Carter County History

From History of Kentucky, by Lewis Collins, revised and enlarged by Richard H Collins, Collins & Co, Covington, KY, 1874.
Carter County, the 88th erected in the state, was formed in 1838, out of parts of Greenup and Lawrence and named in honor of Colonel William G. Carter, then and for four years the state senator from the counties of Lewis, Greenup and Lawrence. Colonel Carter removed to Arkansas about 1847; and died of cholera in 1850, at Lexington, Kentucky, when on a visit there. T he county is situated in the extreme eastern portion of Kentucky and bounded north by Lewis and Greenup, east by Boyd and Lawrence, south by Elliott and west by Rowan, Fleming and Lewis counties. The county is well watered by Little Sandy river, Little Fork of Little Sandy, and Tygart creek, and their tributaries. The surface is hilly and broken, the soil in the valleys is rich and the hills abound in coal and iron ore.


Grayson, the county seat (named in honor of Colonel Robert Grayson, once aid-de-camp to General Washington), is the present terminus of the Eastern Kentucky railroad north to the Ohio river at Riverton, 1-1/2 miles east of Greenup, and is a point on the Elizabethtown, Lexington and Big Sandy railroad, now being extended from Mt. Sterling east to near Catlettsburg; population in 1870, 152, and in January, 1873, nearly 300.

Olive Hill is 15 miles west of Grayson.

Geigerville, 12 miles east, population about 150. There are four iron furnaces:

In Carter county are 21 stores, 8 hotels, 5 steam and 7 water mills, 1 seminary, 6 lawyers and 8 doctors.

Members of the Legislature from Carter County Since Its Formation

Senate: DK Weis, 1853-1857; William C Grier, 1861-1865

House of Representatives: Andrew Kitchen, 1842; Walter Osburn, 1844; George W Crawford, 1846; George Crubb, 1847; John T Ratcliff, 1849, 1859-1861; John J Park, 1851-1855; Ephraim B Elliott, 1855-1857; Richard B Whitt, 1857-1859; Stephen J Edward, 1861-1863, but resigned August, 1862 and succeeded by Wm Bowling, 1862-1863; Sebastian Eifort, 1863-1865; B F Shepherd, 1865-1867; James Kilgore, 1869-1871; Richard B Davis, 1873-1875.

First Settled

The exact period of the first settlement of Carter County is not certainly known. It is generally believed to have been in 1808, at the Sandy salines, by persons engaged in the salt business, the most prominent of whom was Captain Thomas Scott, of Lexington, who died in 1870, aged 93. Salt was once made there in considerable quantities and shipped by wagon and flat boat.

Natural Bridge

About 16 miles from Grayson and 25 miles from Vanceburg on the Ohio river is a natural Bridge, spanning a small stream of clear water called Little Caney (formerly called Swingle's branch), which falls into the Little Sandy river. The bridge is 219 feet in the span, 196 feet high, 12 feet wide, 5 feet thick in the center of the arch, and 30 feet at the ends being arched underneath and level on the top. From the bottom of the ravine a spruce pine has grown up to a height of 4 feet above the bridge making its entire height 200 feet. The sides of the ravine are so rugged that were it not for a natural stairway, a person desiring to descend from the top of the bridge to the ravine below would have to walk probably 2 miles. The celebrated Natural Bridge of Virginia, which is said to be less picturesque and attractive in its surroundings than this, is also less in some dimensions - being 90 feet in the span, 220 feet high, 80 feet wide and 50 feet thick. Two other natural bridges, much smaller, are in this neighborhood.


A short distance, 100 feet, below the natural bridge is a cascade with a fall of 75 feet; and another 2 miles distant, with a fall of 200 feet.

Sinking Creeks

In the vicinity of the bridge are two streams know as Big Sinkey and Little Sinkey, which emerge from the ground, good sized streams, flow about 2 miles, and again disappear.

An Artesian Well

An Artesian Well in the neighborhood, formerly threw up a jet about 4 feet high, of the size of a common barrel, but having been obstructed by stones and trunks of trees thrown into it by persons curious to ascertain its depth, it now only plays to the height of a foot above the level of the pool.


The second largest of a series of caves in the neighborhood of the natural bridge is Swingle's, 30 yards distant, still unexplored beyond a distance of 2 miles. The entrance is very large, then contracting so as to require stooping for 60 feet, enlarges to a height of 10 feet or more. This cave was once the rendezvous for a band of counterfeiters, and in the early history of the state, gunpowder was manufactured there. Many of the salt peter troughs can yet be distinctly seen.

About a third of a mile distant is the Bat cave, so called from the innumerable swarms of bats. It is the largest of the group. Near the entrance, the cave descends perpendicularly about 20 feet to the floor. Four different apartments and roads branch off. The main avenue is 2 miles long and the whole mountain seems to be hollow. The cave is damp and the atmosphere at times oppressive. In one of the apartments a spring of pure water issues from a cave in the rock. Twenty-five years ago, many names and dates were found written on the walls, some as far back as the time of our early pioneers. The cave was then remarkable for being the place where was tried the first jury case every tried in that part of Kentucky.

The entrance to the X cave is gained by ascending a ladder about 50 feet. It is less extensive than the foregoing, but it is said to exceed all the others in grandeur.

The Laurel cave, about half a mile from Swingle's is unlike the others, and has its peculiar attractions.

Kenton Salt Well

The Kenton Salt Well is situated in the bed of Tygert creek, on the farm of Mr. Jacobs, about 6 miles northwest of Grayson, so named "because Simon Kenton manufactured salt here on the first settlement of the country." There were other salt works a short distance southeast of Grayson.

Quarry of Indian Arrow Heads

On the east side of the Tygert creek, about a quarter of a mile from the Kenton Salt Well, are several caves which are formed in a local bed of coarse grindstone grit. The bedding faces of this rock in some places are thickly studded with angular fragments of horn-stone or flint. Extensive diggings are observed in this neighborhood only about 6 or 7 feet deep, and often extending over half an acre or more of ground. Professor Sidney S. Lyon, of the Kentucky Geological Survey, was satisfied that "these diggings were made by the aborigines of the country for the purpose of procuring the material from which they made their arrow-heads."

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John W. Grace / Olive Hill, Ky.