JOHNSON COUNTY COAL

 

                It is said that the first coal was discovered and used in the Big Sandy Valley, on 13 April 1750 during explorations of Dr. Thomas Walker. This is the same Dr. Walker that is noted to be the first white man, on record, in this area, which would become Johnson Co. Mr. Walker, was known to be an able, ingenious and observing engineer as well as a Physician. He had been under the employment of the Loyal Land Company of Virginia who's job it was to go westward and explorer and prepare a place for a settlement. It was thru Cumberland Gap that he and his party entered Kentucky. He traveled in to the Big Sandy Area and was there from June 6 to June 19, 1750. It is said that he was the man who named the main and west fork of the Big Sandy the Louisa River. According to his journal this was done on Thursday, June 7, 1750. This began the first of many explorations from many.

                As far back as 1845 many companies formed and came to the Big Sandy area to mine the abundance of coal. Due to problems with transportation and economics only mines along the river area were worked. This was enough for domestic usage and to furnish coal for the steamers. Daniel Wheeler was one of the operators who had an opening near Concord. No man at this time prospered from the mines but a few were able to hire a few men and give them a living.

                Peach Orchard, which is now known as Richardson, was begun in 1846.This work, which was started by what they called Cincinnati capitalists, was continued for 14 years until the Civil War. Though the mine had closed done and they had not thought of reopening until a better mode of transportation could be devised, the Company store and mills still stayed open to furnish the farmers and settlers with supplies. Mining was resumed in Peach Orchard once the Chatterawha Railroad was completed in 1882 from Ashland to Richardson. The feat was due in part by the untiring efforts of George S. Richardson among others. In 1887 and 1888 the railway was extended to White House. This was the first large operation within the county. Several mines within a short distance of White House was soon started in River, Offutt, and Williamsport. At the time the amount being seemed stripped from the mines seemed enormous. This was nothing compared to the boon that would soon be seen in this region.

                The number of mines that were in operation from 1906 to 1909 was not kept as were the tons produced. In 1910 the mines that were in operation were 31 mines with an output of over 986.726 tons for the year. That is nearly three times the amount that was mined in 1906 which was 124,570 tons. By 1925 we have 178 mines in operation with 10, 822,260 tons being drawn from the earth.

                The coal that was seemed to be the best was known in Big Sandy as Miller's Creek Coal. This coal was by far the choice coal for many consumer applications plus the characteristic of its firmness hardness and nice made it a good bet for home fires and transportation to other regions. This coal was gotten from the Miller's Creek seam. The quality of the coal and the low percentage of breakage made it perfect also for industrial usage. Other qualities that made it attractive was the fact that it ignited quickly and burned slowly. Of extraordinary coal is the "Yellow Jacket" with the know qualities of the low ash content. It was fancied by many for the

                With the industrialization of the coal areas many citizens knew a better way of life than what they had at that time. Changes that were very notable came about when John C. C. Mayo. He is said to be the pioneer of coal industrialization in Johnson Co., and eastern Kentucky.

                John Mayo from Paintsville in Johnson Co who schooled at the college, in Millersburg later returned to teach school to the youth of the area. Mitchell Hall said it best when he described John Mayo as, "A country schoolteacher, poor as the poorest, obscure as the humblest, gifted only with genius, strong with the strength of great purpose, without money and without acquaintance, he set about making his dream come true."

                With the acquisition of mineral rights interest capital began to come into the valley. By this he transformed and transfigured the mountain regions and opened a whole new era in American industrialization.

 

The Consolidation Coal Company

                In the 1920's in Van Lear, The Millers Creek division was in operation. The mine was only about 4 miles away from Paintsville. Acreage from this mine though primarily in Johnson County also covered area in Martin Co. The mines were No.'s 151, 152.153.154.and 155. All were in the famous Miller's Creak No. 1 seam. This seam was known for the lack of slack and the block sizes of the coal. The seam varied in thickness from three feet to four and one half feet thick. The coal was hauled up by electric locomotives then at the tipples was prepared for market in the following sizes: block, 4" lump, 2" lump, egg, nut, nut sea slack, and slack. The majority of the coal that came from this seam was the 4" lump with 55% of the sum mined. During times that the market was slow they stored the coal on the floor of the mines thus giving the miners steadier employment.

 

The Northeast Coal Company

                Operations for the Northeast Coal Company had operations at Thealka and White House with another in Floyd County at Auxier. This company was known for the use of local labor exclusively and the excellent way that it treated the workers and the families.

                The president of this corporation was A.D.W. Smith of Philadelphia. Tho not a local man he was well respected among the industry for the progress and contributions that he made. A native a Paintsville, Henry LaViers, was the general manger whose managerial skills were admired by both management and workers, He also served as president of the Northeast Kentucky Coal Association. He started on the ground floor of the industry with a pick and shovel and worked himself up to a point in the community that involved him in all aspects of the area. R. C. Thomas served as the superintendent and his experience was noted to be a very valuable asset to the company. He was thought of as a sterling citizen who was involved in many areas of the community and interested in all causes that were for the betterment of the fellowship of the community.

  Be sure to read the Johnson County Coal miner Obituaries and the Coal Mine accidents as reported in the Early Painstville Herald.

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Coal Mining Links

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Mining Accidents in Kentucky

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CoalMine Fatalities 1995- 2002

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Van Lear Miners Museum

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Van Lear Historical Society

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  Disasters

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50 years Kingdom of Coal

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Appalachian Coal hauling Railroads

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Songs of the Miners

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George Davis, The Singing Miner

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Timeline of coal in Ky

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Coal Miner memories

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Kentucky Coal Education Site

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Scrip Money of the mines

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Coalfields Photo Album

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Ky Coal Mine Museum

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Coalmine pictures

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bullet Historical Data on Mine Disasters

 

Written by M. Merritt for the Johnson Co. GenWeb. Not to be used for publication or other use on the web without the expressed written consent of M. Merritt. copyright 2001-2002

 

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