In 1767, having previously explored the Cumberland Gap, intrepid pioneer Daniel Boone was on a mission—he was searching for a more direct passage into Kentucky and the Ohio Valley. Boone eventually discovered a passage at the northern terminus of the 125-mile stretch of Pine Mountain. This passage soon became known as “The Breaks."
While the ruggedness of the Breaks forced Boone to continue searching for a more desirable route, others would follow in Boone’s footsteps with varying and sometimes tragic results. Take the case of Richard Potter, arguably the most famous settler in the Breaks. Potter toiled his whole life, farming in the Breaks; one can imagine he may have become a hard man, weathered by the elements over time. But nothing wore away at Potter more than the tragic outcome of a chance encounter with a returning Civil War soldier in 1865.
Battle of the breaks
George Carter’s team survey part of the Clinchfield line. Later they would be locked in an epic race with a competing railroad in the “Battle of the Breaks.”
Or perhaps the story of 14 year-old Jim Counts and the Yellow Poplar Lumber Company, which, in 1909, had just spent the summer using mule teams to haul in millions of pounds of concrete to construct the world’s first concrete splashdam. Jim and countless others like him faced deadly peril making sure the logs made it from the remote dam to market.
Then there was George Carter, a young entrepreneur who rose to prominence in the area and had his sights set high; Carter was determined to see his railroad be the first to establish a route connecting the mid-west through the mineral rich Appalachians to the seaports of the Carolinas. But in 1902, he would first have to face off with a rival in what became known as the “Battle of the Breaks."
“santa claus” train
Clinchfield engines were capable of hauling three times the freight load that could be hauled by its competitors due to the superior Engineering standards of the line.
In the prior decade, Sam Hurley became known as “Bad Sam” for his exploits while working in a lumber camp. In 1905, the past came knocking for Hurley in the form of a revenue agent forming a posse to help break up a notorious distillery. This opportune meeting would eventually lead to an epic shootout between moonshiners and revenuers.
Explorers, settlers, soldiers, loggers, railroaders, revenuers and moonshiners weren’t the only ones to make an imprint on the storied history of the Breaks. Next came one of the Breaks' fiercest protectors–Kelly Day. In 1900, Day read a magazine story by John Fox, Jr. about a fishing adventure in the Breaks and he became determined to visit, which he did in 1905. This would turn out to be an important corner turned in the history of the Breaks, which would culminate in 1954 with the establishment of the Breaks Interstate Park.
Some 36,000 logs were “dumped” during the inaugural explosion at the world’s first concrete splashdam at the Breaks.
Stewards of the Breaks understand the significance of preserving and protecting not only the landscape, but also the history of this powerful place. Each individual mentioned above had a hand in shaping the Breaks, but the story doesn’t end there. Although companies like the Yellow Poplar Lumber Company have come and gone, forces both commercial and political still threaten this amazing resource upon which is layered a rich history that spans generations.
If you have ever heard the roar of freedom in a river, a sound so powerful you swear it could shake the stars, perhaps the time has come to ask yourself what that’s worth to you. Perhaps the time has come to add your voice to the chorus of voices coming together to defend and preserve the untamed American Wilderness of the Breaks.
The Breaks Film had the humblest of beginnings. Its genesis can be traced to a collaboration between members of the Friends of the Breaks and a local boy scout troop working on another project at the Breaks Interstate Park. During that project, the group became aware of the need for a history film at the park’s visitor center – a regular complaint among park patrons.
Recognizing the need, the Friends group took up the challenge to pull together the necessary resources to get a short film produced. However, as they began to peel back the layers to the rich history of the Breaks, the project mushroomed into something much bigger. When the team approached potential contributors throughout the region (and beyond), the response was overwhelmingly positive as the vast majority shared an affinity for the Breaks and were more than willing to offer their time, talents, and resources to help raise awareness of this special place. Soon authors, historians, artists, scientists, archaeologists, et.al. were making meaningful contributions to the film.
The project also has strong ties to the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) as both the co-director of the film and the director of aerial photography are both Eagle Scouts. The park superintendent was also a scout and former District Executive with the BSA and the park itself had hosted numerous scouting events over the decades. Lastly, the film project also served as an Eagle Scout project for a scout from BSA troop 740.
Friends of Breaks Park is a non-profit organization offering support in the areas of conservation, recreational resources, and educational efforts at Breaks Interstate Park, as well as assisting the park in its endeavors in the preservation of our unique landscape.
Established by the U.S. Congress in 1954, Breaks Park is one of only two interstate parks in the United States–a testament to the uniqueness of this wonderful place. It encompasses thousands of acres in Kentucky and Virginia, along the border of those two states.
Being an Interstate Park is a wonderful designation, but it also creates some unique challenges. While traditional state parks receive over half of their funding from their respective state governments, Breaks Interstate Park is administered differently. It only receives ~20 percent of its funding from the states of Kentucky and Virginia. As one can imagine, that presents problems in respect to making park upgrades, providing a variety of recreational and educational opportunities, and better promoting environmental stewardship. And that’s why Friends of Breaks Park was created–to help better serve our visitors, offer more services and opportunities, and to continue improving this wonderful park.
Please join us in our efforts by becoming a Friends of Breaks Park member.
The support we receive through membership, volunteers, and donations assists in many worthwhile causes. The future of this wonderful resource depends on you. Help us make it the best it can be!