The man’s full name is James John Floyd, thank you. And all the 21st Century Parks fuss about that 20-mile-stretch of Jefferson County water and park that bears his name is well worth it.
But Floyds Fork doesn’t begin at Shelbyville Road nor end near Bardstown Road. The meandering, 62-mile river begins in long creases of sloping Henry County farm lands and woods. At least two smaller, often wet-weather branches formed in those slopes come together near Ballardsville in Oldham County to form the larger river.
From there Floyds Fork meanders through an area called Floydsburg where pioneer settler, surveyor and militia leader “Col. John Floyd” — the “James” lost to history — built a stockade in the 1770s. Only from there does the river slip into Jefferson County to begin its new life as a park. It exits to the south where it empties into the Salt River near Shepherdsville in Bullitt County.
There is a tendency to live for the moment when paddling along such a river, or walking its banks, to accept what the river gives in terms of natural beauty and serenity. We don’t always think about where the river has been, or where it is going.
So my journey this summer was to go with the flow; visit western Henry County where Floyds Fork begins and follow it to the Salt River where it ends. There is no one headwaters; the Floyds Fork watershed drains 284 square miles — and offers up a lot of stories.
One was in Henry County where William Potts, 68, greeted me at the porch door of his old white farmhouse, its long railing covered in potted plants, strips of bright shiny ribbons and country bric-a-brac; pink petunias, an angel in sweet, contemplative repose; three porcelain children climbing a wooden fence.
“My wife gets all that stuff,” he said. “She puts it up here and everything.”
The road near the front of his house is St. Estes Road. Potts said a man that owned a lot of land in the area was named Estes.
“And somehow or other, when he passed away, they put “Saint” on it,” Potts explained.
“Was he a pretty religious guy?” I asked.
“No, he wasn’t,” said Potts.
Potts has lived in the area 55 years. He led us to a grassy, sloping field behind his house with a long line of hackberry, ash and oak trees along its edge. Hidden there, in a deep ravine, was a thin run of water headed toward Louisville. “The water stays in it most of the year in some spots or pools,” Potts said of his Floyds Fork headwaters, “but not very many.”
Potts suggested I speak with his neighbor, Robert Morgan, whose farmhouse is perched on the long narrow Henry County ridge from which runoff for Floyds Fork falls off in one direction — and runoff for the Little Kentucky River the other.
Morgan, 87, was sitting on his front porch with his wife, Rose, 82. They were married in 1945, not long after he returned from a WW II POW camp. He’d been a tail gunner on a B-17 shot down near Berlin on his fifth mission. Anti-aircraft fire damaged the plane; a German fighter pilot finished it off.
“I bailed out, was wounded pretty badly and in a German hospital for a year and two days,” he said, “…liberated by the Russians…”
He bought his 137-acre farm in 1948 for about $100 an acre. Also working as a mailman, he and Rose built his house, the barn, the out buildings, raised cattle and seven children.
“There wasn’t no house here or nothing when I bought it,” he said.
That long ridge in front of his house was once the bed of the L&N railroad line. It carried mail, passengers and milk from Frankfort to LaGrange to Louisville — with stops at Smithfield, Tarascon and Jericho. Morgan pointed to a sloping piece of green pasture just above his house, a shallow, muddy pond dug into its flank.
“That’s the starting of Floyds Fork,” he said.
A few days later I was standing in light rain where Floyds Fork empties into the Salt River. The fork is more of a force there; creating a big loop at Shepherdsville as if to take a better look; 30 to 40 feet wide as it pushes out of a tunnel of trees near a KOA campground and into the Salt.
The location is more forgotten history. A west branch of the famed Wilderness Trail ran through there. Salt from nearby licks was Kentucky’s first industry. One of the earliest Kentucky settlements — Brashear’s Station — was built there. And James John Floyd — his life, good works and heroic deeds much too lost in time — was killed by Indians just north of there on April 10, 1783.
And his river still runs through it all.
Former Louisville-Courier columnist Bob Hill is a historian for The Parklands of Floyds Fork. He travels Floyds Fork writing of the people, the places and the history of the stream within the 20-mile park system - all of which is to be preserved in the Filson Historical Society. Some of Hill's stories appear in A Landscape and its Legacy, the commemorative book for The Parklands of Floyds Fork project. Hill has also compiled a Floyds Fork “Places & Faces” presentation that adds imagery to the words.
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