H. H. Martin Remembers Covington


In the month of March, 1818, I set foot on the soil of Kentucky, crossing the river not on a steam ferry boat, or on a suspension bridge, but in a flat boat, or what we now call a scow, propelled by two men, with oars.  Old Captain Jacob Hardin was at the helm.  I presume every one of us was personally acquainted with Uncle Jake.  He was composed of that kind of manner of which the pioneers were all made. He knew no fear, was stern in his demeanor, firm and steadfast of purpose, a kind friend, a relentless enemy, a kind husband and father, and cared but little for the world's goods. He lived a long and eventful life, dying at a ripe old age, and lamented by all who knew him.

My father first settled on on the farm of James Riddle, which is now part of Covington, lying west of Russell and Bank Lick streets, north of Eleventh street, and bounded on the west by Willow Run.  We resided there two years.  During that period a notable event occurred in the history of the city, viz. the authorization of a horse ferry boat in place of the flatboat.  This improvement was due to the enterprise of Mr. Pliny Bliss, then lessee of the ferry right.  The boat was a success so great that Mr. Bliss concluded he could improve upon it, and lessen the expenses also.  So, in 1823, he planned and built a boat smaller in size, to which he endeavored to apply an endless chain, but the weight of two horses not being sufficient to propel the boat the experiment failed. Nothing daunted, he constructed a passenger boat of light draught, building the hull in 1824, at the point of the Licking.  This boat was a curiosity. It had no main decks.  The bottom and sides were floored over.  The upper works were of slats, bent like wagon bows, to which the siding and upper and upper deck were nailed.  The cabin was lighted by small windows, composed each of three panes of eight-by-ten glass.  The motive power consisted of an upright boiler, which supplied steam for one rotary engine. The unruly boys of the town christened this non-descript "Bliss' Chicken Thief." The boat was afterwards sold to some parties at the South.  About this time the lease of the ferry on the Kentucky side of the river expired, the right belonging to the Kennedy family.  Bliss still held the right on the Ohio side, which about the year 1830 became the property of Samuel Wiggins, by whom, with the Kennedys, it was run. They substituted steam for horse power. From that time up to the consolidation of all the ferry rights in the hands of one company there was much opposition by the citizens of Covington to the claims of the Kennedys, who insisted that they held the exclusive right to run a ferry between Cincinnati and Covington, and this they succeeded in sustaining in the highest courts of the State, and thereby silenced all opposition, except that made by the owners of what is now known as the Main Street Ferry, first run under the ownership of James Riddle, and operated by Jacob Hardin in 1822.  A Me. Herd became the lessee in 1828, and substituted a horse-boat for a scow.  Main street was then simply called Riddle's Lane, and being outside of the limits of the town, did not effect the income of the Covington ferry to any considerable amount.

About this time the lease of Mr. Bliss expired.  The population of Covington in 1828 was increased by the addition of a live Yankee, Mr. Charles Littlefield.  He was a brick mason by trade, and became one of the most useful and respected citizens.  Who does not remember "Lit," as he was called.  He served several terms in the City Council, with credit to himself and honor to the city. In 1834, he and Mr. Bliss attempted to run a ferry boat by means of a submerged chain, thus dispensing with either man, horse, or steam power, but the experiment failed.  In 1818 the regular ferry landing was in the mouth of the Licking, and on the Ohio side was near the foot of Broadway.  The city, from neglect, has suffered the point of Licking to gradually wash away.  The waste of land there has not been less than 200 to 300 feet in length by about 100 feet in width.  All the old landmarks of the ferry have disappeared, save one.  That, like the remnant of the pioneers, still stands as a monument of by-gone days.  I allude to the old frame house on the southeast corner of Front and Garrard street.  It was used as a ferry house for years.  In this house the first regular drinking saloon ever in Covington was owned by James Smith & Co.  It did not thrive, as in those days drinking and drunkard manufacturing were not brought to perfection as now.  The first house of public entertainment [an inn] was located on Garrard street, north of Second.  In 1817 a large brick building was erected on the southwest corner of Garrard and Front streets, and was opened as a tavern, but the proprietor was unable to compete with Mr. Alexander Conley, the owner of a rival concern, and the business was relinquished, In 1832, Mr. Conley purchased the large lot on the corner of Garrard and Second streets for $800, and erected thereon a substantial brick house, now owned by Col. Amos Shinkle. It was kept by Mr. Conley as a house of public entertainment up to the time of his death, and I think you will agree with me in opinion that it stood as high in reputation as any other public house in the state.  Lafayette was a guest of Mr. Conley in 1825 when he visited Covington, then a small village.

In the summer of 1818, David Poor became a citizen of this country.  He commenced and partly built a house on the Lexington and Bank Lick road, about two hundred feet south of what is now called the Day House.  Mr. Poor, being unable to complete the building, furnished but one part of it, and in 1820 commenced the business of tavern keeping.  The place was known as the General Green House.  After the death of Mr. Poor in 1821, his widow kept the place,  At that date it was too remote from the village to be of much consequence.

Having briefly sketched a few of the prominent events in the early history of our city, I might with propriety stop, but the objects which called us together  will not permit me to conclude thus abruptly.  We meet here as the descendants and companions of the of the pioneer fathers of the Licking Valley, and in our brief comingling we live over the old times that have passed and gone, when we, like the youths of the present, were buoyant with hope and animation, and fondly looked forward with pleasing anticipation to that period when we would reach man's estate.  We have fought the battles of life with various successes, and now in the decline of life, with our heads whitened with the frosts of many winters, we assemble and extend to each other the hand of friendship, knowing as we do that the time is not far distant when we, like those who have gone before us, will be called to render an account of our stewardship upon earth.  It is to be hoped that the verdict of the all-wise Judge may be "Well done, good and faithful servants."