By Nathan Baker
A professor writing a manuscript for a college course found a book’s worth of people as captivating as the wilderness during his month-long trek along the route used by settlers to tame the lands west of the Appalachians.
Milligan College Associate Professor Jim Dahlman hiked 275 miles from Sycamore Shoals State Park to Boonesborough State Park in central Kentucky, following the footsteps of Daniel Boone and his men on the Wilderness Road –and collecting tales from those who live along the trail.
“One of the things that made the biggest impression on me was the importance of the land to the people both economically and to their sense of identity,” Dahlman said after returning from the trip Monday. “It really affects who they are in the world, especially if their families had been there for generations.
“There were people who came back when they retired or got sick, even though everybody else moved away or died, it still felt like home.”
Dahlman, who teaches journalism at Milligan, took on the project to produce a manuscript for his master of fine arts degree in creative nonfiction from Baltimore’s Goucher College.
“I’m very interested in history and what we can learn from it,” Dahlman told the STAR in May, a few days before starting out on the trail. “I’m planning to meet some people, make some friends and talk about how these places along this historical trail have developed.”
In 1775, Daniel Boone and 30 fellow axmen cut the trail from Kingsport’s Long Island, through the Cumberland Gap to the Kentucky River for the Transylvania Company to help access lands the company purchased.
The Wilderness Road, as it became known, was used by thousands of settlers and later by merchants as a major route of commerce.
Like the hardened men who forged the trail more than 200 years ago, Dahlman said the people who now live and work near the route are colorful individuals, each with their own story to tell.
In Pineville, Ky., he met Rosemary Combs, the operator of FloCo Drug Store, a small-town corner store with a working soda fountain.
“Her husband used to run it, but then it burned down,” Dahlman said. “They refurbished it, then it burned down again. Then her daughter bought it and refurbished it again to keep it in the family.
“Now Rosemary runs it right there across the street form the Bell County Courthouse, where it’s become somewhat of a local landmark.”