Move over Mammoth Cave, because one of Hancock County’s main tourist spots, Jeffreys Cliffs, is receiving attention from a much larger audience now. The site is now listed in National Geographic’s new publication: Great Outdoors U.S.A. This, along with it being registered on Google Maps, which has been visited by well over 300,000 people, is a sign that tourists will be adding the Hawesville location to their list of must-sees while visiting Kentucky.
Since the Cliffs re-opened in June 2020, with better access and accommodations made possible by many volunteers in the County, thousands have traveled to visit, especially in spring, summer and fall months. Locals, Kentuckians and people from all around have been enjoying this hidden gem. Homeschool, public & private school groups, individuals and families are mesmerized by the beauty of these 100+ high sandstone cliffs, well-marked trails and the views that one can be privy to after hiking the 3.4 mile out-and-back trail to the top. In addition, Morgan’s Cave, possibly the largest in KY, can be visited from the lower trails.
President of the Hancock County Heritage Commission Steve Canepari, organized projects for greater accessibility to the Cliffs and worked alongside many volunteers in the community to see those to fruition. After extensive research, he has also become somewhat of an expert on the history. Of the new book published by National Geographic, Canepari said, “I don’t know how they found it. I was contacted by one of their editors, Katie Dance. She said they were doing the book that took each individual state and were looking for places that most people may not necessarily know about.
She was interested and had seen some photos and wanted me to send her some more photos. They picked out an aerial photograph of the stairs we built, which Donn Wimmer had went up there to take. That was published August 29th, and it has a section on KY and a write-up about Jeffreys Cliffs.”
Recently there has also been an article published by the Western Kentucky Historical and Genealogical Society about Jeffreys Cliffs, Canepari added, that was compiled by Jerry Long. “He compiled a lot of historical anecdotes and historical pieces, many of them came from the Hancock Clarion, and some other sources,” he said. “It started out with a copy of the deed that Jeffreys and his wife entered into to buy the Cliffs back in 1873. Then he talks about where the Cliffs are – out of an 1894 article that talks about a natural curiosity out of the Hartford Herald newspaper in Hartford, KY. There’s a 1901 article from the Hancock Clarion talking about a telegram received here that the widow of the late Dr. John Jeffreys had passed away. She passed away in 1901, in Louisville. We found a copy of their will, which was probated in Jefferson County court, dated 1889.
John Jeffreys passed away in 1889, we found out that information and as we went along, we found out that he was really more of a pharmacist than a doctor. He dealt in medicines. In the 1860 Census, he listed himself as a pharmacist and he had what was the equivalent of a pharmacy in Cannelton, on 2nd and Washington Street. I happen to know from reading deeds in Perry County that in 1874, he traded that piece of property he had in Cannelton for those Cliffs to J.D. Pruitt, who was one of the in-laws of the Sterett’s in Skillman Bottoms (originally called Sterett Bottoms for many years).”
The Cliffs were actually first owned by the Steretts. Captain John Sterett, Sr. was probably one of the very first to settle in Hancock County. Canepari said he’s been told that Sterett acquired the site by land grant, but that the subject needs to be researched further. “He had the title Captain, a military title,” he said. “Military people were given awards in land in the West. He could’ve been a boat captain, but he could also have been a Revolutionary War Veteran.
In a 1954 Messenger Inquirer article, it talks about a new park opened up to the public near Jeffreys Cliffs. This talks about P.W. Finley and how they turned about 75 acres of their farm into a park which included Morgan’s Cave. He built a road up to there. He built a bridge and a lake and stocked it with fish. That road is still there, we’ve been using it as a trail. We had to redo where the bridge was. The lake actually silted in; it’s no longer there. Each Sunday, members of the Fireside Frolick Barn Dance group furnished free entertainment up there, and provided refreshments.
A January 1977 article in the Messenger Inquirer reads: ‘Does anybody have a spare $28,000?’. It talks about the land of Jeffreys Cliffs, just the cliffs, as being offered for sale for $28K and the sale is being handled by Real Estate broker Charles King, and he says that, ‘I’m pretty sure I’ve got it sold. There are 5 people who are interested, including one fellow from Anchorage, Alaska (Jerry Harris).’ He went on to say that the property, which is only a section of property in Hancock County known as Jeffreys Cliffs, has been in the Newman family for as long as he can remember, and that they’d tried to get the state to buy the land and it wasn’t successful, that it was unique and only good for educational and recreation purposes and that the cost to develop it into anything else would be prohibited because of that.”
The plaque unveiling in honor of the Harris family, who donated Jeffreys Cliffs to Hancock County, was held on Labor Day 2021. When Jerry Harris acquired Jeffreys Cliffs in the 1970s, he received historical statutes for them and never restricted access to the public. Harris passed away in 2012. His daughters honored his wishes, and donated the Cliffs to the County. Harris’s daughters and grandchildren currently reside in Alaska.
A Special Tour of Jeffreys Cliffs is happening Thursday, October 26th, from 9 a.m.-3 p.m., open to everyone, and also providing ATV rides for anyone unable to make the hike themselves.
If you haven’t visited the Cliffs yet, it is a 230-acre nature preserve located at 715 Willamette Road, in Hawesville, and is a delightful hiking experience any time of year, but especially in the fall. Directions from Hawesville are: Take US 60 East 4 miles to Hwy 1406, drive North on 1406 toward the Domtar mill and the parking lot area is one half mile on the right.
The 2023 Jeffreys Cliffs Conservation & Recreation Area Calendar is: Open Friday, Sat., Sun., & Mon., Year-Round, from Sunrise to Sunset. The area is Closed on Tue., Wed. & Thurs., with the exception of 2023 Holidays & Breaks, including the entire month of April (for Spring Breaks in KY & IN), Independence Day (Tuesday, July 4th), the entire month of October (Fall Breaks in KY & IN), Thanksgiving Week (Mon., Nov. 20-Mon., Nov. 27), and Christmas Break (Mon., Dec. 18-Mon., Jan 1, 2024).
For more information, please call 270-927-9794 and leave a message with your inquiries, or email email@example.com. You can also go to the Jeffreys Cliffs Conservation & Recreation Area Facebook Page and send your questions via FB Messenger.
By Jennifer Wimmer