2017-12-20 / Columns

The Way We Were


The town of Blackey was nearly wiped out by a fast-spreading fire that broke out in the early morning hours of December 19, 1927. The fire, which started after a child knocked over a heating stove in the upstairs apartment of one building, destroyed 20 businesses and homes before it could be extinguished. This headline appeared in the December 22, 1927 edition of The Mountain Eagle. If the fire had occurred today, the losses would have totaled $2.8 million, the equivalent of $200,000 in 1927. The town of Blackey was nearly wiped out by a fast-spreading fire that broke out in the early morning hours of December 19, 1927. The fire, which started after a child knocked over a heating stove in the upstairs apartment of one building, destroyed 20 businesses and homes before it could be extinguished. This headline appeared in the December 22, 1927 edition of The Mountain Eagle. If the fire had occurred today, the losses would have totaled $2.8 million, the equivalent of $200,000 in 1927. Clips from available Mountain Eagle pages since our founding in 1907

Thursday, December 22, 1927 More than 20 businesses and dwellings were destroyed after fire swept through Blackey early Monday morning between the new brick bank building and H.C. Dixon’s house on the newly paved Main Street. “This is said to be the biggest fire that ever visited Letcher County,” The Mountain Eagle reports. “It started on the second floor of the Lydia Jenkins Adams building in a room occupied by Mrs. Vaughn and children. The children accidentally knocked over a stove in this room, igniting the dry floor and walls of the room. Members of the crew on passenger train Number One sighted the blaze before any of the townsmen were award of their danger and began to screech a warning.” According to The Eagle, low water pressure hampered the efforts of firefighters to extinguish the blaze, resulting in an ill-fated decision to dynamite the buildings that were already on fire. “The blasts probably scattered the fire and added to the damage more than subtracted from it,” The Eagle observes. “The blasts broke every window pane and plate glass front in all of the remaining buildings in the surrounding section. The new school building, almost ready to be occupied, is now without a pane and many of the sashes are broken. The hospital, bank, depot, and other buildings suffered in the same way.” Only two of the buildings that were destroyed had insurance — Blackey Hardware Store and Pryse’s Drug Store. “There is little talk of building back, but it is almost a sure thing that the next buildings to go up will be [constructed of] fireproof material,” The Eagle reports. Twenty-one “closely jammed” buildings owned by 10 people were destroyed. Among the places of business destroyed include the Blackey Hotel, Blackey Meat Market, Royal CafĂ©, C.B. Caudill Store, Kassem Mahmood Store, Pryse’s Drug Store, Blackey Hardware, Blackey Barber Shop, Blackey News Agency, the Blackey Theater, and the Blackey Pool Room. Many of the buildings were occupied on the second floor by families and by professional men who had offices there, including Dr. J.W. Pryse and Dr. G.D. Ison. Total losses exceed $200,000 [an amount equal to $2.8 million today].


This double-deck banner headline is taken from a copy of the Christmas Day 1937 edition of The Mountain Eagle and alerts readers to the deaths of two Letcher County Sheriff ’s Deputies who were slain while trying to serve an arrest warrant on the Cumberland River side of Pine Mountain. Five people were charged in the case. This double-deck banner headline is taken from a copy of the Christmas Day 1937 edition of The Mountain Eagle and alerts readers to the deaths of two Letcher County Sheriff ’s Deputies who were slain while trying to serve an arrest warrant on the Cumberland River side of Pine Mountain. Five people were charged in the case. . Three families are left to suffer after three children burned to death in separate instances across Letcher County. The most recent tragedy occurred about 7 p.m. Friday when the five-year-old daughter of Ben and Della Stallard succumbed to injuries she suffered after she caught her clothing on fire at a coal grate while her mother was out gathering coal. Lou Emma Stallard “woke up Friday morning gay and happy, not dreaming of the horrible death that was awaiting her in the afternoon,” The Mountain Eagle reports. “At about 11 a.m., the mother stepped out for a hod of coal, and while filling the hod she heard the cries of the little girl. Rushing to the scene she saw the terrible picture of fire and death.” Lou Emma, of whom The Eagle says “no brighter little girl could be found anywhere,” was the third child to die here recently after their clothing caught fire. The four-year-old daughter of Sylvan Taylor of Millstone and the two-year-old of Ance Bartlett of Diablock also burned to death after their clothing caught fire after making contact with the coal grate.

