Paradise in Kentucky

Contributed by Dorann O'Neal Lam

Source: Ohio County News, Hartford, KY, 10 October 1974, by Agnes S. Harralson.

Much has been made of how Paradise (a misnomer) came full cycle with another failure on 17 November 1967 when the Post Office closed and the five or six remaining families sold their homes and moved elsewhere in the county. That was said to be the third failure for Paradise. The other two were authentic alright, but that is a long story.

Muhlenberg County consists of 175 square miles of mineral rich land in Western Kentucky. It is bounded on three sides by three different rivers. Pond River forms the West border, Green River is on the North, and the East boundary is Mud River. Kentucky is blessed with more navigable streams than any state in the union. One of the busiest of them at present is the Green. Lying wholly within the state, the Green and her tributaries drain the Western one-third of the state, and influences the lives of the people in the 17 or more counties she borders or crosses. From the mouth, a few miles above Evansville, to mile 103 at Rochester, there is a nine-foot channel, enabling the use of Ohio River type barges to handle the coal shipped from half a dozen of the nation's largest coal mines.

In the 1850s coal was being barged in much the same manner from a mine near Paradise, and from one on Mud River. Small barges were poled 12 miles down Mud River to Rochester where it was reloaded into Green River barges and taken by steamboat to Evansville or Memphis. The empty barge was “cordelled” back 12 miles to the mine.

It was in the late 1790s the Jacob Stom family came up the Green with Revolutionary War Land Grants in their pockets, and staked out claims in the Paradise area. They established a ferry and it was known as Stom''s Landing for more than 40 years. Lost in the annals of time is the reason for changing the name to Paradise.

Jacob Stom and his two sons developed their farms and ran the first store in the area. They took an active interest in the affairs of the county. Philip was one of the first petit jurors of the Circuit Court in 1803.

Paradise, like other little river towns of 125 years ago, struggled along between the devastating floods and grew little. But in the 1850s they came alive with the arrival, at their landing, of a band of miners and iron workers from Ayrshire in Scotland. They had come to develop the iron ore found about a mile below Paradise. There were about 35 houses in Paradise at that time, and the excitement was high as the new homes were built less than a mile away, and the handsome blocks of stone were quarried a few yards from where the furnace and engine house were being built.

The titled Alexanders in Scotland had smelted the Black Band ore in Ayrshire for several generations, but with time the ore had been depleted. The owner decided to come to Kentucky and erect something monumental on Green River and give employment to any who wished to accompany him. Their fare would be underwritten and a fair wage paid until the works went into operation. It was only natural they called their new home Airdrie for their old home far away. It was a long time in building and it is a well known story that after three or four attempts the $350,000 investment was written off and Alexander left the stranded Scots to their own ingenuity.

Had it not been for the Paradise-Airdrie failure in 1857, the coal industry in Western Kentucky would no doubt present a different face today…Among the Airdrians were the Duncans and the MacDougals who continued to run the McLean Mine near the furnace, giving employment to as many as possible, as they shipped the coal to the river. But it was not enough and the Duncans left the McLean Bank with MacDougal and they went up the river and opened a mine at Aberdeen. By the time the war ended they had good prospects for shipping a large amount of coal to the growing industry on the big rivers below.

Like many other Southern states after the war, Kentucky had no funds to repair their river improvements it was becoming almost impossible to navigate the stream. So, in 1868, without much ado, the Kentucky Legislature passed a bill giving a 30-year lease to the Bowling Green and Evansville Navigation Company to keep up the locks and dams and collect the tolls. In return they were to keep the locks in repair and give a $500,000 bond to return them in good shape at the end of the lease. Their collections were no greater than had been the state's, so to break even they began buying coal lands and more boats which they ran toll free, freezing out other shippers. It was the worst monopoly the state had ever known.

By 1870 railroads were coming to Western Kentucky, so the Duncans sold Aberdeen and moved to McHenry in Ohio County. There they remained until 1900 when they came back to Muhlenberg County and opened a mine, first at Luzerne, and two years later the Graham-Skibo mines at Graham.

W.G. Duncan gained his experience at his father's mines at Paradise, Aberdeen and McHenry, and he headed the company at Luzerne and Graham until his death in 1929. The Graham Mine was the largest in West Kentucky with shipments on the Illinois Central Railroad. They occupied a prominent position in coal circles everywhere. They were recognized in “Coal Age” magazine in 1914 as the largest producing mine in the field. In November 1957, the stockholders gave a formal approval to the sale of the company to Peabody Coal Company and the underground mine was closed.

It was shortly after the Civil War that Paradise had another shot in the arm when General Don Carlos Buell, a Union general, who had soldiered through Kentucky, got a 40-year lease on the Alexander lands with a thought of developing the coal and the oil. But he too failed, and later at his death in 1898 the place again reverted to nature.

In 1959, a few remaining inhabitants were left at Paradise and that summer and fall most of the land had been bought by some unknown party at a good price, but no one knew who nor why.

It had always been said that Muhlenberg County exported her most important product, her young people, who were forced to leave the county to find gainful employment. The people in Paradise hoped, as they read the new, that Paradise would get a new lease on life, but, of course, the young people who found work wanted to live near larger towns, near schools, country clubs, shopping and medical centers, and Paradise was bypassed and you could count the families on your two hands and fingers to spare.

After the plant was in operation there were days when a south wind showered them with an unpleasant cinder fallout from the tall stacks a mile away. So when TVA offered to buy the remaining properties there was a ready acceptance of the offer.

In November 1967, Postmaster Buchanan dispatched his last bag of mail and the office closed. His unique store, with its huge open fireplace, built to accommodate his tobacco chewing customers who could never seem to hit the door of the stove, also was soon closed, and the last of the residents found homes in more prosperous and cleaner parts of the county. It is doubtful that any would return to Paradise if given the opportunity today.