By Joan Baxter
One of the earliest roads which provided transportation through Greene County was what was known as the Bullskin Trace or Bullskin Trail.
The road begins in the southern portion of Clermont County where Bullskin Creek empties into the Ohio River. The road crosses the entire state of Ohio from Kentucky to Michigan, following the ancient trails used by the Shawnee and other early Indians. Often this route was selected by the Indians for the purpose of bringing salt from the salt licks of Kentucky.
Various portions of the road have been changed over the years, but in Greene County, it followed State Route 380 from the site of New Burlington. In Xenia, the road becomes US Highway 68 then proceeds north through Old Town and Yellow Spring and northward.
According to Dr. W.A. Galloway, General George Washington purchased four surveys in Clermont County in 1787, one of which was located on the Bullskin Trace.
This road became the first official highway in the state of Ohio on Feb. 4, 1807. This was adopted by the State Legislature and was then re-named the“Xenia State Road. The right of way was to be 66 feet wide throughout its course.
In addition to designating the former trace to be an official highway, the legislature allowed the sum of $700 to make the necessary improvements. The money for the work had been obtained from the sale of public lands. The roadway was cleared to a width of 20 feet, which gave the right-of-way a distance of 60-66 feet.
It is probable that before this road officially became the Xenia State Road that Daniel Boone and the other frontiersmen who were with him at the salt licks in Kentucky traveled along that pathway with the Shawnee Indians when they were captured and brought to Old Chillicothe in Greene County.
Simon Kenton had also been captured by the Shawnee Indians and brought to Old Chillicothe. After being tortured, he was transported to Detroit by the Shawnee via the Bullskin Trace.
Those who wanted to traverse the state would have been most grateful when the road was completed, though initially it was a corduroy road. This is a road made up of logs, usually halved lengthwise, and laid side by side. This was of course, a very bumpy ride, but it did help when a wagon was transported, since there was less danger of being stuck in mud.
This newly established route provided transportation from one end of Ohio to the other, and thus merchants were better able to transport their goods.
During the War of 1812, the road proved to be invaluable. It made possible the transporting of provisions to Admiral Perry’s fleet on the Great Lakes. Supplies were transported by boat down the Ohio River to the Bullskin Creek, and from there, a caravan of fifteen wagons made it way north the lake, across the corduroy road. For nearly two years, supplies were hauled northward on this road with two men assigned to each wagon.
Slaves who were escaping from Kentucky and other southern stated often headed north following the Bullskin Trace. New Burlington residents were well-known for their assistance in helping those who were seeking freedom. Several homes had secret hiding places, as well as some businesses. The slaves were kept out of site before continuing their journey along the Bullskin Trace where others also provided shelter and food for the journey.
Portions of the old road are sometimes difficult to find, due to the fact that the road has been re-surveyed over the years, and with more modern means of laying out roads, some the early sections were bypassed. A portion of the old road is now under the Caesars Creek Lake.
In 1840, surveyor Samuel Kyle was directed by the Greene County Commission to resurvey the Bullskin Trail. He began his survey at the corner of Chillicothe (Main) and Detroit Streets. His survey ended at “the intersection of the county road in New Burlington making an aggregate distance of just over eight miles.” He made one small alteration on the road “running as we understood where it was originally located and with the consent of the owner of the land.”
July 8, 1867 a group of men met with the Greene County Surveyor, Theodore Collier. The purpose was to again survey the Bullskin Road as it passed through Greene County. Three men were duly sworn in as assistants to the surveyor. Additionally, three other men were sworn in, two were to be Chainers, the other man was a Marker.
They were commissioned to survey and “mark the proposed improvements of the County Road, known as the Bullskin Road, leading from Xenia to the Greene County line at the village of New Burlington.”
They proceeded from a marker at the corporation line of Xenia southward. The document provided details about property owners, streams, roads crossed and other landmarks easily identifiable at that time. The survey ends in the village of New Burlington at the Clinton County line.
A road which Greene County residents travel has the distinct history of being a portion of the very first “official” Ohio State highway. The road has been in continuous use for more than 100 years.
Joan Baxter is a local resident and weekly historical columnist.