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Blue Heron Mine

Scattered along the banks of the Big South Fork River near Stearns, Kentucky is Blue Heron, a once bustling coal mining town and former home to “Mine 18”. The mine served as an important artery to the larger coal mines in the Appalachian region during the early to mid-20th century and was crucial to the economy of eastern Kentucky during that time.

What to Know

  • Historical Significance: Blue Heron, also known as Mine 18, was an active coal mining site from 1937 to 1962. Today, it serves as an interpretive site that offers visitors a look into the life and work of coal miners during that period.

  • Exhibits: The site features a series of ghost structures, interpretive displays, and audio exhibits that explain the history and significance of the mining operations. These exhibits are designed to give visitors a sense of what life was like in the mining community.

  • Self-Guided Tours: Visitors can explore the Blue Heron Mining Community on their own, with the help of interpretive signs and exhibits that provide detailed information about the site.

The History & Importance of Blue Heron Mine

Known as a “company town”, Stearns Coal & Lumber company opened Blue Heron in 1937 to support the mine. The prosperity of the mines and promise of jobs meant mine workers flooded to the region and Blue Heron became home to hundreds. Stearns Coal & Lumber Company not only owned the mine and the railroad, it owned the houses, the general store, and even ran the school. Meant to be somewhat transportable to follow the most profitable mines, the structures were either transported out of the region or quickly deteriorated following the mine’s closure in 1962.

The Blue Heron Mine and its associated town are significant for their representation of Appalachian coal mining heritage. To preserve this, Blue Heron Interpretive Center was opened in 1989 with the re-created “ghost structures” illustrating the town once here. They provide insights into the working conditions, social structures, and community life of coal miners and their families in the region. Blue Heron stands as a reminder of the coal mining industry's impact on Appalachian communities and the efforts to preserve and interpret this history for future generations.

Ways to Explore 

There are so many ways to explore the Blue Heron Mine. Our favorite is taking the Big South Fork Scenic Railway.

  • By Car: Located 20 minutes from Stearns, Kentucky and 45 minutes from the cabin, Blue Heron is at the end of Blue Heron Road, off of Route 742. You can find it on Google Maps as Blue Heron Mining Community.

  • By Rail: You can ride the Big South Fork Scenic Railway to the mine. The railway is based in Stearns, Kentucky, and operates along a historic route that played a crucial role in the region's coal mining industry. The train ride offers a scenic journey through the picturesque landscapes of the Big South Fork area, passing stunning views along the way. The round-trip journey typically takes a few hours, including the time spent at the Blue Heron Mining Community.

  • By Water: There is a canoe launch at Blue Heron and the stretch from here to Yamacraw is a popular one for paddlers as it is beginner-friendly.

  • By Foot: There are several fantastic hikes around Blue Heron, including the 6.5 mile Blue Heron Loop. The trail climbs up to the bluffs overlooking Blue Heron and nearby Devils Jump rapid, then circles back around to the mining community along the river.

Visit Details

Here’s some information to help you plan your trip to the Blue Heron Mine.

  • Where: 4564 Leatherwood Road, Oneida, TN 37841

  • Cost: FREE!

  • Hours: The outdoor exhibits are always open. Last time we checked, the Interpretive Center (a large modern building with rangers, bathrooms, water, and WiFi) is open April 1- Oct 31, 930 am – 430 pm, Wed – Sun. But check their official site for the latest info. 

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