At The City Of Harlan Through Memories
Note: Isaac Andrew Huff recorded his memories of Harlan County
several years before his death in 1980. His niece, Sandra Long,
of Totz, Kentucky, has submitted these memories for Explorer
readers to enjoy.
Issac's parents were Mary Jane Crider Huff, born in 1867, and
James Madison Huff, 1867-1936. James' parents were Elizabeth
Howard Huff, 1850-1915, and William Lloyd Huff, 1846-1930. Sandra
is interested in hearing from anyone with information regarding
her family. Her father was Robinson Crusoe Huff, 1907-1983, a
brother to Issac.
Huff - ca. 1975
As a boy I grew up in Harlan, Kentucky, the county seat of Harlan.
The town was originally called Mount Pleasant, a tiny settlement
nestled in the valley, surrounded by beautiful mountains.
I sit and gaze at our mountains today, remembering how they were
when I was a boy. I would roam over the hillsides, climb to the
top, and sit for hours looking out at the high peaks. To my surprise
I could see many mountain ranges, as far as the eye could see.
It was almost unbelievable, all of God's handiwork!
There were large trees, with limbs that seemed to reach out and
touch you as you passed them. The wind whistled through the tops,
and the birds sang their sweet, lonely melodies. It seemed to
me as if all nature was in tune. I would gaze into the heavens
and look for the evening star.
As I came back down the mountain I could hear the birds so loud,
they seemed to be praising God for such a paradise. Strolling
down I could see large mulberry trees loaded down with fruit.
Farther down there were huckleberries, raspberries, and blackberries
by the bushel. After reaching the base of the mountain I looked
back up to where I had been and thanked God for letting me accomplish
the things I wanted to do.
There were just a few families that lived in Harlan when I was
growing up. Our streets were dry and dusty in the summer and
sloppy and muddy in the winter. What few sidewalks we had were
made of planks and very often several would be missing. It was
a common sight to see someone slipping and sliding in the mud
at the Ball Building which was located in the city of Harlan,
Harlan County, Kentucky, in the early 1900s.
several distinguishing men in our town. Green Eversole; Jim Forester;
and Grant Forester, who became circuit judge after practicing
law here in Harlan for many years, to name a few. Eversole was
considered one of the best lawyers in this area.
We also had Judge Hall, an outstanding lawyer and one of the
wealthiest men in the county. Judge Hall owned many acres of
coal land when mineral rights could be bought from the property
owners for $1 an acre. Before the L&N Railroad was built
no one realized how valuable coal land would be.
When I was a teenager we had four churches in our town. They
were the Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, and Christian. The
Presbyterians used the Old Academy for a school and church services.
The pastor of the church also served as the professor in the
We had prayer meetings on Thursday nights, Sunday School and
preaching service on Sunday mornings, and preaching service was
held on Sunday nights. Our parishioners were faithful to their
church. Some of the finest and most dedicated people I have ever
known were members of the church I attended. My teacher was one
of those men. His name was John Carter.
When we didn't have services at our church my brothers and I
got a great thrill out of attending other churches, and we were
always welcomed and treated with respect.
The churches tried not to have their revivals at the same time,
so as not to conflict with each other. It also gave the people
an opportunity to attend different revivals and hear different
speakers. It was a wonderful feeling to sit under a huge tent
and listen to beautiful hymns and the word of God.
We had a wonderful pastor at our church. He had a beautiful singing
voice and loved to play the piano. He served as our minister
for many years.
Our churches began to grow in numbers and prospered in leaps
and bounds, mainly because of the support of the many fine people
who were always interested in their fellowman.
God has been so good to the people in our valley and has helped
them prosper beyond measure. How wonderful it is to have someone
to turn to, when in real need, who will give us comfort and listen
to the problems of the day.
In my boyhood days I went to school with Virgil Eversole and
Taylor Forester, two well-known men in Harlan County. Virgil's
father was one of the wealthiest men in Harlan, but you would
never know it by the way Virgil acted. He was just like any other
Taylor was someone special. He was very popular with everyone
and a jolly good fellow. The only thing was he couldn't get along
with the teachers. One day he asked to be excused. The teacher
said, "No." Taylor said, "I've got to go,"
and he just got up out of his seat and took off. He was always
polite, asked for what he wanted, but if it was refused, he did
We had some pretty big men in our town. There were George Turner
and Hiram Cawood. They both weighed about 300 pounds. My brothers
and I were small in comparison, and we had a great deal of respect
for these big men and held them in awe and admiration.
In 1912 my dad rented a plot of ground, where the old schoolhouse
now stands, for a garden. It was a real pretty spot. He sub-rented
part of it to Crocket Hall. It was a good year for vegetables.
He raised one of the longest sweet potatoes I ever saw. It wasn't
so big in diameter, but it measured three-feet-long.
Also in 1912 I helped haul the brick to build the Presbyterian
Church. The bricks were shipped here in boxcars and unloaded
by hand and then hauled to the building site by horse and wagon.
The first pastor to occupy the pulpit was Carl T. Mickel, and
he served as our pastor for several years.
