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Trip Experiences: History

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Absorb the Rich Heritage That Surrounds Kentucky Lake

History lovers and Civil War enthusiasts will find much to intrigue them during a three to five day visit to the sites and attractions that surround Kentucky Lake. From experiencing what it’s like to sleep in a 200-year old log cabin to taking in the Civil War history which floods this region, you and your family will not walk away from this vacation disappointed.

Sleep in a 200-Year-Old Log Cabin on Kentucky Lake

Big Bear Resort Log CabinIf you love history, then you’re going to feel right at home in the circa 1802 log cabin that sits nestled in the woodlands of Big Bear Resort on Kentucky Lake in Benton, Kentucky. The cabin was restored in recent years to include modern amenities; however, it has retained the historic ambiance that one who loves history will treasure.

This three-bedroom cabin can sleep up to 15 people, making it a great spot for a family get together. However, it’s also affordably priced so that a small family or group of friends can enjoy some time tucked away in an historic paradise.

The location of this lodge makes it a private escape into nature, as well as history. For those lazy mornings, guests can enjoy some shaded comfort on the deck of the log cabin. The cabin also includes a fully equipped kitchen and comfortable sleeping quarters.

Big Bear Resort on Kentucky Lake has been a popular vacation rental destination since 1948. You, your family and friends are sure to enjoy this unique historic log cabin that brings history to life.

Explore Civil War History

Fort Donelson National Battlefield

Fort DonelsonIn nearby Dover, Tennessee, sits the Fort Donelson National Battlefield. The battlefield is the site of one of the Civil War’s most decisive battles and proved a tremendous victory for the Union troops.

On this location, on February 16, 1862, the Confederate troops surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant. This surrender was a huge win for the Union as it opened the gate for their armies to overtake Clarksville and Nashville, Tennessee, as well. This was the first major win of the Civil War for the North.

Fort Donelson National Battlefield is located along the Cumberland River, a supply route that proved useful to the Union Army throughout the Civil War. Visitors can enjoy walking the grounds and viewing the canons and earthworks that are still visible on the property today. There is also an 11-stop driving tour that details the highlights of this Civil War battlefield and offers important details of the War’s events in Tennessee.

While here, visitors should also take time to explore the Dover Hotel and the Fort Donelson National Cemetery.

Fort Heiman National Battlefield

On the drive to Fort Donelson you might want to stop at the historic Fort Heiman National Battlefield in Calloway County, Kentucky. Along with Fort Henry and Fort Donelson, Fort Heiman was one of the most prominent earthen forts located along the Tennessee River in Tennessee and Kentucky during the Civil War.

While there is little that remains on this site, you’ll be awed as you step foot on the grounds where a part of our nation's history was made. The site includes interpretive signs and wayside exhibits. You’ll find earthworks and gun placement and burial indentations along the way, which brings the historic battles that were fought here to life.

This site was added to the National Park System in October 2006.

Columbus-Belmont State Park

Columbus, KYThe Columbus-Belmont State Park has held a significant place in history for a number of reasons. It is part of the National Scenic Byway, a National Trail of Tears site and a significant Civil War battle site.

There is an antebellum farm house located on the park’s grounds, which once served as a Confederate hospital. Today, the site is a museum and interpretive center, which includes Civil War history exhibits, as well as information about other regional historic attractions. The museum housed here gives visitors a thorough history of the Confederate troops who established this fortification that is located along the Mississippi River in Hickman County, Kentucky.

While much of the earthen fort and other artifacts gave way to erosion during flooding of the 1920s, visitors can see the famous mile-long chain that  was pulled across the river in an attempt by Confederate soldiers to hold General Grant and his Northern armies back. The chain’s anchor is estimated to have weighed between four and six tons and each link was eleven inches in length. A stone monument was erected by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1934 to hold the chain in place for future visitors to see.

Nathan Bedford Forrest State Park

Located in Benton County, Tennessee, is the Nathan Bedford Forrest State Park. The park was designed as a local park and was created by the Works Progress Administration during The Great Depression. It is located on the western shore of the Kentucky Lake impoundment of the Tennessee River, just north of Eva, Tennessee.

