'We could lose history.' Appalachian archives soaked in record Kentucky flooding

Bill Estep and Austin Horn, Lexington Herald-Leader on

Published in Weather News

LEXINGTON, Ky. — A good bit of Appalachian history and arts got soaked in the record flooding in Eastern Kentucky.

In Whitesburg, water may have breached the vault at Appalshop, where the arts and media collective stored more than 20,000 items, including decades worth of film, oral histories, videotapes of musical performances, photo collections and other records.

Driven by rainfall of eight inches or more in places in just a few hours, the North Fork of the Kentucky River in Whitesburg swelled to more than six feet above the old record flood, inundating downtown.

“Some of the film from Appalshop was all through the streets and everything,” said Austin Caudill, 24, who lives downtown. “We could lose not just businesses but history.”

In neighboring Knott County, Troublesome Creek gushed out of its banks and flooded buildings at another institution that seeks to preserve and further traditional Appalachian culture, the Hindman Settlement School.

High water damaged the administrative offices, housing and classroom spaces, a historic cabin and the school’s archives, said the executive director of the school, Mike Anderson.


The archive collection included books, dulcimers, photos, old newspapers and handwritten journals from local residents recounting life in the mountainous coal county.

Staffers saved the musical instruments, but it’s likely some of the archival materials can’t be salvaged, Anderson said Saturday.

“I think that’s the biggest heartbreak of this whole thing,” Anderson said.

Water also reached a depth of more than three feet in Appalachian School of Luthiery near the settlement school in downtown Hindman, which trains people in substance-abuse recovery to make stringed instruments such as dulcimers.


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