horizontal banner with Preserve America logo and images of a historic downtown, farm, courthouse, and mountain

Preserve America is a national initiative in cooperation with the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation; the U.S. Departments of Defense, Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, and Education; the National Endowment for the Humanities; the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities; and the President's Council on Environmental Quality.

Preserve America Community:
Middlesborough, KY

Middlesborough, Kentucky, (population 10,000) is a city located in Appalachian Kentucky. Daniel Boone blazed a trail through the Cumberland Gap and into the area in 1775. More than 250,000 settlers followed the Boone Trace in their journey west. The Wilderness Road Heritage Highway, a National Scenic Byway, begins in Middlesborough and largely follows the Boone Trace northeast to Berea.

Nearly a century later, in the 1880s, the founder of Middlesborough, Alexander Arthur, had a vision for creating the "Pittsburgh of the Appalachians." His efforts led to the explosive growth of the town, with millions invested in factories, infrastructure, and buildings. Unfortunately, disastrous fires, floods, and the Panic of 1893 curtailed Arthur's plans. Those who stayed after the crash found themselves with more resources than they could maintain less than a decade after the town was founded.

Ben Harney invented Ragtime music here between 1890 and 1893. In 1902, the notorious Quarterhouse Battle erupted nearby, pitting city folks against mountaineers and coal miners. During the period that followed, Middlesborough became known as a "Little Las Vegas." Al Capone's arch rival, Jack Zuta, lived and worked in Middlesborough before moving to Chicago around 1915. Zuta is now buried in the Jewish Cemetery. Another famous figure from Middlesborough is actor Lee Majors, who was raised by family members here.

In the 1980s and 1990s, downtown Middlesborough faced many challenges, including an F5 tornado and the opening of a nearby big box store. Local leaders rallied to form Discover Downtown Middlesboro in 2006 to help revitalize the commercial district. One recent highlight of their work is an October 25-27, 2013, event called Better Block Middlesborough, modeled after other Better Block events around the U.S. More than 100 volunteers worked to demonstrate that temporary interventions can help encourage civic participation and plant the seeds of long-term transformation. Added to this program was an emphasis on integrating historic preservation goals into the local event.

Better Block volunteers working to restore the Park Theater in Middlesborough, KY

The Park Theater, closed for 30 years, was cleaned, painted, and reopened for a screening of It's a Wonderful Life. Another vacant building was transformed into a pop-up shop for the weekend, helping to demonstrate that neglected, overlooked buildings could serve contemporary purposes. Heritage tourism was advanced through the creation of a two-mile History Walk, passing through the most historic areas Downtown. A red dotted line was painted on the sidewalk and temporary historical markers were posted at select sites, sharing stories about forgotten local history.

The program was repeated in May 2014, this time focusing on the preservation of the Elks Home. A Makers' Market was started in a vacant storefront, highlighting the work of local artists, crafters, and food producers.

Middlesborough has made a complete inventory of historic properties available to the public online using a Web-based survey program. Present day photos and descriptive data for more than 250 buildings and sites have been uploaded, along with legacy data from the Kentucky Heritage Council. The Bell County Historical Society, housed in a former Carnegie Library saved from demolition, has an archive and local history exhibits, and the Middlesborough Little Theater has commissioned and presented several plays focused on the history of the community.

The City is a Certified Local Government and recently completed a five-year Historic Preservation Plan. More than 20 constituent groups are named and have specific tasks in carrying out the plan. Both this plan and the Downtown Middlesborough Strategic Plan call for creating a full-time position for a preservation professional within city government in the next five years.

Middlesborough is part of Tour Southern and Eastern Kentucky, a regional group promoting heritage tourism, adventure tourism, agritourism, arts, and culture in a 50 county area. A driving trail and a two-mile walking loop through the downtown guide visitors past local historic sites.

For more information:
Video with history and info on revitalization efforts http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hPwZTcAWkR8

Discover Downtown Middlesboro

Better Block Middlesborough http://www.downtownmiddlesboro.org/betterblock.htm

Inventory of historic properties www.ruskinarc.com/discover-downtown-middlesboro-/downtownmboro


Posted December 14, 2014

Return to Top