Seventy Six Falls
by Jim DeForest
From THE ALBANY-CLINTON COUNTY SESQUICENTENNIAL CELEBRATION, 1836-1986, published in the Mountain Echo and transcribed and submitted by Lisa Haug.
Most people think of Seventy-Six Falls as a family picnic area or a place to prove your courage by jumping from its heights into the waiting waters of Lake Cumberland some 35 feet below. (You hope all the way down you will miss the sunken cars below the falls.) Few realize its origin and rich history.
The creek which flows over the falls has an interesting story of its own. Indian Creek, or "Mystery Creek," as some of the old-timers call it, heads at springs on the C.E. McKinley (former Ben Aaron). Joyce Pharis, Page Coop and Eva Conner farms in the Ida community of Clinton County and flows southeast for about two miles before it reaches the lake.
The "Mystery Creek" name comes from the fact that one mile from its origin it overcomes a natural obstacle in a unique and mysterious way. A north-south running ridge seemingly blocks the creek's lakeward path. The creek flows under the ridge and surfaces on the other side, where its size is increased by eight springs. From there, the creek is turned into rapids by the steep incline about 200 yards before it falls into Lake Cumberland. Its length and average 20-foot width make it one of the largest creeks in Kentucky.
Contrary to popular belief, Seventy-Six Falls was never 76 feet high, and it did not get its name from its height. The falls were between 83 and 84 feet high until the formation of Lake Cumberland in 1950, which reduced it to its present height of about 44 feet. Most historical records note, as did James C. Ferguson in his "Early Times in Clinton County," the name was derived from the station number in the original survey, where the members of the surveying party had built a shop and lodging quarters near the top of the precipice, which measures 83 feet in length."
Seventy-Six was settled by John W. Semple in 1806. Semple recognized the commercial possibilities of its central location and the water power provided by Big Indian Creek. He began by erecting a grist mill; soon he added a general store. Semple dreamed of a thriving community around his mill.
On July 14, 1817, the Cumberland County Court vested part of his lands in the hands of trustees who laid off the town of Seventy-Six in 116 lots with lot 105 being the falls itself. Few lots were ever sold except for lots 104, 67, 68, 96, 97, and 98, bought by William Spearman on April 2, 1859 for $1,002 due 12 months after date.
Although few lots were sold at the time, Semple still believed in the potential growth of Seventy-Six. In his will of 1824, he willed to his wife, Lucy, 15 of the lots and 1/9 of the big falls.
According to Ferguson, "The mill drew trade from all over the north and center of the county; it ground both flour and meal." Nearby, was a small "warming house" which had a puncheon bench in front of a fireplace, where the men sat and parched corn on cold winter days while they waited for their turn to get their corn and wheat ground.
Beside the mill at Seventy-Six was a sawmill, a blacksmith shop, a cabinet shop, and a carding factory for wool and cotton. At the cabinet shop, all the caskets for the surrounding county were made; no charges were made for the labor, and sometimes people furnished their own lumber for the caskets. This tradition went on for about 100 years.
On April 27, 1830, a post office was established with James M. Goodson as postmaster. Through his political influence, the town's name was changed to Goodson. The citizens resented the change and on May 17, 1834, the name was changed back to Seventy-Six produced several noteworthy residents. The sons of John W. Semple , Robert and James, moved on to successful political careers. In 1845, Robert went to California, where he became president of the Constitutional Convention, while James served as U.S. Senator from Illinois from 1843 to 1845.
However, its favorite son has to be the late Senator Ed F. Warinner, whose ancestors were among the first settlers of Seventy-Six. Born there in 1909, he served the 16th district four terms in the State Senate. In 1954, he sponsored the Minimum Foundation Act (School support) and lowering of the voting age to 18. In 1958 he promoted the veterans' bonus legislation, public assistance program and the bookmobile system. The park we enjoy so much today was developed by Senator Warinner. A marker at the park honoring him (after his death in 1959) was dedicated by Gov. A.B. "Happy" Chandler on Sunday, July 31, 1970.
Today there is very little left of the town of Seventy-Six. The last remaining building, the Semple Mill, burned in 1943. The devastating tornado of 1974 destroyed many of the old trees that served as markers, and most of the park itself. Since then the park has been rebuilt and waits for you to stop and enjoy a brief visit with the past. Perhaps, if you listen closely, you can hear the noise of John Semple's mill as it grinds the wheat into flour.