Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

Things To Do

August 16, 2012

Back when coal was king

Stearns celebrates its mining roots

CROSSVILLE — At the beginning of the 20th century, coal was king, and coal mining was not only the driving force of many local economies in the Appalachian region, but the entire reason some communities existed.

Today, many of the former coal mining sites are closed up and the communities that once sprung up around them are gone without a trace. History buffs and explorers have the chance to get a taste of life in a company town when they visit Stearns, KY.

Stearns, KY, served as headquarters of the Stearns Coal and Lumber Company. Justus Stearns, of Michigan, established his company in 1902, buying 200 square miles of land in Kentucky and Tennessee. He built railroads to access the hardwood forests and rich coal seams. Those railroads took workers to remote areas of the Cumberland Plateau.

Part of the railroad system remains today, and visitors on the Big South Fork Scenic Railway can enjoy a train ride into the Big South Fork River valley.

The train departs from the Stearns Historic District, which includes old company stores, a general store, museum and the depot. A fire swept through several of the buildings in the district in July, and work is under way to clean up and recover from the blaze. Visitors can still enjoy visiting the Stearns General Store, which offers a variety of antiques and collectibles in individual vendor booths, and tempt their sweet tooths at the Kilby Sisters Sweet Shop. The Sweet Shop offers a variety of home made treats, including traditional apple stack cake, to accompany sandwiches or a hot plate lunch.

Local crafts, art work and souvenirs can be found strolling through the historic district just off Hwy. 27 in Kentucky. In the heart of the downtown area is the McCreary County Museum, housed in the old Stearns Coal and Lumber Company headquarters built in 1907. It’s filled with historic documents and photographs that help tell the story of this coal mining town.

The Big South Fork Scenic Railway departs from the depot in Stearns, with trains departing Wednesday through Friday at 11 a.m. EDT. Saturday trains depart at 11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. EDT and the Sunday excursion leaves the station at 12:30 p.m. EDT. The trip takes about three hours and runs rain or shine.

The train trip takes passengers into the Big South Fork National River and Recreation area and offers views of scenic vistas not easily seen otherwise. It stops at the Blue Heron Coal Mining Camp.

The Blue Heron community, about nine miles from Stearns, KY, in the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, has been restored with a collection of oral histories from the miners and the women who lived in the community that flourished from 1937 to 1962, when the mine was no longer profitable.

With their employment gone, the people of the town moved on, leaving their homes behind. In the 1980s, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers rebuilt the town, using metal ghost structures that are the approximate size and at the approximate location of several of the buildings that served the more than 200 residents. From the entrance to the mine, across the coal tipple and down to the company store and church, oral histories have been recorded so that visitors can hear the memories and stories of those who once called this remote community home.

The original coal tipple remains from the mining days. It was a state-of-the-art coal sorting machine in its time. There, coal was inspected and sorted by size and use, from coal dust with little to no commercial value, to stoke, nut, egg and block sizes. The coal was loaded onto coal cars, on display at the tipple, and taken into town on the railroad.

The Stearns company encouraged education by seeing most camp towns had a school, and the company paid for two months of the teacher’s salary while the state picked up the rest of the tab. These little camp schools not only provided education for the children of the workers, but for the residents who lived out in the hills and hollars, regardless of if their parents worked for the company or not.

The church was the center of camp life, and the residents there helped to build the structure that replaced the school house as the meeting place. There wasn’t much entertainment for the residents, and church services and socials provided the majority of social interaction for the men and women of the town.

Not far from Blue Heron is Barthell Coal Camp. Adjacent to Big South Fork, Barthell was the first coal camp of the Stearns Coal and Lumber Company and it has been reconstructed, as well. It is open to the public for tours, dining and lodging. Tours include the coal mine and the camp, and restored structures include the doctor’s office, barber shop, bath house, machine shop, a typical worker’s house, school house and church and the company store.

In addition to the historic displays, Blue Heron also offers hiking trails and, just down the road, scenic overlooks of the Big South Fork river gorge. The Blue Heron Trail is a loop trail following the rim of the Big South Fork gorge and then down into the river past a narrow, rocky stretch at Devil’s Jump. The 6.5 mile hike is rated moderate to difficult.

If you take the train, check with them about the Saturday pass, which allows passengers to ride out on the morning train and explore all day, returning on the afternoon trip.

Other points of interest in the area include numerous hiking trails in both the Big South Fork and the Daniel Boone National Forest. Favorite spots include Buffalo Arch, Eagle Falls, the first commercial oil well, and Lick Creek Falls. Yahoo Falls is the highest waterfall in Kentucky and is accessed by a one-mile trail. Visitors can walk right to the base of the falls and behind it. The trail continues past the waterfall to Yahoo Arch.

Horseback riding is a popular activity, as well, and there are a number of horse camps where riders can lodge their trusty steeds and camp as they explore the many horse trails offered in the Big South Fork and Daniel Boone National Forest.

