The following is an excerpt from a article on the History of the Community of Pathfork, Kentucky. Prepared by Mildred Jacobs in 1955. This was written for a course in Kentucky History.
The Community of Pathfork, Kentucky
The community of Pathfork, Kentucky is located in the southwestern part of Harlan County, Kentucky and is near the point where a small creek by the name of “Pathfork” empties into Pucketts Creek. Pathfork is about one mile east of the Harlan and Bell County boundary line and has a population of approximately 140 families. All of the inhabitants of this community are of white, American descent, and most of them obtain the greater portion of their subsistence from mining coal and working in and around the mines, as well as from vegetable farming.
The community of Pathfork was settled in 1785 when a man named Ben Howard (the great grandfather of Robert Howard who contributed to this history) migrated to this section with his family and other families whose names were Lee, Daniels, Shackleford, Craig, and Lawson. When they came through Cumberland Gap and began their journey over the Wilderness Road, these families broke away from the main party of settlers and followed the Cumberland River north eastward until they came to the mouth of Pucketts Creek. From there, they traveled about five miles up Pucketts Creek to the site of the present community where they decided to make their homes. These people migrated to Kentucky for the purpose of making new homes for their families and were willing and eager to do the job they had set out to do. The natural environment of this site had many of the things the settlers needed, such as a good campsite, plenty of wild game, and abundant supply or good water, plenty of rich soil, and an abundance of valuable timber from which they could build their homes.
The land which comprises the center part of Pathfork was the camp of a large band of Indians and there are still evidences of their having been there. Numerous arrow heads or flint rocks are still to be found as well as a large number of rocks which have the appearance of having been subjected to fire and intense heat.
As time passed, there were many obstacles which had to be overcome. The population had increased very rapidly and the settlers began to make plans for a school house. Timber was available in abundance and they cut down the trees, hewed them and laid them up to form a large cabin. This was covered with boards split from logs, and the cracks were filled with mud to keep out the cold. A large chimney and fireplace were built at one end of the room to provide heat. Logs and branches were cut from the forest to use for fuel. When the schoolhouse was finished, it was also used as a place of worship. A man by the name of Garrett Howard was selected to be the first teacher, and Steven Daniel was chosen as the first pastor. These same men continued in the respective capacities for several years.
Some time during the year of 1852, a man by the name of Britt Lee came to the community and courted and married Phoebe Howard, the daughter of Bill Howard. Britt Lee was a man of thrifty disposition, and a few years later he purchased the greater portion of the level land around and near the mouth of Pathfork Creek. This land, as did the other land in the community, had a great amount of large poplar trees, and as soon as Britt Lee obtained a market for his logs, he began to cut and haul them to Pucketts Creek. As soon as there was enough water in the creek, he floated them down the creek to the Cumberland River and thence by water to the large band mills at Wasiota, Kentucky, and to the Jones Lumber Company at Williamsburg, Kentucky. During the remainder of the 19th century the cutting, logging and transporting of poplar logs was the only industry in this community and furnished the only employment for the men living at Pathfork.
During this period of time the people of Pathfork had to go to Rose Hill, Virginia, a distance of about 15 miles, to purchase their necessary supplies of food and clothing. They made the trips on foot or on horseback and crossed two large mountains with only a narrow trail to follow. The people raised most of their food – vegetables, hogs, beef, and sheep, and made most of their own clothing from the wool sheared from the sheep. They dried their own beans and apples, and “holed” their potatoes, cabbages, turnips, and apples for winter use. They made molasses and tapped the trees for maple syrup and sugar. During the latter part of the 19th century, Britt Lee built a general store to accommodate the people of the community, and he operated the store until his death in 1898. This was the only store within a radius of about 15 miles and until this time there was no post office closer than Rose Hill, Virginia.
In 1892, the old log school house with its puncheon floor made from hewed and split poplar logs, was replaced with a “frame” building, the old home-made benches were still used. Some of the people who taught in the new school were Senora Howard, and Lizzie Howard from Layman, Kentucky, and Calvin Blanton from Wallins Creek, Kentucky. This building was also used for the church, and among the good old-fashioned preachers were the Rev. Will Fee, from Martin’s Fork; the Rev. Phil Lee and Rev. Noah Smith from Calloway, Kentucky, and Rev. Calvin Simpson from straight Creek, Kentucky.
The population had increased very rapidly and by 1910, there were 115 pupils of school age. In the year of 1911, the Board of Trustees employed P. L. Taylor of Layman, Kentucky, as the teacher and he taught the school for four years. In 1912, a new and larger building was erected to meet the demand, and an assistant teacher was employed this time. More than 100 children were in attendance from the first through the eighth grade. In 1912, Taylor married Bertha Howard, daughter of Britt Howard, and in 1913 he decided to engage in the mercantile business. He purchased a general line of merchandise. Mrs. Taylor worked in the store one year while he continued to teach school. Since there was no post office closer than six miles, Taylor petitioned the post office department to establish an office at Pathfork. A post office was established in 1916, and P. L. Taylor was appointed postmaster and served as such until 1923 when he sold his store to the Willis-Harlan Coal Co., and resigned as postmaster. He was appointed postmaster in 1939 and is still serving as such.
In 1915, the Black Mountain Railroad Company constructed a railroad from the mouth of Puckettts Creek at Hulen, Kentucky, through Pathfork to Alva, Kentucky, a distance of nine mines. This railroad served the Willis-Harlan Coal Company at Pathfork, and the Black Star Coal Company at Alva, and the Southern Coal Company at Insull. These three mines played an important part in the lives of the people of Pathfork. Most of the male residents of Pathfork are employed at the Black Star Mines.
In the year of 1928, the Bringardner Lumber Company of Lexington, Kentucky, bought a large tract of timber from the Kentucky and West Virginia Coal and Land Company and erected a band mill at Pathfork. They cut and logged many million feet of timber from which they sawed and manufactured millions of feet of lumber. This lumber was shipped to buyers in this country as well as to foreign countries. The company built a number of houses and provided jobs for many people until 1944 when the company left Pathfork.
In 1925 the state highway department built a hard surface road up Pucketts Creek through Pathfork to Alva. This road has proved a great boom to the community.
In 1945, the Blue Diamond Coal Company of Knoxville, Tennessee, leased a large tract of coal land from the Kentucky and West Virginia Coal Company, and constructed an operated a coal mine until 1951. They employed about 200 men.
In the community of Pathfork there are now six stores, three restaurants, one theater, two churches, one poolroom, and the post office.
The Black Star Coal Company, Bringardner Lumber Company, and the Blue Diamond Coal Company were the greatest factors in the growth of the Pathfork community. Many modern homes have been built in the area. Due to the unsatisfactory market for coal, many families have been forced to seek employment in other areas.
Actually, I consider that my father, P. L. Taylor, has been the leading influence in the community of Pathfork since his arrival as the school teacher in 1911. He invested in property in Loyall, Kentucky, and moved his family there in 1923. He retained his property in Pathfork, and in 1937, he bought the farm which had belonged to my grandfather Howard until his death. Due to a fire which destroyed his business in Loyall in 1932, my father moved his family back to Pathfork where he farmed,, mined coal, and engaged in logging to care for his family.
My father walked from Jesses’ Creek to Harlan, Kentucky, to school. Room and board was $2.00 per week.
As a young man, my father rode horseback from Layman, Kentucky, to Pineville, Kentucky, where he went by train to school at Berea and later to L. M. U. He is a fine, honest, outstanding Christian man, and one whom I am proud to call my father.
Mildred T. Jacobs - - - 1955
Researched by P. L. Taylor
Written for a course in “Kentucky