The John Holder Trail, locat­ed in Lower Howard’s Creek Nature & Heritage Preserve, is open for vis­i­tors Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.  About four-tenths of a mile in, the trail cross­es the creek at the mouth of Deep Branch, then ascends a hill locat­ed in an oxbow of Lower Howard’s Creek.  At sev­er­al points along this climb, one can look down and see the creek on either side far below.  A gen­er­al name for his type of fea­ture is “Devil’s Backbone.”

There is a Devil’s Backbone that was once a well-known local land­mark in north­east­ern Clark County.  It is locat­ed in an oxbow bend of Stoner Creek, about one mile north­west of Wades Mill.  A good descrip­tion was pro­vid­ed in the Clark County Chronicles (see foot­note):

“In the rear of the old Alpheus Lewis man­sion and between it and the Gay res­i­dence and the stone house of Rezin Gist, the creek makes a great bend and returns so close to the orig­i­nal point that the nar­row ridge between, at its sum­mit, is only wide enough for a wag­on road, and one can stand on the top and throw a stone into the creek on either side.  This nar­row ridge has been known for gen­er­a­tions as the Devil’s Backbone.”

Sadly, the his­toric Gay and Gist hous­es are gone, and at last report, Alpheus Lewis’ “Oakwood” was in poor con­di­tion.  The Chronicles continued:

“On the east bank of Stoner at the Backbone, Alpheus Lewis had a large mill and a dis­tillery that pro­duced whiskey under the brand of A. Lewis & Son.  When Lewis died there were forty bar­rels of whiskey left in the ware­house.  Half the stock was pur­chased by an unscrupu­lous rec­ti­fi­er, a blender of whiskeys.  He was report­ed to have put a spoon­ful of this into more than 50,000 bar­rels of cheap whiskey.  He then sold his blend­ed whiskey, with the label “A. Lewis & Son’s, Clark County, 1866,” at hotel bars all over the coun­try bear­ing large gilt signs with this name.”

Devil’s Backbone is shown on the map below.  As you can see, it is not acces­si­ble from Wades Mill Road.  There are two oth­er sim­i­lar fea­tures on Stoner Creek that one can actu­al­ly dri­ve through.

Topo map of the Stoner Creek area.
Topo map of the Stoner Creek area. (Click to enlarge)

The Chronicles arti­cle described one of these, locat­ed about a mile west of Wades Mill, known as the “Cutoff,” where the creek could be ford­ed.  You can access the Cutoff today on Wades Mill Road (see map).

“In high water the stream had ages before washed out the chan­nel down to the lime­stone rock and through which the high water flowed with great swift­ness, in fact with such a strong cur­rent that trav­el­ers were unable to ford it on horse­back.  The ford men­tioned was the only place near by where the stream could be ford­ed and this of itself gives some idea of the great size of this stream before the defor­esta­tion of the coun­try which it drains.”

There is one more dri­ve-through fea­ture on Stoner Creek, anoth­er oxbow acces­si­ble via Big Stoner-Pretty Run Road.  It lies on the Clark-Bourbon bor­der and is labeled “Catfish Bend” on a 1926 Clark County map.  The ridge here nar­rows to less than 500 feet.  No idea where the name comes from.  A not­ed fish­ing hole?

Strodes Creek also has a num­ber of oxbows, the most promi­nent one you can dri­ve through is on Route 627 about two-thirds of a mile north of the Bourbon County line.  This was the site of a well-known ear­ly [1788] grist­mill.  Again, accord­ing to The Chronicles:

“Just across the Clark line in Bourbon, and in fact in sight of the line, was a very not­ed mill and prob­a­bly the largest one in pio­neer days, mas­sive­ly built of stone and known in ear­ly his­to­ry as Hornback’s Mill and after­wards for three-quar­ters of a cen­tu­ry as Thatcher’s Mill.  It was sit­u­at­ed in the big bend of Strode’s Creek, through which the mill race ran, con­nect­ing the two sec­tions of the creek form­ing the bend and was with­in a few hun­dred feet south of the cov­ered bridge at that point.  The old mill was only torn down a few years ago.”

The best time to vis­it these fea­tures is in win­ter or ear­ly spring before dense foliage obscures the views.  Get your­self a map and go explor­ing soon!

Originally pub­lished in The Winchester Sun, these columns were writ­ten in the 1920s by the Clark County Historical Society.  The Chronicles have been recent­ly edit­ed by Rosemary Campbell and repub­lished by the Bluegrass Heritage Museum.

  • 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.