Kentucky Coal Heritage
Coal Camps & Communities












    Company owned coal towns of eastern Kentucky are geographically dispersed, poorly documented, and are endangered by neglect and developmental pressures. This project is designed to aid in the planning for the preservation of coal towns by gathering information about their location and current condition. A reconnaissance field survey, combined with research of primary and secondary documents, is intended to provide perspective for more intense field study of the resources. The results of this broad and superficial initial investigation will help accomplish longer-range goals, particularly the completion of a Multiple Property Documentation Form for eastern Kentucky coal towns. That document, which will consist of a historic context study, property type analysis, registration requirements, and preservation recommendations, lays the foundation for future preservation treatments of these resources. Insofar as possible, the components of the MPDF will help structure this preliminary product (which is phase 3, below). The entire project is conceived in seven phases:

Phase 1: documentary survey
Phase 2: field reconnaissance in the study area
Phase 3: report of findings in phases 1 & 2
Phase 4: individual survey of sites
phase 5: reporting findings from phase 4
Phase 6: National Register nominations for eligible properties
Phase 7: treatments

Phase 1

    There exist many historical overviews of eastern Kentucky, but few have devoted pages to defining and analyzing a typology of coal towns. This project began with a documentary search attempting to locate a comprehensive list of coal company towns in the study area. From such a list field identification of towns could be undertaken and assessments made. The ideal document would identify, by name and location, every coal town that ever existed, or, at least, every coal town which existed at a particular point in time. At the time of this writing, no such list has been found. Ron Eller and Harry Caudill, authorities on the subject, were consulted (dates ) to determine whether anything existed which approached this ideal list; neither could point to one, although Eller seemed to recall seeing one many years ago. Robert Rennick, author of Kentucky Place Names (Lexington: UK Press of Kentucky, 1984), provided the names of many towns in the study area known to have been owned by coal companies. That list is attached as an appendix.

     Additional documentary research was undertaken to provide a general overview of company town organization; information specific to coal company owned towns was noted. This effort intended to reveal the nature of company towns so that once they were studied in eastern Kentucky, normal and unusual characteristics can be catalogued.

     There is a wealth of information on the topic company towns. Some of those that were most useful came from 1910-1930, roughly the period of Kentucky's coal boom. These studies can be separated into two groups: first, the social scientists and planners during the first three decades of the twentieth century imagining the ideal company town, and second, government-academic surveys of actual company town conditions.

     Among the latter, Leifur Magnusson's work was drawn upon considerably. Magnusson, writing for the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics, published findings from surveys of company and government housing for industrial workers after the first World War. His works, some of which targeted bituminous coal company housing, provided a timely and clear view to company town organization and living conditions.

     During the same time, the U.S. Coal Commission was established to study problems identified by Magnusson and others. Their findings, What the Coal Commission Found, is another touchstone in analysis of coal company town organization. These studies provide a profile of actual industrial communities against which to compare the findings of field research.

     Another line of inquiry at the planning phase of the project involved learning what coal company town resources had been found in other states. This information is relevant to defining what of Kentucky's coal towns is typical and what is atypical. State Historic Preservation Offices have not been as quick to deal with these resources as the academic community has been. Consequently, more information is to be found in scholarly articles, books and dissertations than by contacting other SHPOs. This situation has both advantage and disadvantage. Scholarly treatment offers more thorough analysis of company towns than survey or National Register nomination might, but researchers can be less interested in the material aspect of these communities, and even less inclined to connect current physical conditions with historic activities.

     Some works were found, however, in which material culture was studied to complement documentary findings. Such studies of Tennessee and West Virginia coal towns by Jones, Gillenwater, and Herrin are listed in the bibliography. Mulrooney's A Legacy of Coal is a valuable model, for it consciously applies the National Park Service historic context and property type concepts to investigation of Southwestern Pennsylvania coal towns. It also looks beyond its study area to compare subject towns with bituminous and anthracite coal towns in other states.

     Finally, to prepare for both reconnaissance and intensive levels of fieldwork, information on eastern Kentucky's natural environment has been collected. This discussion focuses on the ways in which the environment influenced the planning of eastern Kentucky's coal communities.

Phase 2

    Little field work of any depth has been undertaken to identify and evaluate the historic significance of resources associated with eastern Kentucky coal towns. Files at the KHC reveal that a few of the larger towns, Lynch, Benham, Wheelwright, and Stone, for instance, have had some buildings recorded on survey forms. Field identification has focused on the level of single building. Groups of these buildings have been listed on the National Register as a district, but evaluation of the district or the entire town did not involve comparison of the nominated coal town to other coal towns.

    A number of field visits were made to eastern Kentucky to obtain an impression of the magnitude of extant resources. Those encounters were planned to maximize the possibility of having contact with company towns. Travel routes coincided with stream courses and with railroad lines, the places where most of the survey area's company towns are to be found.

    During these reconnaissance venture, two brief forms of recording were employed. Locations understood to be coal company towns were noted, and some indication of town size was made. This served to locate the most intact resources for intensive investigation later. Second, photographic records in the form of black and white print film and Ektachrome slide film were shot. No effort was made to photograph the resources exhaustively in any location. The intent was to photograph representative types of dwellings and groups of resources. See results of the field reconnaissance survey, p. , below.

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