McCreary Co., KY





Gary B. Speck




ALSO known as Mine 18, Blue Heron was a Stearns Coal & Lumber Company-owned coal mining camp supported by Mine 18.  It is located on SH 742, nine miles southwest of Stearns at the west end of Mine 18 Road, in the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area.


It was in operation from 1937 through December 1962.  At its peak it employed 300 miners, and was carved into the side of a mountain overlooking the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River.  The camp consisted of wooden homes, a store, church and school.  The buildings have been restored and the site is operated as a concession in the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area.


When Blue Heron was abandoned in 1962, some structures were removed and others were left to the elements, which rapidly took their toll.  In the 1980s, the coal camp was rebuilt as an outdoor museum to show what the town looked like at its prime.  The rebuilt structures are not recreations of the original buildings, but open shells called "ghost structures," which were built where the originals once stood.  They were also built as close as possible to the originals in size and orientation.  Inside each of these coverings, an aspect of life in the community is showcased.  The National Park Service (NPS) has installed audio programs along with the static displays, creating a true museum to old King Coal. 


Some of the amenities of this isolated coal mining camp included: 

  • RAILROAD DEPOT – (Now an exhibit, this is the best starting point according to the NPS, as it houses a “model of the town at its heyday in the 1950's, a model of the coal tipple and bridge, and (a place to) learn the story of the Stearns Company's timber, railroad and mining operations.  The depot also provides the opportunity to introduce visitors the "voices" of Mine 18.
  • BATH HOUSE – Where the miners would congregate after a shift to wash clean before heading home.
  • CHURCH: There was a Southern Baptist church in the camp.  It and the school were the center of socializing for the people in this community.
  • SCHOOL:  There was a “Little Red Schoolhouse” that took the children through the 8th grade.  For High School, the kids had to go outside the town.  On average 20-30 students of mixed grades attended.
  • COMPANY STORE:  A company-owned store supplied the citizens with the necessities of life.  Scrip was printed for “credit” for between payday purchases.  The post office and a time-keepers office were also located in the building.
  • Mining structures included the coal tipple, the large mill building, and other structures associated with the industry. 
  • Numerous homes owned by the company were rented to the miners and their families.


A lot more information and details can be accessed on the National Park website featuring Blue Heron, located HERE.


This was our Ghost Town of the Month for Jun/July 2007


This is one of the towns featured in my newest book, GHOST TOWNS: Yesterday & TodayTM.




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FIRST POSTED:  June 16, 2007

LAST UPDATED: August 05, 2007


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