The history of the Kentucky Lake area offers unique perspective on how our region has changed over the last several decades.
For instance, did you know that entire towns, one with over 2500 residents, had to be completely relocated when the lakes were built? And did you know that thousands of people were relocated when the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) purchased over 170,000 acres of land to form a national recreation area?
Something of this magnitude doesn't seem possible. But it happened, beginning in 1938 and lasting over the next 30 years.
The creation of today's Kentucky Lake began way back in the 1920s when frustrations grew with frequent flooding on the Tennessee River causing problems for residents in the Tennessee Valley. Additionally, most rural residents in this region outside of towns didn't have electricity.
Efforts began creating a hydroelectric dam somewhere along the Tennessee River in western Kentucky to help solve these problems. In the late 1920s, most locals wanted the dam at Aurora, and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) considered this area to be a potential site until around 1937-38. The present-day site at Gilbertsville was chosen.
TVA began constructing Kentucky Dam in 1938 and completed it in 1944. The reservoir behind the dam became known as Kentucky Lake, stretching 184 miles and covering 160,000 acres. Today, the dam generates electricity for thousands of households in the region.
A series of locks and dams built in the early 20th century along the Cumberland River was generally meant for navigation but not flood control. Some of the worst flooding in the country occurred along the river area frequently, including the Flood of 1937 which devastated communities along the river.
After the creation of Kentucky Dam in 1944, residents along the nearby Cumberland River began calling for a similar dam. They got their wish in the late 1950s, when the US Army Corps of Engineers announced the creation of a new dam just two miles east of Kentucky Dam.
In 1964, Lake Barkley was created when the gates at Barkley Dam were closed. Many communities had to be completely relocated, including the towns of Kuttawa and Eddyville. Railroads, major US highways, homes, cemeteries - all had to be moved to make way for the new lake. Today's City of Eddyville along US 62 is totally new, having moved to it's location in the early 1960s. Most of the old town is underwater and gone.
Land Between The Lakes
During the creation of Lake Barkley, TVA realized Lake Barkley, Kentucky Lake, and the connecting canal between the two dams would create a peninsula. Known to the locals as "Between The Rivers", this stretch of land was very rural, somewhat isolated and impoverished.
TVA began an effort to create a vast recreation area known as "Land Between The Lakes" (LBL) and began purchasing property from landowners in the area.
The move by TVA was quite controversial, with several families not wanting to sell their property. However, eminent domain prevailed and the last families were relocated in the late 1960s.
Evidence of the former homesites, churches, businesses and roads are everywhere in LBL. There are dozens of cemeteries that remain, which are maintained by families and volunteer groups.
Today, Land Between The Lakes is a 170,000 acre National Recreation Area with several attractions, campgrounds and historical places of interest. There are no businesses or residents in Land Between The Lakes, so it is a great place to really get away from it all and experience nature.
Four Rivers Explorer features more historical information for the Kentucky Lakes Area. The site also showcases some of the "lost" historic places in Land Between The Lakes.