Jenkins History part 4
Some of the first equipment to arrive were the saw mills and brick plants, along with 2 types of kilns, a dry kiln to cure the lumber and a lime kiln to help compact the soil at the construction sites as well as to make plaster and mortar for the buildings. As these arrived and were put into operation more permanent buildings and structures began to be erected. From the very start Consol was concerned about the health, safety and moral of the workers and constructed a small temporary hospital complete with two doctors and a nurse as one of the first buildings in the town. Others included the Clubhouse which in the early stages of construction had a dual purpose of housing men till more houses could be built and as a bath house complete with hot and cold running water. A temporary YMCA was constructed complete with a bowling alley, theater and soda fountain where the men could relax and engage in various leisure activities and a temporary bakery from which bread was loaded into wagons by the shovel full three times per day and distributed to the workers.
Almost everything used would be made on site except Concrete, glass, nails and roofing. The Concrete shipped in was in massive amounts for the construction of two reservoirs. A group called J.S Byers and Company would first construct the Goodwater reservoir built to hold 1.2 million gallons of water on the side of the Cumberland Mountain near a limestone spring; massive pipes were laid out from this site throughout the town and would eventually be connected to all the building and houses for drinking water and fire plugs were put in for fire prevention. The next was destined to become the main source of water for the town and the power plant, The Elkhorn Dam would require 5000 cubic yards of concrete and impound 70 million gallons of water.
Jenkins would become the regional office for Consol and according to the Mountain Eagle dated June 6, 1912 construction was being done simultaneously on 1,000 buildings from Burdine to Dunham. To help in this Massive endeavor Consolidation would bring in some of the finest men representing some of the best known construction companies in the Country. The work crews numbered in the thousands and the miners had not yet begun to arrive.
The Nationally known Nicola Building Company of Pittsburg PA owned the saw mills, and ran the logging operations. They were also in charge of building the housing along with the other wooden structures needed throughout the project. Because of the massive number of houses and other buildings units needed and the tight time table, one of their architects came up with what was then called “Box Frame Housing”. Traditionally housing was either built using the slat or pole frame methods which involved building the walls of the house and then attaching the floors, ceilings etc. However this revolutionary construction method would cut the time of construction by ¾ and increase the strength of the building tenfold. The new method required the flooring to be laid down first and then the rest of the building would be constructed like building a box, today this method is the universal construction method used across the country and is called platform framing. By 1913 hundreds of houses had been built from Burdine to McRoberts and were regarded as the “best built anywhere.” They featured fireplaces, closets, pantries, porches and electricity throughout. And by the 20’s most of the homes had running water.
At first all the construction was aided by using horse teams to move supplies around, this required Consol to import 150 horses and a Vet to take care of not only them but the teams of Oxen, the dairy heard and massive amounts of chickens brought in and being raised as a food source for the project. When the narrow gage railroad came on line construction was tripled as now up to 10 times the amount of lumber, brick and supplies could easily be moved to the various construction sites and return to the lumber mills with fresh cut timber.
Consol would construct a modern downtown city at Jenkins made of brick and stone the first of these buildings was the company store which the local newspapers dubbed “the Biggest Building in the Country” they would also build one of the first power plants in the state a mere 14 years after AC won the “Power Wars”. In all Consol would construct 23 brick buildings in town including a School, office buildings, a church and a modern hospital. Although Consol constructed at least 4 other towns the rest of the company buildings would all be constructed of wood other than chimneys and supports. However not long after Jenkins was finished the towns of Chip now called Neon and Whitesburg started building with brick, one can only surmise, as the brick plants disappeared, that those facilities were either purchased and moved elsewhere or that Consol was selling brick for needed construction elsewhere.
Before any coal was ever shipped Consol spent millions planning and developing the towns of Jenkins, McRoberts, Burdine and Dunham to attract and house the workforce needed for 14 mines the company would also pay the moving expense for any person and their families, who would move to the area to work. Consol sent out “Recruitment Teams” all around the country including the immigration ports and as the building efforts progressed the YMCA auditorium took on new rolls by day training the men who would become foremen in the mines and by night teaching immigrants English. When one signed on with Consol they would pay your train fare to the closest rail station, there are many stories of men being stuck in Cincinnati and elsewhere signing on with Consol to get a “free ride” to East Kentucky and then never showing up for work.
When one got a mining job with Consol, the company gave him a house rent-free. They paid no electric, water or sewage bill, and got coal for cooking food and heating their homes 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. The company however took care of everything from delivering groceries to simple maintenance on the homes.
Our communities were at one time the envy of the country we had department stores; meat markets, recreation centers, YMCA’s, Theaters, hotels and minor league baseball teams. We also had electricity and running water long before some of the bigger cities in the state. We had a dairy farm for milk and eggs and each spring Consol provided seed for gardening to feed our families, We had schools, parks and recreation facilities for our children, doctors, nurses and hospitals for our sick and the rail road in almost every town.
Jenkins was established as a sixth-class town and was incorporated in 1912, Consol maintains in their book “History of the Consolidation Coal Company 1864-1934” That they had always strived to improve the working and living conditions of their employees. However they do admit that after entering the coalfields of Kentucky that this effort was tripled… The ultimate expression of this occurred in the towns in Letcher County especially Jenkins… in all Consol would spend $40 million (or $1billion in today’s money) on the development in Letcher County.
Growing up I was taught to learn something new every day. Trying to live up to this axiom, I became a prolific and avid reader covering a wide range of topics and subjects. Although my personal studies have always been rather eclectic and included computer science, electricity, and electronics just to name a few. My favorite fields of study have always been Religion, Politics, and Economics, but my lifelong passion is the study of History and Anthropology.
I have also always been a bit of a dreamer and in the possession of a roving foot. As such my life has led me down paths not often traveled. My career has been long and varied and has included some strange ways to make a living, all legal by the way. But at last, all my passions and dreams have come together.
I have married the woman of my dreams. Together we have a wonderful home and we are both professional historians and spend our days in study.