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The History of Carlisle and Nicholas County:

A Look into Our Rich Past

Image by Juan Davila


  • Nicholas County was formed in 1799 from Mason and Bourbon counties, and was the forty-second Kentucky county in order of formation.

  • The county is bounded by Harrison, Robertson, Fleming, Bath and Bourbon counties, and contains an area of 197 square miles, most of which is hill country.

  • Like many places of its day, the county was named for a Revolutionary War veteran, Col. George Nicholas of Fayette County. Col. Nicholas became a popular lawyer in early Kentucky.

  • Carlisle has been the county seat since 1816.

  • In 1867 Robertson County, the smallest county in the state, was formed from Nicholas County.

It all began in 1799

...but actually, it began much earlier.

Large prehistoric mammals that inhabited Kentucky after the last Ice Age were drawn to the salt licks at what is now Blue Licks Battlefield State Park on the Nicholas-Robertson county line. In the early historic era, buffalo created trails through the area to the licks. These trails were used by Indians on hunting trips and by pioneers such as Daniel Boone and Simon Kenton, who came to the licks to make salt. The Buffalo Trace, later known as Smith's Wagon Road, became an important connection between the Ohio River at Limestone (now Maysville) and Lexington. The existence of the road, sixty feet wide in places, was the prime reason for the settlement of the county. The Limestone Road was the first macadamized road in the state and is now part of Highway 68.


Image by Rafa G. Bonilla

Earliest Settlers

The first settlement in Nicholas County was made at Blue Licks around 1784 by David Tanner. Not much later, he was joined by Kentucky's most famous pioneer, Daniel Boone, who lived with his family in Nicholas County from 1795-1799. His last Kentucky cabin still stands, and has been painstakingly restored and is maintained by the Carlisle Tourism Commission. 

Early Government

In 1800, the first session of the county court was held at the home of Martin Baker, Jr., at Lower Blue Licks. In August of 1800, the court began meeting in the new courthouse at Blue Licks.


Typical court matters during the early years included issuing orders for surveying roads, appointing overseers for construction crews, issuing licenses to tavern keepers, inventorying estates of deceased persons, and granting permission for construction of gristmills and routes for the transportation of salt water from Blue Licks.


A new county seat named Ellisville was established in 1805 on the James Ellis farm along the Lexington- Maysville Road. A log courthouse was built there the same year. The county seat was moved to Carlisle in 1816.


John Kincart & The Founding of Carlisle

​John Kincart, who was born in 1791 in what became Nicholas County, inherited a 200 acre farm from his father, Samuel, in 1813. In 1816 he provided 50 acres, including the family's peach orchard, to establish the City of Carlisle.


Streets and lots were laid off around the center of the plot, with Kincart accepting lots as payment for his land. The monument to his father can be seen on the north side of the present county courhouse, the third of three courthouses on the site.

Kincart and his wife, Isabelle, had six children who grew up together with the expanding town. Kincart died in 1868, as did Isabelle, and was buried in the cemetery where the Shiloh Presbyterian Church once stood on Whetstone Road.

Image by Jonathan Mast

Blue Licks

Blue Licks, which has been known as Salt Springs, Lower Blue Lick Springs, and Blue Lick Springs, received its name from the blue-gray deposit left by mineral water between the original spring and the Licking River. The water in the spring drained toward the river, creating a quagmire that trapped thirsty animals attracted to the salt.

Where game and fresh water were plentiful, settlers were sure to follow, and that was most certainly the case for the area around Blue Licks - in what is now Nicholas County.

Buffalo Trace

Buffaloes were among our first road builders. In Nicholas County, as in many parts of our country, the ponderous buffalo, in finding its way from point to point, invariably selected the highest and best routes. These are, in large part, still used today in our county.

Early pioneers and settlers used the buffalo built road, or "trace," to work their way toward Lexington and central Kentucky from the river landing at Limestone, known today as Maysville. As danger from Indians gradually diminished, gradual improvements were made to the road. Thomas Metcalfe and Henry Clay worked with President Andrew Jackson to raise investment capital from private sources. A much-improved road was built and supported by tolls collected every four or five miles.


One of the toll houses at the edge of Nicholas and Bourbon Counties on Highway 68 has been torn down, but a historic marker still reminds us of its location.

Natural Resources

Image by John Cafazza

Concord Church and the Cane Ridge Revival

During 1793 an "old log meeting house" was erected near the intersection of Taylors Creek Road and Concord Road, at that time in Bourbon, now in Nicholas County. The Concord Church began as a Presbyterian Church with Robert Finley, its first minister, also serving a budding congregation at Cane Ridge. In 1798 Barton W. Stone came from North Carolina to serve both congregations.

In 1801 Stone, already questioning his Presbyterian beliefs, conducted revivals at both churches. General religious fervor on the frontier led to massive revival meetings. The one at Cane Ridge is said to have attracted up to 20,000 people, camping in the area and hearing a host of ministers, departing only when the feed for their horses was exhausted.

The Cane Ridge revival has been described as "one of the greatest revivals in the history of the Church." It was highly significant in American religious history as the incubator for what became the Christian Church, in which Stone and other members described themselves as "Christian only."


The Concord Church made the creative decision to let Presbyterians and those terming themselves Christian share the church. A Presbyterian mission church was established in Carlisle in 1821, but the Concord Church was shared until 1851. That building was replaced in 1859.

In more recent times the later building was used by the First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) of Carlisle, until a large wind storm brought it down in 1973. Today, the church site and cemetery are owned and administered by the First Christian Church. The original site of the "old log meeting house" is a part of the Cane Ridge Shrine Trust

Early Christian Culture

"The Cane Ridge Revival is said to have attracted up to 20,000 people, camping in the area and hearing a host of ministers, departing only when the feed for their horses was exhausted."

Image by Gary Doughty

The Draw of Mineral Water, Revival and  "Hospitable Taverns"

During the mid-1800s, Blue Lick Springs in Nicholas County became a spa, where wealthy travelers flocked to enjoy the rejuvenating effects of mineral water, which was bottled and shipped all over the world. Two cooper shops were kept busy making staves and assembling kegs and barrels to ship the water in bulk. At one time the Arlington Hotel at Blue Licks had three hundred rooms.


There was also a military school at Blue Licks around 1848, where James G. Blaine, an 1884 presidential candidate, taught prior to becoming a politician.


As stagecoaches became the principal means of travel, travelers stopped at Forest Retreat Tavern, still standing on Highway 68, across from Forest Retreat. It was known as "one of the most lavish and hospitable taverns;" horses were stabled across the road in the old post barn which still stands today. Presently, the property is owned by Dr. and Mrs. Phillip Tibbs of Lexington and Carlisle.

The Lexington & Maysville Railroad (later a part of the Louisville & Nashville and in 1990 part of TTI Systems, a local short line) was completed to Carlisle by 1871. It brought many visitors through Carlisle to Deering Camp, a Methodist religious camp at Parks Hill with fifty-two cabins, which closed in 1912. As many as 10,000 people were said to have attended a Sunday service at Deering Camp. On August 17, 1910, Carlisle Mercury reported, "A train out of Lexington passed Carlisle going to Parks Hill with eleven coaches filled and overflowing. Both trains out of Maysville were crowded. Three thousand tickets were sold by L&N Railroad (700 here)."

Tourism Roots

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