The first bank we had in Harlan was next to Willie and Margie
Noe's store. Will Lewis and John White were the president and
vice-president. Banking was dull then, because there just wasn't
any money in town.
One of the greatest things that ever happened in Harlan was when
the L&N started to grade the right-of-way for the railroad.
Everyone was so excited when they started laying the steel for
the tracks. I helped grade the right-of-way from the lower end
of Georgetown to the upper end. This was started in 1910.
When the railroad was first completed to Lynch most of the people
had never seen a train before, and they used to line up to see
the train come by with its big engine belching smoke. The people
from Clover Fork would walk for miles to see the passenger train
come in at the station.
Those of us who worked grading the right-of-way were paid 15¢
an hour for ten, long, hard hours. Of course, we were glad to
get it, for work was hard to find in those days.
The steel was soon laid for the tracks to go as far as Kitts.
The Whitfield mine was ready to begin loading coal on the cars.
The company built a chute and a bin out to the track to supply
the coal for the train's use.
The tracks were laid on up Clover Fork, and other mines were
getting their coal ready to load as soon as the L&N could
give them cars to load it in.
As time passed the train could go as far as Louellen, where Cornett
and Lewis Coal Company operated a good-sized mine. At that time
they ended it there. The owners of Clover Splint Coal Company
paid for the track to be extended to their mine. Some time later
the railroad was extended as far as Glend Brook Coal Company.
The last two mines put out a high grade of coal, and it sold
for more money per ton.
The railroad was soon going up Catron's Creek and Martin's Fork
where several mines were in operation and sending out tons of
coal every day. It seemed like prosperity was here.
The hospital was built and a vocational school was made ready
to train anyone who wanted to learn to be a mechanic, carpenter,
Our first newspaper was published by Jim Eads (to the best of
my knowledge). It was a weekly paper, and we looked forward to
reading about things that were going on in the world and our
Harry Hoare opened up the first bakery in Harlan. A man by the
name of Rudolph was the baker, and he sure could make good bread.
Six one-pound loaves could be purchased for a quarter.
Joe Kelly built the first modern hotel in our town. We felt like
we were becoming a big city when the hotel was built. It was
named the Kelly Hotel.
In the early 1900s there were open fields on all sides of Harlan
that seemed to be begging someone to build a nice home. Money
was hard to come by in those days, and most people had to make
do with what they had. Back in those days we had old-timers like
Crit Howard, W. C. L. Huff, Albert Ball, Nathan Saylor, Sam Howard,
and Crit Jones (who you could see out on the streets of Harlan).
The first lumberyard we had was operated by Pope and Rice (to
the best of my knowledge). They had to deliver supplies with
one large mule and a wagon.
After a few years Harlan began to expand with new buildings being
built. The population started increasing and prosperity began
to show up.
South of town there was one house that must have been 100 years
old. An old lady lived there. Her name was Mrs. Bailey. The house
stood about where the Chevrolet cars are now sold. Going eastward
from Mrs. Bailey's there were no houses at all, until you came
to the lower end of Smith Addition, then there was a house where
J. L. Smith's mother lived. The Smith Addition extended as far
as Fairview. J. L. lived up above where the K. U. transformers
are now located. There have been many changes made for over 75
years in the Smith Addition on the north side of the Clover Fork
River up to Fairview. On the south side of the river, from the
old Academy toward Ivy Hill, running a straight line to Mound
Street, we once found all the land unoccupied up to Stringtown,
there are no houses at all. There was once a large tree that
stood near where the Rich Funeral Home now stands, and a graveyard
occupied quite a large section of the land.
The greatest disaster that hit our town, (outside of the great
flood of 1963) was in 1912.
A fire started in Willie and Margie Noe's store, and having no
waterworks or fire department, the fire could not be checked.
It spread to Mattie Smith's store, burning it to the ground,
then across the street to Walter Gregory's store and the building
behind it. In a short while Sam Howard's store and the hotel
were gone. After the smoke cleared away all you could see were
tons of ashes and a few things sitting in the middle of the ashes
that would not burn.
I don't suppose anyone had any insurance, and in those days money
was scarce, so it was a great loss to the owners. The few things
that had managed to be dragged out into the street, vandals grabbed
up and ran off with them.
We had only one dentist in town, his name was Walker. In those
days if you had a toothache, you either pulled it yourself, or
you went to Dr. Walker.
Dr. Pearl Bailey, Sr., and Dr. Nobe Howard were the two medical
doctors in town. Dr. Bailey used to ride a little pacing mule
on his rounds. We always knew when someone was bad sick when
we saw Dr. Bailey coming on that little mule. Dr. Howard rode
a good-sized horse, one that could take him there and bring him
Back in those days the only way of bringing supplies into Harlan
was by horse and wagon. The nearest town for buying supplies
was Hogan, Virginia. We had to go up Catron's Creek and across
Big Black Mountain and Stone Mountain to get to Hogan, Virginia.
