Russia’s recent shocking encounter with a meteor brought some much needed attention to my hometown of Middlesboro, Kentucky. Just under two hours north of Knoxville, my hometown of about 10,000 residents is nestled against the Tennessee and Virginia borders. The attention was justified because Middlesboro is considered the site of one of the largest meteor craters in the United States.
According to geologists, an asteroid crashed into the Cumberland Gap about 200 million years ago and created the four-mile wide hollow in the mountains where Middlesboro was developed in the nineteenth century. While the meteor that shook up Russia a couple of weeks ago has been estimated to have been about 55 feet wide, the meteor that hit in prehistoric Appalachia has been estimated to have been about 1,500 feet in diameter.
According to Jack Kennedy of The Christian Science Monitor, “If the Middlesboro Meteor were to occur in 2010, at say, 10 miles per second, the people of southwestern Virginia, eastern Tennessee, and eastern Kentucky within a 100-mile radius of the asteroid impact would see a blast about seven times the brightness of the sun from the resulting three-mile fireball.” Kennedy’s 2012 article also explains that Middlesboro is now known to be the only coal mining town which operated from within a meteor impact crater.
Besides being one of the few crater towns in the U.S., Middlesboro is also famous for having the oldest golf course in the United States. The 9-hole course is located both in the center of the town and in the center of the crater. I grew up on a dead end street that leads to the golf course. Though my family could not afford membership to the country club course, I enjoyed many long nights of trespassing on the only spot where the remnants of the crater’s peak are visible.
“Lots of my friends call Middlesboro people ‘crater people,’ says Kathye Greene, “I think it means just a little unusual but resilient and powerful.”
With the coal mines wasted away, Middlesboro hopes to gain a little tourism from the recent media attention, and I hope they get it. Neighboring Cumberland Gap National Park will always be my favorite place on this earth with beautiful caves, trails, and overlooks. Middlesboro is the perfect place to get supplies for a tourist’s Cumberland Gap adventure. If you enjoy hiking, camping, or Civil War History, you should take a stay-cation up to the Gap and the ‘boro. Don’t worry. Like my friend Tina Mike says, meteors are hopefully like lightning and don’t hit the same place twice.