The name Henry Ford is synonymous with the auto industry. But it might surprise you to learn that, in 1924, Ford ventured to eastern Kentucky and acquired his own coal company.
The coal company, located in the small town of Stone, joined shipping, radio, and lumber as lucrative enterprises in which Ford had interests.
Formerly known as Pond Creek Mining Company, the new Fordson Coal Company became the center of a completely self-sustaining mining operation that supplied its employees with a place to live, shop, get a haircut, see a movie, send and receive mail, obtain medical attention, and receive an education. Ford’s employees and their families had the best facilities money could buy, and had everything they could want or need just outside their front doors. They even had their own baseball team.
The hub of activity for Stone and the coal mining families who made it thrive was a complex consisting of three large brick buildings that housed offices for the mining operation, a theater, post office, and barber shop. These buildings, known as the Red Robin Complex, and others in the community would remain standing long after the Fords and other coal operators were long gone.
Ford relinquished control of the company in 1936 after coming under pressure from union organizers. Throughout the 20th century, the company would change hands several times and the production of coal in Stone ceased. Many of the buildings, including the Red Robin Complex, were abandoned and fell into disrepair.
In 1999, Stone-area native and former Pike County Judge Executive Karen Gibson found a deed to the Red Robin buildings in her office. Knowing the history behind the complex, Gibson wanted to find a way to preserve the structures.
“I knew they would make a good community center or something along that line,” Gibson says. “I spoke with some of the people who live in Stone about accepting the buildings and restoring them.”
The residents excitedly formed a nonprofit organization, Stone Heritage Inc., and began an ongoing restoration project that includes not only the Red Robin buildings, but also the former Ford home, bank, and other buildings once key to the town’s success. The museum building is complete, and the next project is restoration of the theater.
Though completion of the restoration will take many years, the group is not working behind closed doors. Group President Larry Ooten says that impromptu tours are conducted for anyone who wants to visit Stone. Just call or drop by the gift shop, Behind the Pickett Fence, for more information. Ooten says Saturdays are good days for touring, as the restored museum is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
A museum, two gift shops, and a barber shop are already open for business; each year, the group sponsors events such as a haunted house, festival of trees at Christmas, tours of homes including the now privately owned Ford house, and several reunions to raise money for the restoration. Visitors can even tour the former theater, a structure frozen in time with its segregated ticket booths and restrooms with early 20th-century architecture.
A popular local saying is, “When coal was king, Stone was the throne.” The members of Stone Heritage Inc. want Stone to be the throne again and share it with all who visit the town and partake of its rich history.
Stone Heritage Inc.
Red Robin Complex, KY 199
1355 Pond Creek Road
Stone, KY 41567
Museum, tours, and events centering around the rich coal-mining heritage of eastern Kentucky. Museum is open on Saturday from 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
Behind the Pickett Fence
Red Robin Complex
Gift shop featuring items from eastern Kentucky crafts people. Call or stop by here if you would like more information about touring Stone.
Around the Area
Grants Branch Park
A man-made lake with picnic area and activities; located in the heart of the historic Stone coal-mining town.
Linkous House Bed & Breakfast
Corner of Fifth Avenue and Harvey Street
Williamson, West Virginia
Oldest home in Williamson, owned and operated by Stone native Wendy Hackney-Baisden. Located 10 minutes from Stone.
Hatfield-McCoy Driving Tour
Beginning in Pikeville, Kentucky, and ending in Sarah Ann, West Virginia, it conveniently encompasses Stone. An audio driving tour CD for purchase guides tourists to all the sites involved in the historic feud between the Hatfield and McCoy families. For more information, go to the Web site and click “Things to Do” for more information on the Hatfield-McCoy Driving Tour or other attractions in the area.
Lake Barkley and Kentucky Lake, with Land Between The Lakes recreational area sandwiched in between, are abundant in wildlife, water-related pastimes, and outdoor activities for all ages.
“Fishing on Lake Barkley is an angler’s dream,” says Monica Hogg, interim director with Lyon County Joint Tourism. “We thrive on our fishing population here.”
The area is also growing in popularity with bird watchers—bald eagles and blue herons are among the avian inhabitants there, along with a more unusual type for Kentucky: pelicans.
