Harlan County has a rich history. This history has made the county into what it is today. Because of this, we have compiled a list of 25 historic places to visit in Harlan County!
1. Benham Historic District
This district is composed of ten buildings and a park in Benham. These houses were the center of the coal camp between 1919 and 1928. The Kentucky Coal Mining Museum is located in this historic district.
2. Kentucky Coal Mining Museum
The Kentucky Coal Mining Museum is located in Benham, KY. Here, you can experience the history of coal mining in Eastern Kentucky for yourself. They even have a Loretta Lynn exhibit!
3. Rebel Rock and Little Shepherd Trail
Little Shepherd Trail is a 38-mile road that is now part of the Pine Mountain State Scenic Trail. This trail has numerous overlooks and wildlife sightings throughout. One can’t miss spot is Rebel Rock. Rebel Rock was home to a camp and observation post that was used by the rebel army.
4. Harlan County Extension Depot
The Louisville & Nashville Railroad Depot was the first depot in Harlan County and it sparked growth throughout the county. When the original Depot was demolished, all was not lost. The Harlan County Extension Service constructed a multipurpose building in the footprint of the old depot that closely resembles the original depot. It’s a glimpse into the past with a modern twist.
5. Portal 31
Portal 31 was built in Lynch by the US Coal and Coke Company, a subsidiary of US Steel Corp. The mine used to hold the world record for coal production in a 9 hour shift. Portal 31 is now an underground mine tour where you can ride in a railcar and tour the facilities.
6. Harlan County Coal Monument
The Coal Monument in Harlan, KY. is an obelisk that was constructed in honor of the coal industry in Harlan County. The monument is built from blocks of coal contributed by each coal mine operating in the county at the time of its construction. Located in Baxter on Hwy 72, the monument is an iconic piece of Harlan County.
7. Pine Mountain Settlement School
Pine Mountain Settlement School is a National Historic Landmark, and was opened in 1913 in Bledsoe, KY. It was originally opened as a boarding school for mountain children. Now it serves as a cultural and educational center that welcomes visitors from around the world to experience Appalachian culture, learn more about our natural environment, and celebrate together at festivals and events.
8. Blanton Forest State Nature Preserve
Blanton Forest is the largest old growth forest in the state of Kentucky. The land was purchased in 1928 and was passed on with the understanding that the land would never be logged. The preserve is located near Loyall, KY and is home to many hiking trails as well as the oldest boy scout camp in the state of Kentucky.
9. Harlan County Coal Miners Memorial Monument
This memorial is located in downtown Harlan near the courthouse. The monument honors those who have lost their lives in the mines in Harlan County.
10. Harlan Doughboy
The Harlan Doughboy is located in front of the courthouse in downtown Harlan. The Harlan Doughboy was unveiled in 1930 to honor those who gave their lives in service to their country in WWI.
11. Harlan Courthouse
Downtown Harlan has been home to the county seat of Harlan County since its establishment. During the county’s history, five courthouses have been constructed including the rebuilding of the courthouse after it had been burned during the Civil War. The current Harlan County Courthouse was built from 1918-1922 and is made of Indiana limestone. The Courthouse occupies the center block of downtown Harlan and is part of a complex including the newer Justice Center and a variety of monuments and historical markers.
12. Confederate Cemetery
This Confederate Cemetery is located in Cawood, KY right off of US 421. This area was an important passageway for Union and Confederate soldiers during the Civil War. Many soldiers camped in this area while traveling.
13. Hidden Cemetery
Did you know that there is a hidden cemetery in downtown Harlan? It is the final resting place for members of some of Harlan County’s founding families. It’s located on Clover St. in Downtown Harlan.
14. Coal Miner’s Memorial Theater
This theater is located in Benham, KY and was opened in 1923. It has found new life as a theater that shows already released movies for a discounted price. The theater is said by some to be haunted!
15. Wagon Road Tunnel
On top of Stone Mountain in the Cranks Creek and Stone Mountain Wildlife Management Area is an old wagon tunnel. This tunnel is said to have been hand-hewn and was a gateway into Harlan County, the state of Kentucky, and the western frontier beyond the Appalachians!
16. Wallins Baptist Church
This church is home to the oldest congregation in Harlan County. Join this welcoming group for your next church service!
17. Benham Schoolhouse Inn
This school was built in 1926 and served as a school until 1992. The school was transformed into an inn in 1994. The Inn was set to close in June of 2016, but was saved by the Appalachian Hospitality Group in July of 2016. The president of this group now runs the Inn. In addition to the well appointed lodging, the Inn is also home to the Dinner Bucket Restaurant as well as banquet facilities. The Inn hosts multiple parties and events throughout the year.
18. Hensley Settlement
On Brush Mountain on a wagon road lies Hensley Settlement. This settlement was established in 1904 and was occupied until 1951. Approximately 25 of the original buildings have been restored and are surrounded by mountain pastures. Access from Harlan County is primitive and can be reached by 4 wheel drive vehicle, foot, or horseback.
19. Wallins Creek
In 1911, Wallins Creek Colliers Company opened the first mines in Harlan County for shipping. On August 25th, they shipped the first car of coal from Harlan County. This mine was located in Terry’s Fork in Wallins Creek.
20. Lamp House No. 2
Lamp House No. 2 is now the location for Lamp House Coffee in Lynch, KY. In the past, this lamp house was used by miners that worked in Portal 31. These miners would come here to get their lamps for their shift. Now you can enjoy breakfast, lunch, and coffee drinks in view of the mine entrance.
21. Putney Ranger Station
The Putney Ranger Station was built in 1937 and was home to those who protected the county from wildfires. A ranger would live there with their family and alert the crews when there was a fire somewhere in the county. In recent years, it has been the focus of local efforts to restore it to its original condition.
22. Kentenia State Forest
Kentenia is the oldest state-owned forest that was acquired by the KY Division of Forestry in 1919. The forest is comprised of over 4,000 acres on the south face of Pine Mountain and includes features like Little Shepherd Trail and Goss Park.
23. Headwaters of the Cumberland River
Harlan County is home to the headwaters of the Cumberland River. Martins Fork starts near Hensley Settlement, Clover Fork starts in Holmes Mill, and Poor Fork begins on Pine Mountain. All of these waterways converge to form the Cumberland River in Baxter, KY.
24. Godbey Appalachian Cultural and Fine Arts Center
This center is located at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College. Here, there is an extensive collection of Appalachian artifacts including archives of photographs, oral histories, art collections, pottery, music, and dulcimer making. It is also home to the nationally acclaimed Higher Ground community performance series.
25. Whitfield Public Library
Whitfield Public Library is located in downtown Harlan. This library has issues of the Harlan Daily Enterprise going back as far as the 20s! The library also has genealogy resources that can be used while in the library.