Kentucky is a state rich in history and natural beauty, but it also has a darker side. Among its rolling hills and scenic landscapes, there are many abandoned towns that have been forgotten by time and progress.
Some of these ghost towns are well-known, such as the infamous Waverly Hills Sanatorium or the Old Taylor Distillery, but others are more obscure and hidden from the public eye. One such town is Barthell, a former coal mining community that was once thriving and prosperous, but now lies in ruins and decay.
The Rise and Fall of Barthell
Barthell was established in 1902 by the Stearns Coal and Lumber Company, which operated several mines and logging camps in McCreary County. The town was named after Joseph Barthell, the first resident engineer and superintendent of the company. Barthell quickly grew into a bustling town, with a population of over 500 people at its peak.
The town had a post office, a school, a church, a hotel, a company store, a barber shop, a doctor’s office, and a railroad station. The residents lived in company-owned houses, which were rented for a monthly fee. The town also had a baseball team, a brass band, and a theater group, which provided entertainment and recreation for the workers and their families.
The town’s prosperity, however, was dependent on the coal industry, which was subject to fluctuations and challenges. In 1925, a fire broke out in one of the mines, killing two miners and injuring several others. The fire also damaged the mine’s equipment and infrastructure, forcing the company to close it down. The town’s population began to decline, as many workers moved to other mines or towns.
The Great Depression of the 1930s also hit the coal industry hard, reducing the demand and price of coal. The Stearns Coal and Lumber Company struggled to stay afloat, and eventually sold its assets to the Blue Diamond Coal Company in 1937.
The Blue Diamond Coal Company continued to operate the remaining mines in Barthell, but with less success and efficiency. The town’s population dwindled further, as more people left in search of better opportunities. The town’s facilities and services also deteriorated, as the company cut costs and neglected maintenance.
The final blow came in 1952, when a flood destroyed the railroad bridge that connected Barthell to the outside world. The town was effectively isolated, and the company decided to abandon it. The last residents left in 1961, leaving behind their homes and belongings.
The Ghost Town Today
Barthell remained abandoned and forgotten for over two decades, until 1984, when the Koger family bought the land and decided to restore the town as a historic attraction.
The family renovated some of the buildings, such as the hotel, the company store, and the doctor’s office, and turned them into overnight accommodations for visitors. They also built a museum, a gift shop, and a replica of the railroad station. The town was reopened to the public in 1989, as the Barthell Coal Mining Camp.
Today, Barthell is one of the few remaining coal mining camps in Kentucky that has been preserved and opened for tourism. Visitors can experience the history and culture of the town, as well as enjoy the natural beauty of the surrounding area.
The town offers guided tours, hiking trails, horseback riding, fishing, and camping. The town also hosts special events, such as reenactments, festivals, and concerts. Barthell is a unique and fascinating place that offers a glimpse into the past and a chance to learn about the lives and struggles of the coal miners and their families.
Kentucky is home to many abandoned towns that have been left to the mercy of nature and time. Some of these towns are well-known and popular, while others are obscure and hidden. Barthell is one of the latter, a former coal mining town that was once prosperous and lively, but now lies in ruins and decay. However, thanks to the efforts of the Koger family, the town has been revived and restored as a historic attraction that showcases the history and culture of the coal mining era. Barthell is a ghost town that most people don’t know about, but it is definitely worth a visit for anyone who is interested in Kentucky’s heritage and history.