Lyon County is on the northeastern shore of the 134-mile-long lake, which was impounded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1966. The county, which includes the cities of Eddyville and Kuttawa, has lodging options ranging from rustic campsites to elegant townhomes, all within 1-1/2 miles of the water, and nine area golf courses. It also has a new attraction opening this spring just off Exit 45 on I-24, the Lake Barkley Classic Car Museum in Eddyville, (270) 388-1962. Along with about 45 cars from 1920 and up, it includes displays of an old-time barber shop and post office. Campbell Orchard at 3291 State Route 730 E., Eddyville, sells fried apple and peach pies each weekend in season, with cider sold by the gallon in cooler months, (270) 388-2738.
Thunder Over Eddy Bay, held July 7 at the Eddy Creek Marina Resort, includes vendors, live music, games, and a spectacular fireworks display that can be viewed from boats or on land. Charter bus services bring visitors from the West Kentucky Outlet Mall to the resort.
“Once you bring your family to this area, you have no need to leave the area,” Hogg says. “You can do everything you want to do on vacation, right here in Lyon County.”
Running parallel to Lake Barkley is Kentucky Lake, with ample fishing, boating, and canoeing sites along its nearly 2,400 miles of shoreline. Marshall County, home to Kentucky Dam, is at its northern border, though the lake continues past the Kentucky-Tennessee state line.
Randy Newcomb, executive director of the Marshall County Tourist Commission, says Kentucky Lake is the state’s largest, known as one of the top bass and crappie fishing lakes in the country. The lake is so vast, encompassing 160,000 acres of water, it actually has barge traffic, with some of its bays as large as other lakes. That means even when the lake is in heavy use in the summer months, it’s still easy to find secluded niches for fishing or boating, Newcomb says.
Even if taking in the area’s other activities, about 40 percent of visitors are reeled in for the first-rate fishing, Newcomb says. “If they want a good, relaxing vacation, kind of get away and enjoy themselves, Kentucky Lake is the perfect spot.”
Kentucky Lake offers fishing, boating, water sports, wildlife viewing, golfing, hiking, camping, hunting, attractions. Go online to www.kentuckylake.org or call (800) 467-7145.
Kenlake State Resort Park, 542 Kenlake Road in Hardin, has tennis center, golf, fishing, boating, swimming, camping, lodging, and more. For more information, go online to http://parks.ky.gov/resortparks/kl or call (800) 325-0143.
5th Annual Kentucky Lake Bluegrass Festival, www.kylakebluegrassfestival.com, at Kenlake State Resort Park in Aurora is June 8-9. Tickets $15/day or $25 weekend. Call (800) 467-7145 for more information.
Lake Barkley offers resort, hotel/motel, bed and breakfast, cabin, cottage, camping and lake home lodging, nine area golf courses, fishing and boating, with three full-service marinas. For more information go to www.lakebarkley.org or call (270) 362-4236 or (800) 355-3885.
The Battle of Eddyville Civil War re-enactment and encampment event will be held for the second year at Lee S. Jones Park in Eddyville, April 27-29. For information or registration, call (800) 355-3885 or go online to www.battleofeddyville.com.
Lake Barkley State Resort Park, 3500 State Park Road in Cadiz, has lodges, indoor and outdoor swimming, fitness center, golf, hiking, and more. For more information, go to http://parks.ky.gov/resortparks/lb, call (800) 325-1708, or e-mail LakeBarkley@ky.gov.
Land Between The Lakes National Recreation Area, 100 VanMorgan Drive in Golden Pond, has 170,000 acres, with hiking/biking/horseback riding trails, camping, hunting, fishing, planetarium, and more. For more information, go to www.lbl.org or call (800) LBL-7077.
Benton has celebrated Tater Day for well over a century. The first Monday in April commemorates the first day farmers once brought their crops to town to trade. It’s evolved into a community festival and parade giving the humble sweet potato its due. And the fourth Sunday in May at the courthouse in Benton, The Big Singing gospel sing takes place. Visit www.marshallcounty.net/culture.htm for these and other local events and attractions.
Shannon Leonard-Boone is a regular contributor to the Traveling Kentucky column.