. Several prisoners from the Letcher County Jail were transported to Hazard this week after the jail was placed under quarantine because of a smallpox outbreak.

. The Whitesburg High School Bulldogs will open their 16-game basketball season at home against Blue Diamond on January 7.

. U.S. Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover has endorsed the establishment of a national park in the Mammoth Cave area of Kentucky.

. Beginning January 1, the White Star Transportation Company will operate a bus from Seco to Jenkins. The bus will leave the Seco Store at 7 a.m., in time to make the connection with the Jenkins train to Pikeville.

. Floyd Sexton, 50, of Camp Branch, died December 19 in a boiler explosion at a sawmill at the headwaters of Carr Fork on the Knott County border.

. A 54-year-old Breathitt County woman, Martha Henson, gave birth to her 17th child, a boy, on December 4. Both child

and mother, the wife of Alfred Henson, are doing fine.

Thursday, December 23, 1937 McRoberts police have arrested Edd Long, who has been a fugitive from justice since October, when he was charged in the stabbing death of Peyton Cook, also of McRoberts. Police learned Long was back in McRoberts last week and brought him to the Letcher County Jail in Whitesburg to face charges.

. Henry Cook of Sandlick, charged with fatally shooting Clay Swinney last Saturday evening at the Marlowe Filling Station, will appear at an “examining” hearing today. Mr. Swinney, who died shortly after he was shot, was buried at his family’s homeplace in Wolfe County.

. The Jenkins Cavaliers defeated Norton in a basketball game in Virginia Saturday night by the score of 34 to 4 in an extremely slow game.

. The C.B. Caudill Store of Blackey, which has been struggling to survive after its building was destroyed by fire a decade ago, will be sold at a court-ordered auction to the highest bidder on January 3 if a $490.48 debt to Whitesburg Wholesale Company isn’t settled by then.

. Bette Davis and Henry Fonda star in “That Certain Woman,” showing Sunday and Monday at Bentley Theatre in downtown Neon.

Thursday, December 25, 1947 Two Letcher County sheriff ’s deputies were killed in the line of duty about 6:30 p.m. Saturday at the home of Leonard Fields on Cumberland River, near the foot of Pine Mountain. According to Letcher County Sheriff Herman Combs, Hall, 55, and Galloway, 47, were part of a group of officers that included the sheriff and his son-in-law, Buddy McWilliams, who left Whitesburg about 5 p.m. Saturday to check on alleged law violators in that area. The officers also intended to serve an arrest warrant on Willard Collier, who just happened to be at the Fields home. When the officers arrived in a station wagon being driven by McWilliams, the two slain deputies went inside the house while the sheriff and his son-in-law stayed in the car. After hearing two shots fired almost as soon as the deputies entered the house, Sheriff Combs and McWilliams tried but were unable to enter the home and drove back to Whitesburg for additional guns and help. By the time the sheriff had rounded up other officers for the return trip to Cumberland River, Leonard Fields was driven by a neighbor to Whitesburg and turned himself in after claiming that his wife had shot and killed the two deputies. Mrs. Fields is said to have fired the two fatal shots from two guns — one double-barrel shotgun and one .12-guage shotgun — while she sat in front of the fireplace. Willard Hall, who served as a police officer for 21 years, including stints in the towns of Fleming, Haymond, Neon and Whitesburg, is survived by his wife and three sons. He was buried Tuesday at Rockhouse. Galloway is survived by his wife and two sons. He was buried Tuesday at the Maggard Cemetery on Cumberland River. Five people are being held for questioning in the murders. In addition to Fields and his wife, whose name is listed only as Mrs. Fields, are the couple’s son, Leonard Jr., Willard Collier, and the father of Mrs. Fields, Henry Boggs.

