imagine seeing the three U.S. presidents who stayed there “” Andrew Jackson, Andrew Johnson, and James Polk. Across the street from the inn, a trail/walkway meanders along the Holston River.
2. Anderson Blockhouse, Trail Marker #4, just north of the Virginia state line
Here on a knoll, John Anderson built a blockhouse more than two centuries ago. A blockhouse was a two-story log building with the upper story overhanging the first. Thousands of travelers paused there to catch their breath before continuing west. The blockhouse rotted away long ago, but a stone monument marks the spot today.
3. Big Moccasin Gap, Trail Marker #5, Moccasin Gap, Virginia
A “water gap” is an opening that was gradually carved through a mountain by flowing water. A lot more flowed through the Big Moccasin Gap than just water, however. Whether on horseback or in wagons, people moving west through Virginia used these water gaps as a way through the mountains. The Homeplace Mountain Farm and Museum, adjacent to the town of Moccasin Gap, offers visitors a glimpse of 19th-century farm life.
4. Gate City Courthouse, Trail Marker #6, Gate City, Virginia
What is known today as Gate City served as a gateway to the Allegheny Mountains, first in American Indian days, and later in pioneer times. Back then, a station was built to guard the trail. Unfortunately, there weren’t enough armed men to prevent Chickamauga Cherokee Chief Benge and his war party from killing all but one of the residents back in 1791. The survivor, a child, was captured and carried away.
5. Wilderness Trail Marker #7, Daniel Boone, Virginia
Daniel Boone and his group drank from a spring located near the railroad yard, where a sign marks the only town in Virginia named for the explorer.
6. Wilderness Trail Marker #8, Speers Ferry, Virginia
This town is located at the mouth of Troublesome Creek, whose crossing proved to be so dangerous that the old Boone Wilderness Trail avoided it. The trail forded the creek on a shelf of rock that lies under a present-day bridge.
7. Wilderness Trail Marker #10, Natural Tunnel, Duffield, Virginia
You could spend your entire vacation exploring this place. Political leader and orator William Jennings Bryan called Natural Tunnel the “Eighth Wonder of the World.” After all, Mother Nature worked more than a million years to sculpt it into its current state of perfection. The tunnel is, of course, the focal point of the park, but you’ll find other attractions such as hiking and swimming, a visitors center, an amphitheater, interpretive programs, and camping. Eighteen of the campsites offer electric and water hookups. Natural Tunnel State Park is located in Scott County, roughly 13 miles north of Gate City, Virginia, and 20 miles north of Kingsport, Tennessee.
8. Wilderness Trail Marker #11, Duffield, Virginia
At the intersection of State Route 871 and U.S. 23, you’ll find a marker pointing toward the remains of a famous shortcut on the Wilderness Trail “” “Devil’s Race Path.” Eighteenth- and 19th-century settlers laboring up the grade were easy prey for thieves eager to relieve them of their treasures. Be sure to pause at “Little Flat Lick” to view Powell Mountain, and especially Kane Gap, the only significant section of the trail that is still made of dirt. Coaches, cars, and even trucks of today would never have made it up that grade. Paving over the path destroyed much of the history, even as it made the road more usable for travel.
9. Wilderness Trail Marker #13 and #14, James Boone Massacre, Virginia
The murder of Daniel Boone’s 16-year-old son by Shawnee Indians took place in Wallen’s Creek, near present-day Stickleyville, Virginia, in 1773. Originally the trail went west down Wallen’s Creek along State Route 612. Later the state improved the trail to handle wagons. Now it’s known as U.S. 58.
10. Wilderness Trail Marker #15, Powell River Bridge, Virginia
Downstream are the two main fords of the Wilderness Trail that cross the Powell River. From this marker visitors can still clearly see evidence of the two trails coming down this hill. Earlier, the trail traveled across Wallen’s Ridge through Slagle’s Gap; later, it was improved and relocated.
11. Wilderness Trail Marker #16, Jonesville, Virginia
The Old Confederate Cemetery at Mump’s Fort was located at the top of a hill where the Jonesville courthouse now stands. Only a year after being built, Mump’s was one of the forts abandoned at the onset of the Cherokee War in 1776. A marker in the Jonesville Cemetery commemorates Confederate soldiers who perished in the Battle of Jonesville during the Civil War.
12. Wilderness Road State Park, five miles west of Ewing, and six miles east of Cumberland Gap National Historical Park
This 200-acre park has so much to experience, it was difficult to narrow down the field to a couple of “must sees”: Martin’s Station and Karlan Mansion. The original 1775 station is gone, but the replica just might fool you. You can learn much at this reconstructed site with its living history programs. As for the mansion, it was built by Robert M. Ely in the late 1870s and remained in the Ely family for several generations. The house has been renovated several times, but the basic structure still stands. Hikers, take note: the 10-mile Wilderness Road Trail connects Martin’s Station with Cumberland Gap. The park’s Indian Ridge Trail is a self-guided natural heritage trail.
13. Cumberland Gap National Historical Park
We didn’t save the best for last “” it just happened that way. It was certainly the highlight of our travels in the area, and there were lots of great places on the route. We like to settle into camp first and then head over to the visitors center. This one offers a new 30-minute movie, Daniel Boone and the Westward Movement. The entire region is rich in crafts, old and new, and Cumberland Crafts, part of the Southern Highland Craft Guild, is located at the visitors center. Handmade items from throughout the Appalachian area are displayed there. Especially on weekends, guild members demonstrate their crafts, which are offered for sale.