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The Way We Were

Clips from available Mountain Eagle pages since our founding in 1907
This photograph taken outside Letcher County’s first commercial coal mine appeared on the front page of The Mountain Eagle’s February 20, 1930 edition. The names of the people shown in the photo appear in the story below.

This photograph taken outside Letcher County’s first commercial coal mine appeared on the front page of The Mountain Eagle’s February 20, 1930 edition. The names of the people shown in the photo appear in the story below.

County’s first commercial coal mine opened in 1895 near Bottom Fork, Mayking

From The Mountain Eagle’s February 20, 1930 edition comes this story about Letcher County’s first commercial coal mine that opened at Bottom Fork, Mayking, in 1895.

This photograph, believed to have been taken sometime in 1968, shows three Letcher County boys having fun in the cold water below Bad Branch Falls, located near the top of Pine Mountain at Oven Fork. Ronnie Smith is seen sitting on a rock at left while Jackie Estep is kneeling while climbing out of the water. At bottom right is Jimmy Craiger. The three attended Eolia Grade School and Whitesburg High School together.

This photograph, believed to have been taken sometime in 1968, shows three Letcher County boys having fun in the cold water below Bad Branch Falls, located near the top of Pine Mountain at Oven Fork. Ronnie Smith is seen sitting on a rock at left while Jackie Estep is kneeling while climbing out of the water. At bottom right is Jimmy Craiger. The three attended Eolia Grade School and Whitesburg High School together.

In the year 1895, on Webb’s Branch of Bottom Fork, Dr. David L. Webb, a wellknown citizen of that creek, opened the first domestic coal mine for the purpose of selling its product.

Dr. Webb’s miners were his son, J. Mat Webb, a son-in-law, Sink Spangler, and others who would venture into the hole in the hill and dig down the black diamonds. The dummy that hauled the coal from the mine was a very docile black bull; the tracks over which the coal was run were constructed of split saplings and served well their purpose.

The coal sold for $1.00 per ton and found a ready market among the producer’s neighbors. The mine was operated for more than a dozen years. The picture shown on this page was made from a photograph taken in 1906. Those shown in the picture are, from left to right, the bull; a young daughter of the owner, now Mrs. Turner Riddle; Sink Spangler, foreman of the mine; J. Mat. Webb, prominent Millstone citizen and son of mine owner Dr. David L. Webb, and Dr. Webb himself.

These days long strings of loaded coal cars now pass this old coal opening daily down the North Fork to furnish light and power for the world’s industries and to warm thousands of homes.

Great mining towns have located all around it, and if the late Dr. David L. Webb could come back and look over the scene and hear the hum of industry that breaks the din now, he could hardly believe his eyes.

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 20, 1930

Blackey residents are “rejoicing” because they will get a bridge built over the North Fork of the Kentucky River in spring.

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Letcher County’s first commercial coal mine was located on Webb’s Branch of Bottom Fork and opened in the year 1895, according to a story and photograph appearing on the front page of this week’s edition of The Mountain Eagle. The mine was owned by Dr. David L. Webb and was operated by Webb’s son and other family members.

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A new stock law voted in by the people of Magisterial District No. 7 will start being enforced on March 3, 1930 in the communities of Mayking, Craft’s Colly, Thornton and Upper Whitesburg.

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A (black) miner known as Yancy Steven was killed instantly Monday in a roof fall at the Wood Rock mine.

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Ward Renaker and others from Kyva Motor Company left Letcher County for Pontiac, Michigan this week and will return with several new Pontiac and Oakland cars.

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Uncle John Jones, a Confederate soldier from Mill Branch, is seriously ill at this time.

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Mines are running every day now at Carbon Glow, which is being called a “wide awake and up to date coal camp.”

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 22, 1940

Whitesburg physician Dr. B.C. Bach reports that a (black) man from Hot Spot was brought to his hospital on Tuesday of this week suffering from a gunshot wound received when his dog, in a playful mood, jumped upon the mantle and knocked off a revolver, causing the gun to accidentally discharge and send a bullet into the man’s hand. The injury was painful but not serious, said Dr. Bach, who did not identify the man by name.

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Sam Bates, 45, son of the late Robert and Eliza Bates of Thornton, was killed in an automobile accident Sunday on the Cumberland River Road in Letcher County. He died at the Jenkins Hospital, where he was taken for treatment after he was injured when he lost control of the car he was driving and it plunged over a steep bank.

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Letcher County residents and business owners are becoming anxious over continued delays in getting the new road built from Hemphill to Wayland. At issue is the four-mile section of the road in Letcher County.

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The Murphy Petroleum Company of Louisville is leasing 10,000 acres of land in and around Pound, Virginia and expects to drill for oil and natural gas as soon as weather permits.

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The Black Fox Coal Company at Blackey has closed down for an indefinite period.

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Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland star in “Babes in Arms,” showing Sunday and Monday at Bentley Theatre in Neon.

