Martin’s Fork Time Machine

First and foremost before I begin this entry I want to give credit and thanks to the Martins Fork Lake Facebook page for sharing these photos. Ever since I was small I have always wondered what the land looked like before the lake was built at Smith. So, with great gratitude I thank the folks who control the lake’s social media page for having the thoughtfulness and courtesy to share these wonderful archives with us.

Martins Fork Lake Construction (Mid-Late 1970s) Im starting off the photos with what I consider to be the holy grail of the bunch. This photo is looking toward the bridge nearest the beach. Imagine that little road running up and down the middle is the road along the beach area. If you look closely you can see the roof of the old Smith School and the rock church near the center. Im shocked at how flat this area was. Martins Fork Lake Construction (Mid-Late 1970s)
This second picture is looking off toward the lake from the last bridge. In fact, to this day, if the water is down far enough you can still tell where this bridge was that is in the picture.
Martins Fork Lake Construction (Mid-Late 1970s) The rest of the photos are pretty self explanatory, but fascinating no doubt. Martins Fork Lake Construction (Mid-Late 1970s)

The last picture is an old welcome sign that was at the lake until the 1980s according to the lake’s Facbook page.
Martins Fork Lake Construction (Mid-Late 1970s)

I also have a couple of other entries that includes more historical pictures from Martins Fork Lake and the Smith community that I posted a few years ago, if you are interested in reading those articles you can do so by clicking  the links below:

Smith Kentucky; A Glimpse To The Past, Present and Futrue

Smith Presbyterian Church

Diving Into The Archives

Recently, and by recently I mean within the past 72 hours, I have been exposed to a vast array of historic aerial photography archives from my home town that are readily (with a fee) available to the public from as far back as 1952. The first that I decided to purchase is this shot:
1952 Aerial View of Where I live. For comparison as to what you are looking at here is the same image marked with where my house is now. 1952
For even further reference for anyone familiar (IE family) Here is notations of what each building was that showed up on the land in 1952.
1952 None of these structures are still around today. Its really neat to see a visual representation, especially from the air to show what I have heard my grandmother and my parents and aunts and uncles talk about for years and years. For a representation of how things have changed in this little community I took a screen shot of the most recent google earth image (fall 2016) from the same exact location 2015 Aerial View of my Neighborhood
If you notice in the 1952 photos the road has clearly just been constructed as the banks where they blasted the mountain off hasnt grown back at all. You can also make out the old road if you look close enough. According to my dad the old road crossed the river right across from my house and went across and around the other side of the river. You can see that the culvert right by my house has clearly not even been installed yet. Its amazing to me that you can find things such as this on the internet. A lot has changed in 65 years. If you would like more information about these aerial photography archives visit the site by clicking HERE

Smith Presbyterian Church

I’ve talked about the old Smith Presbyterian church on this blog a couple of times before.  Tonight, while digging through the archives of the Harlan Daily Enterprise I found an article dedicated to that church!  i attempted to screen shot it, but it still wasnt good enough to see, so I am going to re-type the article and add the photo.

Smith Church Has Colorful Past                                   June 26, 1975  Smith Church

By Castle Rock Smith

   In the early days of the county the active preaching of Solomon Pope and Noble Burkhart made the upper reaches of Martins Fork, a Methodist stronghold.  The first Presbyterian Sunday School at Smith was organized by my father J.L.Smith.  It met in the log school building near where Board Branch flows into the river.

My most vivid recollection of the Sunday School when we lived at Smith, the year I was seven, was the energetic way Bascomb Burkhart sang hymns.

During the years Mr. Michael devoted to Smith he built a frame church with Sunday School rooms nearby, which served the community for a number of years.

In the late teens a community center was established by the Presbyterian board, with buildings near the Burkhart home.  A number of young women came to serve at the station, and three of them became an intergal part of the community by marrying young men of Smith.

