Thomas Walker State Historic Site

Last week Tom and I drove to the Thomas Walker State Historic Site.  Dr. Thomas Walker is the most famous guy you never heard of, as Tom likes to say.  He was the first non-Native American to explore, map, and name places in the Cumberland Gap.  He is the one who named Cumberland Gap and Mountain after the Duke of Cumberland, the “Hero of Culloden” whom he admired.

Thomas Walker gets his due in this part of the world.  He was a precursor to Daniel Boone who gets all the press in the rest of the United States.  Thomas Walker and a small party of explorers were the first to map the Cumberland Gap and western Kentucky in 1750.  They had been hired by the Loyal Land Company to scope out the land of Kentucke and make a recommendation on its suitability for settlement.

Expedition route

Walker explored eastern Kentucky for six months.  He was discouraged by the ruggedness of the land.  Despite the bountiful game, he deemed it unsuitable for settlement.  After his explorations, the French and Indian War erupted and it was 19 years before Daniel Boone first passed through the Gap named by Walker.

Although Thomas Walker didn’t settle in Kentucke, he did build a cabin to stake a claim.  The small log cabin was built near present-day Barbourville and claimed 800,000 acres of land for the Loyal Land Company.  Walker wrote in his journal, “The people had built a house 12 by 8.  Cleared and broken some ground, and planted some corn and peach stones. They also had killed several bears and cured the meat.

The Barbourville Post of the American Legion became interested in honoring the memory of Walker.  After campaigning to make the traditional site of the Walker cabin a state shrine, the American Legion and the Barbourville community donated a 12-acre tract to the state.  As a result, on June 20, 1931, the Dr. Thomas Walker State Shrine became a part of the Kentucky State Parks system.

Replica cabin
Memorial marker
Gift shop

The replica cabin is located six miles southeast of Barbourville.  The cabin was erected by by George Owens in 1922.  Although the cabin is the centerpiece of the park, Thomas Walker State Historic Site also provides playgrounds, basketball courts, mini golf, picnic shelters, and a seasonal gift shop.  When I looked at the whole site, I thought, “What a wonderful place for a big family reunion!”

Tom and I drove past the park the first time we went looking for it.  We saw the sign but expected some kind of entrance.  When we realized we had passed it, we turned around and went back.  It didn’t take long to explore the whole site.  The cabin, in particular, did not occupy our attention for long.

Dr. Thomas Walker’s venture is often overshadowed by Boone’s.  Walker’s contribution in the discovery of the Cumberland Gap and his recorded initial findings played a crucial part in the eventual settling of Kentucky and the movement westward. His memory, contributions and claim to Kentucky are remembered at Dr. Thomas Walker State Historic Site.