Although the exact date is lost in time and legend, it must have been just before the turn of the nineteenth century that Harrod’s Creek, named for Colonel James Harrod, was laid out by the Transylvania Company and the old Harrod’s Tavern was built on this picturesque site. Its first proprietor was one Captain Cavendar, who, realizing the need for a way station for weary river travelers, offered grog, conversation and overnight lodging (in lean-tos nestled against the side of the building) to the procession of boatmen, adventurers and settlers who traveled this way.
This jutting point of land where the Indiana current swings across stream and pushes for awhile against the Kentucky shore was a natural, as well as a wise stopping place for river traffic some 175 years ago, since wary river captains were loath to take the falls of the Ohio in darkness. Cargo unloaded here was carted over the old Harrods Creek Road to Middletown, Jeffersontown and the “settlement” of Louisville. Cargo going the other way was loaded here to find its way downstream or to points north via the ferry (rigged by the enterprising Captain Cavendar) across the river to Utica.
Drifting and poling gave way to steam, and from the vantage point of old Harrod’s Tavern was seen the first steamboat, Robert Fulton’s “New Orleans”, which came down the river in 1811. The stone walls, which still stand today, and the hand hewn girders of the old place rang with the laughter and talk of river faring men whose vessels were moored here, awaiting weather, high water or daylight.
Antebellum Louisville had not quite cemented its superiority over its various Falls rivals in the 1830’s. The Portland Canal- which would eventually mean longterm prosperity-was newly opened in 1832, its significance still problematical. Other struggling towns-upriver and across the Ohio-harbored visions of growth, each attracting new settlers and risk takers.
Harrods Creek was such a town. The village had been laid out earlier in the century at the mouth of the creek. Overland travelers to Louisville could expect an entire day to journal from this point-and vice versa-making a stop at Harrods Creek a necessity. Moreover, Utica Indiana-directly across the Ohio- demanded a link to the Kentucky Shore.
A ferry between Utica and Harrods Creek in the 1830’s drew the first developers of the Captain’s Quarters site. The Lentz family, natives of Germany, had immigrated to Utica and Clark County from Pennsylvania shortly after the turn of the century, drawn to opportunities and quickly establishing themselves as successful millers and farmers. By operating the ferry between the two towns, the Lentzes secured an advantage over other mills.
The Lentz family began assembling land for development below the mouth of Harrods Creek in the early 1840’s, a natural progression from farmer to miller and ferry operator. The land-amounting to about 100 acres-was unimproved before the Lentz’s acquisition, coming out of one of the country’s original surveys. The Lentzes-using the stone and millwork construction popular in the 1840’s, erected at least one building to house a tavern as well as other enterprises, such as a storehouse, docks and the like.
The Lentz Family was in the right place and the right time. While Harrods Creek obviously never challenged the regions most prominent cities and towns, the Lentz’s businesses managed to prosper on Harrods Creek for most of the 19th century. Mary Lentz Cavender ended 50 years of family ownership when she sold the place as a widow in 1890.
Though much-altered, the Lentz Tavern is a graphic reminder of early settlement in Jefferson County and the Falls region. Few local examples of riverside architecture survive in any form from before 1850 providing a unique window on life before trains and rapid industrialization.
Well, this is some part of the story… and we hope you’ve found it interesting. The captain’s Quarters is dedicated to the proposition that camaraderie, warmth and hospitality live today within these old (and new) walls as surely as it did when the sign outside read “Harrods Tavern”.