The following article by David Strange was originally published on 22 Nov 2015.
There are eight cities in Bullitt County, each with its own intriguing history. I plan on briefly telling you about each one from time to time over the coming weeks.
Today it is Mount Washington. One of the interesting things about this city is how it got its name.
There were only a few hundred adventurous settlers in all of Kentucky in 1776. But by the 1800's, settlements were popping up everywhere, partly enhanced by the many land grants given by the government to pay former Revolutionary War soldiers. David Leach/Leitch (of Leitchfield, Ky. fame) was one of those. His land grant of 1400 hundred acres included the land that would become Mt. Washington.
Local historian and author Bobby Darnell says in his Images of America book, Mt. Washington, "Pioneers traveling on the Wilderness Road who veered off the path near McCulloughs Run on Salt River looking for a more direct route to Louisville subsequently ventured through a small borough called Hell's Kitchen. There a fur trader catered to rough characters."
As more and more settlers came to Kentucky, horse paths became roads. Two of those roads developed from Bardstown to Louisville and from Shepherdsville to Shelbyville. Those two roads crossed near Hell's Kitchen and the resulting community became known as "The Crossroads." Today, of course, those crossing roads are the Bardstown/Louisville Road (US Highway 31E) and Kentucky Highway 44.
In 1812, Joseph Hough and wife Catherine bought 100 acres that included the Crossroads, but Joseph died the following year, leaving a widow with a child suffering from an unknown illness. Catherine remarried, to David Drake, and they sold 50 acres of the Crossroads land in 1818, dividing it into 80 lots, to help her ailing son. The resulting community was named "Mt. Vernon" after the home of George Washington.
Notice here that the town is not yet named "Mt. Washington." The little community prospered, with its first town trustees in 1822 and officially meeting as an incorporated city in 1833.
A problem arose in that time, however, when the town applied for a post office and realized that there was already a city named Mt. Vernon, over in Rockcastle County. And so it was eventually decided to modify "Mt. Vernon" in Bullitt County, to "Mt. Washington," so as to keep a name connection to the revered president for whom so many locals had served. And that is how, though there is no mountain of any name in the area, there is a Mount Washington.
But that is not the end of that story. The community had been known so long as Mt. Vernon, that it took years for people to take to the new name. Even maps that were drawn years later used the old one.
The little city continued to prosper into the 1850's with its population of 700. The town fortunes then took a heavy blow when the L&N Railroad Company chose in 1853 to build its new railroad through Shepherdsville rather than Mt. Washington. Suddenly, most traffic and business no longer came to town. Mt. Washington faded for a while into a slumber, apparently even losing its charter as an incorporated city.
In 1925, the Jackson Highway was built, replacing the old wandering Bardstown Road with a new road worthy of auto traffic that provided hope for the future. Meanwhile, the town struggled, even more so when a devastating fire destroyed a large part of the business district on November 18, 1940.
Fortunes improved dramatically in 1954 when General Electric Company built its huge new factory in Louisville, along with expansions at Ford and International Harvester factories. Mt. Washington re-incorporated in 1955. Thousands of new people, coming to the Louisville area for jobs, discovered a wonderful little community in Bullitt County that provided a wonderful mix of rural and city amenities.
The boom was on. Small cities throughout the region bloomed and boomed.
Today, Mt. Washington is a vibrant and thriving city of well over 9,000. There is debate that the real number is perhaps twice that. Mt. Washington recently received recognition as one of the safest communities for children and families in Kentucky. The town's Bullitt East High School was named a "school of distinction," ranked in the top 10 performing schools in Kentucky.
Volunteer organizations such as its Lions Club, which sponsors both Fall and Spring town festivals, help lead the way to a successful community. Active organizations such as Masons, AARP and Seniors groups, a healthy church community, top notch schools, forward-looking city government leadership, and a devoted group of citizens who respect town history bodes well for a bright future for Mount Washington.
More information about Mt. Washington can be found at its new web site at www.MtWashingtonKy.org. Also, check out Bobby Darnell's Mt. Washington history notes on Facebook at History of Mt. Washington, Kentucky.
Copyright 2015 by David Strange, Shepherdsville KY. All rights are reserved. No part of the content of this page may be included in any format in any place without the written permission of the copyright holder.