Kentucky is a state rich in history, culture, and natural beauty. But it also has a darker side, one that is hidden from most people’s eyes. Among the rolling hills and lush forests of Kentucky, there are several abandoned towns that once thrived with life and activity, but now lie silent and forgotten. One of these towns is Blue Heron, a former coal mining community that was abandoned in the 1960s.
The Rise and Fall of Blue Heron
Blue Heron, Kentucky, is located in McCreary County, near the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area. It was founded in the early 20th century as part of the Stearns Coal and Lumber Company’s operations. The town was named after the Blue Heron coal mine, which was known for its rich coal deposits.
Blue Heron was a company town, meaning that the residents worked for and depended on the Stearns Coal and Lumber Company for their livelihoods. The company provided housing, utilities, medical care, education, and entertainment for the workers and their families. The town had a school, a church, a post office, a commissary, a theater, a baseball field, and a tipple, where the coal was processed and loaded onto trains.
At its peak, Blue Heron had about 300 residents, most of whom were immigrants from Eastern Europe, who came to America in search of a better life. The town was a close-knit community, where people shared their joys and sorrows, and celebrated their traditions and festivals. The town was also known for its music, especially the bluegrass genre, which was influenced by the Appalachian folk music of the region.
However, life in Blue Heron was not easy. The coal mining work was dangerous and exhausting, and the workers faced many hazards, such as cave-ins, explosions, fires, and black lung disease. The workers also had to deal with low wages, long hours, and harsh conditions. The company had a strict control over the town, and the workers had little say in their affairs. The company also deducted the cost of living expenses from the workers’ paychecks, leaving them with little or no savings.
The decline of Blue Heron began in the 1950s, when the demand for coal decreased due to the rise of alternative energy sources, such as natural gas and oil. The Stearns Coal and Lumber Company started to lose money, and decided to close down some of its mines, including the Blue Heron mine. The last train left Blue Heron in 1962, and the town was soon abandoned by its residents, who moved to other places in search of new opportunities.
The Legacy of Blue Heron
After the town was abandoned, nature reclaimed the land, and the buildings and structures deteriorated and collapsed. The town became a ghost town, a relic of a bygone era. However, the town was not completely forgotten. In 1987, the National Park Service acquired the land and decided to preserve and restore the town as a historical site. The park service rebuilt some of the buildings and structures, using the original materials and designs, and added interpretive signs and exhibits to tell the story of the town and its people. The park service also created a self-guided tour, where visitors can walk along the old railroad tracks and see the remains of the town.
Today, Blue Heron is a popular attraction for tourists, historians, and adventurers, who want to learn more about the history and culture of Kentucky’s coal mining industry and its impact on the environment and society. Blue Heron is also a place of nostalgia and memory, where the former residents and their descendants can revisit their past and reconnect with their roots. Blue Heron is a place that reminds us of the resilience and spirit of the people who lived and worked there, and the legacy they left behind.
Kentucky is home to an abandoned town most people don’t know about, but should. Blue Heron is a town that tells a fascinating and important story of Kentucky’s coal mining history, and the people who shaped it. Blue Heron is a town that deserves to be seen and appreciated, not only for its historical value, but also for its cultural and emotional significance. Blue Heron is a town that is worth visiting, and remembering.