Whitesburg KY
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The Way We Were

Coal camps, renters, and counterfeiters

THE BLACKEY DEPOT is pictured in about 1918. The depot was located about 2-1/2 miles from Caudill’s Branch, which is now known as Carbon Glow and was the home of the Marion Coal Co. at the mouth of the hollow and Caudill Coal Co. at the head.

THE BLACKEY DEPOT is pictured in about 1918. The depot was located about 2-1/2 miles from Caudill’s Branch, which is now known as Carbon Glow and was the home of the Marion Coal Co. at the mouth of the hollow and Caudill Coal Co. at the head.

Our parents, Monroe S. and Vina Hampton Blair, married in 1927. They started their life together in a coal camp on Caudill’s Branch (now Carbon Glow) where they bought a house. Dad worked at the nearby coal tipple while Mom kept house, raised a garden, and operated a store in one room of their home.

The nation’s economy was already slowing down on its way to the Great Depression of the 1930’s. This economic slowdown was felt earliest in the coalfields of Appalachia. With the decreasing demand for coal, coal miners were laid off. With no job, these miners had no income and, at that time, there were no social safeguards, such as unemployment insurance or food stamps, to depend upon for financial assistance.

Dad lost his job and their store business collapsed. So our parents moved into an old house on Mom’s parents’ farm near the current Letcher Elementary School. There they could make a living by farming.

They rented out their house that they owned in the coal camp. Unfortunately, the renters stopped paying rent sometime later.

The house that our parents were now living in was a small shabby shack even by the standards of that time period. So they decided to tear down their house in the coal camp and use the lumber to build themselves a better house on Mom’s parents’ farm.

But, before they could tear down the rental house, they needed to empty the house of the renters. Asking the renters politely to leave did not help, asking them less politely did not help either.

So Dad turned to the law for help. He went to the courthouse in Whitesburg to get an eviction order. In discussing the situation, it was determined that the renters could not be evicted because they were tending a garden on Dad’s property at the coal camp house. Thus, the law determined that these renters were allowed to live rent free while residing on Dad’s land until their garden was harvested.

Once the last bean was picked and the last ‘tater was dug, Dad returned to the courthouse to get an eviction order. Again, it was determined that the renters could not be evicted; this time because the wife was pregnant — or so she claimed.

Dad’s efforts to get the renters out of his house had been ongoing for about a year. A county official who was involved in the eviction efforts felt compassion for Dad. The official knew Dad wanted to tear down the house to build a better home for his family and that Dad was being stymied in his efforts by freeloaders living in his coal camp house rent free.

So in a very unofficial way, the official told Dad “You know, we can’t give you an eviction order, but you own that house that you want to tear down. So start tearing it down and I bet that the renters will decide to move.”

Dad showed up early the next morning at the coal camp and started removing the metal roofing from his house. And, shore ‘nuff, the renters moved out.

While the coal business was still booming prior to this economic slowdown that brought on the above story, counterfeit quarters were circulated locally. Counterfeiters make whatever money is commonly used so as not to bring attention to their artwork until it is too late for the recipient. Today, twenty-dollar bills are among the most widely counterfeited denominations. In the economy of that time, when most things in a store cost less than one dollar, quarters were widely used.

When Dad tore down the house, he found a machine for making counterfeit quarters well hidden in the attic. Either this counterfeiting press was there when our parents bought the house, or the renters left in such a hurry that they forgot to retrieve it from the attic.

Word spread and people wanted to see the press, which Dad had decided to keep as a novelty. Until, that is, agents from the U.S Secret Service showed up one day and convinced Dad that it might be a bad idea for him to keep it in his possession.

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Kenneth Blair was an educator who lived in Lexington. Tony Blair is a retired school teacher living near Jeremiah.

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Clips from available Mountain Eagle pages since our founding in 1907

THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 4, 1909

Dr. J.D. Fitzpatrick is the new county judge of Letcher County. Other winners of the general election are R. Monroe Fields, Letcher County Attorney; Ira Fields, reelected to the office of Letcher Commonwealth’s Attorney; George M. Adams, Tax Assessor; and L.D. Lewis, re-elected to the office of Letcher Circuit Judge.

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With the general election now over, The Mountain Eagle is calling on all candidates to visit the paper’s Whitesburg office and get their advertising bills paid up. “Candidates! The election is over and the Eagle would like for one and all of you to come and see us,” a banner headline says. “We are in need of money, so please come in.”

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A full-page ad in this week’s edition of The Mountain Eagle announces a “home seeker’s train” from Middlesboro, Ky., to San Angelo, Texas. The ad is paid for by the Kansas City, Mexico & Orient Railway Company, which is trying to sell property it owns in Texas. “This company has thousands of acres of the choicest farmlands in the whole wide world, which it is anxious to sell at actual cost to real home seekers on liberal terms,” the ad says, adding that lots are available in sizes from 40 acres on up. A round trip train ticket from Middlesboro to San Angelo costs $37, with a return limit of 25 days. The train departs Middlesboro on Tuesday morning, November 16, 1909.

