GOLDEN POND — Former residents of the area now known as the Land Between the Lakes and the government agencies that have overseen LBL have rarely seen eye-to-eye, but now, those families are working to restore an abandoned building in that area, thanks to the cooperation of the current U.S. Forest Service administration.
The house, known as the Caretaker House on Empire Farms, was used for storage by the Tennessee Valley Authority when it oversaw Land Between the Lakes from 1963 to 1998. The house, built in the late 1930s, was used by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employees when the area was a federal wildlife refuge. But, since, the building has fallen into disrepair and is surrounded by overgrown brush and trees.
Before the lakes were created, the area was a state refuge in the early 20th century, the only place in Kentucky native to whitetail deer and wild turkey. President Franklin Roosevelt gave an executive order in 1938 to make it a federal refuge, the first one in Kentucky.
Work on Kentucky Dam soon followed, flooding the Tennessee River and forcing residents close by to relocate. In the early 1960s, Barkley Dam was built, flooding the Cumberland and forcing those residents to move. In 1963, the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area was created with oversight by TVA.
The U.S. Forest Service, which now oversees LBL, got funding this year to demolish the farm's orientation building and offered the roof of that building to help stabilize the Caretaker House.
Former residents and members of an organization called Between the Rivers had been in contact with the forest service for about 20 years seeking to restore the Caretaker House, and were finally given the go-ahead to work on it this week.
Between the Rivers is made up of people who lived in the area now called LBL and their descendants.
David Nickell was one of several volunteers clearing the land around the Caretaker House on Tuesday in preparation of the roof stabilization. The roof is expected to be removed from the orientation building and possibly put in place on the Caretaker House as early as today.
Nickell, a professor of philosophy and sociology at West Kentucky Community and Technical College whose family came to live between the rivers in the 1780s, said the Caretaker House and the buildings surrounding it make up the only intact farmstead remaining in LBL.
"We've got new managers for the Forest Service — a new local manager here at LBL (area manager Tina Tilley)," he said. "They're being a whole lot better about working with us. We've been telling them all along: 'We're the best resource you've got.' We're not going anywhere. We've been fighting for this place ever since they ran us out (in the early 1960s).
"... Now, they're working with us and allowing us to come in and do this restoration. We really appreciated that."
That kind of cooperation was not previously seen by the families of the former residents of LBL.
"They burned everything else," Nickell said of TVA removing other buildings in the area. "They removed every sign that we ever lived here, and (the Caretaker House) is what's left. We're doing the best that we can to save it."
The house also has protection from the Kentucky Heritage Council in an effort to put it on the National Register of Historic Places.
"What we would like to see is a Homeplace-1950s," Nickell said. "They've got the (Homeplace-)1850s down at the other end (of LBL), which isn't really accurate for us.
"In the 1850s, we had communities (between the rivers). The Eddyville Ferry was chartered to operate in 1799, which meant old Eddyville on one side, and you had good-sized communities on both sides (of the river), or you wouldn't need a ferry."
Nickell said the Kentucky Heritage Council will be helping the group with its restoration plans.
"The first step is to just stabilize it, and then, we'll come up with a plan from there, how to restore it and what to do with it," he said.
Nickell said those who want to help with the restoration work can call him at 270-534-3269 or come to the monthly Between the Rivers meetings at 7 p.m. on the second Tuesday of the month at the Lyon County Public Library in Eddyville.