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Burkesville, Kentucky

Burkesville, Kentucky, has history and small-town charm. Kentucky Life meets with some of the locals to find out what they love about their town.

Along the northern edge of Dale Hollow State Park in Cumberland County lies Burkesville, a small town of around 1500 residents with a rich history.

In 1818, two men struck oil while drilling salt wells along the South Fork of the Cumberland River. This was said to be the first commercial oil well in the United States.

“We claim the first American oil well, but we don’t get credit for it,” says Nancy Buchanan, a retired teacher and volunteer in Burkesville. “They were drilling for salt and they hit oil.”

Today, Burkesville embodies a traditional, small-town spirit. Mayor Keith Riddle is also the barber at Keith’s Barber Shop. 94-year-old J.M. Stephenson has been the town’s dentist for decades. Heather Hannon is a Burkesville native who moved away and lived in such far-flung spots as the Cayman Islands, but eventually the call of home pulled her back. Today she runs Annie Ruby’s Café in Burkesville’s town square.

Elise Kieffer and her family came to Burkesville from New Jersey, searching for a quiet place to begin the next chapter of their lives. She launched the Burkesville Academy of Fine Arts, which started as a summer program for kids and has become a pillar of arts and culture for the town.

“We had 50 children our first summer, and the next year we had 100,” says Kieffer. “I started working with some young people who were phenomenally talented and didn’t even know it.”

Kieffer adds that the Burkesville residents she spoke to hadn’t seen a full-length theater production take place in the town. “And here we were doing it with children! Our youngest cast members were five and the oldest were high schoolers. It was amazing to be able to accomplish that.”

Heather Hannon of Annie Ruby’s Café sums up what makes life in Burkesville special.

“You know everyone, and there’s something nice about that,” says Hannon. “For me, I left and came back, and sometimes you don’t appreciate that until you come back home.”

This segment is part of Kentucky Life episode #2002 which originally aired on October 11, 2014. View the full episode here.