Commonwealth Journal

Local News

March 17, 2007

Looking back at the birth of Lake Cumberland

Early 1950s changed face of Pulaski County forever

Somerset — “Pulaski Countians will look back on 1950 as a year of tremendous construction projects: The building and completion of several magnificent bridges, the complete disappearance of Old Burnside and development of a New Burnside ... and several miles of new railroad in the southern part of the county.”

This report was published in The Commonwealth, predecessor of the Commonwealth Journal, on Jan. 3, 1951. The weekly newspaper was reflecting on newly formed Lake Cumberland as it forever changed the face of the land and focus of the community.

An unstable Wolf Creek Dam is cause to cherish the origin of a resource that spurred Somerset from economic doldrums into the fastest growing community in southeastern Kentucky. Being near an indescribably beautiful lake has brought new jobs as well as vacationing fun seekers who spend money like it’s going out of style.

However, despite the community’s unprecedented growth, optimism suddenly has lost some luster. The leaking dam and resulting low water level generate uneasiness about the economic fiber of a 10-county area.

Lake Cumberland was an economic savior. The generous waters gurgled with new hope and prosperity after the Ferguson Railroad Shops closed. The Shops, where steam engines were repaired, shut down and 600 high-paying jobs were lost when diesel engines started pulling trains.

Lake Cumberland filled to the brim as Burnside scurried to move the town to higher ground. Signs of the former city and narrow old U.S. 27 are visible while the lake is at a low level.

The Commonwealth was especially verbose during a time when newspaper writers in small towns were usually concise.

“ ... Many families in the southern and western sections of the county moved out because farms and homes will be inundated by the reservoir water. The homes, barns and business houses were torn down by the Army Corps of Engineers,” the newspaper reported.

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