Brodhead began as a spot along the old Skagg's Trace (the part of the Wilderness Road from Hazel Patch to Crab Orchard) which crossed at Skagg's Creek on the Rockcastle River, one of two trails that early pioneers traveled upon, originally animal trails big enough to accommodate a horse for travel. The spot was described by witnesses and recorded documents from the time as an area of Glades near the river bottom with a wooded knoll where the town of Brodhead now lies. These early travelers were hunters and trappers up until the Revolutionary War times, but the area would also be visited by many famous people of our country's past.
In 1796, Kentucky gained her statehood. Prior to that, this area was Kentucky County, Virginia. It was the traditional hunting grounds for several native tribes, Cherokee in the Southeast, Chickasaw in the extreme West, and Shawnee claiming the rest. The central region where Brodhead lies was dominated by wandering groups of Shawnee, a tribe known for their ferocity and aversion to Europeans encroaching on their traditional lands. A journey into Kentucky was a journey into battle.
The first record of Europeans camping at Brodhead was Colonel Richard Henderson of the Transylvania Company sometime before 1775. Colonel Henderson traveled through the area to negotiate with Native Americans for their lands in Kentucky and Tennessee, and camped at the headwaters of the Dix River. Another famous group of people passed through the area in 1783. The Reverend Peter Cartwright, with a group of over two hundred families and a strong guard of young armed men, set out from Virginia to settle in Kentucky. Along the way, the group passed through the spot where Brodhead would later be established. Seven of the families decided to make camp at the site along the Dix River, while the rest of the group decided to push on to English Station and Crab Orchard. During the night, a band of Native Americans, probably Shawnee, crept into the camp and killed everyone with the exception of one man, whose name has been lost to history. The murdered families are almost certainly buried at Brodhead, since the closest safe area was a day's travel away.
Military records from the Virginia Militia state that in 1796 a George W. Stigal [sic] became ill and was left along the trail in Kentucky. Census records of 1800 show a G.W. Stygal [sic] as a land owner in [Brodhead]. G.W. and his wife eventually owned about 400 acres along Boone's Fork at Brodhead. Stygal was probably there around 1783 as a guard in a station located there after the massacre.
A Virginia law protected settlers by giving the militia the responsibility of protecting settlers traveling into Kentucky County. At first there were armed guards that traveled with them. Due to the large influx of settlers traveling West, military stations were formed along the major trails about seven to ten miles apart, which was about a day's travel. The captain of each station was given property at the station ans was responsible for protecting and housing settlers as they traveled each day between the stations. Stiggal's Station was set up this way, and was a safe haven along the Wilderness Road. Later on, after the threat of Indian attacks became rare, these stations became taverns, similar to modern day motels, and often times acted as the post office, general store, blacksmith, and stage coach stopover as well.
George W. Stygal [sic] married Ann Wilkerson, the daughter of one of the first settlers of Boonesborough, John Wilkerson. John became very wealthy as the result of a lawsuit filed in 1816 to settle monies owed from Anne's late husband's estate, therefore G.W. Stygal died prior to 1816.
The owner of the station after 1816 is a mystery because very few records survive. Later the station became a “grover's station,” a place for cattle to be brought, sold, and housed along the way to bigger cities such as Lexington and Danville. The station was bought by a Mr. Colyer in the mid-1800s. Colyer was the stone cutter for the town and made tombstones.
The latest record of the station was a 1913 Lancaster, Kentucky, newspaper article which stated that Jim Owens lived in the Stiggal [sic] Tavern. Census records show that he lived in the building and owned it in 1910, and his son rented a portion of the building.
The next family that greatly influenced Brodhead was the Woodyard family, most notably John E. Woodyard. John could arguably be called the founder of Brodhead. The son of a military family, as were most families of that time period, John and his father moved to the Brodhead area about 1850. John did a lot of work guiding livestock to markets on month-long drives in his early years, and gradually settled into business with a general store.
