By Jeremy Patton
Mill Springs Park is located in Wayne County, Kentucky.
From US-27 near Burnside, Kentucky, head west on KY-90 for 10 miles. Turn right onto KY-1275. Continue for about one mile then turn right into Mill Springs Park. The sign is hard to miss:
“Mill Springs Mill”
“Built 1877 Restored 1976”
“U.S. Army Corps of Engineers”
The facility was closed when we arrived on 12/3/15. We parked outside the gate and explored the grounds. It was a cold day, but the area was flooding and we had the facility to ourselves. Numerous springs gushed from the hillside (I have read that there are 13, but I did not count them), creating cascades and waterfalls that sped downhill to Lake Cumberland. On my first visit, I was lucky to see Mill Springs Park at its best.
Long-hunters first found the springs in the early 18th century. Later, one of Kentucky’s first settlements was made there: Price’s Station. Daniel Boone is also known to have passed through the area.
The area’s namesake, a water-powered grist mill, was built in 1877 and restored in 1976. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers operates the water-wheel as a demonstration during open season.
Other facilities include a gift shop, flush toilets, drinking water, a group picnic shelter, picnic tables and grills.
Also available for tours is the Brown-Lanier house that was used as a Civil War headquarters and hospital during the Battle of Mill Springs.
Delania and I walked down a paved path to the lakeshore, then noticed additional springs spewing from a distant, wooded hillside. We turned left and followed the rocky shore south into a cove, then bushwhacked up the hill to examine the springs. The off-trail excursion was pretty difficult, which made me question whether these springs were part of Mill Springs Park or private property. We climbed above the springs to the top of the hill and found fields, houses and KY-1275.
The springs formed two waterfalls that converged into a single stream that flowed a short distance into Lake Cumberland. I will collectively call them West of Mill Springs Falls.
Again, this off-trail trek is fairly treacherous, so it is only for the adventurous.
An interpretive sign reveals more about the Battle of Mill Springs:
“The Noble Ellis Saves an Army”
“The Confederate army arrived in Mill Springs in November 1861. For some time, Confederate General Felix K. Zollicoffer’s pleas for more men and supplies were ignored. Finally, his superior sent the steamboat Noble Ellis up from Nashville with provisions and clothing. The small sternwheeler docked at Mill Springs on the south side of the Cumberland River.”
“A Night of Fear and Chaos”
After the hard fought Battle of Mill Springs on January 19, 1862, the defeated Confederates fled back to the Beech Grove encampment across the river from Mill Springs. The Confederates knew that escape depended on getting across the swollen Cumberland River. As darkness fell, Union forces stopped their pursuit. General George H. Thomas planned to make a final assault on the Confederates in the morning. Union artillery shelled the river crossing as the Noble Ellis and a few rowboats worked through the night ferrying the Confederate army to Mill Springs.”
“Thousands Crowded the Riverbank”
“W.J. Warsham, 29th Tennessee infantry, described the chaos: “We were on the river bank in a compact mass of excited and confused humanity. Thousands were crowded there waiting, each his turn, to get on the Noble Ellis as she crossed and recrossed the river. The enemy just a little over a mile behind who, from their battery above us on a hill, kept constantly shelling the boat as she crossed back and forth with her excited fugitive load.””
“As daylight came, the last Confederate soldiers disembarked in Mill Springs. Its critical mission accomplished, the Confederates burned the Noble Ellis to prevent its capture by the Union.”
Added 8/2/16 – Updated 4/10/17