Bullitt County History

Salt River Survey - 1837

The 1837 Journal of the House of Representatives of the Commonwealth of Kentucky included a set of engineer's reports on the rivers and streams of the state. We have transcribed below the report submitted by William B. Foster on the Salt River and part of its tributaries.


To Sylvester Welch, Esq.
Chief Engineer of Kentucky:

Sir: The surveys of Salt river and the Beech and Rolling Forks have been made to the points designated in your instructions—and the following report is respectfully submitted:—

Salt river, from its mouth to the entrance of the Rolling Fork, a distance of 11 miles and 2720 feet, has a uniform width of channel of about two hundred and thirty feet, and a rise in the same distance of 1.18 feet. The depth of water in the channel was in no place less than four feet at the time our levels were taken, which was at a period when the river was represented as being 18 inches above lowest water mark.

The general height of its banks, upon this section, is about forty feet, and they extend back at nearly the same level, to the hills which bound the flats, on either side, at various distances; in some cases the hills approaching quite to the margin of the stream.

The next section extends from the mouth of the Rolling Fork to the foot of Burk's Island shoal, a distance of 8 miles and 3460 feet, with an ascent of 11.57 feet; the stream averaging 150 feet in width, and its banks varying from 30 to 40 feet above the low water surface. Upon the last two miles of this section, slate rock appears in the bottom of the stream and also shows in the right bank to the height of three feet above the surface of the waters From the foot to the head of Burk's Island shoal, a distance of one mile and 3220 feet, the bed of the river is slate, which rises on the left shore to the height of twenty feet above the water: the ascent in this distance is 10.40 feet.

The next division embraces the falls of 14.37 feet, in a distance of 1 mile and 1720 feet, (12.23 feet of this amount being in 2750 feet from the foot of the falls to the comb of the forge dam, which is about twenty inches high.) The bed of the river at the falls, is a hard limestone, with inequalities of 12 to 18 inches upon the surface, and the width of the channel being about 500 feet, renders this place an almost impassable barrier in the way of bows descending, except at a very high stage of water.

Passing above the falls, on the next 8 miles and 2760 feet is a pool spreading out to 400 feet in width, decreasing as you ascend until its width at the head is about 250 feet. On this section the ascent, as shown by our levelling, was 0.22 of a foot, but as the water was falling at the time the levels were taken, the ascent would be something more.

From the head of this pool to a point where the Louisville and Bardstown turnpike crosses the river, a distance of 5 miles and 3700 feet, the ascent is 7.95 feet and its width of channel, an average of about 170 feet, with banks, where flat lands border it, twenty five to thirty feet above the plane of low water.

From this point to Taylorsville, a distance of 18 miles and 971 feet, the ascent is 43.35 feet, the channel averaging 160 feet in width; in many places however not exceeding 100 feet. Upon this division there is considerable flat and alluvial land on one side or other of the stream, not exceeding twenty feet above the surface of low water.

The quantity of water flowing in the stream, at a point 35 miles from the mouth, on the 17th of October, was found to be 3338 cubic feet per minute, and on the 22d of October a measurement made at a point six miles below Taylorsville, showed only 760 cubic feet per minute: this latter measurement was made above where it receives Cox's creek (a considerable stream) from the south, and was in some degree affected by the recent erection of a fish dam a short distance above, which gradually tightening with an accumulation of floating leaves, prevented the usual flow of water at the place of measurement.

From my observation, the crossing of the Louisville and Bardstown turnpike is as high a point as slackwater could be carried safely; above this the supply of water would be insufficient; the ascent per mile averages 2 1/2 feet, and a considerable portion of flat land would be liable to injury from the erection of dams.

I subjoin an estimate of the cost of removing obstructions to descending navigation upon the whole distance from the mouth of the river to Taylorsville, including the excavation of rock and the erection of wing dams upon the falls at Shepherdsville. An estimate is also made for an improvement by slackwater to such point as it is susceptible of improvement in this way.

To improve the falls for descending navigation, it is proposed to extend a low dam (say 3 feet high) from the point of the island to the southern shore, and a succession of wing dams from the southern shore inclining down the stream; and to smooth the inequalities of the rock upon the falls, for a space of 70 feet in width and about 1500 feet in length. This mode of improvement would not render descending navigation more safe during high freshets than it is at present, but would enable boats to pass over the falls at a lower stage of water than in its present situation.

For a slackwater navigation, the first dam might be located below the mouth of the Rolling Fork, at such point as further examinations may show to be the most safe and economical; the second at the foot of Burk's Island shoal; the third a short distance above the foot of the falls, and the fourth at a suitable point near the head of the falls.

