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A Brief History of Jenkins Ky.
In the fall of 1909, the Consolidation Coal Company, (known as Consol), purchased one hundred thousand acres of coal lands in Letcher County, from the Northern Coal and Coke Company. Plans were made for the extension of the Lexington and Eastern Railroad, (later known as the L&N), from Jackson in Wolf County, to a point on the north fork of the Kentucky River, named Wright’s Fork. The site had been selected as just one of many towns that Consol would build, and would later be renamed in honor of General Samuel McRoberts, vice-president of the City National Bank of New York, and director of the Consolidation Coal Company.
Although Plans began immediately, there was a problem with getting supplies and machinery shipped into the area. The closest railroad in Kentucky was over 30 miles away, and it would be over a year before the first train would roll into McRoberts. Needing to begin construction as soon as possible, another town site was strategically selected, and named Jenkins, in honor of George C Jenkins, one of the leading citizens of Baltimore, and also a director of the Consolidation Coal Company. This site would become the center of operations in Letcher County for Consol.
There was no railroad in Jenkins, however just eight miles across Pine Mountain, there was a railroad connection to Glamorgan Va through the Wise Va terminal. The Consolidation Coal Company leased it, extended it three miles, and built a wagon road from its terminal five miles across the mountain to Jenkins. Consol also began construction on of its own railroad line, (The Sandy Valley and Elkhorn Railroad), thirty miles to Shelby Gap Ky.
Consol brought in all the machinery and supplies that it would need to begin construction, across Pine Mountain using wagons and oxen. This massive undertaking included nine sawmills, the equipment for two brick plants, electric generators, two locomotives, and twelve boilers for the power plant. For the heavier items, it was necessary to hitch as many as twenty head of oxen to a wagon!
Consol spent millions planning and developing not only 14 mines, but the towns that would be required to attract and house the workforce, and the moving expense of any person who would move to the area to work. Crews were sent in to begin construction on the hundreds of homes, and other structures that would be required. They built water systems, a power plant, offices, tipples, houses, roads, schools, churches and other amenities, before ever shipping any coal. To speed up construction, a temporary narrow-gauge railroad was built to ferry supplies to the construction sites, and to aid in the harvesting of timber needed for them.
Our communities were at one time the envy of the country, we had swimming pools, department stores, golf courses, and hotels. We also had electricity and running water long before some of the big cities did. We had saw mills and brick plants to build our homes and businesses, dairy farms to feed our families, schools and recreation facilities for our children, doctors, nurses and hospitals for our sick, and the rail road in almost every town. In addition to McRoberts and Jenkins, Consol also built Dunham and Burdine close by.
When one got a job with Consol, the company gave him a house rent-free. They paid no electric bill, water bill, sewage bill, and got fuel for a very small fee. Of course, the wages were small, about 35¢ per hour, and part of the wages were paid in “script” that could only be spent in company-owned businesses.
Jenkins was established as a sixth-class town, and was incorporated in 1912. In 1947 Consol announced that the whole town of Jenkins was on the market, and started selling the businesses and land to the people. The City government was only established at this time, until then Consol had hired its own police force, to enforce the law and ran all aspects of the city.
The Consolidation Coal Company sold the entire property in the four-county area to Bethlehem Steel on November 1, 1956. The company is now known as Beth-Elkhorn Corporation. The sale was advantageous to both companies Consol was in the commercial coal business but didn’t have a market and was faced with either shutting down or selling the property to a market that they were not involved in. At the time, Bethlehem didn’t need the production, but needed the reserves for the steel industry.
What we know that can easily be found is that Consol built four towns Jenkins, McRoberts, Dunham and Burdine other evidence suggests that Consol may have been building more towns in Letcher County, however, records of this time are not very accurate. What is known is that in 1913 Consol wanted to buy an additional 200,000 acres of land in KY and WV and could not get the financing so Senator Watson, The Chairman of the Board for Consol, spun off 3 new companies called Elk Horn Fuel, Elk Horn Mining and Mineral Fuels these companies were made up of Consol officers and employees Less than 5 months later Elk Horn had finished towns and was mining coal in Fleming, Hemphill, and Haymond KY.
Now over 50 years later almost nothing is left of what Consol or Bethlehem built slowly over the years all the business has left town and as the children grow up and move away so does the population.