The report of the coal area of Carter, Greenup and Boyd Counties and up the Big Sandy in the winter of 1772-1773, likely referred to cannel coal. Now gone, the cannel coal was a hard, oily fuel that burned brightly, cleanly, and with little ash. However, until the E. K. Railroad and the A.C. & I. Railroad came there was little commercialization of the coal industry in Carter Co. Both companies operated several mines in Carter Co.
Circa 1890, the leading mines of the day were Dry Fork, at Willard, run by the Kilgores and J. W. Kitchen; Mary and Katie mines, operated at Denton by Wylie Prichard and A. C. Morris; Mount Savage and Music, by the Lexington and Carter County Mining Co.; Willard Mine, used by the Eastern Kentucky Railway Co. to fuel locomotives; Star Furnace Mine, by Norton Iron Works; Strait Creek (Davys Run); and the Frank Powers mine near Grayson where Peter Brown furnished house coal for the community.
The oldest worked coal seam in Carter Co. was mined by the Willard Coal Co., owned by J. L. Boggess. The Willard Coal Co. was organized in April 1940 as a corporation, but after April 11, 1942, Mr. Boggess o perated the mine himself under the name of the Willard Coal Co. This company opened the Willard Seam number Seven, which had formerly been worked on the Rush side of the vein. Operations in 1942 were on the Willard side. With modern machinery and an employee list of 60 men, production averaged 170 tons daily.
In 1935, George Stephens started the coal boom and established the fact that Carter Co. had merely begun to tap the vast coal that abounds in her land. From that time the coal industry continued to grow on a sound businesslike basis. Shuttle cars and a loading machine handled the production at Moore Branch truck mine. The self-financed producer was situated 10 miles from Grayson and 6 miles from Hitchins. From a scratch start in 1935 with a few mine cars and a pony, the enterprise was built-up by reinvestment of earnings in better equipment into a full-mechanical and completely electrified mine producing an average of 350 tons per day.
In 1942, there were four major coal operations in the county. They were the Moore Branch Coal Co., Willard Coal Co., Grayson Block Mining Co., and the Sexton-Blankenship Co.
Deep mining eventually gave way to strip mining. Many seams of coal that could not be mined by deed methods could be mined by stripping.
Submitted by Garrett and Sherry Lowe
John's Run Coal Mine mule