(National Park Service mural)
The Cumberland Gap played an important role in European settlement of what is now the State of Kentucky. As settlers moved into the interior from the east, they encountered parallel mountain ranges that trended roughly south west to north east. The first, the Blue Ridge, had several points where rivers had cut through, notably the Roanoke. These passages opened to a large valley striated with low, parallel ridges. Once across the Ridge and Valley Province, the westward march was then blocked by the Cumberlands.
(National Park Service)
Dr. Thomas Walker, surveying for the Loyal Land Company, came upon and named Cumberland Gap in 1750. Cumberland Gap is a 1600 ft. pass through a mountain that ranges locally from 2200 to 2500 feet elevation, and had been used first as a game trail, and then as a trail for Native American hunting or war parties. Acting on behalf of the Transylvania Land Company, Daniel Boone widened the trail across the gap, and he and others guided settlers into the Kentucky interior. The National Park Service estimates that between 200,000 and 300,000 people immigrated through the gap in the years 1780-1810.
The gap was considered to be of strategic importance during the Civil War, and changed hands 4 times before the armies concluded it would be easier to just go around the gap than to defend it. Both Union and Confederate earth-work forts are preserved. The early 20th century Hensley Settlement interprets life in a remote, mountain location.
Click here to visit the National Park Service's excellent web site. And go see for yourself sometime soon.