There was a deep place in the nearby Cranks Creek where the young people enjoyed swimming.  One day Jenny Pace was about to drown and Marion Crawford, one of the workers at the mission went to her rescue.  She succeeded in bringing Jenny to safety but upon reaching the shore, dropped dead herself.

The Crawford family gave $5,000 toward building a church in Marion’s memory.

Many others contributed toward this end and the result was the gray stone chapel on it’s grassy Knoll. The attractive gray stone chapel facing beautiful Smith Valley with the sweep of the Cumberland Mountains as a backdrop.

This enchanting — almost out of a storybook– building on the knoll became the much loved church home for the Smith neighborhood.  Many funerals have been held here.  Many children have studied and frolicked at vacation bible schools and many men have preached here.

One of the men who has devoted years of time and effort to the spiritual life of the community is Rev. Boaz Smith, who married Jenny Pace.

Interesting that two of the men who had such a strong influence on the religious life of the community were Smiths, though not related to the Smiths of the valley.

Dr. Thomas Smith an Optomologist at the Harlan Appalachian Regional Hospital preached here for a three year period and is highly regarded by the community.  He has commented on the ecumenical situation at Smith; a Presbyterian Church with a largely Methodist Congregation, using Baptist literature in the Sunday School and pastored by a member of the Church of Christ.

Truly the one God was the Lord of all in one of the gems of his handiwork, Smith Valley.

But this Eden has had its troubles.  In the 40’s  something went wrong with the heating system and services were held in the nearby consolidated school.  Many people were not happy away from their church.  Mary Smith Ledford, and David Nathan Smith undertook to clean up the building.  A tremendous job, while not in use it had been vandalized.  Chairs and tables had to be replaced in the basement Sunday School rooms.

Services were moved back to the church.  Dr. Burkhart and Lee Ledford SR reroofed and painted the building.  Things were going well again.  Then came what seemed to be the day of doom.  A dam  was to be constructed that would flood the lovely, historic Smith Valley and the water level would be higher than the knoll.

And again there was heating trouble, so the building was abandoned once more. Now standing, a sand monument to past memories, with everything in it stolen that could be moved, even the plaque giving the names of donors and the date the building stood, waiting to be bulldozed into oblivion.

The members of the church, under the impression that the money paid for the building by the government  was theirs, had called a meeting for the purpose of dividing up the money among the churches in the area.

A laudable intent, but Lee Ledford JR, raised the question of their right to dispose of the money, and on investigation they learned that Presbyterian Church buildings belong to the Presbytery.

The Ledfords now proposed a happy solution.  Why not preserve the building by moving it to higher ground?  The Transylvania Presbytery agreed to use the money for that purpose and the Government granted permission to occupy the land on a higher knoll nearby.  Mr. Asher, a man in Harlan who had moved buildings in Harlan, including a church was contracted to do the job.

With a number of jacks, all operated simultaneously by air pressure, the building was slowly and delicately lifted and steel beams placed under it every few feet.  Then numerous dollies moved into place.  Its solid stone walls made it the heaviest building Mr. Asher had ever moved and the most difficult because it had to be kept level while going up a considerable grade, which had been well prepared in advance.  Special equipment had to be obtained to keep the building level.

One observer of the moving noted that,  despite the combination of a heavy and at the same time meticulously careful operation, he never he never heard an oath.  Mr. Asher is an active churchman in Middlesboro and his crew is a demonstration that a difficult job can be performed without swearing.  Very fitting that such a crew have charge of moving a church.

At this writing the building is still resting on the steel beams that kept it intact.  Trussed high above the ground, waiting for the foundation on which it will be lowered, as carefully as it was raised.

It will be quite a different, but charming location, surrounded by woods, immediately west of the cemetery.   A road from the relocated highway curves around the cemetery to the church.

A dedication service will be held when the landscaping is complete, probably about September.

The Ledford’s had converted a basement room of their home into an attractive chapel, where services will continue to be held pending the day the little congregation returns to it’s home.

