Bowlingtown, Kentucky–A Lost Communiy, but not Forgtten

This post tells the story of the Bowling’s/Boling’s and Bowlingtown– a story as viewed by ancestors and living relatives; it includes a famous colonizer; a single woman’s efforts to keep Bowlingtown and its families on the map and in our memories; and, a local newspaper’s documentary about them all.

A Brief History

Image:  Bowlingtown Main St. 1910

Bowlingtown Main St. 1910

Daniel Boone, the Great American Pioneer, used his daring, wood-craft, and “wilderness scout” skills and experiences to open up the landscape and colonize Kentucky for his family and other settlers that founded Bowlingtown like the Bowling, Boling,  Barger, Begley, Combs, Duff, Hacker, Rice, and West families.

Image: Buckhorn Lake

Buckhorn Lake

Bowlingtown was a thriving community of hundreds that once prospered where Buckhorn Lake state park now stands. After several years efforts (1995-1999), by Jewell Gordon, one of the last residents’ of Bowlingtown, a plaque now appears at the front of the Buckhorn Lodge that reads:

Bowlingtown 1800 -1960:

Long before Buckhorn Lake was created and the state park established in 1964, a small community flourished for many generations here, along the middle fork of the Kentucky River.

Early records refer to this area as the Bowling District, founded by Reverend Jesse Boling, his wife Mary Pennington, Reverend Duff and 50 other families. They were led to this remote area under the guidance of Daniel Boone. By the late 1800’s Bowlingtown was a thriving community of hundreds. There was a post office, school, churches, grocery, saw mill, blacksmith and the Frontier Nursing Service. Local officials included a sheriff, magistrate, justice of the peace, and tax commissioner. The citizens were primarily farmers and coal miners. They were known to be patriotic, honest, kind, and well-educated people.

In 1960, when the construction of Buckhorn Lake began, Bowlingtown had to be abandoned and families relocated. Family graves (873) were re-interred to Buckhorn Cemetery. All were sad to leave their homeland of seven generations. This exhibit is dedicated in their memory.

Jewell Gordon published the following message on the Hazard Kentucky special web page dedicated to Bowlingtown:

I was probably one of the last to be born in Bowlingtown. I started seven years ago to get the Buckhorn lodge or park renamed Bowlingtown. I did this in memory of my grandfather and also to prevent my birthplace from disappearing. When the Corp of Engineers decided to build the dam everyone was forced to leave. This place had been a homeland for seven generations of family and friends (mostly Bowlings/Bollings).

His family and friends from Bowlingtown were scattered to the four winds. That was the first time I saw him cry.

My grandfather was a strong man who farmed and mined most his life to build up a heritage to leave his children (16+ acres in Perry Co and 64+ acres in Leslie). The government gave him enough money to buy 1/2 acre “unfarmable, not even a garden” lot in Richmond, KY. His family and friends from Bowlingtown were scattered to the four winds. That was the first time I saw him cry. He refused to visit Buckhorn Lodge or the lake because he and many others were adamant that it should have been named Bowlingtown. Maybe now he can rest in peace and I’m sure he will smile once again for Bowlingtown.

The lodge sits on the hill where the original log cabin school house was built in early 1800’s, which a white frame schoolhouse replaced in early 1900’s. The beach and swimming area is where children and adults alike played baseball. The picnic area was where they dug up hundreds of graves, which my grandfather watched to insure all relatives were properly re-interred at the top of the hill across from the lodge. It was horrific and caused him nightmares.

So you see it has been very important to get a 2′ x 3′ sign installed in front of the lodge with Bowlingtown’s history. The sign illustrates the river and where the various families lived (designated by numbers) with a list of family members associated with each house. The sign was designed by my Father, Floyd Hacker, who is 78 years old. He also provided all the family names/members and where each house was located. There is a sign inside the lodge with a history of the Bowlings/Bollings that goes back to 1066 in Bradford, England (Bolling Castle still stands today in memory of the Bollings).

It is important to note the source of the funds for this project: $2000 from Bowlingtown family and friends and $1000 grant from the KY Heritage Society; And without the KY State Parks co-operation this project still would be on the drawing board.

Jewell Gordon, Bowlingtown Project Mgr.

The sign and exhibit honoring Bowlington was dedicated Saturday, October 2nd, 1:00 p.m. in the lodge at Buckhorn Lake State Park in Perry County. Hazard radio station WSGS-FM covered the event and Governor Paul Patton was scheduled to attend.

For more information contact:

Jewell Gordon
Poslove@Aol.com
telephone 303-361-6748
fax 303-344-5787

The Communities of Perry County: Bowlingtown

By Bailey Richards, Staff Reporter
Hazard Herald Newspaper
January 29, 2012

<p>A replica of the homes on Bowlingtown is on display at the Buckhorn Lodge.</p>

A replica of the homes on Bowlingtown is on display at the Buckhorn Lodge.

Editor’s note: Perry County has numerous individual communities, all with their own stories and folklore. They have interesting names, formation stories, and histories, all of which make up the history of Perry County. The Hazard Herald is celebrating this with a recurring feature profiling the communities of our county.

