Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley are two of the biggest man made lakes in the United States, Kentucky Lake being the biggest man made lake in the eastern United States. These two lakes have a small strip of land separating them known as Land Between the Lakes, which is a national recreational area. Most people who utilize this lake don’t realize the process in which these lakes were built. These two lakes didn’t just occupy empty holes already in earth where they are located, it took years to develop and create these man made masterpieces. Towns were relocated, forests were logged, and ecosystems were flooded, so that these lakes and recreational area could become what they are today.
The initial idea for Kentucky Lake was brought to attention in 1937 when a great flood hit western Kentucky and caused many communities to relocate temporarily until the floodwaters receded. The very next year, the TVA told the people living on the banks of the Tennessee River in western Kentucky that they would have to find a new home permanently. After the TVA successfully cleared the area along the banks of the Tennessee River, they had to construct a dam so that the lake could be formed. The dam was started in 1938 and was finished by 1944. The Kentucky Dam is located in Gilbertsville, which was the best area to construct the dam geologically. The dam started holding back the waters from the Tennessee River and formed Kentucky Lake, which stands almost 50 feet higher than the river did before.
When the Lake was created during World War II, many towns, farms, roads and railways had to be relocated. The biggest comm
unity affected by the relocation was Birmingham. Birmingham was located in Marshall County and was, at the time, bigger than the county seat of Benton. In 1874, according to Collins History of Kentucky, Birmingham had a population of 322 and Benton only had 158. By 1929, close to 600 people lived in Birmingham. The founders of Birmingham had big dreams for the town because it was located between two rivers. They hoped that it would have a thriving iron industry and become the next Birmingham, England. According to the editors of
http://www.kentuckylake.com/history/kylake/oldbirmingham.shtml “In 1894, there were 5 churches (Birmingham Methodist Church is pictured to the right), 2 schools, 2 hotels, 4 dry goods and general store, 3 grocers, 1 drug store, 2 shops, 2 wagon and blacksmith shops. In the 1920 and 30’s they shipped chickens, rabbits and hickory nuts to northern cities. Mussels were harvested and the shells sent to a button factory in Metropolis, Illinois.”
The main source of entertainment in Birmingham was watching the local baseball team play. They were the very first baseball team in Marshall County and won the local pennant repeatedly over several years. Unfortunately, the TVA eventually came and told the people of Birmingham to relocate and leave their potentially successful community. The people who are still alive today that lived in Birmingham will more than likely tell you that it was the best place in the world to live according to the editors of www.kentuckylake.com . When the waters of Kentucky Lake are low, you can still see the remains of roads and foundations under the waters of Birmingham Point.
Roads and railways were also greatly affected by the flooding of Birmingham and surrounding areas. According to the editors of http://www.explorekentuckylake.com/lakesarea/history/kydam.htm “Roads that were affected include US 62, US 68, US 79, Kentucky 58, Kentucky 80, Kentucky 94, and several others. Railroads to be relocated include th
e Illinois Central (now Paducah & Louisville Railroad) and the now-abandoned Louisville & Nashville. The currents of Kentucky Lake have now wiped out most of the remnants of roads and foundations, but you can see an old railroad line in this photograph at right from space courtesy of the US Geological Survey taken in late 1998.” The picture to the leftis the geological survey from 1998 showing that parts of the old Louisville and Nashville Railroad can still be seen from space. The existing line has now been abandoned. Courtesy of the US Geological Survey, the picture to the right is what is left of an old bridge on US 79. This bridge is over 70 years old and hasn’t been used in over 50 years. This photo is from the editors of http://www.explorekentuckylake.com/lakesarea/history/kydam.htm
Lake Barkley is the smaller of the two lakes and was also man made by the way of a dam. The dam was created for two main reasons including flood control and hydroelectric power. Eddyville and Kuttawa were two towns that were often flooded by the river and once the United State Army Corps of Engineers decided that a series of small locks and dams up and down the river weren’t enough, they began the construction of the Barkley Dam in 1959. Just like what happened when they formed Kentucky Lake, the creation of Lake Barkley caused many towns, churches, railways and roads to relocate. The two biggest communities that were relocated were Eddyville and Kuttawa with a combined population of 3500 people. Because Lake Barkley is quite younger than Kentucky Lake, during the winter pool when the lake is five feet lower, you can still see old streets, foundations and sidewalks. Some of the roads that had to be re-routed included, US 62, US 68, Kentucky 80, and Kentucky 93. The Illinois Central Railroad also had to be relocated and, just like in Kentucky Lake, you can still see pieces of that railroad from space.