ScreenHunter_169 Feb. 08 23.04

ScreenHunter_144 Feb. 03 17.56

ScreenHunter_145 Feb. 03 17.57

ScreenHunter_146 Feb. 03 17.57

Underwater Bridge Pier @ Martin’s Fork Lake


I have a weird fascination with this lake and the way the community was that sat here before its construction.  Today I traced the road leading up to where the old elementary school is to the end of the water as far as I could as it sinks into the lake.  Much to my surprise I was able to clearly make out what appears to be a bridge pier underneath the water.


You can clearly make out the natural lay of the land while the water is this low.  You can also see where the road originally crossed the river.  I wish that I could find some good photos of this area before the lake was built.  My parents have told me countless times things like “and this is where Creed Smith’s store was”  or, “this is where Creed Smith lived”  or “….and Mrs Ball lived right over there”.  I have a mental image in my head of the area, but I would still love to see it.


So many times we take things that are all around us for granted.  No better example of me doing this, is Martins Fork Lake.  On a nice clear day, the water is as blue as can be and the sand is white as snow.


Martins Fork Lake Meets Ice Fog

The fog always does weird things on this lake.  Today while it is mostly frozen over with ice it was exceptionally amazing as I was driving home from work.  Enjoy thee pictures of Martins Fork Lake in Harlan County from today.IMG_0006 IMG_0008 IMG_0010 IMG_0011 IMG_0005 IMG_0003

Smith Kentucky; A Glimpse To The Past, Present and Futrue

I figured one of the best places to start this blog would be to write about what I know and what I am familiar with.  Having lived in Smith for the better part of my life I like to think I know a lot about the area and it’s recent history.

But there has always been a part of the Smith and Martins Fork community’s history that I’ve always heard about, but never quite been able to put my finger on.  Oh I’ve heard the stories of Smith Elementary.  I’ve saw the foundation of where the school once sat and over looked what has been described to me as some of the most beautiful farm land in all of southeastern Kentucky.  I’ve heard tale of Creed Smith’s store and the beautiful stone work of the Smith Presbyterian Church that once stood over near the school.  If you walk down around the back side of the lake  when the water levels are down you can follow the path where Kentucky State Route 987 once winded around the valley.  In a few spots you can even still make out the yellow line.


With these remnants of what once was the Smith community, and stories from my parents, other family members and neighbors I can almost piece together and paint a picture in my mind of what it was like here prior to the early 1970s.


This church was destroyed years after the lake was built and it really is a shame that such a beautiful, historic building was destroyed.


This was the Smith Elmentary School.  My dad and his siblings attended school here.  The school was closed in the early 70s when planning and preparations were being made to construct the lake.  However, unlike many of the other structures and homes, it was not razed until years later in the early 90s.

I’m so thankful for these past pictures and these remnants scattered among the lake site of the history of my community.  However, I often wonder, what if the picture I am painting in my mind of what the community around the school and the church is completely different from what it actually was?  No matter how it was, I am sure it was absolutely beautiful.

Today Martin’s Fork Lake attracts nearly 200,000 visitors a year and provides much needed flood control for communities down river on the Cumberland River.  The lake provides a beach, playground equipment,  volleyball and basketball courts, hiking and covered and uncovered picnic areas along with fishing opportunities.    Today the Smith community continues to thrive.  It is home to roughly 300 people scattered along the valley along the Martins Fork of the Cumberland River.  There are 4 churches in operation in the community and a country store.


Upon digging in to the facts of the lake, its construction and its current status I found some very interesting details on the US Army Corp of Engineers website.  Did you know that Martins Fork Dam is the only Corps’ structure, stateside, to be constructed while “under fire.”  The contractors were fired upon from the surrounding hillsides on three occasions.  Now there is an interesting fact to chew on.

For more information about Martins Fork Lake you can visit the Army Corp of Engineer’s page at

For more information about the community of Smith, its history and current happenings you can go to the facebook page: