Moore Hollow boomed during 30's and 40's
Submitted by Sarah Thompson with permission of George Ferrell, Jackson County Sun Editor 10/1999.
For those who didn’t live in or around Sand Gap during the 1930's and 40's it’s hard to picture a booming mining area there.
And it’s hard when swimming in the lake at Moore Hollow to imagine large mines operating there with electricity generated from the lake. But’s that’s the way it was back then.
Sand Gap was crowded. People moving into the Sand Gap area from other Kentucky counties to work in the mines found it difficult to find places to stay.
Rex Miller of Sand Gap moved there with his parents in 1932. His father came from Pittsburgh, Ky to work and Rex remembers that they had made arrangements to rent a house but when they got to the Gap, the previous tenants hadn’t moved out yet so they camped in a voting shack for 10 days because there was no place else available.
Coal mining started in Jackson County in the early 30's. The first record of Jackson County mines reported in the Annual Report of Kentucky Department of Mines and Minerals was in 1931. These were wagon mines and the largest mine was run by the Harrison Coal Company with 11 men employed and producing 3000 tons of coal.
Coal production in the county
Jackson County truck mines continued to produce the most coal in Kentucky through 1940 when 244,629 tons were recorded and 481 men worked in the mines. The Jackson County Coal Company of Moore Hollow produced 124,610 tons of that coal. In 1941, Pike county took over the lead in production , producing over a million tons a year.
Jackson County coal production then decreased until 1950 when a record 584,848 tons came out of the county mines, 70,000 tons of which were stripped. 681 men were employed at that time. 1950 was the last year of production for the Jackson County Coal Company.
How did mining get started in Moore Hollow? Fred Pennington of Kerby Knob claims to be the first man to ever dig a hole in the hollow.
Senator N.U. Bond owned most of the land in the area and Mr. Og, an employee of Bond’s came to Jackson County prospecting for coal. He boarded with Fred at S Tree Tower and he and Fred walked two or three days over the entire area from Birch Lick to Gravel Lick..
Fred remembers that Og came all dressed up and “ I knew he wouldn’t find anything. I told him to throw away his compass and I’d find the coal for him. “ Fred took hin down the hill and found coal. “ I dug all day and through the night, using carbide lights to see. I got coal up to 23" thick.” Og sent the measurement to Bond.
Fred’s brother Charley owned a little land in the hollow and the Pennington brothers beat Bond in opening the first mine there in 1933 and they built a road to the mine beating it out of the rock with sledge hammers. The Penningtons ran their mine for a year and then leased it to the Wilkerson Brothers from East Bernstadt, then to Rogers from Tennesse.
Once the Penningtons opened their mine, other mines were started all over the hollow, going back into every hillside with narrow tunnels leading to 40 to 50 foot rooms braced with timbers. Bond leased his coal to other companies like Scrivener and Moore and Bill Dean, both from Berea. Dean put in a powerhouse and machines.
What was it like in Moore Hollow after the mines got started?
Luther Powell of Sand Gap says’ “ It was booming. New York didn’t have any more business than Moore Hollow. You could sell any piece of coal you could get out. There was plenty of coal, there was plenty of work..” Luther started working in 1933 first for the Penningtons then the Sand Gap Coal Company, then the Jackson County Coal Company whose owner M.K. Marlow bought out Scrivener and Moore. At the peak of production in Moore Hollow, Marlow an three shifts averaging about 3000 tons per day and trucks would be lined up from the hollow clear to Sand Gap waiting to be loaded.
Powell walked every day from Kerry Knob to earn $1.50 per day as a weigh man. He says that “Everyone came to the Gap and Moore Hollow to loaf on weekends and evenings.”
Odis Isaacs of Sand Gap recollects, “You could get anything there from whiskey to a woman."
The Little Brothers and “Boss” Marcum had licenses to sell alcohol in the Gap and there was a bootlegger in the hollow.
Odis remembers the pool hall and restaurant run by John Johnston. He remembers that little Johnny Johnston would “spit your eye full of tobacco juice and he smoked cigars when he was five or six years old.”
The larger mines paid their employees with “scrip” good for buying at their company store. Odis still has a copper “scrip” coin issued by the Jackson County Coal Company in 1939 that was “payable in merchandise only “ at the company commissary.
Odis started working for the mines when he was 12 and worked in Moore Hollow until Howard Smith got killed in Marlowe’s mine in 1946. Smith ran a motor in the mine when the accident happened and Odis was coupling at the end of the cars that Smith was pulling.
It was the last trip of the day and Smith wanted to get out as much as he could so he was pulling 22 cars which was way too many. Coming down a hill, apparently the hot sand that was used to slow down the motor couldn’t do the job and Smith hit a swag with so much speed that the motor and seven cars jumped the track.
Odis remembers Smith as a “fine man”. That day Smith had given Odis a ham sandwich for his lunch. After Smith’s death, Odis left Moore Hollow and went to Travis Creek.
Where did the miners live when they came to Jackson County from Manchester, Hazard, Beattyville and other places ? Outside of Moore Hollow toward the Gap, there was a group of two and three room, flat roofed, plank houses called “Slack Town” because the slack coal, too fine to sell, was dumped there. In Sand Gap there was another shanty town near the sand bank.
And right in Moore Hollow, in 1934 Caroline Isaacs kept boarders in a big boarding house built by her brother Charley Pennington on his property which was like a bunk house. Mostly Caroline cooked for the truck drivers and miners for two years there.
Then N.U. Bond built a modern motel in the hollow in 1939 and Caroline ran it for him. The motel had a lobby downstairs and a big long dining room and it had hot and cold running water. The motel averaged 11 boarders full time and kept five reserved bedrooms for truckers from out of town who would spend just one night there waiting to get their trucks loaded.
It is rumored that women visited the men in their trucks at night, but Caroline maintains that no women were allowed with the men in the motel and she says, “I never saw any fights. The miners were very good people. There never was a truck driver that came here that was out of the way.” Sheriff Joe Pence searched the drivers to see if they were bringing whiskey in or out of the hollow.
And according to Caroline, “The men were just as clean as they could be, they never went to bed without taking a shower. One man tried to sleep with his clothes on and I had to get rid of him.”
Caroline remembers that “the roads were awful. We had to cover the plates to keep the coal dust off. We had the front and back porches screened but the dust still came in .”
The saddest remembrance of her experiences in the hollow was an accident on Big Hill in which Johnny Brockman, a truck driver was killed. Earlier in the day, Johnny had ordered eggs, bacon and country biscuits from Caroline and told her “Lady, I have’nt got any money to pay for this.” Caroline said, “Well you eat this, you looked tired..” Caroline feels that his death taught her “to be good to people .”
Caroline quit the motel in 1942 because she “wanted to come back to the ground,” where she could be able to see trees and grass.
A modern motel, a commissary, a pool hall and restaurant, scale houses, a shanty town, big coal tipples, a mile long line of trucks from Ohio and Indiana and coal dust everywhere - all that was a part of Moore Hollow in the past .
Think about the hustle and bustle and try to imagine
what it was like the next time you swim in the quiet lake in Moore Hollow.
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