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The History Behind Red Orchard

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By Helen E. McKinney

Red Orchard, also known as Whitaker’s Station, was established a year after the Long Run Massacre in 1782. The Rev. John Whitaker and his son Aquilla thought the site, approximately three quarters of a mile southwest of present-day Shelbyville, was the perfect place to put down roots.

Rev. John Whitaker was born July 2, 1722 near Baltimore, Maryland to Charles and Mary Kemball Whitaker. His place of birth was known as “Whitaker’s Ridge.” This farm belonged to his grandfather, John Whitacre, who came to America from Wales before 1699.

Rev. Whitaker’s parents died within two months of each other in 1739. He became the head of the family at age 19, caring for his four brothers and three sisters. He married Mary McComas in Baltimore around 1739. Selling all Whitaker holdings, he journeyed west with his new wife and his siblings to preach and farm several thousand acres on the Monongahela River across from Fort Duquesne, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1767. It was there that he founded the Village of Whitaker. Today there is a park dedicated to him and several of his relatives are buried there. Whitaker, Pennsylvania still appears on a city map of Pittsburgh in his honor.     

In 1770 Rev. Whitaker decided to take his immediate family to the new frontier of Kentucky, leaving behind his brother James to manage the family holdings in Pennsylvania. The Whitaker family was part of a larger group of settlers that traveled down the Ohio River by flatboat, headed for Sullivan’s Station. From there they struck out for the Salt River region where for a time they cut firewood to be used to fire the kettles at nearby salt works. When their supply of firewood was depleted, the party moved upstream. They eventually traveled up Brashear Creek and on to a smaller branch known as Clear Creek where they established a well-built stockade with an excellent spring about 1782 in what is now Shelby County. 

Whitaker’s Station was noted as “one of the more important places of refuge for the early settlers” (Miller 39).  This may have been due in part to the inhabitants of the fort, as it has been noted that Rev. Whitaker’s wife Mary was well known for her marksmanship with a rifle. She is reputed to have shot an Indian at the fort entrance and would guard the field with rifle in hand while her husband plowed corn.

 The family was forced to take a break from the salt works during the American Revolution. Rev. Whitaker fought in the war, as did two of his brothers: James (1726-1789) and Aaron (1751-1833). Rev. Whitaker and his sons, Abraham, Aquilla and Charles, are believed to have been at Fort Boonesborough and Fort Harrod by 1780, the year Squire Boone completed his Painted Stone Station in Shelby County.  During this same year, Abraham and Aquilla were members of Captain William Harrod’s Company stationed at the Falls of the Ohio. Aquilla Whitaker had become acquainted with Boone when accompanying him and others under the command of General George Rogers Clark on many forays into the Ohio country of the Shawnee.

A Legacy Passed On From Father to Son………

Whitaker’s son Aquilla was born in Baltimore County, Maryland in 1755. He bought 650 acres of land surrounding Whitaker’s Station in 1795 from Sam Shannon. He was a prominent farmer, miller owner and credited with aiding in the establishment of the first school in the region. In 1792 Aquilla laid out the town of Shelbyville along with Sam Shannon and others. He assisted Bland Williams Ballard, Peter Bails and other men in laying out a proposed route to the Beargrass settlements near Louisville. They later selected a second route to Leestown (Frankfort). Today these two routes are known as Midland Trail or US 60.

The site received its present name of Red Orchard when Aquilla planted an apple orchard at Whitaker’s Station. The orchard was so productive that in the fall the ripening fruit cast a red glow on the landscape, thus the name “Red Orchard” stuck in everyone’s mind. It is said there is a family burial plot somewhere on the original tract of Whitaker land where Rev. Whitaker, his wife and other family members are buried.

But for all of his good fortune, Aquilla’s life was still marred by tragedy. In 1807 he stabbed and killed Joseph Simpson in a barroom brawl. He was arrested and thrown into jail with seven guards watching him. He somehow managed to escape with a trusty slave. The pair made their way down Clear Creek, Brashear Creek, and Salt River to the Ohio River. Aquilla finally settled in Vincennes, Indiana, and later took a second wife. He moved to West Florida (Louisiana) where he died in 1812.

Note: There is a tall marble column in Shelbyville’s Grove Hill Cemetery commemorating the Whitaker family. Aquilla Whitaker’s name appears on a list of the original settlers of Painted Stone Station, circa 1780-1781, Shelby County, KY.

Red Orchard Park consists of 131 acres donated to the Shelby County Park’s Department by Clarence Miller. The farm had been in his family’s possession since 1925. For more information on the Red Orchard Park site and to view the master plan, go to www.shelbycountyparks.com and click on the “Parks” link. Shelby County Judge-Executive Rob Rothenburger has suggested several acres in the back of the park as a possible future site for the Long Run Massacre & Floyd’s Defeat.  

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