The City of Middlesborough, Kentucky, (population 9,626) located in Southeast Kentucky in Bell County, is one of the largest communities in the Tri-State area. At the foot of the Cumberland Gap on the opposite side of the border from Tennessee and Virginia, Middlesborough has a storied past stretching from Daniel Boone, to an industrial boom in the 1890s, and a colorful story around bootlegging in the 20th century.
- Cultural Resource Survey: Documented over 291 historic buildings and presented results in an online database at RuskinArc.
- Downtown Revitalization: Served as Executive Director of the Middlesborough Main Street program from 2008 to 2012.
- Heritage Tourism: Wrote Bootleggers Tour.
- Historic Preservation: Restored George Washington Pridemore House at 406 North 25th Street.
I moved my young family from Long Island (by way of Texas) to Appalachian Kentucky where I led a downtown revitalization program from 2012 to 2016. The area was 98% forested within a few miles of our house and we could walk to Tennessee and Virginia.
The day I arrived on August 11, 2012 was the “Hands Across Coal” rally. Entering Kentucky there were hundreds of people lining the street holding hands to protest the loss of over 10,000 coal mining jobs and $1B of payroll.
We achieved revitalization through focusing on entrepreneurship through rapid activation projects. During one we started the Maker’s Market to highlight local artisans. The New York Community Trust funded a multi-year training program to help artists sell online.
Another initiative brought free live concerts to a vacant lot in the heart of the downtown. The Levitt AMP concert series was funded by the Levitt Foundation in 2014 and every year since. Free concerts built community through music. Here’s Grady Champion closing out the second season in 2016.
My last day on the job the town officially sold alcohol for the first time. A few months prior they had voted to go “moist” after decades of being “dry.” I can’t tell you how satisfying it was to buy and drink my first beer legally even if it was as I was leaving.
Towards the end politics made it harder and harder to stay there, especially as my boys then age 7 and 5 were entering 1st grade and kindergarten. When an opportunity came to lead a similar revitalization program in Metuchen, New Jersey, I moved in Oct 2016. My family followed 6 months later.
I’ll always be grateful for my time in Kentucky, and for meeting some of the kindest and most generous people I’ve known in my life. While not wealthy by any means, there were untold riches in those hills of Appalachia.
My experience also demonstrated the ability for anyone to achieve anything they set their mind to, especially in a small town where it only takes a handful of people to make a huge impact. The most gratifying thing about my work is that revitalization continues.