Eddyville was the biggest town that the creation of Lake Barkley affected. (Pictured in the right center) After the completion of the Kentucky Dam, the people of Eddyville started to hear rumors about another dam close to them. In the mid 1950’s the rumors were confirmed when the United State Army Corps of Engineers began surveying land around Eddyville. The people of Eddyville were devastated and the relocation caused a lot of anger and distraught. Then, a man by the name of Lee S. Jones came into the picture and practically saved the day. He was a quite wealthy tax lawyer who had been buying farmland in the Fairview community, which is now the site of the relocated Eddyville. He went to the Eddyville city council and told them that he would offer each resident who owned soon to be flooded land of the Eddyville and Kuttawa communities would receive a free plot of land in the new Eddyville. So, according to http://www.explorekentuckylake.com/lyon/history/exodus.htm “Eddyville residents accepted his offer and on August 13, 1959, the official plat for the new town was filed with the county court clerk. The plat included 254 residential lots, 46 business lots, 28 acres for construction of a school and campus, city park, courthouse, health office, water works, and location of streets…The first house to be built in the new town was the home of Mr. and Mrs. J. I. Moore. The first business to be built was the Kentucky Utilities office.” Once everyone got settled in, Eddyville basically returned to normal living, just in a different location. During the time of the re-construction of Eddyville, people began to come from all around. Eddyville was a hot spot for boating and fishing so tourism began to grow, or so they thought. The editors of http://www.explorekentuckylake.com/lyon/history/exodus.htm state that, “The influx of tourist did not happen as rapidly as most people had envisioned. Although campgrounds and marinas were springing up around the lake, the city was still struggling. December 1988 brought the ground breaking for the West Kentucky Outlet Mall. Three brothers, Bob, Darrell and Ben Jent purchased a tract of land in the city limits of Eddyville and started construction of a mall, which opened the following fall with ten stores. Within a short time the mall could boast a total of nearly 50 stores. The opening of the mall brought a surge of progress to Eddyville, all types of businesses began to move into the city. For the first time in history, people could choose their favorite restaurant, motel, clothing store or other places to shop without leaving town. [It has been said] the mall did more for the progress of Eddyville than any other endeavor since the establishment of the town in 1799. The town was listed as the second fastest growing area in Kentucky in 1997 by tourism.” It almost seems like Eddyville is more thankful for the relocation then mad. They have seemed to do nothing but grow and expand since the relocation and it was all made possible by one generous man named Lee S. Jones.
The strip of land that is in between Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley is a national recreational area known as Land Between the Lakes. After the creation of the two lakes, the TVA realized they had quite a unique piece of land they could do something with. This area today is used for outdoor activities like, ATVriding, hiking, camping, hunting during certain times of the year, and horse back riding. The largest town that was affected when the TVA decided to use the land was the town of Golden Pond. According to the editors of http://www.explorekentuckylake.com/lakesarea/history/LBL.htm “Golden Pond, which in 1960 had about 200 residents. Golden Pond was a thriving community located on US 68 in the middle of Land Between the Lakes. The town was abolished officially in 1969 and people were moved away. Now, all that remains of Golden Pond is a couple of roads in Land Between the Lakes”. Golden Pond was best known, not for being located between the rivers, but for moonshining. The moonshining business that went on there was almost completely gone by the timethe TVA got into the picture, but the final leg of the moonshining industry there was completely abolished when the TVA completely closed the town and turned it into what it is today. The only thing left the town today is a plaque marking the location of this once thriving town. Because Land Between the Lakes is so young, 42 years since the shut down of Golden Pond, there aren’t very many large historic events that have happened at Land Between the Lakes. I know from experience that Land Between the Lakes is a great family fun hotspot and I have visited numerous times to go ATV riding and fishing.
During my interview with an avid user of the lakes and LBL, I asked Ethan White several question about his knowledge of the history of the area. Paraphrasing the exact words he used, he knew that there had to of been some type of relocation for towns and roads because, he said, “these lakes are humungous, a couple of the biggest lakes on this side of the Mississippi River”. After I informed him of the lives that were affected and the procedures that were put into place in order to build these dams and form these lakes, he said “I know that a lot of lives were affected, but I think the TVA and US Army Corps of Engineers did the right thing by damming up the river to form the lakes. No only did it stop all the floods that happened back then, but it provided jobs for people and it still today provides electricity that comes from the dams hydroelectricity plant”. He also added that the lakes provide some excellent fishing and he loves taking his family there for weekend trips and family fun. Before I concluded this interview, I asked him one last question. I asked Mr. White if he would continue to support the lakes and Land Between the Lakes now that he knows this information. He simply said, “I understand that people had to be relocated and so did communities, but these lakes were built for the better and I will defiantly continue to support them. Our family has made some good memories here and I believe that thousands of other visitors of the lakes made life long memories too”.
In conclusion, these two lakes are known nation wide for family fun and somewhat natural beauty. The small fact of the matter is that the history of how towns like Eddyville, Birmingham, and Golden Pond were completely demolished and how Birmingham was completely erased from the map, are just looked over and not really thought about. The truth is, these facts of history should be better known, not so that people will feel bad about supporting a place that caused people to relocate and restart their lives, but so that visitors realize what they are really floating on top of. People don’t truly understand a place unless they know the whole history about that place and, well the biggest part of the history of these lakes was the making of them and how they came to be what they are today. There is history everywhere around and under Lake Barkley, Kentucky Lake and Land Between the Lakes. There are old schoolhouses, cemeteries, an old windmill and water tower, old roads and railroads. Everywhere you go you find pieces of history. These lakes are real life treasure fields and all you need the map that can be drawn for the historic records of the old towns that once sat on the very bottom of these lakes. More people need to realize and appreciate that when they are floating on Kentucky Lake or Lake Barkley or riding on Land Between the Lakes that its not just old farmland they are on, but true pieces of the past.
Collins History of Kentucky
US Geological Survey