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Grand Rivers, Kentucky History

Home | Map & Explore | History | Grand Rivers, Ky.

Long before the present village of Grand Rivers came into being, before the rivers were dammed into lakes, before the discovery of the iron ore that brought prosperity and big dreams, before the earliest white settlers came into the region, there were people here.  Native tribes were in this area where the rivers now known as the Tennessee and the Cumberland came closest together, and the water and the land provided a plentitude of fish and game.  Nestled in the same valley as the present village the native people were here longer than anyone knows. Long before recorded history.

But in the late eighteenth century the new people began to move inexorably westward. People of Scots, Irish and German ancestry began slowly to establish farms and settlements in the land that came to be known as "between the rivers".  And starting as early as 1850 there were permanent residents in the area where Grand Rivers now exists.

But in the early 1800's came the discovery that changed everything. Iron ore was found here and men came west to seek their fortunes. Iron brought river boats and the railroad and new settlers by the wagonload.  In 1890 Thomas Lawson and others founded the Grand Rivers Company with the dream of creating a great city on the western frontier and for awhile that dream seemed tantalizingly possible.  In time prosperity brought forth a city of several thousand people with fine homes and substantial commercial structures.  But fortune did not smile for long on this new Jerusalem.  By 1920 the iron industry had played out, Mr. Lawson had moved on, and so had most of the others.

For several decades the town slowly declined and most of the once grand buildings were lost to fire or demolition. Then came the Great Depression, President Roosevelt and his team, and new government programs including the Tennessee Valley Authority.  Dams were built along the Tennessee River culminating with the construction of Kentucky Dam which impounded the Tennessee into Kentucky Lake and brought flood control, a new prosperity, a new vision and profound changes to a region languishing in poverty.  Hydroelectric power brought cheap electricity and industry to an area which until then had little or none of either.

But the new body of water brought something else, something perhaps not fully anticipated.  The creation of Kentucky Lake in 1945 brought an entirely new industry to the region: recreational tourism.  Resorts and marinas sprouted along the lakeshore.  Where fishing skiffs, johnboats and rafts once plied the rivers, visitors to the lake now brought and bought sailing craft and cabin cruisers.

And the boom in river transportation and water recreation ultimately led to the construction of Barkley Dam on the Cumberland River which made the narrow and winding Cumberland more easily navigable.  This second lake also allowed the creation of a great National Recreation Area - albeit at much personal sacrifice and cost to the people whose families had lived there for generations. The land between the rivers had become the Land Between the Lakes and the village of Grand Rivers recreated itself as a destination for those wishing to "go to the lakes".

Information provided by Grand Rivers Tourism Commission.


Coyote
Photo by Melodie Cunningham

This coyote stares down a local photographer in the Land Between The Lakes area. Coyotes are quite common in this region.