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THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 3, 1949

A little more than 37 years after he drove the first passenger train ever to arrive in Jenkins (on October 1, 1912), H.L. Burpo this week drove the last passenger train that will ever leave Jenkins. A recent ruling by the state government permitted the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad to discontinue its only passenger train to and from Jenkins on the grounds of poor business. Burpo, who has worked for the C&O for 45 years, is expected to start driving a coal train. He is also the first person to drive a train through the tunnel above Jenkins and into Pound, Virginia.

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A 50-year-old father of 13 children was convicted in Letcher Circuit Court of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to 15 years in the Kentucky State Reformatory at LaGrange. The jury deliberated only 15 minutes last Friday before finding Leonard Cornett guilty in the fatal shooting of his moonshining partner, Claude Holcomb. Cornett, who testified during the four-day trial, told the jury he fatally shot the 30-year-old Holcomb after Holcomb threatened him with a wooden paddle and a knife and said he would cut Cornett’s “head off and throw it in the furnace.” The two men had been quarreling over the amount of money Cornett was to be paid for his work at the moonshine still on Hurricane Gap, near the Harlan County line.

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Former Whitesburg attorney Emory L. Frazier, who now serves as Chief Clerk of the U.S. Senate, was visiting friends in Letcher County last week. Frazier, who is Whitesburg’s first elected mayor, has held his current job in Washington, D.C., for the past 17 years. He arrived in Letcher County in 1922.

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Mullins Studio of East Jenkins has opened a branch photography studio in Whitesburg, above C.B. Bradshaw’s Jewelry Store, which is located across the street from the courthouse.

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The Whitesburg Yellowjackets took the lead in the Sandy Valley Conference last Saturday night by defeating the Fleming-Neon Pirates, 14 to 6.

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Whitesburg High School Principal Millard Tolliver is publicly praising the Fleming-Neon High School football team and its fans. “They have a team any school would be proud of, and the team, in return, has a wonderful group of backers,” Tolliver writes to The Mountain Eagle after the Pirates fell to the Yellowjackets in a close game at Fleming. “I hope that the sportsmanship and wholesome competition manifested by the fans last Saturday will continue for many years to come.”

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The Jenkins Cavaliers defeated Lawrenceburg High School, 60 to 25, on the Jenkins field last Saturday.

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Ronald Reagan and Patricia Neal star in the movie “John Loves Mary,” showing November 4 and 5 at the Haymond Theatre in Cromona.

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The Eagle 5-10-25 Cent Store is now open in Jenkins.

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Charlie Wright, a former school teacher who is seeking the office of Letcher County Clerk, says in a political advertisement that he owns no home while his opponent “owns two nice homes in Whitesburg.” Adds Wright: “I have no money in the bank. My opponent does. At the start of this campaign my opponent and his wife both had good jobs. My wife and I had none.”

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THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 5, 1959

Letcher County voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly voted in support of Democrat candidate Bert T. Combs for governor, handing him a 2,232-vote margin over Republican John M. Robsion Jr. The statewide race for governor also went to Combs.

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Herman Hale, executive vice-president of the Bank of Whitesburg, led a slate of candidates to victory in the races for Whitesburg City Council. Elected along with Hale were Otis Mohn, Dr. Lee Moore, Russell Price, Jack Cox, and D.S. Setzer.

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A group of Blackey residents returned from a fishing trip to Norris Lake, Tennessee with 100 pounds of fish. Deb May, Clyde Back, and Parker Drake caught stripers, bass and crappie during what appeared to be a fall feeding frenzy for fish at the Straight Branch Dock.

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THURSDAY, OCTOBER 30, 1969

The U.S. House of Representatives approved a coal mine safety bill by a vote of 389 to 4. The measure will now go to the conference committee, which will attempt to work out differences between the measure approved by the House and the one approved earlier by the Senate. Some observers believe the new safety legislation will be particularly hard on the small coal operator. Others contend that the protection afforded miners under the bill is worth whatever it might cost in coal production.

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Tandy Industries of Tulsa, Okla., says it will invest $1.1 million in plant facilities in Letcher County. The firm will produce components for manufactured homes, multiple dwellings, schools and churches, and will employ 150 men.

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Nearly 9,000 voters are expected to visit the polls in Letcher County Tuesday to choose county officials for four-year terms beginning in January. Voters will also elect city officials Whitesburg, Neon, Fleming and Jenkins.