. Charlie Critten of McRoberts was shot and killed Sunday in the home of his neighbor, R.C. Johnson. Authorities say the shooting occurred after Critten arrived at the home drunk and began abusing Johnson, who then shot Critten in the head with a shotgun. Johnson was arrested after the shooting and was being held under a $2,500 bond. Johnson’s wife, an expectant mother, was admitted to the Fleming hospital after the incident.

. The Jenkins High School Marching Band is getting new uniforms and other equipment after a successful fundraising effort by the Jenkins Band Boosters Club.

. John L. Lewis, chief of the United Mine Workers Union, is demanding an annual pension for union coal miners over 60 years of age who retire after 20 years of service.

Thursday, December 19, 1957 Construction of a flood-control dam in the headwaters of the Cumberland River in the Letcher-Harlan area has been recommended by U.S. Rep. Carl D. Perkins of Hindman. Perkins, who made the recommendation earlier this week at a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers hearing, says he believes

the Poor Fork of the Cumberland in the Pine Mountain area would make the best site for a dam, although he believes the Corps should make the decision.

. The Kentucky Court of Appeals has thrown out absentee ballots cast in a race for a seat on the Letcher County School Board last year, resulting in Alvin Holbrook being installed as a new member of the board and Wallace Kincer being ordered off. The appeals court ruling affi rms an earlier decision handed down in Letcher Circuit Court.

. The Rev. E.K. Meyers, pastor of the Methodist Church in Whitesburg, has accepted an invitation to become pastor of the Methodist Church in St. Charles, Minnesota. Rev. Meyers came to Whitesburg in September 1956 and will leave December 30. His replacement will be the Rev. Charles Tanner, now in Lancaster, Kentucky.

. Blackey resident H.D. Kilburn has won a $23,000 judgment against Kentucky Power Company after the Kentucky Court of Appeals ruled the company was at fault in a 1955 fire that destroyed two buildings owned by Kilburn. The award is the largest ever granted by a Letcher County jury. Kilburn sued the power company on grounds the fire was caused by low voltage, which caused a motor to overheat and catch fire.

Thursday, December 21, 1967 A fairly large number of residents of Letcher County are going through the throes of a virus infection during the Christmas holiday season. Local physicians report they are treating a good many persons for “some kind of flu-like syndrome” which has among its symptoms fever and vomiting.

. Twenty-four Letcher County men working on the Work Experience and Training program will be laid off next month. In all, 163 jobless fathers will be laid off in four counties. Congress wrote in the law that formed WET that no one could remain in the program longer than three years.

. Airman First Class Billy Stapleton, son of Mr. and Mrs. William A. Stapleton, Jenkins, is on duty at Nha Trang Air Base, Vietnam. Stapleton, a baker, is a member of the Pacific Air Forces, and was previously stationed with the 3207th Air Base Group at Elgin AFB, Fla. He is a graduate of Jenkins High School.

. Among those demonstrating their crafts and selling them at the Presbyterian Church in Whitesburg were Ella Mae Fugate, who makes quilts; Josephine Whitaker, who hooks rugs; Blane Jent, who makes chairs, and Jim Bloomer, who makes wooden bowls and other carvings.

. A group of former Letcher County high school basketball stars will meet an all-female team, “The Southern Belles”, in an exhibition game at Jenkins. Among the former high school stars expected to take part are Bobby Blair, Ricky Collins, Jim Nelson, Mike Adkins, Phil and Roger Greer, and Raynor Mullins.

Thursday, December 15, 1977 Striking miners closed down the giant Scotia Mine and forced coal truckers near Deane to dump their loads. An estimated 100 to 200 United Mine Workers members, reportedly from U.S. Steel at Lynch, began picketing Scotia Wednesday morning and told observers they intend to keep the mine closed. No violence was reported between picketers and Scotia miners, although one vehicle was damaged by brickbats.

. A Jaycee-sponsored professional boxing match between Don Carson and Bob Orton Jr. turned in a brawl ending in four arrests, uncounted bruises and seven stitches — all of them on the foreheads of Whitesburg policemen. It began some of Orton’s fans in the crowd of 500 tried to aid him in the match. Chief Doug Blair and city policeman Bradley Jones attempted to restrain the fans. The scuffle snowballed into a free-for-all, with KSP Det. Frank Fleming, Jones, Blair and Sheriff ’s Deputies Remus Gibson and Irvin Riley fending off the crowd, first with fists, then with flashlights and blackjacks. Blair and Jones both received forehead injuries, and four men were later jailed on riot charges.

