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History with Mike Watson: The Dug Hill

There is more than one Dug Hill in Adair County, today. The one in the news lately, given notoriety by B.J. Fudge, has followed more than one path. Early history on the Dug Hills was hard to come by, but the writer had the benefit of the reliable wisdom handed out at Gilbert Smith's store, where Civil War stories, lost gold on the hill, and other tales abound. Dug Hill became a really big deal in the New Deal when it was major Adair County WPA project. And then there's the very fine Dug Hill on KY 206, above Eunice, KY. There's all this and more in this Adair County history masterpiece. -CM

By Mike Watson

The modifications on the Dug Hill, on highway 704, this summer, which Billy Joe Fudge's progress photographs and several stories on Columbia Magazine, detailing experiences on that scenic stretch--or twist--of highway, have prodded a bit of research. Urged by several not-so-old friends, Lewis Jessee being first among them, I collected some of the facts/stories from childhood, having lived a mere stone's throw from the top of that dangerous and exciting stretch of road. This is complete by no means, merely a "jumping off place", pun intended.

Prior to the Great Depression the road down the Walkup-Turner hill was in another location. The old road forked just above to the present location of Hadley's Community Church, running behind it and down the right side of the steep hollow. The "new" Dug Hill takes the left side down. The old road, which in my childhood was nothing more than a narrow, partially graveled lane leading into wilderness, passed Mr. Grover Cleveland Lawhorn's and Mr. Gilbert Smith's hay fields, past the Walkup Cemetery, and into woodland where our father often burned plant beds in early spring.

Continuing beyond the cemetery, a traveler would soon enter the woods that stretched all the way to the outlet on Burns Creek, just above the junction with Crocus. That old road, long abandoned, was by the early 1970s impassable to any vehicle other than a motorcycle, bicycle or dune buggy (no ATVs back then), was a very narrow cut in the rock face of the bluff.

I was never able to learn when the first cut for a road was made. The people who would have known were long dead when I was born, and no written record was likely to have been kept for such work. However, the stories told at Gilbert Smith's store invariably put the time of the first true road being excavated during the Civil War. Mr. Jim Earls, Mr. Cleveland Lawhorn and others spoke of the work on the old road during the War and the use of prisoners as laborers, likely military prisoners or military personnel, they were taken to the site, then spent many days working with sledge hammers and picks in an effort to widen the road enough to allow wagons traveling between Burkesville and Columbia. There were other, more direct routes to and from Burkesville, but in that period of unrest, as many routes as possible were needed for the movement of men and supplies.

The old Dug Hill was used at least until the mid-1930s. With the coming of the Great Depression and the need for public works, the Franklin Roosevelt administration ushered in the Works Progress Administration and many other programs to aid the economy of depression-era America. The New Dug Hill project was a product of the WPA. I recall hearing several men in my neighborhood, Earls' Ridge, speak of having worked on the Dug Hill. Our grandfather, Milton Watson, hauled rock from the work site all summer one year.

One story that I recall from childhood was from the Civil War and centered around a precarious turn on the old road. Legend has it that a wagon of gold--or some such military wealth--slipped over the edge of the road and into the gully below and was lost. Well, that is a "fool's gold" tale, for the loss of anything valuable would have been immediately recovered, but it does make for a good bedtime story!

There were other Dug Hills in Adair County. Here is a little history of the Dug Hill on the old Stanford or Columbia-Liberty Road.

Dug Hill on the Stanford Road, somewhere up Burton Ridge, known by that name at least as early as 1908 when Silas Tarter owned a small tract of land at the top of the hill.

In the summer of 1916 work on the Columbia to Liberty Road was discussed in the Adair County News. The road as far as Purdy was said to cover the roughest ground, but the two-mile section between the Neatsville bridge and the Dug Hill were already in good order. However the Hill was in dire need of work.

Men who lived along the road, and other interested parties, were encouraged to turn out in early November to grade, gravel and do grubbing work on the road. The Dug Hill was in the process of being graded in mid-November and on the first day of road work, 47 men were present and 30 on the second day. Every man between Columbia and the Casey County line was encouraged to come out with tools to continue the work.

A News item from 1920 praised the road and particularly the Dug Hill--"As we passed over the Dug Hill I could not help thinking what such a road was worth and what a wonderful change had come over the people of that part of the county..."

- Mike Watson

This story was posted on 2012-09-22 09:18:01
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