Drennon Springs Storytelling & Craft Festival

Henry County to feature oral history
with storytelling festival

The springs date to prehistoric
times, evolved to a salt lick

By Helen E. McKinney
Contributing Writer

DRENNON SPRINGS, Ky. (October 2011) – The history of Drennon Springs dates pack to prehistoric times. It’s stories about the past, about a simpler time, and the craft of storytelling itself that have made the Historic Drennon Storytelling & Craft Festival a vital event for Henry County and the region.
The oral stories are “what draws the crowd,” said Eleanor Jones Sharp, 78. Sharp has helped organize the festival for most of its existence, except for a two year hiatus when two different groups were in charge.
Sharp is a storyteller. “I like to tell stories about the area with history mixed in,” she said. There are those people who “tell stories that pertain to something in their life and those that just learn and memorize stories.”

Drennon Springs Sign

Photo by Helen McKinney

Drennon Springs dates back to the
time of Indians and mammoths.

Sharp falls under the first category because these stories are “more heartwarming.”
The Historic Drennon Storytelling & Craft Festival is scheduled for Oct. 8-9 at the Drennon Christian Church in Drennon, Ky. Included in the festival will be arts and crafts, historical presenters, local storytellers, children’s games, bluegrass music, food by at least three vendors and a horse trail ride.
“Originally, the Henry County Historical Society wanted to start this festival in the late 1980s to keep alive the rich history of Drennon Springs, which most people are forgetting,” said Corey Beatty. He is trying to revive the festival. Declining membership and participation brought the festival to a stop in 2007, he said.
The core idea of the event is to “get back to the basics of Drennon history and the surroundings,” said Sharp, who is also church historian for Drennon Christian Church. Her husband, Kenneth Sharp, used to grill, cook beans in a kettle and make cornbread for festival goers.
“We are just hoping to keep interest in Drennon alive,” said Beatty, who grew up in Henry County. “I attended the festival most years it was held, and I was always fascinated with the historic sites, some still visible in the Drennon Springs area today.”
Beatty has been pastor of Drennon Christian Church since July 19, 2009. “Drennon Springs was once the hotspot of the area but now is little more than a blip on the radar of many local travelers,” he said.
“So many youth think nothing in Henry County is worth staying around for,” said Linda Roberts, member of the Henry County Historical Society. “We’re trying to show them we have as rich a history as any area.” Roberts, a former eighth-grade teacher, has collected the history of the area since 1991.
Drennon Springs dates to prehistoric times when a shallow sea covered Kentucky that left salt deposits when it receded. Groundwater later mixed with these salt deposits, carrying them to the surface. The salt spring became known as a “lick,” attracting mammoth, buffalo and deer.
The lick at Drennon was discovered by Jacob Drennon and Matthew Bracken on July 6, 1773. An Indian had told Drennon about the lick, and he found four mineral springs during his stay there.
Gen. George Rogers Clark has been identified as the first settler at the salt springs of Drennon. Interested in its salt-making capabilities, he built a cabin in the area prior to 1779. The manufacture of salt was discontinued when the price of salt made it no longer profitable.
In 1780 Archibald Dickerson believed he had discovered a silver vein in the vicinity of two of the springs, but it turned out to be sulfide of lead. Lead ore was mined for its silver content until 1815. Former state geologist Willard Jillson identified it as the “first lead mine in Kentucky.”
When pioneers in the area learned the medicinal use of the waters from Native Americans, the area attracted not only the sick but became a social hotspot as well. When cholera periodically broke out, “Drennon was advertised as the safest place around,” said Roberts.
A.O. Smith purchased the property, spending about $100,000 on improvements. “People just flocked to it,” she said. The terraced hillsides contained three large hotels and cottages. After an outbreak of cholera in 1849, Smith sold the site to the Western Military Institute, which sought more adequate housing. The school was known as the “West Point of the South,” when cholera broke out again, forcing the Institute to move to Tennessee in 1854.
The site was used during the Civil War, but the main buildings were destroyed by fire toward the end of the war. By 1900, a third hotel was built on the site but also destroyed by fire in 1909. A decade later, the springs were becoming a thing of the past.
Today, a few rock walls and an old gazebo are all that is physically left to tell the long history of the area. The three springs remain, camouflaged by the natural landscape.
Sharp hopes to one day write a book about Drennon Springs. Until then, she’ll tell her stories orally to any who will listen.

• For more information on the festival, contact Corey Beatty at (502) 541-0296.

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