Jenkins History

The story of Richard Broas standing in the Elkhorn creek in Pike County examining a piece of coal is likely to have occurred in Sept 1883.

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Horace Walbridge

Jenkins History part 2

Captain Richard Broas of New York became involved with the search for minerals beginning with the early development around the Oil City area in Pennsylvania. He later went to California and after an unsuccessful venture to find gold and silver in the Sierras; Broas came to the lower reaches of the Big Sandy River in 1881 in the interest of Horace Walbridge a prominent merchant and railroad man of Toledo.  He started his search near Louisa not liking what he found he moved upriver where he uncovered the Millers Creek seam. After reporting his findings on the Walbridge project and purchasing 10,000 acres for his principals near Van Lear, Broas continued to survey and explore along the Big Sandy River.


In 1883 Broas had heard a rumor about an abandoned survey that had been done on the Elkhorn Creek from Elkhorn City south to Ash Camp KY. He came to Ash Camp in April of that year and after verifying the report of the earlier Survey, He broadened his survey and found minable coking coal in the area. However, he concluded that since the seam was so close to the Cumberland fault that it was limited in its extent.

Coal Barge

At this point, it is notable to mention that Broas had been opening small coal mines along the Big Sandy River. He was shipping the coal by barge downriver to the Van Lear area. Where they would be offloaded to trains and shipped across the county. However, the Ash Camp coal, being on the Elkhorn Branch of the river, was too far up the river to allow the heavy coal to be shipped by barge. But having the backing of Railroad Tycoon Horace Walbridge, Broas was sure that if he could find a coalfield of significant value the railroad could be persuaded to extend into this remote region of Kentucky.

It is also worthy to note that it is at this time the story of Richard Broas standing in the Elkhorn Creek in Pike County examining a piece of coal is likely to have occurred, because suddenly in September of that year he broke camp, moved 14 miles upriver to the headwaters of the Elkhorn Creek near what is now called Jenkins there Within a short time Broas found the Coking Coal he had long sought after near the mouth of Joe’s Branch.

Coal Map

There were several seams of coal in the area, the one that interested Broas the most he named the Elkhorn #3 seam. and spent several years opening the coal in countless places for miles around the area testing it for quality, searching for its boundary limits, and purchasing the rights to all the coal that matched his standards. The achievement of Broas only became apparent years later when it was found that the chemical makeup of the coal he purchased changed so drastically within a few miles of Jenkins that it required a shipment to a different market. Ironically Richard Broas’s backer Horace Walbridge died in January 1893 and Broas was never able to get the railroad to expand into the area. Broke and disheartened Broas eventually sold all of his holdings to John C.C. Mayo for a mere sum of $30,000

John Mayo
Clipping from 1912 Mountain Eagle

Mayo sent his own survey teams into the area to verify the findings of Broas, and in 1907 armed with the survey information and the offer of land already producing coal at the Millers Creek Development, he approached the Chairman of the Consolidation Coal Company, Senator Clarence Watson with a proposal. The result was the immediate purchase of Millers Creek and an option to purchase the area known as Elk Horn Creek after Consolidation could verify the findings of Broas and Mayo’s men.

The Consolidation Coal Company or Consol sent an army of Surveyors, Engineers, Geologist, and Chemists into the area. The report they did said that the area around the Elk Horn Creek was the most valuable coal find in the United States; this was further confirmed by experts brought in from Canada and England who estimated that the land would yield 12,000 tons per acre an estimate that was far conservative in Consol’s own words from their book in 1934 which stated that they had already mined 500 million tons and they now expected the coal seams in the area to yield up to an additional 1 billion tons or more. It is of interest to note that the area is still producing Coal over 100 years after the first mine went into operation.

In the spring of 1909 having the reports in hand, Senator Watson convened a meeting of Consolidations board of directors and financial backers along with John Mayo and others from his Northern Coal and Coke Company.


The particulars of the meeting are unknown however shortly thereafter Consol went into negotiations with the Lexington and Eastern Railroad Company to extend their railroad line approximately 100 miles from Dumont (near Jackson) in Wolfe County to a place known as Wrights Fork on the headwaters of the North Fork of the Kentucky River. The interest of Consol on Wrights Fork had to do with the Survey reports finding that the coal there ranged from 7-19 feet thick with an average height of 14 feet. However, after a survey done by the L&E railroad, they Reported that it would be late 1912 to early 1913 before the job could be completed.

At the same time Consolidation invested heavily in the Sandy Valley and Elkhorn Railroad, in 1902 The Baltimore and Ohio or B&O railroad trying to compete for Kentucky Timber and Coal with the Chesapeake and Ohio or C&O railroad issued bonds and started construction on the Sandy Valley & Elkhorn or SV&E railroad from Shelby KY now known as Shelbiana to the headwaters of the Elkhorn Creek however by 1909 only 10 miles of the railroad had been completed. Although Consol’s investment would greatly speed the construction of the SV&E the rail would still take over a year to complete.

Because of its remoteness, the situation in Letcher County was unique, other than a few farms and the small town of Whitesburg the county had no settlements of any size and a very small population. This and the fact that construction needed to begin right away presented a series of large logistical problems that would have to be overcome. 

To Be Continued…

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