Bowlingtown is no longer a place that can be visited, but it is still on the map thanks to the work of Jewell Gordon and the Bowlingtown Project.

Bowlingtown only exists in the collective memory of the people that lived there before it was flooded to create Buckhorn Lake in the early 1960s. For years after the dam was constructed and the valleys flooded, Bowlingtown had no sign or indication of having existed at all.

That was until Jewell Gordon worked from 1995 to 1999 to have some sort of marker placed to indicate where the town had been. Since then, signs and historical societies have been formed to memorialize the town.

Gordon has even managed to put Bowlingtown back on the map where it can be seen, marked in the lake on sites like Map Quest and in some atlases.

“When they built the dam, Bowlingtown just went off the map. It just no longer existed,” said Gordon, who was born in Bowlingtown and raised there until she was around eight years old.

Bowlingtown was settled by the Boling family from England as one of the earliest settlements in Perry County. It was named for Jesse Boling, or Bowling, and his family. Boling had served in the Revolutionary War and his descendant, Pat Barger, still has Boling’s pension form from the U.S. government when he applied for his pension at the age of 74 in 1832.

According to Jewell Gordon, the families that founded Bowlingtown had followed Daniel Boone into the forests of Kentucky.

“Daniel Boone brought those people into Bowlingtown, and he had bought some of the land there and then sold it to the Bowlings and four other families that lived there,” said Gordon.

The Bowling family was by far the most predominant family in Bowlingtown. One former resident, George Barger, who was around 10 when the town was flooded, said they probably outnumbered the other families 3 to 1.

The Bowling family has a long history that can be traced all the way back to Anne Boleyn, who was the Queen of England from 1533-1536, before she was beheaded by her husband, King Henry VIII. Boleyn was the mother of Queen Elizabeth I.

The Bowling name has changed spelling several times since Anne Boleyn. According to Jewell Gordon, her grandfather was a Bowling, however, his grandfather was a “Boling,” both of whom lived in Bowlingtown.

At the time the town was flooded, there was a thriving community living in Bowlingtown. Several hundred people lived in the incorporated town that had its own commission and sheriff. George Barger’s father was in his early 60’s when the town was flooded. He was the local postmaster as well as a farmer and entrepreneur.

Five generations of Bowlings and other families had lived in Bowlingtown until 1956 when the Commonwealth of Kentucky decided to dam the Kentucky River to help reduce flooding. Bowlingtown and several other areas lay in a flood plain, and following several large floods the Army Corps of Engineers decided to build a dam, flood the area, and evacuate the town.

“My grandfather, he just loved Bowlingtown, and it just destroyed him when they had to move,” said Gordon.

According to Barger, his father was one of the first people to be told about the town being evacuated since he owned much of the land. He and his family stayed in the town until 1959, whereas others began moving in 1957 in anticipation of the ultimatum to move.

The residents were paid for only their land, not their buildings, and only paid for the land that would be covered by water. Gordon said that her grandfather, Arlie Bowling, was only given enough money from the government to afford a small home on very little land.

“All total, he had probably 125 acres down there in Bowlingtown,” said Gordon. “The money that he was given was enough that he could buy a quarter of an acre in Richmond, and it was swamp land.”

Many of the residents of Bowlingtown were also angered by the name chosen for the new lake.

“For my grandfather and the people that loved Bowlingtown, they hated the fact that they named it Buckhorn,” said Gordon. “I mean it wasn’t Buckhorn, it was Bowlingtown.”

In 1999, after spending five years working to get Bowlingtown recognized, Gordon and around 150 former residents of Bowlingtown gathered for the dedication of a sign at Buckhorn Lodge telling about the town and the families.

“When people saw that sign, people put their hands on it like they were going back in time and remembering their relatives,” said Gordon.

A second sign was placed indoors that told the history of the Bowling family.

As a surprise to the group, the Army Corp of Engineers that had flooded their home had changed the welcome sign going in to the park to read, “Bowlingtown home of Buckhorn Lake.” Gordon said that for the residents, in a way this brought Bowlingtown back.

Today, Bowlingtown has been reconstructed in an exhibit at Buckhorn Lodge in a room lined with replicas of the homes of the community. A map of the town with the names of the families in each home also sits in this room. The homes have the names of the inhabitants along with replicas of stores and schools.

______________

And, you might ask me; “But, what’s your connection to the Boling’s and Bowlingtown’s story?”

Well, in fact, I share the same lineage from Pocahontas and Colonel Robert Bolling from the  15-1600′s and have a link to the Reverend Jesse B. Bolling, born in 1758, who died in Kentucky 1841.  It appears that my grandfather, Jesse B. Bolling, (1902-1978) was a namesake to Jesse B. Bolling, “The Elder”, 150 years later. And, in the video, you might also notice the presence of music and musicians–we Boling’s all seem to share the talents and love of music across the miles and through the generations.

Sources:

The Video via YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=TwSx-PxG5SU

http://www.geni.com/people/Rev-Jesse-Bolling-Sr/6000000006937422061

http://bowlingbollingkinnections.blogspot.com/

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