The Betty Howard Coal Miner’s Memorial Theater is located in the town of Benham, Kentucky in northern Harlan County. Benham is a former company town built by Wisconsin Steel subsidiary International Harvester in the 1910s and 1920s.
The theater was built by the coal company in 1921. Over the years as with many coal company towns, the theater and other buildings fell into disrepair. Benham, however is a great success story of preservation and rejuvenation. On July 21, 1983 the theater along with most of the other buildings surviving in Benham were placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
That includes the theater. The town sought for private funding to restore the theater. In December of 2006 the theater was re-dedicated.
The First National Bank of Iaeger was founded in 1918 in the McDowell County town of Iaeger.
The First National Bank Of Iaeger in West Virginia printed $287,830 dollars worth of national currency. That is a pretty standard output. However, some types of currency from this bank could still be rare. This national bank opened in 1918 and stopped printing money in 1930, which equals a 13 year printing period. That is actually quite brief in terms of bank existence. During its life, The First National Bank Of Iaeger issued 4 different types and denominations of national currency.
War bills itself as West Virginia’s southern-most city. War is located on state highway 16 about 15 miles south of Welch. War was the home of Big Creek High School, Homer Hickam’s alma mater.
War was incorporated as a city in 1920. The population of War peaked in 1950 at 3,992. According to the 2014 census estimate the town has a population of 793.
A true testament to how preserved and dead the downtown area of Iaeger is would be the Montgomery Ward Building in Iaeger. Iaeger’s downtown district is basically a long rectangle shape with buildings along the outer edge of the three sides. Most of the businesses here have closed over the past years. The few that have remained, right down to the post office have moved out onto US 52 on the other side of the river.
This is the former Melvin Grade School located in Melvin, Kentucky.
The school is located along state highway 466 in southern Floyd County. The school was originally constructed in 1949 and replaced a one room school at nearby Abner and a three room school at nearby Weeksburry.
The Melvin Grade School served the community for nearly 40 years. A neat picture of 8th grade class from 1985 can be found by clicking HERE
The school closed at the end of the 1997-98 school year. The grounds currently serve as the grounds for a junk yard.
Back at the height of the coal boom in the early part of the 20th century Clinchco had approximately 3500 miners in the town alone.
This is the only coal company building still remaining in Clinchco and at one time or another housed a bank, barber shop, company offices, printing press, school rooms, mortuary, and post office.
Today, Clincho is a shell of its former self. The school has closed but the post office remains in operation at a different location.
Seco is an unincorporated community in northern Letcher County between Flemming-Neon and Whitesburg located off US 119 along the north fork of the Kentucky River.
The Seco post office was established on October 2, 1915.
The town of Seco is named after Southeast Coal Company which had a large operation here from 1915 to 1957. Southeast Coal Company also had a large operation in nearby Millstone. The company store for Southeast Coal was restored and turned into a winery in the mid 90s.
Several of the old camp houses in Seco still stand and are used as residence by the people of Seco.
As you turn the curve and enter the town of Gary West Virginia from State Route 103 you will notice that the great majority of the “town” that remains is across a bridge on the other side of the Tug Fork River opposite of the main highway. The most prominent and arguably the most beautiful of these buildings is the Our Lady of Victory Catholic Church building which sits proudly on a hill in a mostly residential neighborhood.
What is interesting to me and will probably be interesting to many people from my immediate area is that Gary was a sister city to Lynch Kentucky in the fact that it was a company town, a very large company town built by US Steel. Many say that Lynch was the largest coal town in the world at one time. That point is often argued that Gary had it beat.
Due to the fact that many immigrants and migrants came to the area to work for US Steel in the coal mines there and eventually settled there is a diverse population. I read that in the 1915 there were an equal number of white and blacks living in the city of Gary. Where else in central appalachia could you find that? Naturally this diverse population lead to a diverse offering of churches. At one time Gary was home to more than 20 churches, 10 company stores, independent retailers, restaurants, tennis courts and even a bowling alley.
Slowly over time US Steel sold off the town and in 1971 US Steel oversaw Gary being incorporated into a town. In 1982 after US Steel completely pulled out of the town of Gary and shuttered their operations the unemployment rate in the town of Gary rose to 90%.
As of the 2010 census Gary has a population of 983 and the population is still quite diverse for the area with 70% white and 27% black. The schools here have closed as have most businesses including many churches. But Our lady of Victory is still going strong…..107 years later.