Those four dams would overcome an ascent of 45.69 feet and make a navigation 37 miles and 1740 feet, large enough to admit the passage of steam boats carrying 80 to 100 tons.

Suitable stone for building locks is not found immediately on the river at any point from the mouth to Shepherdsville: above this place the hills bordering the river contain Limestone, which would answer for building purposes. Timber suitable for building could be obtained at convenient distances along the river at all points. The first and second dams would each be about 250 feet in length and the third and fourth 450 feet each.

Estimate for Removing Obstructions to Descending Navigation.
  For removing snags from mouth to Rolling Fork $36.00
  For removing snags and leaning, timber from mouth of Rolling Fork to Burk's Island shoal 251.00
  For removing snags, fish dams, and the necessary clearing on islands, from Burk's Island shoal to Taylorsville 571.00
  For removing leaning timber on 34 miles at $20 680.00
  For excavating rock on falls and placing a portion of it in wing dams, 5833 cubic yards, at $1 5,833.00
  Total for descending navigation $7,371.00
For Slackwater Navigation on the distance before stated.
  For 52 feet of lockage, including dams, at $5,000 per footlift $260,000.00
  For clearing the banks 27 miles at $150 per mile 4,050.00
  Subtotal $264,050.00
  Add for contingencies, 7 per cent 18,483.00
Total $282,533.00

The trade upon this stream is at present inconsiderable—I was unable to obtain an estimate of the probable amount, but was informed that boats rarely pass out from above the falls, owing in some measure to this obstruction and in part to the facilities afforded by the Louisville and Bardstown turn pike, upon which the surplus produce is carried in preference to encountering the dangers of the river.

There is in operation, at the falls, a forge where blooms are manufactured, and the machinery for rolling bar iron, in progress of erection. Two or three miles south of Shepherdsville is a blast furnace, at which seven to eight hundred tons of pig metal and castings are made annually, and ore said to be in sufficient quantities to justify the manufacture of iron on a much more extensive scale.


From the mouth of Sulphur Lick creek, to the mouth of the Beech Fork, a distance of 51 miles and 2720 feet, this serpentine little stream winds its way through a valley of low flat land, from one to two miles in width, between Muldrow's hill on the south and an irregular range of knobs or ridges on the north. Its average width of channel does not exceed one hundred and twenty feet; in many places not over sixty, and again spreading out to near two hundred feet upon some of the shoals.

The banks generally on one side is a flat and on the opposite side a low alluvial bottom, having an average elevation, above low water, of about 18 feet, and so low as to be frequently inundated.

The aggregate fall from the month of Sulphur Lick to the mouth of the Beech Fork is 112.86 feet, or an average of 2.19 feet per mile. This amount of fall Is pretty uniformly distributed, and taking it in sections of five or ten miles, the amount upon different sections of this length would be nearly the same.

At the mouth of Knob creek, 33 miles below Sulphur Lick, a slate shoal occurs with a descent of 5.31 feet in a distance of 2500 feet. Sheckel's falls three miles below, have a descent over a slate bottom, of 4.85 feet in 2000 feet—those places having the greatest fall in a given distance upon the whole stream.

Upon this section of the river, the obstructions consist of snags and large trees imbedded in the channel; accumulations of drift; small islands, and at two places isolated rocks occupying dangerous positions in the channel.

There is also a great deal of overhanging timber much in the way of boats, a portion of which should be removed and the remainder girdled so as to float off when it may hereafter fall into the stream.

From the mouth of the Beech Fork to the junction with Salt river, a distance of 19 miles and 4780 feet, the descent is 26.36 feet, to which may be added three feet for the estimated height of water above lowest stage, at the mouth of Rolling Fork—making 29.36 feet, or an average of 1.47 feet per mile.

Upon this section the channel is about 150 feet wide, the banks averaging about thirty feet above low water surface, and its course less crooked than the upper portion of the stream.

The survey of this part of the river was conducted during a rise of five or six feet, and the obstructions could not be so well observed; so far as the nature of them could be ascertained, they consist of snags and leaning timber, for which I estimated thirty dollars per mile, as sufficient to render it safe.

  For removing snags and the necessary clearing of island $1,718 00
  removing rock, 150 cubic yards, at 50 cts 75.00
  For removing leaning timber and belting on 51 1/2 miles at $40 2,060.00
  For removing snags, leaning timber, &c. from month of Beech Fork down, 20 miles, at $30 per mile 600.00
Total $4,453.00

The quantity of water flowing, as guaged 18 miles below Sulphur Lick creek, was 2200 cubic feet per minute; the stream, at the time of measurement, being considerably swollen and yielding, I should judge, double the minimum quantity.

