The Birth of Big Bone

By Don Clare

Fifty years ago this year, citizens of Boone county purchased 16.67 acres of land in Big Bone at the site of the famous Big Bone Lick salt springs and donated it to the Commonwealth of Kentucky for the purpose of establishing a state park to commemorate and celebrate the scientific significance and importance of this unique resource in North America. The Commonwealth, in turn, agreed to protect and maintain the site in its state park system and build a museum to display artifacts and interpret the importance and meaning of this rare place.

Today, it is known world wide as the Birthplace of American Vertebrate Paleontology. One French paleontologist goes as far as simply saying the birthplace of (all) vertebrate paleontology. The history and significance of the place is easy enough to research in a library or on the internet. But this part of the story is seldom told or appreciated.

On October 24, 1953, at the Florence Town Hall, a meeting of interested citizens voted to form The Big Bone Lick Historical Association. This group wanted to establish an historical state park at Big Bone Lick. The temporary officers elected that night were Carroll Cropper (chair), Bruce Ferguson (organization chairman), William Fitzgerald (secretary), Al Becker (photographer), and W. Robert Ellis (publicity).The mission of the organization was to gather resolutions from all civic organizations and groups, churches, schools, businesses and private citizens supporting the establishment of a state park at Big Bone, to be sent to Governor Wetherby.

Prior to this, the Governor would not commit one way or another for a state park at Big Bone. Instead, he depended on the opinions of his Commissioner of Conservation, Henry Ward, who was pushing for a state park at Falmouth, incorporating a hydro-electric power plant on a Licking River Dam. So the new Big Bone Lick Historical Association would call upon the citizens to lobby Frankfort and even raise money to purchase land for the park.

It just so happened that the county already owned 2 acres at Big Bone. This included the major spring and a portion of the creek bank where many bones had been recovered. It had been deeded over to the county in 1876 by Stewart and Elizabeth Baker. Acceptance by the county of this tract of land was provided for by an act of the General Assembly on March 9, 1876. According to the Department of State Parks, at least 10 acres were needed to establish a state park. So the association initiated an intense regional fund raising campaign which included a tag sale in all the area schools.

In 1954, Bruce Ferguson was elected president of the Association, and William Fitzgerald, Secretary. They tirelessly directed the Association toward its stated goal, year after year, through the muck and mire of political bureaucracy and changes in administration, sifting through the double talk, glad handing, broken promises and lip service. Finally, on December 12, 1958, Secretary William Fitzgerald sent to Mr. Asa Rouse an authorized check in the sum of $5,000.00 made out to Alpha Hance and India Hance as payment-in-full for 16.67 acres of land, which would become Big Bone Lick State Park.

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