Historic Designation May Protect Coal Camp

[imgbelt img=lynchmarker320.jpg]Coal companies and environmentalists have vied for Kentucky’s highest
mountain. Now a national organization shines a light on what’s at stake.


Mining USA

Benham, KY, another coal camp on Black Mountain, was a company town of International Harvester. This photo, from the 1920s, shows the ovens used there for smelting coal into coke.

The success of the program offers hope to Lynch and Benham residents that mining will not threaten Black Mountain, their towns’ water supply, or the growth of tourism in the area. “I have no problems with mining,” said Lynch Mayor Ronnie Hampton. “I mined for 38 years and was a mine inspector for 30. It’s in my blood. But mountaintop removal next to a community is just not a good fit. It’s not compatible.”

The preservation of the water supply, though, “is an ongoing concern,” said Roy Silver, a member of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, the organization that nominated Black Mountain for the National Trust’s list.

Loaves and Fishes

The town of Lynch was created by U.S. Steel after World War I. Until WW II, it was the nation’s largest company town.

“We’ve got water coming off the mountainside that goes down into Looney Creek,” said Hampton. “We’ve got a hundred million gallon water system that U.S. Steel built to sustain this town. Mountaintop removal and those types of things are threatening that system.”

Richard Moe, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, wrote that the goal of the list is not solely for the conservation of historic sites but “also about neighborhoods and communities that contribute to the quality of life in America and the people who work hard to preserve them.”

Once home to 10,000, Lynch now claims only 900 residents. The decline of the coal industry has contributed to the town’s population loss.  Now, the preservation of Black Mountain is seen as a way to revitalize the community through further development of regional tourism – a process the communities have already begun.