Black Mountain area designated as endangered, historic

By Bill Estep –


Historic preservation has crept into the controversy over mountaintop mining in Eastern Kentucky.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation included Black Mountain, in Harlan County, on its annual list of the most endangered historic places in the U.S. and territories. The trust released the list this week, designating 10 places and an 11th notation for state parks nationwide.

The organization said proposed underground and surface mining on Black Mountain would threaten the beauty and ecology of the area, as well as efforts to promote tourism in Lynch and Benham, two former coal-company towns near the mountain.


Black Mountain borders the town of Lynch, a former coal camp built in 1917 by U.S. Steel.


The Kentucky Coal Mining Museum, left, in Benham is in the old commissary built by International Harvester in the 1920s. The museum tells the history of mining and the life of the coal miner.

 LEXINGTON HERALD-LEADER – Coal companies built the towns of Benham and Lynch that hug Black Mountain.


The 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in America for 2010 America’s state parks and state-owned historic sites Black Mountain, Harlan County Hinchliffe Stadium, Paterson, N.J. Industrial Arts Building, Lincoln, Neb.  Juana Briones House, Palo Alto, Calif. Merritt Parkway, Fairfield County, Conn. Metropolitan A.M.E. Church, Washington, D.C. Pågat, Yigo, Guam Saugatuck Dunes, Saugatuck, Mich.Threefoot Building, Meridian, Miss. Wilderness Battlefield, Orange and Spotsylvania Counties, Va.

  • Source: National Trust For Historic Preservation

Coal built the towns, but shouldn’t be allowed to destroy them, Richard Moe, president of the trust, said in a news release.

"Benham and Lynch are living illustrations of the cultural and historic significance of the Appalachian coalfields," Moe said. "If mining is permitted on and around Black Mountain, the quality of life in two communities will suffer, local economic development will be stifled, and the mountain’s scenic beauty will be forever changed."

The trust works to spotlight and preserve historic sites threatened by development or neglect.

Benham and Lynch are examples of the wholly-owned towns that companies hungry for coal built in Eastern Kentucky in the early 1900s.

International Harvester built Benham in 1911. U.S. Steel developed Lynch along Looney Creek in 1917, using sandstone cut by Italian immigrants to build a theater, commissary and other public facilities, according to the Kentucky Encyclopedia.

At one time, it was the largest coal-company town in the world. U.S. Steel eventually got out of the business of owning a town in the 1950s, selling houses in Lynch to residents, according to the encyclopedia.

Several of the historic buildings remain, though some need repair.

Coal is still the backbone of Harlan County’s economy.

But Benham and Lynch have been working to develop tourism as well, with attractions such as an exhibition underground mine in Lynch, called Portal 31; the Kentucky Coal Mining Museum, in the old company commissary in Benham; and an elementary school converted to a motel, called the Schoolhouse Inn.

Black Mountain figures in those efforts.

It is the state’s highest peak, at 4,145 feet, and is home to rare plants, animals and black bears, the National Trust said in its list.

Mining is barred on the upper reach of the mountain, but not at lower elevations.

The request to include Black Mountain on the list of endangered places relates to a fight over proposed mining in and on the mountain. Residents are contesting requests for underground and surface-mining permits.

Some are concerned that proposed mining could harm Lynch’s water supply.

"We’re not trying to stop mining. We’re just trying to save our community," said Lynch Mayor Ronnie Hampton, a retired state mine inspector.

Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, which opposes mountaintop mining, submitted the request to put Black Mountain on the list of endangered places.

Being on the list would show the mountain’s natural, cultural and historic importance and help residents pressure regulators to deny mining permits, KFTC said.

"We just feel like it’s going to give us some national recognition so we can shame ’em into not taking our mountain off," said Carl Shoupe, a KFTC member in Benham.

The organization acknowledged some residents wouldn’t support the designation.

The coal industry certainly doesn’t, said Bill Bissett, president of the Kentucky Coal Association.

