lynch, kentucky photo


26 Church Street
Lynch KY 40855

In 1917 the U.S. Coal & Coke Company, a subsidiary of the United States Steel Company, built Lynch, then the largest coal camp in the world, on part of the 19,000 acres it had purchased in the southeastern tip of Harlan County in Kentucky, near the Virginia border. The camp's population peaked at about 10,000 but the reported figures vary because of the fluidity of its migrant population. One thousand structures provided housing for people of more than thirty-eight nationalities. Among the most prominent were Italian, Spanish, Czechoslovakian, Polish, Yugoslavian, Russian, English, Welsh, Irish, and Scottish. By the 1940s this massive mining complex employed over 4,000 people. Among the many notables who worked here was Ken Maynard, who learned to ride the company mine mules before leaving his surveying job to star with Buck Jones and Tom Mix in the cowboy movies of the 1930s. The public buildings were constructed with Italian cut sandstone and included a company commissary, post office, theater, hotel, car showroom, hospital, churches, and schools. The industrial complex included the largest coal tipple in the world, with a capacity of 15,000 tons. On February 12, 1923, the world record for coal production in a single nine-hour shift was set here when 12,820 tons were mined by men operating forty shortwall cutting machines and loading it into 256 cars in six-unit trains. Although Lynch was considered one of the model coal camps in Appalachia because of its quality health care, education, housing, social services, wages and benefits, and recreation, it was a closed community with a corporate owner who dictated political and economic policies for years. It was sold to the residents and incorporated in the late 1950s, when it came under democratic rule with an elected mayor and city council.