Photo: The Museum of Scott County, on the campus of Scott High School, is America’s only museum to be designed, built and curated by students (Ben Garrett)
A rural community in southern Appalachia, our culture is one that has long been forged from the rivers and mountains that we call home; the same resources that are shared with our visitors today.
The retail hub of Scott County, the Town of Oneida, was founded as a railroad town at the end of the 19th Century and first few years of the 20th Century. It was the mining and timber industries that brought the railroad to Scott County, and those same industries served as the backbone of the local economy for many years to come.
After long weeks in the coal mines or the log woods, Scott County men would often load up their families and head for the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River to camp, fish and swim. The rivers and the forests around them were more than a means of substance for Scott Countians; they were also a means of recreation.
In the mid part of the 20th Century, as many streams in the South were dammed to help serve the growing energy needs of the region, a proposal to dam the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River made its way before Congress. Ultimately, it was rejected. Several years later, Sen. Howard H. Baker, Jr., a native son of Scott County and rising star in the U.S. Senate, led a proposal to turn the lands surrounding the Big South Fork of the Cumberland and the gorge encasing it into a national park, ensuring that the beautiful area would never be submerged by water and that the way of life Scott Countians enjoyed would forever be preserved. The congressional act establishing the Big South Fork passed in 1974, and land acquisition began in 1979. A decade later, development of the 125,000-acre Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area was complete and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers turned it over to the National Park Service.
Although there was initially some minor resistance from local citizens who had long enjoyed roaming the land freely and disapproved of road closures and other limits that accompany national parks, most soon came to see the Big South Fork NRRA as a good thing.
Today, there lies beneath the raw beauty of the Big South Fork NRRA subtle clues to the culture of the region for those who know where to look and what to look for. Some, such as farms and homesteads within the park’s boundaries that have been preserved, are obvious. Others — an occasional railroad spike from the Oneida & Western Railroad that traversed the rugged territory now known as the Big South Fork from the turn of the century to the World War II era, or tombstones bearing hand-chiseled names and nearly hidden by forest growth, or old springs that were once a source of drinking water — aren’t so obvious.
On the opposite end of Scott County, timber and mining operations continue even today in the beautiful Cumberland Mountains. ATV riders can see some of those operations up close and personal while riding in one of the nation’s most popular off-road destinations, Brimstone Recreation, or on the North Cumberland Wildlife Management Area.
For a true step back in time, when our ancestors were carving out a life on the beautiful Cumberland Plateau, visit the Spring Planting Festival, the Appalachian Heritage Festival or Haunting in the Hills.