Bissett said mining won’t endanger the mountain or the towns, but it will provide jobs to help revitalize the area.

The request to put Black Mountain on the most-endangered list wasn’t about preserving history, he said.

"The goal here is trying to outlaw Kentucky’s most abundant, affordable natural resource," Bissett said.

There is a national competition to have sites included on the annual most-endangered list, said Nancy Tinker, a senior program officer for the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

When the trust receives a request to put a building or site on the list, it checks out the application with groups and people in that state knowledgeable about preservation, Tinker said.

Black Mountain is only the third Kentucky place included in the annual list of 11 most-endangered places since the trust started it in 1988.

The others are in Jefferson County — the United States Marine Hospital and Country Estates of River Road, according to the trust’s Web site.

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Paul causes campaign’s first stir with Civil Rights answer

Paul causes campaign’s first stir with Civil Rights answer

Only two days old, the general election campaign for the open U.S. Senate seat already has become a breeding ground for controversy that has gotten the White House’s attention.

Rand Paul (R) and Atty. Gen. Jack Conway (D)

Republican candidate Rand Paul spent all day Thursday answering questions and  defending his views on the Civil Rights Act after saying publicly on the Rachel Maddow Show Wednesday night, for instance, that he questioned whether the Civil Rights Act may have gone too far by telling private owners how to run their businesess by requiring desegregation.

Democratic candidate Jack Conway, as well as other Democrats, wasted no time trying to capitalize.

“Rand Paul is promoting a narrow and rigid ideology and has repeatedly rejected a fundamental provision of the Civil Rights Act,” Conway said in a news release. “He is focused on the Tea Party whereas I am running to be a senator for all the people of Kentucky, who are really hurting right now.”

Even White House spokesman Robert Gibbs weighed in, which sent the Washington media into a frenzy. (The Hill and ABC News blog are among the throngs of outlets chasing the Kentucky Senate story).

Paul issued a statement Thursday saying he didn’t mean that the Civil Rights Act should be repealed.

“I believe we should work to end all racism in American society and staunchly defend the inherent rights of every person,” Paul said in the release. “I have clearly stated in prior interviews that I abhor racial discrimination and would have worked to end segregation. Even though this matter was settled when I was 2, and no serious people are seeking to revisit it except to score cheap political points, I unequivocally state that I will not support any efforts to repeal the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”

At the same time, a new Rasmussen poll shows Paul with a 25 percent lead over Conway. The poll is the first time Paul, who has polled above Conway in previous hypothetical matchups, has polled over 50 percent of the vote.

The poll has a 4.5 percent margin of error.

Paul, meanwhile, has tried to stay on the offensive by positioning himself as the outsider trying to topple a “Washington D.C. candidate” for the second race in a row.

While Conway has never been elected to a national office before, Paul has cited Conway’s support of the health care legislation passed last month as at least one credential of already being part of Washington politics. Conway had previously run for the U.S. 3rd District seat against Anne Northup in 2002.

Paul has invited President Barack Obama to come campaign for Conway, as part of his strategy, going as far as to say that he would pay to fly the president to Kentucky. Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell quickly followed suit, finding common ground with Paul. McConnell, however, was one of the ways Paul tied his primary opponent, Trey Grayson, to Washington during the GOP race because McConnell and other Republican leaders backed Grayson.

On Thursday, Conway told cn|2 Politics he would welcome the president if he offered to come to Kentucky.

“I don’t think its fair (Paul’s comparsion),” Conway said. “But whenever the president comes to your state you welcome him. Now, I don’t agree with the president on everything, but if he came he would be welcomed.”

Kenny Colston


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Jeremy Begin is a long-time activist/organizer who has a degree in writing from Hampshire College.  He currently resides in California's Bay Area. Lauren Salk is an illustrator with a degree in painting from the Massachusetts College of Art.  She lives in Boston.

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