. Linefork correspondent Thelma N. Cornett writes that Postmaster Duane Yonts said “he had mailed out more shucky beans this year than any other year before. I really believe that most of our gone-away people will be more pleased to get shucky beans from home than any other fine gift we can send.”

. ”Damnation Alley” is playing at the Alene Theatre in Whitesburg. “Star Wars” is scheduled to start there on Dec. 21

Wednesday, December 16, 1987 Donald Terry Bartley was back in the Laurel County Jail this week awaiting sentencing for the robbery and murders of an elderly Jackson County couple he helped carry out in 1985. Bartley, 29, of Evarts, was sentenced last week to life in prison without parole for at least 25 years for taking part in the August 1985 murder of Tammy Dee Acker and the robbery and attempted murder of her father, Dr. Roscoe J. Acker of Fleming-Neon.

. Actor Ned Beatty visited Appalshop in Whitesburg and praised the organization for its efforts in television, stage, radio and other forms of art. He said he discovered Appalshop several years ago while working on the film “Kentucky Woman” in Paintsville and has been amazed by its work ever since.

. The Jenkins City Council has voted to establish a planning commission to study zoning the city. The commission’s duties will be to study land use problems in the city by interviewing residents of Jenkins and to report its findings to the council.

. The Fleming-Neon Lady Pirates, off to their best start in three seasons, ran their record to 5-0 by capturing the Lees College Lady Generals Classic last week. The Whitesburg Lady Yellowjackets ran their record to 4-0 with victories over Lawrence County, Letcher and Powell County.

Wednesday, December 17, 1997 The eastern Kentucky mountain economy continues to slide, and only about half as much of the total population here has a job as in other parts of the state. In Letcher County, only 26.6 out of every 100 persons are employed. Kentucky coal counties have lost thousands of coal mining jobs in recent years as well as millions of dollars in total wages paid to miners. In 1996 Letcher County had 981 employed coal miners, down from a three-decade high of 2,956 in 1979. Letcher County coal mining wages fell from a record total of $61,894,503 in 1990 to $34,333,781 in 1996.

. A Michigan truck driver escaped serious injury when the tractor-trailer he was driving crashed into the cliff at the end of Whitesburg Bypass in West Whitesburg. City police say a dense fog was so thick that the driver could not tell the road had ended. Police want the Kentucky Highway Department to install lighting at the intersection to alert drivers of the danger ahead.

. Members of the Whitesburg City Council are talking with representatives of Century Cable Television about the possibility of the city’s first cable television franchise. If a franchise is granted, the cable company would pay a percentage of its annual gross revenue as a franchise fee to the city.

. The Fleming-Neon Pirates rallied for 94-91 double overtime win over Buckhorn on Saturday. Earlier in the week, the Pirates hung on to edge Jenkins 103-98.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007 The Letcher Fiscal Court voted 3-2 to stop its earlier plan to hire an outside waste collection company to take over the operation of the county’s sanitation department. The vote took place after District 3 Magistrate Codell Gibson made a motion to “fix” the county’s sanitation department rather than solicit bids from corporations.

. A labor dispute between registered nurses and Appalachian Regional Healthcare nearly turned into a tragedy when a drunken driver just missed crashing his car into a tent occupied by pickets and their families. At least seven registered nurses and various family members were sitting inside the tent when a car left the Whitesburg bypass and crashed into three vehicles parked near the tent. Luckily, no one was injured.

. Letters to Santa Claus from kindergarten students taught by Bill Stanley at Fleming-Neon Elementary School include requests for toys, cars, and stuffed animals, and also asked from gifts for their teachers. The letters assured Santa that all the students had been good and that they would leave cookies or pizza for him on Christmas Eve

. ”Shirley Breeding saw three elk across from the Coop near Hoover’s Carpet a few days ago,” writes Whitesburg correspondent Oma Hatton. “I haven’t seen one yet. I’d like to see one, but not too close.”

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