The “pigeon roost” was once a local land­mark on Lulbegrud Creek.  The place was noto­ri­ous in the late 18th cen­tu­ry for the gath­er­ing of huge flocks of pas­sen­ger pigeons.  The roost stood in a grove of trees on the west bank of Lulbegrud at the far­thest east­ern point of the creek in the east­ern­most cor­ner of Clark County (about a half-mile down­stream from Oil Springs).

Painting of a male passenger pigeon by Mark Catesby, 1731
Painting of a male pas­sen­ger pigeon by Mark Catesby, 1731.

Kentucky biol­o­gists Mary Wharton and Roger Barbour assert­ed that “no oth­er bird in primeval America was as numer­ous as the pas­sen­ger pigeon.”  Contemporary reports speak of the sky dark­en­ing when large flocks flew over­head.  John James Audubon described a migra­tion he observed in 1813:

“I seat­ed myself on an emi­nence, and began [count­ing] every flock that passed.  In a short time find­ing the task which I had under­tak­en imprac­ti­ca­ble, as the birds poured in in count­less mul­ti­tudes, I…traveled on and still met more the far­ther I pro­ceed­ed.  The air was lit­er­al­ly filled with Pigeons.  The light of noon-day was obscured as by an eclipse.  The dung fell in spots, not unlike melt­ing flakes of snow, and the con­tin­ued buzz of wings had a ten­den­cy to lull my sens­es to repose.  I can­not describe to you the extreme beau­ty of their aer­i­al evolutions.”

Passenger pigeon shooting. (Painting by Smith Bennett, 1875)
Passenger pigeon shoot­ing. (Painting by Smith Bennett, 1875)

Pigeons were so abun­dant they were held in con­tempt.  The bill of fare at Duncan Tavern in Paris list­ed many types of meat, the cheap­est of which was pigeon.  The birds were slaugh­tered on a prodi­gious scale.  Farmers drove their hogs to roost­ing sites to feed on dead birds.  The species went into severe decline after the Civil War, was rarely seen after 1890, and has been con­sid­ered extinct since 1914.

The last doc­u­ment­ed sight­ing in the state occurred in Clark County.  It was report­ed by Lucien Beckner in The Last Wild Pigeon in Kentucky, pub­lished by the Kentucky Academy of Sciences.  According to Beckner’s account, his broth­er Seth shot a pas­sen­ger pigeon on November 20, 1898, about three miles south­west of Winchester.  “To the sub­se­quent regret of every­one con­cerned, the spec­i­men was eat­en instead of preserved.”

The “pigeon roost” is shown on an elab­o­rate­ly drawn map in the record of a land con­tro­ver­sy, Cuthbert Combs v. Thomas Porter’s heirs, in 1813.  Several wit­ness­es point­ed out the loca­tion of the pigeon roost to sur­vey­or William Sudduth.  This map is of immense his­tor­i­cal val­ue for Clark County since Sudduth also plot­ted numer­ous Indian Old Fields land­marks.  These includ­ed earth­en works, “the gate posts” and rem­nants of old build­ings in the “Indian Town,” as well as Marquis Calmes’ improve­ment, William Beasley’s cab­in, the block­house, sev­er­al salt licks and springs, and a water­fall on a branch of Upper Howard’s Creek.  The record also includes invalu­able state­ments by William Calk, Enoch Smith, Cuthbert Combs, and oth­er pio­neers who described the area as it appeared in the year 1775.

Plat from Clark County Complete Record Book, 1806-1825. The Pigeon Roost was located at #15.
Plat from Clark County Complete Record Book, 1806–1825. The Pigeon Roost was locat­ed at #15.

This land case appears in one of thir­teen large, leather-bound vol­umes called the Clark County Complete Record Books.  These valu­able accounts of land tri­als have been rel­a­tive­ly untouched by his­to­ri­ans.  The books and numer­ous oth­er court records — housed in Winchester in the cour­t­house and the cir­cuit court build­ing for near­ly two cen­turies — were hauled to Frankfort in 2006 for “safe­keep­ing,” by order of Kentucky’s Administrative Office of the Courts.  They are now avail­able for pub­lic view­ing at the Department for Libraries and Archives, 300 Coffee Tree Road.

  • Harry is a Mt. Sterling native who has lived in Clark County since1999. He has a pas­sion for the past and has researched and writ­ten exten­sive­ly about the his­to­ry of this area.