Established December 7, 1931
Levi Jackson Wilderness Road State Park combines the beauty of a rolling, wooded hills park with a historic site that honors the pioneers who braved the perils of the wilderness to settle Kentucky. John Freeman and Levi Jackson settled in what is now Laurel County. Freeman came to southeast Kentucky in 1802 and claimed an extensive tract of land bordering the famous Wilderness Road as payment for his Revolutionary War service. He built a large two-story house that he licensed as a tavern in 1803. Freeman’s daughter, Rebecca, married Levi Jackson (1815-1879) the first judge of Laurel County. Jackson and Freeman became partners and the two men ran the Wilderness Road Tavern and the Laurel River Post Office. Upon Freeman’s death, Jackson continued to run the tavern. The surrounding farmland became known as Jackson’s Farm. On December 7, 1931, Colonel G.D. Jackson and Ella Jackson, descendents of John Freeman and Levi Jackson, donated 307 acres of land to the Kentucky State Parks System for a park honoring the state’s pioneers.
The Wilderness Road is an integral part of Kentucky’s early history. Along with Boone’s Trace (named for Daniel Boone), commissioned by the Transylvania Company in 1775, the Wilderness Road carried thousands of people into the interior of Kentucky from 1796, when a wagon road was constructed from Crab Orchard in Lincoln County to the Cumberland Gap. The thoroughfare became a toll road for many years. Boone’s Trace and the Wilderness Road at times cross each other. Both historic trails pass through Levi Jackson Wilderness Road State Park. The Wilderness Road divided the Freeman/Jackson property and Kentucky Highway 229 follows the historic roadway. Boone’s Trace passes through the western edge of the park and crosses Little Laurel River at McHargue’s Water Mill.
One of the most tragic events in the history of Kentucky took place within the confines of the modern park on October 3, 1786. A group of fourteen families were moving to central Kentucky. They made camp one night and failed to post a guard. Throughout their journey they had taken every precaution against Indian attack. On this particular evening they felt that since they had traveled this far without attack they could relax. The families danced and drank until late that evening. After they had retired for the night, the Indians attacked the camp and massacred all but three members of the group. A man, woman, and little girl survived the slaughter. Twenty-four people are known to have perished in the attack. The site became known as Defeated Camp or McNitt’s Defeat.
The creation of Levi Jackson Wilderness Road State Park is a unique memorial to pioneer Kentucky. During 1935 the Board of Public Property reported that the National Park Service, under the auspices of the Department of the Interior, had invested nearly $55,000 in developments. Cabins, foot-bridges, an observation tower, parking areas, an auditorium, and the restoration of an old log house as a museum made the park an excellent attraction for visitors. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, the parks system continued to make major improvements. At present, park improvements continue to be made to keep the facility up-to-date for the comfort and enjoyment of its guests.
Levi Jackson Wilderness Road State Park is an excellent example of combining history and recreation. Visitors can hike on portions of the historic Wilderness Road and Boone Trace.