Bullitt County History

A Proposal to Divert Salt River - 1841

In 1837 the state sent out an engineer to examine the waters of Salt River and its tributaries with a view toward exploiting its commercial potential. His report was not encouraging. But this didn't slow down speculation about ways to exploit the river's potential. One such rather farfetched idea was proposed in a letter printed in The Louisville Daily Journal on Saturday, July 31, 1841.

It had been reprinted from the Louisville Advertiser and promoted the notion of diverting Salt River toward Louisville with a dike or dam across it at or near Floyd's Fork. It is interesting to speculate how seriously the idea was taken at the time. We've reprinted the letter below.

"It is the opinion of several gentlemen of accurate observation and judgment, that the waters of Salt river, at a comparatively trifling expense, can be brought to Louisville, on a summit level with te city: thus furnishing a supply of water, both for the use of the city and for machinery to almost a limitless extent. The water also, if thought best, can be used as a canal from this to Shepherdsville, and thus bring the products on Salt river and its branches to this point.

"It is said, that from Salt river to this place, on the east of the range of knobs extending from Salt river to Flat lick, there is a valley the whole distance, evidently designed by nature for this very purpose. That with the exception of a single ridge, the earth at no one point will need to be excavated over from ten to fifteen feet, and this loose earth, no rock being in the way.

"It is said the people of Shepherdsville, Bardstown, and others living on Salt river, are much in earnest upon this subject.

"To accomplish the object, a dike must be thrown across Salt river and Floyd's fork, where the bed of the river is solid rock. A lock around the dike will necessary that the navigation of the river be not obstructed. The dike raised to a sufficient height, to make the head water in Salt river from ten to fifteen feet higher that the summit level of this city. The race or canal from thence to this point to be level, descending only -- inches to the mile. The distance from twenty to twenty-three miles. This work, if practicable, is a desideratum of vast importance to the comfort, health, growth, and future advancement of our city. If accomplished, it would give advantages to Louisville for manufactories in iron, cotton, wool, hemp, and other products, over any other point west of the Mountains. It would give facilities for machinery, equal, if not superior to the Merrimac river at Lowell, Mass., which thirty years ago, was useless. Now Lowell has become great and is called the Manchester of America.

"It would be worth millions on millions to Louisville, and would save millions to Kentucky. It would bring capital, enterprise, and population, the most useful and of the best character, from the East. It would greatly enhance in value every interest we now hold.

"Is not then the object of sufficient moment to claim the attention of our City Council? Would it not be well for them to employ some competent engineer to make a survey and ascertain facts in the premises; that should it be found practicable, an act of incorporation may be obtained at the next session of the Legislature, and thus the advantages within our reach not be lost through negligence or delay?

"To secure anything valuable or useful requires attention and effort. To doubt and refuse to investigate in this case is certain loss. Let then every citizen give to these brief hints such consideration and influence as their importance demand; and I hesitate not to believe that we shall soon realize the benefits herein proposed.

"A Citizen."

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The Bullitt County History Museum, a service of the Bullitt County Genealogical Society, is located in the county courthouse at 300 South Buckman Street (Highway 61) in Shepherdsville, Kentucky. The museum, along with its research room, is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday; and from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Thursday. Admission is free. The museum, as part of the Bullitt County Genealogical Society, is a 501(c)3 tax exempt organization and is classified as a 509(a)2 public charity. Contributions and bequests are deductible under section 2055, 2106, or 2522 of the Internal Revenue Code. Page last modified: 23 Jan 2023 . Page URL: bullittcountyhistory.org/bchistory/divert-salt-river.html