One of Kentucky’s most unusual landmarks is a natural phenomenon embellished by humans. In the hills overlooking the southeastern Kentucky town of Pineville, on the edge of Pine Mountain State Park, a boulder looks poised to break loose and roll into the buildings below. But a chain appears to keep it in place.
Chained Rock, as it is now known, looks like a loose boulder when viewed from below, but it’s actually part of the hillside.
“When the early settlers would come through, they would tell folks with them that the rock had a chain on the back of it,” says Pineville Mayor Scott Madon. “So that’s kind of the beginning of it, and that was back in the 1800s.”
The local legend lived on as the city was established. When passenger rail came through, travelers on layover would see the local curiosity and hear the fictional story of the chain that protected Pineville from destruction. But the legend remained entirely fiction until the Great Depression hit, and a group of local men with no work and plenty of time got an idea.
Using an abandoned steam shovel from a local mine, and the manpower of a growing group of locals who called themselves the Chained Rock Club, the chain went from myth to reality.
“Each one of the chain links were seven pounds each, so you can imagine that thing, at 110 feet long, would have been pretty heavy,” says Madon. “There’s no doubt that getting the chain up the mountain is remarkable, but to me the most remarkable thing is getting the chain stretched from one side to the other, and how those men drilled a four-foot hole into that rock with hammers and chisels to put in the stake to hold the chain.”
Nearly a century later, the chain remains and has become a tourist attraction. It’s visible from the town below, but visitors can also hike up to the rock where they’re rewarded with beautiful views of the mountainous landscape.
“Chained Rock is something that you remember. You don’t confuse it with anywhere else you’ve ever been,” says Keith Bowling, a park naturalist at Pine Mountain State Resort Park. “You don’t go to too many places that have this 110-foot chain draped across the rocks. It’s just kind of an oddity. When you go out to Chained Rock, the tourist trap might be what actually got you out there, but usually that’s not what brings you back. What brings you back is the amazing view.”
This segment is part of Kentucky Life #2523, which originally aired on August 15, 2020. Watch the full episode.