The Best Ghost Towns To Visit in Kentucky

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Kentucky’s hill country is full of ghost towns, from the abandoned mushroom mines of Lawton to the silent remains of the old Cherokee settlement at Scuffletown. You can even stay the night at the living history museum at the site of Barthell Coal Camp!
Kentucky is famous for horse racing and spectacular caves, but the Bluegrass State also boasts a rich history of coal mining. Many of Kentucky’s ghost towns are former mining towns or coal depots, and they’re the perfect (creepy) way to explore the state’s history. 
If you’re making a tour of Kentucky ghost towns, the car insurance super app Jerry can help protect you against the unexpected with a robust insurance policy. Download the app, save money, and use Jerry’s guide to explore these four fascinating places in Kentucky. 

Barthell

Distant shot of waterfall with green leaves framing the image
Cumberland River Falls, Barthell, Kentucky

What is the story of Barthell?

Barthell, located along the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River in the Eastern Kentucky Coalfield, was the first of 18 mining camps built by the Stearns Coal and Lumber Company in 1902. 
The rich supply of coal underneath this patch of earth made Barthell a booming company town by the 1930s, when as many as 100,000 tons of coal came out of the mine each month. 
The onset of World War II increased the rate of coal production at Barthell, but tragedy struck at the height of the war in 1943. A fire destroyed half the mine, and the Stearns Coal and Lumber Company chose to redirect the labor to the Blue Heron Mining Complex. In 1952, the company began to shut down the mine; by 1961, the shafts were closed permanently
But Barthell was destined to achieve a second life: it’s now an open-air living history museum. Starting in 1984, Harold C. “Sonny” Koger and his family restored the mining camp, which now offers private tours and overnight stays in 15 renovated company houses

What makes Barthell special?

Barthell is the only Kentucky ghost town that lets you spend the night! Visiting the old coal camp is a great way to learn about Kentucky’s labor history and explore the natural beauty of the Cumberland Plateau. 
  • Points of interest in the coal camp include a moonshine still, a reconstructed bathhouse, and a display of antique cars and trucks from the 1930s
  • Private tours, offered from May to October, will take you hundreds of feet into the abandoned mine. 
  • You can also tour the ghost reconstruction of the Blue Heron complex (Mine 18). 
  • Listen to interviews with former residents created by the Barthell Coal Company Oral History Project.

How to visit Barthell

To get to the Barthell Coal Camp, take Kentucky Route 92 from Monticello and turn right onto State Highway 1651 at Stearns Car Wash. From there: 
  • Turn right onto Kentucky 741
  • Turn right again onto Kentucky 742 at First Hickory Grove United Baptist Church
  • Continue along 742 until you reach Blue Heron Road, which will take you to Barthell
If you’re coming from the east or south, you can get to State Highway 1651 via US 27. Continue along Kentucky 741 and 742 from there. 
Pro Tip: Call ahead to check the prices for lodging and tours at the coal camp. 
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Scuffletown

Vibrant sun setting over the Ohio River overlooking Scuffletown, Kentucky. Framed on the right side by sand and brush, sun peeking through the trees.
Ohio River Overlooking Scuffletown, Kentucky

What is the story of Scuffletown?

Scuffletown’s history is a tale of taverns and tragedy. In 1800, a Shawnee man named Jonathan Thomas Scott opened a tavern on the banks of the Ohio River with his Cherokee wife, Mary Cooper. 
In the years that followed, as a small Cherokee community made its home in the surrounding area, the flatboatmen who stopped to sample Scott’s liquor called the place Scuffletown
The Cherokee built a thriving town here in the early 1800s, clinging on through the violence of the Trail of Tears and the Civil War. After the war, a group of Cherokee reunited in Scuffletown, and the governor of Kentucky granted recognition to the Southern Cherokee Nation of Kentucky in 1893. 
In the end, it was the river that spelled Scuffletown’s doom: two major floods in 1913 and 1937 decimated the population, leaving only a shell of the Indigenous community that once gave it life. 

What makes Scuffletown special?

Scuffletown is a unique spot with a window into Kentucky’s Indigenous history. 
  • You can listen to oral history recordings with former Scuffletown residents at the Henderson County Public Library. 
  • In 2001, the US Fish and Wildlife Service proposed creating a nature preserve in the Scuffletown Bottoms, as the surrounding area on the banks of the Ohio is known. 
  • Famous ornithologist John James Audubon once lived near Scuffletown. You can visit John James Audubon State Park nearby in Henderson County. 

How to visit Scuffletown

To visit what’s left of Scuffletown, take US 60-E out of Henderson. Turn left onto Kentucky State Highway 811 at Beals Pentecostal Church. Continue along 811 for a few miles, then turn left onto Ohio River No. 2 Road just past Brickwall Cemetery. 
Pro Tip: Floods destroyed Scuffletown in the early 20th century, so it’s a good idea to check the forecast if you’re planning to head out to Scuffletown Bottoms. 

Lawton

Close up of white mushrooms growing out of the soil
Lawton, Kentucky Mushrooms

What is the story of Lawton?