There was one man I admired very much, who drove one of those
wagons. His name was Tolby Howard. Tolby was hauling supplies
with a buddy and helper by the name of Pearl Noe. Because of
the rough roads it was the custom for the two men to stay close
together in case one of them got into trouble or needed help
in any way. A person could get all the whiskey they wanted in
Logan. It was sent from Middlesboro and came by way of wagon
Tolby and Pearl were on their way back to Harlan one night. They
decided to stop for a rest at Sid Pope's grocery at Pansy. They
had some whiskey in the back of the wagon they were bringing
back to Harlan. To show they were friendly they offered those
in the store a drink. Several of the men in the store had a drink,
and everyone was very hospitable. After a while they heard it
raining, and they looked out and saw that the river was starting
to rise, so they decided they had better start to get across
before it got up past fording. They covered their supplies to
keep them dry and took off across the river.
Meanwhile, two men had followed them and jumped them just as
they got across the river. They jumped Tolby's wagon first and
killed him outright. Pearl didn't know what was happening, until
he heard them jump on his wagon. He looked and saw what was going
on, so he jumped off and started running as fast as he could
toward the nearest house for help, not knowing what had happened
Pearl ran to Wash Eager's house, and even though they were scared
to death, they went back to look for Tolby. They searched for
hours but couldn't find a trace of him. Toward morning Pearl
went to Harlan, and the next day he took a posse of men with
him, and they combed the whole area, but still without any luck.
After a few days it looked like they would have to give up all
hope of ever finding Tolby.
A few days later Pearl heard some fellows talking about a fortune-teller
who, they said, could find anything lost. They said she was gifted
that way. Pearl went to see her. Her husband's name was Caesar
Moore, and he was present when Pearl talked to her. He explained
to her what had happened. She said, "If you will go to the
Catron's Creek bridge you will find the man's body lodged in
a clump of bushes there." They went to the place as fast
as they could, and to their surprise there he was, just as she
had told them. So Pearl, at last, had found his friend's body.
The two men arrested and charged with murder for this crime were
Sid Pope and Henry Carter. They were tried and found guilty and
sentenced to the penitentiary.
There was one murder committed not too long ago on the hill just
above where I live now. This woman made and sold what we call
"home brew." She had sold some property and was supposed
to have quite a bit of money about the house. Some men from Clover
Fork came to her house, supposedly to buy some "home brew."
After a few drinks they demanded her money. No doubt, she refused
to give them anything, so they shot her, but just wounded her.
To stop her from screaming they took some kind of blunt instrument
and beat her to death. Three men were arrested and tried for
We had another murder that was solved. A young girl by the name
of Parson was going to the Pine Mountain Settlement to teach.
She was traveling on the train, and she went as far as the train
could take her. When the train reached the spot where they let
the passengers off that were going to cross the mountain, she
got off, and that was the last time anyone saw her alive. Another
passenger got off at the same time. He was a veterinarian who
was headed for the same school to vaccinate some cattle. He hired
out a mule to ride over the mountain, as it was quite a long
trip. The lady started walking and the man soon caught up with
her, and like a gentleman, he offered to let her ride the mule.
She said no, that she would walk. He went on ahead and stopped
and waited for her. Signs of a struggle were found where he stopped
her. She had pulled out some of his hair. She was small of stature,
and he was a big man, so he soon overpowered her. He killed her
and threw her body over a bank behind a big log.
He had hitched the mule to a limb on a tree. The mule had a shoe
half-off, so when he walked he showed a half-a-shoe print in
the dirt. The man got back on the mule and proceeded on his way
to the school. When he arrived at the school he got down off
the mule and threw down a little limb he had cut from a tree
to use to switch the mule. He went into the living quarters where
they all stayed, and everyone said he acted strangely. The matron
of the school said he was restless, paced the floor, and wouldn't
sit down. She said he kept talking about the schoolteacher they
were expecting and why she was so late in arriving.
The next day a search party was formed to look for her. I think
it was two or three days before her body was found. The veterinarian
said, "She was probably killed by a group of convicts who
had been working on the roads in that area." Because of
his strange behavior people started to suspect him. The small
switch he had thrown down was found in the yard. It was taken
back to the murder scene and matched with the cut from the tree,
where the mule had been tied. There had been no rain, and since
this road was traveled very little, the mule's hoof that had
a half-shoe missing, had left its print in the soft dirt, where
it had stomped around while being tied to the tree.
The veterinarian was indicted for murder. At his trial, when
jurors returned the verdict, 11 jurors were for setting the man
free, but one man stood up and said he voted guilty. He said
the other jurors tried to force him to vote not guilty. The judge
declared a mistrial or hung jury. The trial cost the county $20,000
and the court said they couldn't afford to try the case again.
I personally heard all the evidence, and in my opinion he was
guilty. Several years later the man confessed, saying he was
the one who killed the girl. He was very sick, and I suppose
he thought he was going to die.
This article will continued in the September 2004 issue of The
Long, 261 Deer Run Court, Totz, KY 40870; firstname.lastname@example.org,
shares this article written by her uncle, Issac Andrew Huff.