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Mike Seeger performed at the third annual Appalachian Folk Festival, held at the Blackey Community Center this past weekend. Also performing were Roscoe Holcomb from Daisy, Sarah Ogan Gunning, Lee Amburgey and Alice and Hazel.

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THURSDAY, OCTOBER 25, 1979

Less than a week after taking control of Letcher County Fiscal Court’s spending, the state Department of Local Government has found the county has only $116 in its 1979-80 general fund and will not be able to pay its employees nearly $16,500 in paychecks due next week.

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The Kentucky Department of Natural Resources has issued a strip-mining permit for an area in Letcher County adjacent to Lilley Cornett Woods, and a second permit application in the same area is under consideration. Lilley’s Woods is the last stand of virgin timber in Kentucky.

When the woods were threatened with timbering several years ago, citizen protests resulted in the state acquiring the land and designating it a protected area. Red Fox Coal Company filed stripping applications involving approximately 85 acres of coal lands running along hillsides above the Linefork watershed in Letcher County. Linefork runs through Lilley’s Woods downstream from the proposed stripping operation.

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The Fleming-Neon High School “Pride of the Pirates” Marching Band received a rating of “one” for field competition in the fifth annual Lonesome Pine Band Festival at Wise, Va. The band scored from 90 to 100 points out of a possible 100.

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“A Force of One” will be shown this weekend at the Alene Theater in Whitesburg.

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WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 1, 1989

President Bush has approved federal disaster money for Letcher and nine other eastern Kentucky counties hit by last month’s flash flooding. The presidential disaster declaration will allow flood victims to qualify for temporary housing, grants, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses and other assistance.

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Mountain Pride Apartments, Fleming-Neon’s first modern housing project, has become home to 17 families and has room for that many more. The 36-unit apartment complex, which is located at Goose Creek and is for the elderly and low-income families, opened last Wednesday. Base rent ranges from $229 to $244 a month, but officials use a federal formula to compute the income of tenants, who then pay 30 percent of their monthly income for rent. The Farmers Home Administration picks up the rest of the rent.

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Letcher County Chamber of Commerce officials are beginning work to bring a resort hotel to the Pine Mountain area. Some chamber members said motels here rely on salesmen and other business travelers and were doubtful about the possibility of a resort hotel on Pine Mountain, but chamber president Lois Baker said a motel with a restaurant located at the top of Pine Mountain was very successful. The business burned in the 1960’s.

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The 1989 Letcher County Elementary Athletic League football championship was won last Thursday by Jenkins Middle School. The Young Cavaliers took an overtime thriller from Cowan Elementary by a score of 14-12

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Private Denny L. Adams has completed 13 weeks of basic and AIT training in combat engineering at Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri. He is a son of Audry Adams of Isom and has been a member of the U.S. Army Reserves Pikeville Unit since September, 1988.

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WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 27, 1999

Trick or treat night throughout Letcher County has been set for Saturday rather than Sunday. Halloween falls on Sunday this year and there has been widespread controversy over whether children should be allowed to trick or treat on a day Christians regard as holy. Many fundamentalist Christians believe Halloween represents evil.

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Image Entry apparently will begin renting space at the Harry M. Caudill Memorial Library in Whitesburg beginning Monday. The library board voted last week to rent newly renovated space in the building’s basement to the dataentry firm for $2,000 a month. That is $29 less than the company would have to pay to remain in Whitesburg City Hall.

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Polling places will open at 6 a.m. on Election Day, November 2, and will close at 6 p.m. Anyone in line when the polls close will be allowed to vote. The polling places are the same as those used in the primary election.

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Jeremiah Drive-In Theatre will present a special Halloween surprise move showing on Friday and Saturday. The cost is $1 per person.

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WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 28, 2009

Four schools in the Letcher County Public School District are cancelled for the remainder of this week because of flu-like symptoms and other illnesses. All classes in the Jenkins Independent School District are also cancelled for Wednesday and Thursday because of flu-like symptoms and illnesses. Beckham Bates, Letcher and Martha Jane Potter elementary schools and Whitesburg Middle School had attendance rates below 80 percent on October 27.

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Funeral services were held in Whitesburg Monday for Judge James Talton Wood Jr., 55, the longest sitting district judge in Letcher County history. Judge Wood had officially retired January 30 after 16 years on the bench as judge of Kentucky’s 47th District, but remained on the job when he was physically able while awaiting Gov. Steve Beshear to appoint his temporary replacement. He died October 21 in Lexington after a long illness.

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Letcher County Sheriff Danny Webb said he has received several complaints about a young man going door to door in McRoberts saying he was collecting money for veterans. “No one was authorized to do so,” said Webb.

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Whitesburg American Legion Post 152 will host a Halloween dance Saturday, October 31 from 9 p.m. until 1 a.m. with live music featuring Chris Isaac, Tony Shortt and Andy Miranda.

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