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Pineville’s First Tavern

Kentucky History and Genealogy Network, Inc.

Cumberland Gap from the South, Courtesy of the Library of Congress Digital Collections

 


One of the Earliest Documented Tavern of Pineville

The Renfro Family of Cumberland Ford

   The first tollgates keeper, or owner, at Cumberland Ford (Pineville) was Robert Craig on February 10th. 1798. He received the job when John Thurman refused to accept the position bestowed upon him six months prior. Craig was to keep the road in good repair from the gap to the forks at the Crab Orchard, Madison forks. Craig would receive all monies paid in as toll for his seven years of service.

      On the 1830 census is a gentleman by the name of James Renfro Sr. living at Cumberland Ford before Bell County was founded. In his household were four boys, two of which are Shelton Renfro and James Renfro Jr. In the same household are five females, one of which was Renfro Sr, his wife Charity Huff and their three daughters. One daughter was Mary Renfro Moss. Either his mother, mother-in law or their sister lived with them as well. James Renfro Sr is recorded as owning twenty-two slaves in 1830 and his establishment was noted as a tavern or trading post.  It was also used to keep livestock for travelers when they stayed for the night called a “Grover Station” at this time period.

      James Renfro was appointed tollgates keeper after Robert Craig’s term had expired and Renfro posted bond of $6000 to become the tollgates keeper for Cumberland Ford. The slaves he owned were probably used to work the road that Renfro had been placed in charge of as well as blacksmiths, farming and general labor.  Renfro became Justice of the Peace or “Circuit Judge” as they were called at Cumberland Ford on December 6th 1816. A circuit judge “Rode The Circuit” or traveled to have court. Renfro was also the Sheriff for some time. Renfro ran the tollgates until his death and his wife Dorcas inherited it until her son-in law Sheldon took it just before 1850.

     This was one of the stops along the Wilderness Road for settlers heading to new lands in Kentucky and elsewhere. His residence was used to restock the settlers with rations and supplies for their trip along a long and dangerous journey ahead. They tollgates was also a means of income as most traffic had to pass through Pineville. James Renfro was a Lincoln County surveyors deputy in February of 1783 under James Thompson. In 1816 he purchased property that extended into Turkey Creek which also took in Cumberland Ford from the future governor Isaac Shelby.   When James Renfro’s estate was burned and hauled by Union Soldiers to build fortifications at Cumberland Gap, there was mention of one other stone building near the old tollgates. It is highly probable this would have been the Robert Craig estate. The first ford at Cumberland was farther south. When James Renfro bought his property he moved the ford north where the present site is known today. Since Robert Craig was the old gatekeeper prior to Renfro, this should have been Craig’s residence.

      The old home place of James Renfro is rumored to be located on the lot where the Bell County Tax Commissioner’s building is located today. James Renfro’s wife, Charity Huff Renfro, died in 183? and was buried in the family garden.

Between the years of 1819 and 1850 Shelton Renfro received 2000 acres of property on Straight Creek at Pineville on 6 separate land grants. One grant for 1500 hundred acres was received in 1850 in the name of James Jr. and Shelton Renfro.

     In 1846 James Renfro, brother in-law to Shelton was the postmaster for Cumberland Ford which would have made their residence a stopover for the stagecoach. James is listed as a doctor and his worth was placed at 12,000.00, making him a very wealthy man.

The Renfro household consisted of one huge family of brothers all living together in the residence of their deceased father’s home/business.

The household at that time consisted of;

Shelton Renfro born 1793;

Judith Renfro his wife born 1794;

James/son of Shelton born 1823 a doctor;

Martha/daughter of Shelton born 1829;

John/ son of Shelton born 1830;

Charles/son of Shelton born 1832;

Charity/daughter of Shelton born 1835;

Susan/daughter of Shelton born in 1836;

William/son of Shelton born 1840;

James Sr /brother-in-law of Shelton born 1802 listed as a doctor;

Josephus/son of James born 1828 and postmaster of Cumberland Ford in 1851 a Merchant;

James Jr/son of James born 1831;

James Epison born 1825;

James Gaitwood born 1830 listed as a mail carrier;

Ann Paff born 1809;

    Shelton Renfro became a commissioner for the “Crab Orchard Cumberland Gap Turnpike Corporation” in 1836 to open a new road through the gap to Crab Orchard and set up tollgates bridges and whatever is required for an efficient road. Shelton Renfro moved from Bell County beginning in 1850 to Rockcastle County and by 1870 was in Louisville living with his son Charles. Charles was listed as a grain merchant in 1880.

     At this time I personally believe this would have been one of the earliest “Taverns” in Pineville, but probably the second oldest one. James Renfro was listed as a Tavern Owner in 1816, the year he acquired the title to the property. Renfro was the first resident of the newly constructed estate. Described as a replica of an English Estate, James transferred title to the property to his son James Renfro after the death of his first wife Charity. He then moved to Garrard County and married Miss Collier.

      Isaac Shelby owned 43 slaves about the time he sold to James Renfro. In the search for the old taverns along the Wilderness Road one thing stands out, they were usually points where slaves were traded at and/or used for upkeep on the road or for work on the livestock and travelers.

     A tavern was a stopover for the stagecoach, a motel, livery and a place to eat and put up livestock along the way to markets. It isn’t what we consider a tavern of today. Taverns were the older description of what we call Hotels or ranches today. Taverns were often called “ordinaries”. A stop off for ordinary people.

 Author, Marty Wyatt


 

{Did you know?} Pineville was originally called “Cumberland Ford”?} A very early, and probably only, place to “Ford” (Cross) the Cumberland River.

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