The log school house was built in 1861, the seats were split logs and it had a puncheon floor. The church, also log, was shared by both Christian and Baptist faiths. Raccoon John Smith, on one of his missionary treks across Kentucky, held services there.
The Louisville and Nashville Railroad Company purchased land for the right-of-way at the site of present day Brodhead from Mr. J.E. Woodyard, for one hundred dollars. When the L&N Railroad reached that site in 1867, the merchants began moving into new businesses across the Dix River to the west, where much of the town is now located. The old road that came from Mt. Vernon followed the railroad tracks, and the village was first located on the east side of the tracks. The advent of the railroad, after the Civil War, boosted Brodhead's importance as a stopover on the way to the resort town of Crab Orchard. In 1868, a post office was established at the depot. An L&N contractor, John C. Brodhead, is rumored to have given his name to the post office, and thereby the town, however an L&N executive at the time was Richard Brodhead, and is widely credited as the town's namesake. But growth was not rapid, in 1870, three years after the railroad became a reality, only eight or ten families lived in Brodhead, but by 1890 it was a village of some consequence.
John Woodyard donated land and materials to build Brodhead Academy in 1884, a two-story structure and Rockcastle County's first graded school. Woodyard and James Conn were its first trustees. Prior to 1884, school was taught in a one room cabin east of town on Boone's Fork.
The “Frith” Hotel was built in 1890 by J.G. Frith and had twenty-four rooms. The building was located alongside the railroad, just across from the depot. It served as a sleeping place for passengers arriving, and its dining room served meals to railroad employees when they stopped in Brodhead to “take on” water from one of the two wooden tanks located there to service the steam driven engines. Nor was Frith’s the only hotel in town. In about 1905, Mrs. J.M. Clark boasted that during one recent month, her establishment put up 2,264 lunches for passengers on the L&N. This was in addition to lunches served to business people and her regular boarders. Another railroad hotel and restaurant was owned and operated by “Uncle Billy” and Mrs. Leila Murphy. Serving of lunches to L&N passengers was shared between the three establishments. At one point in Brodhead’s history, there existed at least two additional hotels. On the knoll on the south side of Short Street, Ms. Mary “Candy” Albright owned and operated a large wooden hotel and livery. After arriving in town via the L&N, drummers who serviced the several general merchandise stores in town often stayed at Ms Candy's and would rent conveyances to conduct their business in outlying areas. One other hotel was a brick building located in the middle of “downtown”.
John Woodyard also donated land for the Masonic Hall and two churches with cemeteries; first came Brodhead Christian, and later Brodhead Baptist. The earliest church in Rockcastle County sat at Boone's Fork where much of the town was first built. The church moved to the current Brodhead Christian Church building in 1884. Reverend Stephenson Collyer [sic] was the first pastor. John E. Woodyard and his wife, Jane, are buried directly behind the Brodhead Christian church building, within a few feet of the church they helped to establish.
The Brodhead Methodist church was established in 1896, on West Street on land donated by Mr. T.S. Frith. The church building was torn down in the 1990s. All that remains today are pieces of the foundation and, of course, the cemetery. Many of Mr. Frith's descendants still reside in the area.
Brodhead's first post office and postmaster were located at the railroad depot, and operated by Ebbon Farris, reportedly the first freight agent for the Brodhead Depot. Farris continued this role for some forty years until his death. Another Depot agent of the late 1800's was Isaac Newland, whose grandchildren reside in Brodhead today.
T.S. Frith owned and operated the first general store in Brodhead, in 1862. He bought and sold produce and general merchandise. Thomas Cherry moved to Brodhead from Pendleton County and became a merchant, bank founder, and very influential member of the town, as well as John Woodyard's son-in-law. Another Woodyard son-in-law, Mr J.H. Hilton, owned a restaurant near the depot, and around the turn of the century co-owned Woodyard&Hilton general store.
