Owen Historical Society News: Owen County susceptible to that sinking feeling

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By Bonnie Strassell

They are unwelcome residents and for hundreds of years they have squatted on Owen County land.
New ones seemingly appear overnight and their appetites are insatiable. Gaping mouths are fed dirt, rock, lime, trash and an occasional rusty car or pickup, yet to no avail. These indefatigable giants are a constant irritation but from earliest times Owen countians have accepted their presence as part of the local landscape. Most don’t need an introduction to these sometimes cavernous depressions known as Owen County sinkholes.
In an article published by the University of Kentucky and titled “Kentucky Is Karst Country,” author James C. Currens explained the geology of the Commonwealth. “Kentucky is one of the most famous karst areas in the world. What is karst? It’s a landscape with sinkholes, sinking streams, caves, and springs.”
The word karst comes from a Slavic word meaning barren, stony ground  and geologists have adopted the term to apply to all such terrain. Much of Kentucky is underlain by karst which commonly develops on limestone. Over the years underground water wears away the rock and the soil surrounding it collapses leaving a sinkhole. As the rock dissolves, spaces and caverns develop underground. Occasionally a sinkhole may exhibit a visible opening into a cave. Owen County is no stranger to both limestone and sinkholes.
According to Kentucky geologists, all of Owen County, except Perry Park and Moxley, are considered karst prone, but that’s not news to Owen countians. Certain communities such as New Columbus, Gratz, Monterey, Tacketts Mill and Rockdale  are considered highly karst prone and sinkholes are very likely to appear in these areas.
David Chappell is in the process of purchasing the E.D. Scott farm and the old buggy barn located on the farm shares the ground with an enormous sinkhole. Rumor has it that one could drive a pickup into that sinkhole. When David was asked if he thought the sinkhole would swallow the barn, he chuckled and replied that he was sure the barn wouldn’t last and would be gone long before the sinkhole claimed it.
It has been said that years ago Jack Forsee of Wheatley and his friend explored some of the caves created in Owen County sinkholes. Most people, though, have little desire to crawl through the confined spaces sinkholes offer to explore the unknown.
In the September 2002 newsletter of the historical society, an article appeared which described a cave discovered in 1944 on the farm of John Smither near Truesville.
Wet weather had caused a cave-in on the Smither property and William Hodson, a tenant, observed steam rising from the ground. On investigation he discovered a hole in the earth about the size of a barrel head. Moisture coming from the hole vaporized when it came in contact with the warm surface air.
“Since then, the hole has grown from continued cave-ins until now it is about the size of the end of a hogshead. Charlie Smither, a brother of John Smither, and Josh Hodson have entered the hole and found it to be 14-feet deep. A 10-foot pole, which they carried with them, failed to reach the walls of the cavity. No further explorations have been made.
Mr. Smither believes the cave is of some size and is anxious to have it explored by someone who is an authority on caverns. The entrance is some 200-feet above the level of the branch at the foot of the hill and one-fourth of a mile from Cedar Creek.
Mr. Smither states that he will have to fence around it to avoid the danger to his livestock.”
Through the years, Owen countians have battled Indians, fires and floods. For these hardy people sinkholes are a minor irritation. They fill them or fence them and go about their business trusting that a sinkhole won’t expand enough to swallow their cattle, their homes or their grandchildren.
The people of Owen County swap stories about the locations of the biggest and deepest sinkholes in the area and these stories not only entertain but serve as a descriptive narrative to be preserved in the chronicles of Owen County history.

On Dec. 12 the historical society will celebrate Christmas together at the museum. The gathering will begin at 6:30 p.m. and everyone is asked to provide a finger food to share.
If you want to join in the game bring a gift (priced no more than $5). We look forward to fun, fellowship, food and reminiscing of a very good year.