Teenagers and thrill-seekers in eastern Kentucky are familiar with the legend of the Lawton mushroom mines. In 1917, Watt Hillman founded the Tygart Limestone Company in Lawton, Kentucky and dug an underground mine under the town. 
Over time, the Lawton mine stretched across 136 acres and contained 2.6 million square feet of tunnels supplying limestone for railroads and agriculture. 
The mine shut down after WWII. In the 1960s, an enthusiastic mushroom farming cooperative discovered that the underground tunnels the Tygart company dug offered exactly the right conditions for growing fungi. They were cool, dark, and moist, and—best of all—abandoned. 
With help from a government loan, the old Tygart limestone mines became the Lawton mushroom mines in 1967, and by the mid-1970s mushrooms provided the area with many of its jobs.  
But the mines shut down again in the 1980s—this time for good. Today, the Lawton mushroom mines are a hotspot for local teenagers and explorers. Out on Kentucky Route 174, you can see the abandoned shells of a general store, a shed, and a stone house that once made up the mushroom-loving town of Lawton. 

What makes Lawton special?

Lawton is a quintessential Appalachian ghost town, complete with stories of labor crises and legends of hauntings. 
  • Local rumors claim that a strange, pale man sometimes chases explorers out of the mines. 
  • The mine dug by the Tygart Limestone Company in the 1920s included an underground lake in addition to millions of square feet of tunnels. 
  • In 2004, the bodies of a married couple were discovered inside the mushroom mine. Gary and Cheryl Young’s son was later charged with their murders
  • Two years later, in 2006, a California tech storage company called Global Data Corporation tried to start the “Stone Mountain Ultra-Secure Data Complex” inside the mushroom mines—but charges of fraud and embezzlement doomed the project. 

How to visit Lawton

If you want to visit the mushroom mines yourself, you’ll want to start in nearby Olive Hill just off I-64. Turn right at the Dairy Queen onto W Tom T Hall Boulevard, then left at Qualls Oil onto Kentucky Route 174, also known as Lawton Road. 
When you see the remains of an old stone house and a general store on the left side of the road, turn left onto the road in between the abandoned structures. County Road 1294, or Mushroom Road, will lead you south to the mouth of the mines. 
If you want to combine your trip to the mines with some less creepy underground exploration, head to Carter Caves State Resort Park, located just north of Olive Hill. 
Pro Tip: Be cautious while exploring the mines. Although they’re structurally safe, they’re also a site for drug deals and other extralegal activities. 

Rocky Hill

Wide shot of abandoned church, grass in the foreground, flock of birds to the left of the tower.
Abandoned Church, Kentucky

What is the story of Rocky Hill?

In the 1920s, the Louisville and Nashville Railroad, nicknamed “The Old Reliable,” stopped every day in Rocky Hill to drop off coal. As a major delivery depot, Rocky Hill boasted all the grandeur of a Jazz Age boomtown: two hotels, two livery stables, a bank, and a bustling train station. 
One warm July night in 1930, a fire started somewhere in town. Nobody knows how it started, but the flames spread quickly and the volunteer fire department was soon overwhelmed. By sunrise, half the town had been consumed by the fire, and Rocky Hill never recovered. 
Today, railroad tracks still cut through Rocky Hill, but they can’t bring the little town back to its former glory. Rocky Hill’s nothing more than a post office, a few houses, and a scattering of abandoned churches and other structures along a lonely stretch of highway. 
Ironically, the Rocky Hill Volunteer Fire Department is still in operation nearly a hundred years after the catastrophic fire. 

What makes Rocky Hill special?

There are actually two Rocky Hills in Kentucky—one in Barren County and one in Edmonson County. This ghost town is in Edmonson County, just south of Mammoth Cave. 
  • Locals say a woman’s ghost haunts the water under a bridge just off Rocky Hill Road. If you stop there and put your car in neutral, she might push you off the bridge! 
  • Every year, the town of Rocky Hill holds a “Rocky Hill Days” festival to try to keep the town’s memory alive. 

How to visit Rocky Hill

Head south on Kentucky Route 259 from Mammoth Cave National Park to see what’s left of Rocky Hill. It’s best to visit Rocky Hill by car, and you should combine your visit with a trip to the national park. 

Why you need good car insurance

A trip to any of Kentucky’s ghost towns will take you along some of the country’s most rural highways. Guard yourself against the unexpected by shopping for a rock-solid insurance policy with Jerry
Jerry knows how to get you the best deals on the coverage you need. Download the app, and in just 45 seconds you could be looking at dozens of competitive quotes. 
If you’re planning a drive into the lonely hills of the Eastern Kentucky Coalfield or along the haunted banks of the Ohio River, it’s a good idea to look for a policy that includes towing and labor coverage to get you out of any scary situations on the road. 
Once you’ve found the policy that works for you, you won’t have to spend any time filling out forms or calling insurance agents—Jerry does all the work for you, and they’ll even cancel any old policy to get you set up with savings. 
Jerry users find an average of $879 a year in car insurance savings through the app! 
Jerry was helpful every step of the way. They saved me over $100 a month for insurance in Kentucky.” —Jim F.
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