Five Generations of Highways in Canton, Ky

The present-day US 68/KY 80 corridor has been an important route for more than two centuries.  With Canton’s modern history dating back over 200 years (not to mention the prehistoric era), it’s no wonder the main thoroughfare through this part of the county has changed a whopping five times.  Evidence of all five generations of this strategic route exists today.

As we covered in a previous article highlighting the history Canton in western Trigg County, this town was an important trading post beginning in the early 1800s.  Located on the Cumberland River (today’s Lake Barkley), the town sprung up as a shipping point for areas in southern Kentucky.

Goods were transferred by boat at Boyd’s Landing there at the town.  Naturally a road was formed, perhaps using old Native American manways and trails with all the supplies that exchanged at the landing site.  It’s likely the old native American trails were used originally to access the river by European settlers.  It has been well documented that Mississippian-era tribes had a settlement at Canton. Even prehistoric artifacts have been found there.  This was the first generation of a highway that proved to be very important to the region. 

In 1919, the state of Kentucky produced plans to create a modern-day road with two 7.5-foot lanes that featured compacted gravel.  No other roads existed like this in this part of the state at the time, demonstrating that the Canton-Cadiz route was quite strategic.  The plans called for this new route to run from Little River at Cadiz to Boyd’s Landing at Canton.

This screen shot of a PDF shows how the 1919 road would be constructed. Courtesy Kentucky Transportation Cabinet.

While we aren’t sure when construction began, the second-generation route became a reality simply by seeing evidence of it that’s still in existence today.  It’s likely the work started that year or in 1920, since stuff tended to get done faster in those days.

A couple of things that can be seen presently from the 1919 route are the remnants of a bridge that crossed Ramsey Creek (known today at Hopson Creek) very close to the present-day US 68.  The creek has spring-fed blue waters and is hard to miss; it bends right up against the new four-lane highway.  Right in the bend is an elevated path and old concrete approaches where the bridge once stood.

This 2020 photo, taken from the current US 68 four-lane highway under construction, shows remnants of concrete supports on each side of the banks of Hopson Creek. This was the 1919 alignment.
The 1919 plans that called for a new bridge to be constructed over Ramsey Creek (now known as Hopson Creek). Notice the channel diversion plans.
The 1932 plans showing a new route across Ramsey (Hopson) Creek. You can see how the 1919 alignment was bypassed in these plans. It was likely due to the narrow, built-up road and bridge that was constructed in 1919.

On Old Canton Road (which was the third generation) there is a concrete culvert to the south that is part of the 1919 alignment, which we believe is referenced in the highway plans seen below.  Yes, it’s just an old box culvert, but it is likely 100 years old and is left as an artifact of that very first “modern” highway.

Yes, it’s just a culvert – but it’s 100 years old and has been out of service for at least 80 years – a short lifespan.
The 1919 state highway plans remarking the existing culvert was in bad shape, and that a new concrete culvert needed to be built. The old culvert pictured above was likely the one built from these plans.

The third generation of this corridor came in 1932 with plans to reconstruct the road with wider lanes and actual pavement.  It was a needed improvement since the state planned to construct a new bridge across the Cumberland River at Canton.  The bridge would replace the ferry at Boyd’s Landing.

Most rural state roads in the early 1930s where gravel at best.  With a paved highway running through Trigg County and a large bridge spanning the river, a new link was established that would further strengthen the local economy.

In 1961, the state had to create a couple of new segments of US 68 at Canton and at Cadiz in order to make way for Lake Barkley.  The US Army Corps of Engineers began building Barkley Dam downstream, and the rising waters would flood US 68 during high lake level situations.

Thus the fourth generation of US 62 was created in the early 1960s.  On the Cadiz end, this meant a new bridge spanning the Little River.  On the Canton end, it meant a relocation and elevation change along and near Hopson Creek.  The new US 62 featured a concrete surface and wider shoulders for safety.

The photo below, taken in 2001, shows the fourth-generation US 62 on the right and the 1932 version of the highway on the left.  Old bridge piers can be seen.  The highway on the right had to have an elevation change to cover the potential high-water mark for Lake Barkley.

This photo from 2001 shows the new US 62 on the right and the old 1932 route on the left. Little did we know when we shot this picture, the 1919 route was to the left of us, outside this photo, deep in the woods.

In the late 1990s the first round of funding was proposed to replace the aging Eggners Ferry Bridge and the Lake Barkley Bridge with four-lane structures.  This would mean a new four-lane corridor between Murray and Cadiz, including Canton. 

After years of delays and budget issues, construction finally began on the Lake Barkley Bridge project and dirt was being moved to create the fifth-generation US 68 at Canton.  Fast forward to today, in 2020, the bridge has been completed and the four-lane highway between Canton and Cadiz is not far from completion.

The fifth generation of US 68 wiped out a lot of interesting features of the old route.  Before, one could make out the 1919 version along the north side of the highway quite easily.  And an old springhouse on the side of the road was apparently a popular stop in the old days. 

Now most of the 1919 alignment and the spring has been obliterated.  The comparison photo above showing the 1932 and 1961 alignment has drastically changed as well, with the new road running through it.

This aerial image, taken sometime in 2018, shows US 68’s fifth alignment under construction. The 1919 road is highlighted.

Today, the old path down to Boyd’s Landing is still there, although now it’s considered private property.  This represents the first generation of the Canton highway.  Small parts of the 1919 alignment can been seen and one can still travel down the 1932 alignment (Old Canton Road and the Pete Light Springs area).  The 1961 alignment still exists across Little River at Cadiz.  The Canton side is gone. 

With construction to wrap up later this year, the fifth generation of US 68 will likely serve this area for decades to come.

I’m not aware of a highway in western Kentucky that has been changed five or more times throughout the last hundred years or so.  US 68/KY 80 started out as an unnamed path, likely created by Native Americans and filled with wagon ruts.  Now it is only the second east-west four-lane highway in western Kentucky, carrying well over a million cars and trucks each year.

Those hard-working men who developed the first modern road in 1919 – I wonder what they would think if they can see what it would look like in 100 years?  And to think what this area will look like in 2120?  We can only imagine.

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