The park was named for the now-controversial Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest, who is remembered for leading the attack and destruction of the Johnsonville Federal supply and munitions depot. Forrest’s operations were conducted along the lands where the state park is located today.

In addition to being a designated Civil War site, it is also home to the Tennessee River Folklife Interpretative Center and Museum and Pilot Knob.

The lands were designated a state park in 1963.

Civil War Walking Tour in Paducah, Kentucky

For those who want to dive further into Civil War history, you’ll find more to gaze upon in the city of Paducah, Kentucky, located a little less than an hour from your log cabin at Big Bear Resort on Kentucky Lake.

Paducah played a pivotal role during the Civil War and is home to the Lloyd Tilghman House and Civil War Museum. You can find more information on a cellphone-guided historic walking tour and the museum at the Paducah Visitors Bureau, located in the city’s historic downtown.

Take in More Regional History

The history of the lands once known as the communities that lie “Between the Rivers” runs much deeper than what one can learn simply by studying the Civil War. In fact, the industries and rich heritage that makes up the towns and communities of this part of Kentucky and Tennessee are fascinating when observed closely.

Learn How the Industrial Revolution Made it to the South

Iron furnaces from the mid-1800s can still be viewed at the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area. Two that you’ll want to take time to visit are the Center Furnace and the Great Western Iron Furnace. Iron ore production was an important industry in Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee during much of the 1840s and 1850s. The ore was easily shipped to factories along the rivers that line the region, making it a convenient commodity to produce.

As the need for “pig iron” declined, these old furnaces were abandoned, leaving only remnants of the stories of this once productive industry. 

19th Century Farm Life

One of the most unique attractions found in the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area is The Homeplace 1850s Working Farm and Living History Museum. Visitors can tour authentic 1850s log structures and learn more about heritage livestock, Victorian etiquette and what it was really like to live and work on a mid-19th Century farm.

In addition to a great historical representation of the era and the farmers who lived and worked in this part of the country during that time, the Homeplace also provides a variety of hands-on opportunities in which visitors of all ages can participate.

The Elk and Bison Prairie

These open prairies show visitors what the lands looked like in the early 1800s. The Elk and Bison Prairie is part of the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area and includes 700 acres covered with native grasslands where elk and bison and other native animals are protected and roam safely. 

Golden Pond Visitors’ Center

Housed within the walls of the Golden Pond Visitors’ Center are historic images of the lands and communities which once made up the region that lays Between the Rivers. These images showcase the rich history of the region, dating as far back as the frontier days. The images also tell the story of how the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area came to be developed.

The center is filled with helpful trail guides, brochures and information on other regional attractions. Take some time to find out more about everything there is to see and do around Kentucky Lake.

Legendary Restaurants

After a few days of eating your own cooking at your log cabin, you might be in the mood to dine out at one of the local restaurants that are located in Benton, Kentucky, near Big Bear Resort.

One local favorite is Hutchens BBQ, a family-owned restaurant that’s been serving vacationing families and friends since 1947. Hutchens’ claim to fame is having been mentioned in the film “The Coal Miner’s Daughter.”

Come see what all the fuss is about as you sink your teeth into a delicious pulled pork sandwich or enjoy one of the restaurant’s daily menu specials. They serve breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Craft Your Own Historic Adventure

After spending several nights sleeping in a log cabin that’s nearly 200 years old and exploring the unique history that fills the region found Between the Rivers, you’ll have a deeper appreciation for the accomplishments and lifestyles of our forefathers.

A history-themed vacation provides an engaging educational experience that the whole family can enjoy. While the suggestions made here have been popular destinations for a number of visitors, it is likely that you will find a whole lot more than these to explore once you arrive upon these historic shores. Be sure to take it all in and enjoy your vacation! 


Kentucky Lake Sunset
Photo by Shawn Dunnaway

Sunsets at Kentucky Lake are special. You can find them on the eastern banks of Kentucky Lake looking west across a mile of ripples and waves. There's nothing quite like experiencing a sunset on Kentucky Lake.