Last Sunday, we took my 90 year old father-in-law out of the assisted living/hospice care facility for a change of scenery. Dad’s health is failing and his short-term memory isn’t quite so sharp anymore, but his eyes teared up when we drove the 45 minutes to the Big South Fork area and the Barthel Mining Camp where he was born.
Dad always told people he was born under a rock in the mining camp – and now we understand what he was talking about. He was born in one of the cabins that clung to the cliff under this rock wall. The cabin Dad was born in is long gone, but he says it was very similar to this one, which is part of the restoration in Barthel. The camp and nearby Mine 18 are now a historical site in the Big South Fork National Recreation Area.
Dad was born and raised here and like his father, worked the coal mines. The only way out was to hike up the mountain or scale that rock wall. Dad said they didn’t get out much.
This is the view looking from where the cabins and store buildings are, toward the only way in to the camp other than the railroad. The road (now paved, of course) comes in along the side of this mountain of rock.
It’s difficult to get the perspective from this photo, but it’s several miles from the camp to the top of the mountain.
There were about 45 houses in the camp when Dad lived there. This row of restored buildings were the camp store, the bath house, and on the end, the motor house. The mines were located behind the buildings.
Barthel is open to the public now as a historical site and in the summer, a steam train tour takes visitors from nearby Stearns into the mining camp. We couldn’t really tour the buildings or the mine because Dad couldn’t leave the car, but I will go back and have another look soon.
In the meantime, we have a new appreciation for what life was like for this man and his family. We’ll try not to grumble so much anymore about little inconveniences like no cell phone signals or slow internet service. Life is good.