Kentucky Lake Area History

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Our History

The history of the Kentucky Lakes Area is really amazing. Throughout the area, there is evidence of settlements dating back 8,000 years. Indian mounds dating to 1,000 years ago can be seen throughout the area. And with the Tennessee Valley Authority creating Kentucky Lake and Land Between The Lakes in the mid 20th century, many modern-day archaeology sites exist throughout the area.

Kentucky Lake

The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) began constructing a series of dams on the Tennessee River to provide flood control, cheap hydroelectric power and recreational opportunities for the people of the Tennessee Valley from Paducah to Knoxville.

The last dam to be built on the Tennessee River, and the largest, was Kentucky Dam. Construction began in 1938 with the completion done in 1944. During the process, entire towns, families, homesteads, farms and infrastructure had to be relocated for the permanent flooding of the Tennessee River.

Birmingham, Kentucky was one of those towns directly impacted. Located right on the banks of the Tennessee River in Marshall County, the town of a few hundred, for some reason, did not relocate and was simply abandoned. Now the old roads and foundations of the town are under several feet of water in the middle of Kentucky Lake.

Cemeteries were also relocated - although some graves were not. Major US Highways such as 68, 62, 79 and 70 had to be reconstructed and moved. Major rail lines were also relocated or moved to higher ground. It was a big undertaking.

Lake Barkley

In US Army Corp of Engineers decided the Cumberland River would need to be dammed near the site of Kentucky Dam on the Tennessee River. Due to extensive flooding of the Cumberland and also to help with navigation on the river, the Corps built a dam - Barkley Dam - and finished it in 1964.

Similar to Kentucky Dam and the lake is created, the situation for Eddyville and Kuttawa was the same as Birmingham. The towns had to relocate for be faced with extinction. Thankfully, those two towns moved a bit up to higher ground.

Today Lake Barkley provides hydroelectric power to thousands of homes and businesses. Lake Barkley features great boating recreation and fishing opportunities for residents and tourists up and down the lake.

Land Between The Lakes

During and after the creation of Lake Barkley, TVA saw that a large peninsula of land would be created and decided to create a massive 170,000-acre recreation area known as Land Between The Lakes. However, several hundred families and many communities would have to be relocated out to create the National Recreation Area.

For some, this was the second time they had to move thanks to the government - once with the flooding of the rivers, and twice with the creation of LBL. The last of the families left in 1969.

Today, numerous old foundations, a small handful of buildings and cemeteries are all that remains of the past at Land Between The Lakes. However, several campgrounds and attractions have sprung up since the creation of LBL that provide a major economic boost to the Kentucky Lakes Area.

The Civil War Era

This region was a hotbed of activity during the Civil War. Three forts were located in this area along with other sites that saw minor battles and skirmishes. Fort Donelson, Fort Henry and Fort Heiman were the three main hotspots in this area during the Civil War. The Battle of Johnsonville in Tennessee was also a site that saw action.

Community History

Several of our communities have their own historical story. Get more information about our communities here.

Four Rivers Explorer

Our sister site, Four Rivers Explorer, features several historical articles regarding the Kentucky Lakes Area.