for Our Daily News Updates
Besides the letter ‘B,’ what do banjos, bourbon barrels and Bluegrass have in common? They’re all in the first digitized and posted entry of the Coal, Camps and Railroads collection in the University of Kentucky Libraries.
The National Endowment for the Humanities gave UK a Humanities Collections and Reference Resources grant to digitize 132 cubic feet, or 264,000 pages, of the Bert T. Combs Appalachian Collection. The collection has been held for some time in UK Special Collections. It focuses on 189 years of economic development in the Eastern Kentucky coalfield from 1788 to 1976.
There are 10 individual groupings within the overall Appalachian Collection. Each documents the search for, extraction of and distribution of coal, oil and natural gas resources. They cover the Eastern Kentucky counties of Breathitt, Boyd, Clark, Floyd, Harlan, Lawrence, Letcher, Perry and Powell.
Also documented is the creation of railroads to bring the raw materials to industrial manufacturers and electrical power generators all over the country. Around the coal companies towns with company services like stores, schools and clinics were built. Included in the documentation is information about the lives of residents in these coal towns and what they did to sustain them.
The new digitized papers are also available nationwide as part of the Kentucky Digital Library. The library was created in the mid-1990s and made up of the deans of the eight state-assisted university libraries, but the idea first came from the State-Assisted Academic Library Council of Kentucky, established in 1985. UK manages the digital library infrastructure and does the actual conversion from paper to being available online.
The Kentucky Digital Library is open to all students and members of the public, and is frequently used for research.
Some of the highlights include: Historic newspapers, images, collections both private and public, maps, books and oral histories.
The Bert T. Combs collection includes a group of papers from Sherrill Martin dated 1937-1954. Some of the things Martin collected were newsletters from the Carrs Fork Coal Co. that featured his line-drawn illustrations on things like mine safety.
The newsletters were either attached to or on the reverse of pay stubs to remind the miners that safety was their responsibility too. During World War II, the message was often patriotism and supporting the war effort. More pointedly, the newsletters “warned miners that if safety was not a priority in their daily work, they were aiding and abetting the enemy,” according to the KVL.
There were also pay stubs from Carrs Fork and the Stoker Coal Co. issued to Martin’s uncle, C.A. Dupree. Carrs Fork operated in the Perry County community of Allock from 1919-1958 and employed 300 people. Stoker, also in Perry County, was located in Scuddy from 1946-1957 and employed 75.
In the Combs collection was one box of materials from the Tacony Oil Co. of Philadelphia, Penn. The papers, dated from 1860-1896, mention Tacony’s search for oil in Lawrence County in Kentucky. Included are correspondence and official company papers relating to finances, business and legal matters.