Keyword Exclusive - Getting to the Gap
Supplement to “Back to the Gap”
Getting to the Gap
Cumberland Gap National Historic Park can be reached by U.S. 25E from Kentucky or Virginia, or U.S. 58 from Tennessee. The park gates are open from 8 a.m. to dusk year-round. The visitor center, open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily except December 25, is on U.S. 25E in Middlesboro. For more info: (606) 248-2817 or www.nps.gov/cuga.
Accommodations: The park operates the 160-site Wilderness Road Campground in Virginia along U.S. 58. Motels are in Middlesboro, Kentucky, and Cumberland Gap and Tazewell, Tennessee.
Kentucky’s first state park, Pine Mountain State Resort in Pineville about 12 miles north of Middlesboro, is a convenient place to stay.
The park sits up on Pine Mountain, which parallels the Cumberland Mountains. The early pioneers and settlers also had to find a way through Pine Mountain. The crossing point was “The Narrows,” a gap in Pine Mountain opposite Cumberland Gap.
The park features some of the finest mountain views in the tri-state area. From the overlook at Chained Rock, you can see the Cumberland Ford, the shallow spot in the Cumberland River where travelers could cross safely. The historic log lodge features 30 guestrooms and dining room, but there are also log cabins, cottages and primitive camping available. For park info: (606) 337-3066.
For info on the area: Contact: Southern & Eastern Kentucky Tourism Development Association, (877) 868-7735, www.tourseky.com; or the Bell County Tourism Commission, 2215 Cumberland Avenue, Middlesboro, KY 40965, (800) 988- 1075, www.mountaingateway.com.
Remembering the Hensley Settlement
Our family accompanied Park Ranger Carol Borneman on a fascinating three-hour shuttle tour of the Hensley Settlement at the north end of Cumberland Gap Park.
The people who lived here during the first part of the 20th century had the same determination as the pioneers. At a time when the rest of the nation’s people relied on each other for their needs, this community was self-sufficient.
The people in this mountaintop settlement made nearly everything they needed. For the rest, they bartered, and only made the 8-mile trek into the village once a month.
They grew, harvested and preserved their food for the 100 people who lived there. They made some of their tools and had a small school for the children. Children never left until they reached the age of 18.
What amazed us most was that everything was made by hand—wide chestnut boards, thick wooden shingles, the entire place is surrounded by 100-year old split rail chestnut fencing. You can see evidence of their ingenuity as they made do with what they had, how they creatively rigged gates and fences and built rock chimneys.
The last inhabitant left in 1951—it had gotten difficult to convince modern women to live such an isolated, challenging life. But walking among the beautiful swaying grass fields and the picture-postcard log wooden homes, it was easy to see how you could stay here and be happy while the rest of the world moved on with “progress.”
Attractions near the Gap
Check out these other two fascinating local spots near Cumberland Gap National Historic Park:
The Abraham Lincoln Museum in nearby Harrogate, Tennessee, has one of the largest and most complete Lincoln and Civil war collections in America. Rare items such as the silver-topped cane Lincoln carried the night of his assassination, a lock of his hair clipped as he lay on his deathbed, two life masks made of Lincoln and numerous personal belongings.
Over 20,000 books, manuscripts, photographs, paintings, and sculptures tell the story of President Lincoln and the Civil War period in America, (423) 869-6235, www.lmunet.edu/museum.
The other fascinating place is the Lost Squadron Museum in Middlesboro. Hear the story of how a WWII P-38 plane was rescued from the frozen lands of Greenland by a local Middlesboro man. It was buried under 268 feet of solid ice cap and brought back to Kentucky where it was lovingly restored. In October of 2002, it took its first flight and is housed in the museum for all to see and hear the story. Contact (606) 248-1149, or www.thelostsquadron.com.
To read the Kentucky Living October 2003 feature that goes along with this supplement, click here:
Back to the Gap