Gardens to Gables

Kentucky Places: Wolf Creek, Meade County

From my earliest days as a denizen of backseat land, watching the world unfold from the car window, I’ve been a careful observer of place names.* Road signs, heralding a waterway or community, were carefully transcribed by me in my ever-present sketch pad or notebook, to serve as the root of many a daydream when it grew too dark to read. (During daytime travels, I often drew the people I imagined lived in that place. Not, I would add, with any skill.) Now, as I explore some of these small rural places, most with only a small collection of buildings still standing, it seems as if the road sign – and the name it bears – is the only concrete history of that place.

A classic frame central passage dwelling from the late 19th century.

Wolf Creek, Kentucky, located in northwest Meade County, Kentucky, is the bearer of an evocative name that would have appealed to my younger self.  The one-time Ohio River port and manufacturing town, located on Wolf Creek, some 13 miles northwest of the county seat of Brandenburg, was first settled by EuroAmericans in the last quarter of the 18th century.

Water was – and is – a defining feature in Wolf Creek. We heeded the sign, and did not follow the road to its watery conclusion!

The creek was christened, according to tradition, because wolves would gather there in the spring to feed on young buffalo traveling along a trace to the Ohio River – a common occurrence, and a not uncommon name across Kentucky. In addition to Meade County, there is a Wolfe Creek in Whitley County, and Wolf Creek Dam (Lake Cumberland) in Russell County, and doubtless other locations I don’t know about.

A section of the 1951 Alton,IN/KY topographic quadrangle map showing Wolf Creek, Kentucky

Wolf Creek was the first permanent settlement in Meade County, the 67th county to be formed by the Kentucky legislature. A post office was established at Wolf Creek in 1862 and continued in service until 1967.

The United States Postal Service shaped rural America more than I think most people realize. Post offices played a pivotal role in rural Kentucky communities – acting as the pulse of a place. A post office, a school, churches, and the houses of the residents – these institutions and places of worship gave structure to a place. It made Wolf Creek a home.

An old store or garage  in Wolf Creek.

John H. Trent served as the first postmaster at Wolf Creek  – a position he held for 20 years. The Trent family arrived in Meade County during the late 18th century, and settled in the rich bottom land along the Ohio River and the eponymous waterway.

Trent was a justice of the peace and a merchant, in addition to postmaster; he and his wife Louisa raised eight children in Wolf Creek. Trent’s tenure as postmaster went unmatched until 1921, when Joe R. Bennett, a salesman, took on  the role of postmaster, continuing in that role until 1949.

Photo from the Historic American Engineering Record, 1987.

Wolf Creek had noteworthy structures at one point as well – the longest Whipple Murphy Truss Bridge in Kentucky. Built in 1885 by the Smith Bridge Company of Toledo, Ohio, the distinctive bridge was only six of the type constructed in statewide. In 1985, an overloaded truck collapsed while crossing the bridge, tearing out the timber decking and stringers, as well as three floor beams. That sounded the death knell of the bridge. (Its replacement deserves no description.)

The view I had as we left Wolf Creek.

The closure of many rural post offices in Kentucky coincided with school consolidation, and the loss of these cornerstones hastened the decline of many communities.

Our trip through Wolf Creek was no more than a passing glance – we had to make Henderson by suppertime. I craned my neck to peer out of the passenger window as we continued west, Wolf Creek fading behind tree cover. Who holds the history of these places? Who takes the time to recount it to their children or grandchildren? I don’t want the history to vanish, like the road down to the river fading under the water.

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