Kentucky was officially declared the 15th state to join the United States on June 1, 1792. In the 2010 census, Kentucky was determined to have an approximate population of 4.3 million. This state is a leading producer of coal, and the US military bases Fort Knox and Fort Campbell. Due to its significant period in history, several towns have been depopulated or migrated.
There are approximately 41 ghost towns in Kentucky. Nine of these ghost towns exist in Harlan County. They have completely disappeared now as the coal industry bottomed out. They are Bear Wallow, Dog Trot, Hell for Certain, Oz, Pee Vee, Slick Lizard, Tin Can Alley, Upper Squabble, and Uz.
Kentucky is known for its coal mines, horse racing, and bourbons. Due to its economic activities, its ghost towns have fascinating histories.
Barthell was the first of 18 mining camps to start operations in the Big South Fork of Kentucky. During the late 1880s and into the early 1900s, coal deposits were discovered and explored for production purposes. In 1901, the Stearns Coal and Lumber Company invested in the area’s mineral rights after being persuaded by the landowner L.E. Bryant and his associate John Toomey. By 1902, coal mining was in progress at Mine No.1, and Barthell had been established.
In 1903, the Kentucky and Tennessee Railroad completed a railway from Stearns to Barthell. The railway made transporting the mined coal easier and aided in the further success of the town. By the end of 1906, Barthell began production in Mine No. 2.
The Stearns Coal and Lumber Company decided to purchase the land from Bryant in the mid-1920s. Barthell’s coal mines were the most productive in the area and continued to produce coal and offer steady employment throughout the Great Depression. As World War I began, coal was needed even more than before. Barthell mines were working overtime to meet the demand, and a second railway was established to increase freight loads.
In 1943, a fire near Mine No. 1 destroyed the mining tipple, a structure used to load and extract the coal from the mines into railroad cars. Even with the record-breaking success of No. 1, the decision was made not to rebuild the tipple and close the mine. Mine No. 2 was still operational; however, with the closure of the first mine, coal from No. 2 was being sent to a tipple at the Blue Heron Mining complex.
The Stearns Coal and Lumber Company began dismantling the Barthell mining camp in 1952. By 1961, the area was abandoned. Twenty-three years later, in 1984, the former mining camp was purchased by the Kroger family to restore the community to its previous glory days.
Today, tours of the mining town are available, showcasing the original structures of the local store, doctors’ office, and school. For those interested, there are even miners’ homes that can be rented by the night for guests and tourists wanting to stay in the ghost town.
Creelsboro was founded in the early 1800s. Although it had a population of 50, this town was considered one of the main places of commerce in the 1840s. It is located southwest of Jamestown, approximately 10 miles away.
Due to its proximity to the Cumberland River, Nashville and Burnside steamboat boaters conducted their exchanges in Creelsboro. The town had a post office, a church, a school, a hospital, a hotel, and two banks.
Its decline began with the creation of highways connecting cities. The steamboats became outdated and impractical, vanishing the only economic activity that kept the town afloat. The town was declared a ghost town, although some small communities still inhabit it. These people dedicate themselves mainly to agriculture.
If you plan to visit Creelsboro, its most prominent attraction is a natural arch or bridge made of stone. Although there are no places to sleep in the town, you can undoubtedly find hotels near the area.
The city was a ferry line for the Green River. It is known by other names, such as Stom’s Landing, but in 1852, a postal service was opened under the name of Paradise.
The town was located northwest of Greenville, 10.5 miles away. In 1959 a coal mine was built where the city used to be. Tennessee Valley Authority cleared out the town in 1967 because of health concerns about the impact of a coal plant on the city’s residents.
At present, the only thing that remains of this town is a cemetery on top of a hill, as the TVA bought the city and, after evacuating it, destroyed it to continue making coal plants.
Blandville was founded in 1842 and is located in Ballard County. It was home to the county’s first court until it burned down in 1882. In the 2010 census, it had 90 inhabitants, and the only attraction to visit is the remains of the court.
Dry Fork, Kentucky
Dry Fork is located 7.1 miles away from Fountain Rock. The town engaged in logging, agriculture, and mining. Dry Fork was supported by agriculture carried out by women and children, while men worked as loggers and miners.
The town boomed in the late 1800s. It was home to more than 500 people at its peak, although it is currently unpopulated. Dry Fork is now an open reserve for hiking and field trips only.
Highland Park used to be a community created for the employees of the L&N Railroad company. Founded in 1890, and in just ten years, it already had more than 320 families. During the first World War, houses were built to train the soldiers who would go to war. The town became part of the city of Louisville in 1922, causing expenses to increase and several working families to migrate to other towns.
However, during World War II, the town flourished again, creating several manufacturing companies, which led to an increase in its population of approximately seven thousand people.
In 1947, Louisville moved their airport into the areas near Highland Park, and in 1988 they bought and demolished the homes for the airport expansion. There are no remains of what the town was, as the 100-year history of Highland Park was destroyed with the growth of Louisville.
Bells Mines was a town of English and German farmers and miners founded in the early 1800s.
It is located 3.4 miles northwest of Sturgis. Coal mines created a booming economy for this town. However, in 1950, Alcoa, an industrial company, bought the city and migrated its inhabitants to Newburgh, Indiana, on the opposite side of the Ohio River.
Currently, due to a long time without inhabitants, wildlife has increased in the town. Therefore, Kentucky established Bells Mines as a historical and cultural site open to all public visits.
Golden Pond is a town that first based its economy on the location’s natural resources, such as gold mining and agriculture. Over time, the city has had several drawbacks. In 1898, a fire destroyed the town, but it was rebuilt immediately. In 1936, a second fire destroyed the city, but it was again rebuilt.
During the Prohibition Era from 1920 to 1933, Golden Pond was known for moonshining, which refers to making illegal drinks not authorized by the American government. The whiskeys that they made were sold in Chicago, St. Louis, and Detroit.
In 1964 the first recreational area called Land Between the Lakes was opened in Golden Pond. Then the federal government took over the space for public use, where different recreational regions were created. The villagers burned the houses before the deal could be finalized, and in 1969 they moved to Calloway County, where they founded a new town called Little Golden Pond.
Currently, all that remains of Golden Pond are some brick scraps. However, the former inhabitants wanted to preserve the history of the town. They founded a planetarium with the past and tributes and memories to keep the city alive.
The state of Kentucky might not have many ghost towns, but the ones it does have are full of stories waiting to be shared. Most of the ghost towns are former mining and farming villages. While some cities were completely deserted and destroyed, others offer a glimpse into the past with city remains, tours, overnight stays, and historical points of interest.