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 23, 1950

The new Jenkins Theatre is now open. Frank King is manager of the new movie house, which is located on Main Street in Jenkins. The new theatre seats 850 people and is air-conditioned. Jenkins moviegoers previously attended movies in the old power house below Jenkins Lake.

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The new Neon theatre is scheduled to open March 10.

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Two men barely escaped death Tuesday evening when the truck in which they were riding crashed over an embankment at Premium and came to a rest on the railroad track below. Less than a minute after the two were rescued, an L&N train, No. 15, hit the truck and pushed it about 150 feet. The two men, driver Chester Hands and passenger Paul Hogg, went over the embankment at 7:15 p.m. Hogg was thrown from the truck and lay on the tracks unconscious. Hands was pinned in the truck’s cab. Neighbors saw the wreck and hurried to the scene just in time. The two men are being treated at the Fleming Hospital.

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The body of Dewey Rose, 49, was recovered early Sunday from the Fire Chief Coal Company mine on Bottom Fork, near Mayking, five days after he and fellow miner Worley Dickenson were trapped by a rock fall. Dickenson, 59, was rescued some 26 hours after the fall, alive and uninjured. Lying next to Rose’s body was his mine pony, which was also killed by the rock fall.

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Whitesburg Farm Service’s new $20,000 building located next to the county jail will be open for business by April 1, store manager Clyde Frazier said this week.

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A labor strike at the Eagle Five and Ten Cent Store in Jenkins was settled Monday after a new contract was signed between management and store employees. The business, which employs 10 clerks, is part of the chain of Eagle Stores of Charlotte, North Carolina.

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A proposal calling for government seizure of the nation’s bituminous coal mines was introduced this week in the U.S. Congress as talks between United Mine Workers President John L. Lewis and mine operators were called “fruitless” by federal mediators.

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Coach Ray Pigman is earning recognition statewide after bringing success to Whitesburg High School’s basketball and football programs. Pigman is the head coach of both teams.

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 25, 1960

A total of 24 inches of snow was recorded in Letcher County for the week that ended February 20. So far this winter, Letcher County has recorded three feet and eight inches of snow. Snow was so heavy that no incoming mail arrived in Letcher County from central Kentucky from Thursday morning until noon Saturday.

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The Kentucky Senate has adopted a resolution calling on the state Department of Conservation to “give all possible consideration to the establishment of a state park on top of Pine Mountain, on Highway 119 between Whitesburg and Cumberland.” The resolution was sponsored by State Senator Archie Craft of Whitesburg.

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Governor Bert T. Combs will be the guest of honor at a dinner to be given in Whitesburg on April 29. Combs will be accompanied by the director of state parks for Kentucky, Thomas J. Nelson. The dinner is being sponsored by the Whitesburg Chamber of Commerce.

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Prominent Neon businessman Thomas B. Curry, 56, died shortly after midnight Sunday of a heart attack. He had been a merchant in Letcher County since 1926. A former city treasurer of Neon, he was a charter member of the Neon Lions Club and a member of the Syrian Orthodox Church.

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A Letcher County soldier is believed to be the central figure in the hit song “The Deck of Cards,” which first became a No. 2 hit in the U.S. in 1948 by country musician T. Texas Tyler and a No. 10 in 1949 for Tex Ritter. According to former Sergeant Eugene Harold of Dallas, Texas, the song is about an incident involving Arius Holbrook of Mayking when Holbrook was a corporal in the First Engineers, Special Brigade, First Army in North Africa. Harold said that after the unit returned from combat in Algiers in World War II, its members went one Sunday morning to tent services when he saw Holbrook idly slide his right hand into his pants pocket and pull out a deck of cards. Harold said that after he charged Holbrook with being disorderly in church, Holbrook tried to talk himself out of a jam with the provost officer by telling him about the religious significance of a deck of cards. Harold told the story to The Mountain Eagle while in Letcher County to look up Holbrook, now an electrician at Whitesburg Memorial Hospital. “Maybe so,” Holbrook said of the idea that the song was written about the episode involving him. “Stranger things have happened.”

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Two Letcher County men struck oil in Breathitt County on Sunday. Raymond Duncil of Mayking and Rufus Holbrook of Colson say they brought in an oil well on property they own on War Creek, about 15 miles from Jackson. Duncil said the well is not yet fully equipped but is already pumping 144 barrels a day. The drilling took about 30 days before oil was struck at 1,731 feet.

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Zenneth Bentley, grocer for 20 years, has sold his downtown Whitesburg business to Kennon Combs, who will operate the store under the name East End Market. Bentley has accepted a position with the state’s Division of Motor Transportation in Letcher, Knott and Perry counties.

