Kentucky, with its rich history and natural beauty, hides a darker side within its rolling hills and scenic landscapes. Among the forgotten places left behind by time is Paradise, a ghost town that once thrived as a coal mining community.
The Ascent and Decline of Paradise
Situated in Muhlenberg County, approximately 10 miles east of Greenville, Paradise was founded in the early 1800s, deriving its name from the lush green surroundings. Boasting a population of over 2,000 at its zenith, the town featured a school, a church, a post office, a hotel, a bank, and numerous stores and businesses.
The primary economic driver for Paradise was coal mining, commencing in the late 1800s. The town’s strategic location near the Green River facilitated the transportation of coal to various markets. Additionally, a railroad station connected Paradise to neighboring towns and cities, turning it into a bustling hub of activity and commerce.
However, changes began in the 1950s as coal demand waned and the environmental consequences of mining became apparent. Air and water quality in the town deteriorated, with the river becoming contaminated by coal ash and waste. Frequent floods, landslides, and fires further plagued Paradise, prompting many residents to seek better opportunities elsewhere. By the 1960s, the town stood nearly deserted.
The Demise of Paradise
The final blow to Paradise arrived in the late 1960s when the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) decided to construct a coal-fired power plant near the town. To cool the plant, the TVA needed to create a reservoir, necessitating the flooding of the town and surrounding land. The remaining residents and businesses were bought out, and most buildings were demolished. Only the cemetery and a few historic landmarks were spared. In 1967, Paradise was submerged underwater, and the power plant was completed in 1970.
Today, the smokestacks of the power plant are the sole visible remnants of Paradise, towering over the lake that conceals the town. The power plant remains operational, ranking as one of the largest coal-fired plants in the country. While the lake offers opportunities for fishing and boating, access to the town itself is unavailable. The cemetery and historic landmarks, situated on higher ground, are open to the public. Former residents and their descendants gather annually for a reunion and memorial service.
The Heritage of Paradise
Although Paradise may have vanished, it is far from forgotten. The town has served as inspiration for various artists and writers, with the iconic song “Paradise” by John Prine being a notable example. A folk singer hailing from nearby Illinois, Prine’s song pays nostalgic homage to the town and its people, mourning the loss of nature and culture. The song has been covered by artists such as Johnny Cash, John Denver, and Dwight Yoakam.
Paradise’s story has also found a place in books, documentaries, and films. Among them is the 1981 film “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” recounting the life of Loretta Lynn, a country singer born in a nearby town, whose father worked in the Paradise mines. The film garnered seven Academy Award nominations and secured one win for Best Actress, awarded to Sissy Spacek for her portrayal of Lynn.
While Paradise may remain a hidden ghost town in the annals of history, it stands as a poignant reminder within Kentucky’s heritage. It serves as a reflection on the past and a cautionary tale for the future, a place where paradise was lost but not entirely erased.