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Big Business on the River

By Mike Watson

Creelsboro, Russell County, on the Cumberland River, was jumping with activity once again on Saturday, September 14th. Celebrate Creelsboro was a heralded event, long in the making. Visitors from near and far, some traveling more than one hundred miles one-way, came to see the town again, some perhaps for the first time.

The town of 'Creelsborough' was founded in 1809 for business purposes by Elijah and Elza "Elzey" Creel, merchant brothers. The Creels, sons of an early settler of Green and Adair Counties, were early businessmen in Greensburg and later in Columbia. The current Grissom-Martin Funeral Home in Columbia was built by Elijah Creel about 1818, and was long known as the Creel-Page House.

Creelsboro and the Cumberland: A Living History, an excellent documentary premiered at the Creelsboro Nazarene Church on Saturday, with three screenings during the day.


Tom Law, of the Voyageur Media Group, Inc., with a touch of magic was the creator of the film. Run-time is about one hour in length and contains a wealth of historic information and interviews with numerous local residents and historians. Watch for this film on KET in the near future, as part of The Kentucky Archaeology & Heritage Series.

The town was a hub of river activity in its heyday. The Creels were able to exploit the Cumberland River most successfully. At that time, and for a century thereafter, the river was the major transportation route into and out of this part of the state. With a trading post on the river, flatboats would be loaded with local produce, then floated down the Cumberland to Nashville. There commodities were sold and supplies purchased to be brought back to the area. In early years, before riverboats plied the waters, most supplies came back with difficulty, but with steam power, regular travel became commonplace, even for pleasure cruising.

Adair County folk hauled tobacco and other produce the 28 miles from Columbia to Creelsboro over the public road, known into modern times as the Creelsboro Road. Once thee, it was loaded onto boats bound for downstream markets. Local merchants also received goods for their store shelves in the same manner.

The most noted natural feature of this section of Cumberland River is the 'Rock House' in Rock House Bottom. Visitors come to this well-kept secret of nature from all over the nation, and marvel at the beauty, and the fact it is so well hidden. Some have said it could have been the center of a major tourist region much like Gatlinburg. This is quite true. Certainly, with the coming of Wolf Creek Dam, completed after World War II, an influx of tourists found South-Central Kentucky and today more and more come to know this land we call home.

My personal interest in this area is not just its history, though I must admit it has always been a major interest. The Reeder family came to Rock House Bottom at the end of the Civil War. They had been forced to flee their home in Overton County, Tennessee, by the depredations of guerrillas, and the tragic death of their father, a Union soldier. Stopping for a time in Clinton County, the Reeders settled a short distance from the great Rock House. My paternal grandmother, Mary Lee "Mollie" Reeder married Milton Watson, of Adair County. Her brother, James I. "Jim" Reeder, married Milton's sister, Lela Watson. Both newly wed couples resided on the Cumberland. Our father, Carl Watson, and several of his siblings, were born less than a mile from the Rock House. After a few years the family came back to Adair County and settled on the farm of Milton's ancestors. Dad always had a distinct fondness for Creelsboro and the Bottom. He often visited his uncle and cousins there, and I spent many happy hours playing there and hunting arrowheads all around the region.

Tom Law used a phrase on Saturday that certainly resonates, "This is God's country."


This story was posted on 2019-09-15 18:22:38
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Creelsboro was first 'Creelsborough' when founded in 1819



2019-09-15 - Russell County, KY - Photo by Linda Waggener, ColumbiaMagazine.com.
The town of 'Creelsborough' was founded in 1819 for business purposes by Elijah and Elza "Elzey" Creel, merchant brothers. The Creels, sons of an early settler of Green and Adair Counties, were early businessmen in Greensburg and later in Columbia.

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