By Bill Estep – firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
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.
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.