THURSDAY FEBRUARY 19, 1970

There’s money to be made in cleaning up the mess left by coal mines of yesteryear on the hillsides and valleys of eastern Kentucky says Herman Combs, who has formed a new firm, Clubb and Combs Mining Co., to scoop up and sell the gob piles which dot the hillsides. Combs said a major utilities company has agreed to purchase the gob and use it to produce electricity. The huge gob pile at Cromona, left behind by Elkhorn Coal Corp., will be the first target.

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A statewide strike of Kentucky’s 32,000 teachers is likely to get underway on February 23. The work stoppage has been recommended by the Board of Directors of the Kentucky Education Association. Teachers are seeking a six percent annual cost-of-living salary increase, legislative approval of a “professional negotiation” law, removal of the limitation on local school taxes, and improved fringe benefits.

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Letcher County residents who live between a quarter-and a half-mile from a post office will start receiving home mail delivery soon. Fifteen Letcher County post offices will be able to expand their mail services under a new plan announced by Sen. Marlow W. Cook.

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Three Letcher County youths have started basic army training at Fort Knox. They are Pvt. Roger L. Holcomb, son of Mrs. Audrey Holcomb, Whitesburg; Pvt. Kenneth Bates, son of Mr. and Mrs. Beckham Bates, Colson; and Pvt. Richard W. Adams, son of Mrs. Rachel Adams Stanley.

THURSDAY FEBRUARY 21, 1980

Copies of this edition could not be located.

WEDNESDAY FEBRUARY 21, 1990

Letcher County School Superintendent Bernard Watts will retire June 30. He has been superintendent for the past four years. His advice for young people thinking about going into school administration: Don’t be a school superintendent in your home county. “It’s difficult to be an administrator in the county you grew up in,” he says. The difficulty lies in the “appearance of nepotism — whether it’s there or not.”

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U.S. Highway 119 across Pine Mountain has been reduced to gravel in some sections where the roadbed is sliding down the mountainside. The state highway department has replaced asphalt with gravel in an attempt to fill in cracks left by the slide. Some fissures more than a foot deep are still visible in the road. Groups from Harlan and Letcher counties are trying to persuade legislators and Gov. Wallace Wilkinson to replace the 60-year-old road with a modern highway.

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In Letcher County elementary school action, Cowan downed visiting Hemphill 62-33 to raise its record to 8-1. Kingdom Come, led by a 34-point performance by Patrick Meade, rallied in the final period to defeat visiting Arlie Boggs 62-59.

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Dan Jaffe, of Whitesburg, will spend two weeks in Nicaragua translating the Nicaraguan language to English and observing the national election. He is part of a large group of outsiders invited to observe the election.

WEDNESDAY FEBRUARY 16, 2000

U.S. Customs agents arrested Wilford Henry Niece of Van, a former Letcher County coal operator, on drug charges as he returned to the United States from Jamaica on Sunday. The warrant for Niece was issued one day after Kentucky State Police, assisted by Federal Bureau of Investigation agents, raided Niece’s home and two other buildings he owns at Van. Niece was charged with “knowingly and unlawfully possessing with intent to distribute cocaine and Schedule II and Schedule III controlled substances,” said State Police Capt. Danny Webb.

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Letcher County’s unemployment rate was the fourth highest in Kentucky during December. The jobless rate in the county was 11.5 percent. The three counties with higher jobless rates than Letcher were Lewis County, 18.3 percent; Monroe County, 13.3 percent; and Elliott County, 11.8 percent.

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“I would like to get hold of that groundhog. He sure would get a good ‘squeezing’,” writes Ice correspondent Sara C. Ison. “This is one time his prediction has come true. This is the worst winter we have had in a long time. We have so much snow and ice around our place. I am sorry to tell you this. I have not been out since Jan. 17.”

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With a win over Jenkins, the Fleming- Neon Lady Pirates moved into a tie with Jenkins for second place in the district standings. Jenkins and Fleming-Neon will meet in the opening round of the district tournament the week of Feb. 28, while the top-seeded Lady ‘Jackets will meet fourth-seeded Letcher in other first round matchup.

WEDNESDAY FEB. 17, 2010

Letcher County’s planned new recreation center will receive 30 percent of the $4 million in coal severance money scheduled to be returned to the county during the next two years. The Letcher Fiscal Court voted to spend $1.2 million on the $7 million center, with the bulk of the remaining $2.8 million from the coal severance money going to support water projects, other parks and recreation projects, and fire and police department.

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Beginning next school year, bus transportation will only be provided to students attending school in their designated boundary in the Letcher County School District. In the past, students who attend schools outside their boundary have gotten on school buses at various drop points. Students can still attend any school in the district as long as they have their own transportation to and from school.

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A preliminary hearing is set for Thursday for Homer Breeding of Isom, who police say had as many as 40 vehicles a day stopping by his home to purchase controlled substances. Police searched his home and found a quantity of OxyContin and a sawed-off .410 shotgun.

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The Jenkins High School cheerleaders will travel to Western Kentucky University on Saturday to compete in the state cheerleading championships. Jenkins advanced after winning the 14th Region’s coed title.

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