The amount of agricultural productions that descends this fork is estimated at about three thousand tons annually, consisting of whiskey, corn, oats, flour, and pork. There are two steam saw mills in operation on the banks of the stream—one at New Haven and the other about 9 miles lower down, where a considerable amount of lumber is made, but none carried down the stream.

At a point 24 miles below the mouth of Sulphur Lick a bed of iron ore occurs, under a clay slate bluff on the north side of the stream; some of this ore has been carried by water to Nelson furnace, which is situated near the Rolling Fork, at a point 19 miles below the ore bed above mentioned.

At Nelson furnace, and in the vicinity of it, the same kind of ore (kidney ore) abounds in the ridges or knobs on the north side of the stream. I was informed by one of the proprietors of this establishment that they manufacture, of pig metal and castings, about 17 tons per week.


From the mouth of this stream to the Bardstown ford, a diitance of 20 miles and 4150 feet, the average width of channel is about 170 feet, with an ascent in the same distance of 42.57 feet. Its banks of narrow flat land are from 30 to 40 feet above the low water surface; and after passing five miles tip from the mouth, instances do not occur of flat land on both sides upon the same section of the stream, but hills or bluffs sloping up from the margin of the river from 50 to 100 feet, while the opposite side has high flat land as before mentioned.

The bottom, at many of the ripples, is composed of limestone, which is also the character of the rock in the hills and bluffs on either side. At points 12 miles and 16 miles from the mouth of the river, a stratum of fine sandstone, about twenty feet thick, is found overlaying the limestone, at about thirty feet above the surface of the water.

From the Bardstown ford to the mouth of Hardin's creek, a distance of 12 miles and 3640 feet, the same general features are observed as below, and the ascent is 34.32 feet. The flat lands do not average more than 30 feet above the surface of low water on this section of the stream, and the channel 20 feet less than the lower section.

From the mouth of Hardin's creek to the termination of the survey, the distance is 5 miles and 2125 feet, and the ascent 18.12 feet—making the total distance from the mouth of the stream to where the Bardstown and Springfield turnpike crosses the same, 38 miles and 4635 feet, and the total ascent 95.01 feet.

Upon the section above the mouth of Hardin's creek, the width of the channel is very irregular, and on a considerable portion of the distance much obstructed with islands.

Of those islands, some are under cultivation, and are from 15 to 20 feet above low water surface; the smaller ones are lower and require clearing off, for the safety of descending boats.

The obstructions to descending navigation are few upon this fork, and in its present condition it is comparatively safe when there is a sufficient flood for boats to pass down.

The following is the estimated amount for removing obstrurtions to descending navigation, viz:

  For blasting and removing detached masses of rock at different places, 742 cubic yards, at 50 cts. $371.00
  removing snags and some leaning timber 158.00
  the necessary clearing of islands above the mouth of Hardin's creek 245.00
Total $774.00

A measurement of the water flowing in this stream, 20 miles above its mouths was made on the 26th of September, when it was at an extreme low stage, and the quantity found to be 1281 cubic feet per minute.

The quantity of water, it will be seen, would be insufficient for a slackwater navigation, during the low water season, but as the stream is, in other respects well adapted to this mode, of improvement, I have made an estimate for locks and dams, for a navigation large enough to admit the passage of steam boats earning from 80 to 100 tons, and which would be available for about eight months in each year.

The estimated cost of locks and dams &c. for slackwater navigation, from the mouth of Rolling Fork to the mouth of Hardin's creek on the Beech Fork, exclusive of the lock and dam, which would be required below the Rolling Fork, for the descending navigation on the Salt river, will be as follows:

  99 feet of lockage, including cost of locks, dams and all their fixtures a $4700.00 per foot lift $465,300.00
  Clearing the river banks on 55 miles a $100 5,500.00
  Subtotal 470,800.00
  Add for contingencies 7 per cent 32,956.00
Total $503,756.00

The trade upon this stream has formerly been equal to about four thousand tons in a year, consisting of flour, whiskey, bacon, &c.; but I was informed, that since the completion of the turnpike roads leading towards Louisville, that the produce of the country seeks a market by those routes, and that few boats now descend the river.

Respectfully submitted.
Resident Engineer.
Frankfort, November 13th, 1837.

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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: 27 Jan 2021 . Page URL: bullittcountyhistory.org/bchistory/foster-river-survey.html