Text Only
Things To Do
  • City Lites.jpg 'Friday Night Air' features City Lites

    The “Friday Night Air” summer concert series continues Friday at the Spirit Broadband amphitheater in downtown Crossville with the City Lites Band. They are a very popular four-piece band from Crossville that has performed throughout Tennessee and the Southeast for more than three decades. Their lineup features Marty Gibson on guitar and vocals, Flavy Miller on bass and vocals, Glenn Holverson on saxophones and Wade England on drums. The song list includes a wide variety of musical styles from swing, country, '50’s and '60’s, rock and more. Something for everyone to enjoy! The performance is free to the public and begins at 6 p.m. and is sponsored by the Historic Palace Theatre and the city of Crossville.

    July 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • Gypsy, Front Page News open this weekend

    They're gearing up for a very exciting week both at the Cumberland County Playhouse and at the Rhea County Courthouse in Dayton!

    July 17, 2014

  • LexVinDance260_2.jpg Vintage Dance Society opens PAART season

    The Performing Arts Alliance of Rural Tennessee (PAART) is pleased to announce the first event in it’s 2014-15 season: the Lexington Vintage Dance Society will perform "Downton Abbey Era: The Titanic to the Jazz Age" in period costumes. This performance will take place Oct. 3 at 7 p.m. at the Palace Theatre in Crossville.

    July 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • gypsy hombres.jpg Gypsy Hombres take stage Sunday

    For years, there has been a persistent legend in Nashville about a crazy gypsy ‘Fiddler on the Roof” who dances as he plays the violin on the roof of his Victorian house. Cumberland County Playhouse will prove the legend is 100 percent true as The Gypsy Hombres take the stage Sunday.

    July 10, 2014 1 Photo

  • 'Gypsy' opens July 18 at CCP

    Beginning July 18, everything’s coming up roses as the Playhouse brings one of the greatest American musicals of all time to life… “Gypsy”! From the unforgettable first notes of its legendary overture to the final white hot spotlight, “Gypsy” is considered by many to be “the best musical ever,” as it tells the story of the archetypal stage mother, Rose, and her daughters, June and Louise.

    July 10, 2014

  • wildman.jpg ‘Wild Man’ takes Palace stage Aug. 23

    Look out, Crossville, here comes the coolest guy in town and his name is Rafael R. Soriano, also known by fans everywhere as “Wild Man,” but he calls himself “Wild Man Billy Ralph!”

    July 10, 2014 1 Photo

  • KOTR Steven Whitson Picture.jpg 'An Evening with Steven Whitson' to benefit Kids on the Rise

    ds on the Rise will be hosting a fund-raising concert Aug. 2 at the Palace Theatre. The local non-profit agency will present An Evening with Steven Whitson.

    July 2, 2014 2 Photos

  • Fair Park-big band p8.jpg Big Band Sound to entertain at Fair Park dance

    The famous local “Big Band Sound” will be playing for your listening and dancing enjoyment on Saturday, July 12, 7-10 p.m. The 20-piece band will be performing at the Fair Park Senior Center which is located at 1433 Livingston Rd., across from the fairgrounds. No matter your budget you can enjoy this one night with a donation, which will go to the band. Light snacks will be available. Come and enjoy yourself with the music you love!

    July 2, 2014 1 Photo

  • ACPL offers free movies

    A different movie is shown every Tuesday in the Cumberland Meeting Room at the Art Circle Library at 2 p.m. for free. All are welcome. For more information, call Charlie at 484‐6790, ext. 223. See the featured films below.

    July 2, 2014

  • York 1.jpg Palace to screen York documentary July 25

    On Friday night, July 25, at 6 p.m., the city of Crossville will host a 100th anniversary remembrance of World War I with a screening of a new documentary about the most celebrated hero of the war, Tennessee’s own Sergeant Alvin C. York.

    June 26, 2014 1 Photo

AP and the Gulf Oil Spill
AP Video
Disabled Veterans Memorial Nearing Completion Last Mass Lynching in U.S. Remains Unsolved Home-sharing Programs Help Seniors Clinton: "AIDS-Free Generation Within Our Reach" Ex-NYC Mayor: US Should Allow Flights to Israel Judge Ponders Overturning Colo. Gay Marriage Ban Airlines Halt Travel to Israel Amid Violence NYPD Chief Calls for 'use of Force' Retraining VA Nominee McDonald Goes Before Congress Bush: Don't Worry, Sugarland Isn't Breaking Up US Official: Most Migrant Children to Be Removed Police Probing Brooklyn Bridge Flag Switch CDC Head Concerned About a Post-antibiotic Era Raw: First Lady Says `Drink Up' More Water Courts Conflicted Over Healthcare Law Holder Urges Bipartisanship on Immigration Raw: Truck, Train Crash Leads to Fireball US Airlines Cancel Israel Flights Obama Signs Workforce Training Law Crash Victims' Remains Reach Ukraine-held City
Hyperlocal Search
Premier Guide
Find a business

Walking Fingers
Maps, Menus, Store hours, Coupons, and more...
Premier Guide