The town experienced a boom from the railroad, and many businesses flourished well into the 20th century. There were at least four restaurants, two barbers, several doctors, a dentist, two monument companies, a spoke factory, a tobacco factory, a broom factory, a movie theater, and many more. The spoke factory was owned by Larkin Hicks. His son-in-law, Dr. Carter, opened his office in the bank building. Carter was also an investor in the bank. The town had an eye doctor as early as 1887, in Isham Burdette. T.S. Frith owned a restaurant. Francisco and Sawyer were stone cutters. Tom Taylor, James Houke, and Hamp Reynolds were town blacksmiths.
The Rockcastle Fair Association was established in 1895. First president was J. Thomas Cherry, and J.W. Tate served as secretary. The Fair (later know as Brodhead’s Little World’s Fair) was a success from the beginning. Past and present Rockcastle Countians gathered as for a Homecoming. Often, families came very early in the morning with picnic baskets packed, and stayed until closing time in the evening. During the 1920’s, so many people were eager to come to the “Brodhead Fair” that L&N passenger train #23, traveling between Lebanon and Corbin, would add an extra coach during the fair season to accommodate them. Some enterprising soul met the train in his “hack” (a long, open horse drawn car with seats along the sides) and conveyed the passengers from the depot to the fairgrounds.
Early on, Brodhead boasted at least three fraternal organizations, the Order of Oddfellows, the Masons, and the Woodsmen. All three groups used the Masonic Hall for their meetings.
Brodhead’s first telephone exchange was operated from the home of Mr. and Mrs. Granville Owens. In later years, Mr. J. Frank Dees, owned and operated the only telephone service in Rockcastle County. Brodhead’s exchange was at first in the building across the street from the Baptist Church. Mr. Dees had that building torn down and built his home on that site. The exchange was then moved to a building next door at the bottom of the hill on the south side of Silver Street. Older residents still know it as Exchange Hill.
Mr. Dan H. Gray came to town and opened a drug store in 1921. Mr. Gray married a local girl, Eleanor Frith, daughter of “Chuck” Frith. The Friths were an old respected family in the community.
On October 15, 1924, a fire swept through the town and nearly destroyed it. The fire started in a small restaurant operated by Mr. Jack Lunsford, and that part of town between the corner of Main and Church Streets to the corner at the traffic light, was totally devastated. Before the fire, Brodhead resembled a small western town, with false fronted wooden stores and wooden sidewalks. Following the fire, merchants built somewhat more substantially with brick and concrete. Still standing, and occupied by several small businesses, is the three story brick hotel built at that time by Mr. Hal Christie. Most likely another result of the 1924 fire was the organization of Brodhead Volunteer Fire Department. The BVFD has been a pillar of the community since it was formed.
Mr. Dan Gray opened the Gray Theater on August 6, 1940, Brodhead’s first and only movie theater. In much earlier days, before the “talkies”, movies were sometimes shown upstairs in the Citizens Bank building. That building is currently occupied by the Dari Delite restaurant. Also in the 1940s, Mr. W.O. Yadon owned and operated a skating rink located at the fairgrounds. It was a very popular entertainment place, and young people came from surrounding counties for the wholesome fun Mr. Yadon provided.
The town continued to thrive through the 1970s until the railroad became less important and improved highways made car travel preferable. Steeped deep in her early history, even the street names portray the early influences that impacted Brodhead's growth, names like Albright, Pike, and Wallin. Over the many years since Brodhead’s birth in 1868, the little town has enjoyed boom days and slumps, but nothing hurt her so badly as the death of the railroad. By the time the railroad tracks were closed in 1991, Brodhead had begun the decline experienced by so many former railroad boom towns. What remains today is a quiet small town full of charm and possibilities, where you'll find a friendly greeting, natural beauty, and a place you can call home.
Preceding article was edited by Jane McClure from submissions by Nine B. (Atkinson) Cash, and Marty L. Wyatt.