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This is a contributing entry for Still: Cumberland Gap and only appears as part of that tour.Learn More.
Berkau Park's memory-monument represents the continuing story of resources and industry in the Cumberland Gap region. Constructed from metal and stone, it utilizes two of many materials that have driven the region’s industry and economy. The resources of the surrounding landscape have shaped Cumberland Gap as we know it today, often by contradictory forces of preservation and exploitation. From the glamorous hopes of the Four Season’s Resort to the destructive process of logging, the region’s natural resources have often been treated as either pristine beauty or raw material. Read more about this theme below, look through related images, and listen to the audio to hear about a local experience of it.

"Pinnacle Mountain"

A line of train cars cuts across Cumberland Gap's mountainside.

A Train Nears Cumberland Gap

Plant, Sky, Nature, Mountain

"The Old Water Mill"

Gristmill, Plant, Building, Window

"A Kentucky Coal Mine near Cumberland Gap"

Plant, Water, Cloud, Building

Decades after the Civil War, Cumberland Gap was caught up in the plans of the “American Association”, a group of English capitalists led by Alexander Arthur, to make the region both an industrial center and an elite vacation destination. The group purchased thousands of acres and opened the Four Seasons Hotel, a 20 million dollar investment, in 1892. Accompanying infrastructure in Middlesboro was developed for obtaining and distributing the area’s timber and iron ore. From 1886-1892, almost all of the buildings in Cumberland Gap were replaced. Notably, the American Association’s headquarters still stands on Colwyn Street today. Falling into financial difficulties, the American Association’s venture did not survive the turn of the century. This failure resulted in stunted growth for Cumberland Gap until the 1920s brought interest in the region’s coal deposits.

The nature of the area’s opportunities have changed. In years past, opportunity took the form of extracting stone and iron ore, mining coal, logging, or utilizing hydropower. One can still find many relics of past industry within or near the town, like the iron furnace that sits behind Berkau Park or the Old Mill's water wheel. Today, the natural wonder and rich history of the region is perhaps the most important resource, as outdoor recreation beckons tourists and locals to Cumberland Gap. 

Dedicated to Russell Berkau, the Russell Berkau Memorial Park was established in June of 1991 by the town of Cumberland Gap. The park is located at the former site of The Pinnacle Wagon Manufacturing Company.

Dedication plaque, on-site, at Russel Berkau Memorial Park. 1991.

Holt, Edgar A. . Claiborne County. Memphis, TN. Memphis State University Press, 1981.

National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, February 23, 1990.

Sweet, Natalie. Harrogate and Cumberland Gap. Charleston, SC. Arcadia Publishing, 2014.

Image Sources(Click to expand)

Bell County Historical Society

Bell County Historical Society

Bell County Historical Society

Bell County Historical Society