Alva Memorial Gardens


Bloody Harlan

By Nancy Hooker Powell

Black Star “holler” was a dead end.  You could cross the mountains to Virginia, on foot or by horseback, but there was no road for vehicles.  The mining camp was self contained and we had no need to leave, except for hospitalization or dental care.  We had a grocery store with furniture and clothing, restaurants, doctors office, barber & beauty shop, churches, school, ball field, swimming hole, dry cleaners, movie theatre, pool hall, pastry truck, book mobile, skating rink, service station, post office, train depot, vegetable gardens, fruit trees, pigs, chickens, sled runs, boot leggers, free coal and firewood.  All the houses had electricity and spring fed water….Utopia!


In the 1950’s we had telephones and television.  Prior to 1952, our life line to the world was The Knoxville News Sentinel newspaper.  The paper was delivered to your house by various camp kids.  The entire family looked forward to the paper each day.  All the good and bad news of the outside world, the funnies, sports, science, weather and crossword puzzles were there.  The ads were of equal importance to all members of the family.  Millers Department ran full pages of clothing you could order by mail; Cas Walker grocery chain had entry coupons to win ponies, bicycles, bride dolls and electric trains; Buster Brown shoes would “X-Ray” your feet to sell you the proper shoe size; Dr. Chrisenberry gave his hours, no appointment necessary, to get eye care and glasses, and enjoy the beautiful talking parrot he kept in the office.  Fishing reports were there for Norris, Cherokee, Fontana and other area lakes and was of great interest to Daddy.  The stories of crime and UFO sightings were the most fascinating, as we had neither in Black Star.  There was a religious page for “Bible thumpers” like my Mother.  Livestock prices, planting schedules, moon phases, poems, riddles and recipes filled the remaining space.  The paper was and still is, published in Knoxville, Tennessee and came to us every day by train, on the L & N railroad.  (My friend, Lynn Ellen and I called it The Lynn & Nancy Railroad!).


The newspaper link, along with monthly subscriptions to Life Magazine and National Geographic, formed my world and my life.  The photographs and printed word gave me the tools to excite, to wonder, to dream, to embellish and to educate myself beyond school and library learning.  I always hoped to travel the world, but I NEVER wanted to live anywhere, but the mountains of Southeastern Kentucky.


Today, at age sixty-three, I am grateful for my birthplace, my upbringing and The Knoxville News Sentinel.  Growing up in Black Star was just heaven, but without the newspaper, I would have been handicapped to enter and function in the world.  All the families had to leave Black Star in the early 1960’s when the mines closed.


Black Star (Alva, Kentucky) was located in the southern end of Harlan County, accessible by Highway # 72, off Highway # 119.  The mines were opened in the mid 1920’s by Black Star Coal Corporation from Pennsylvania.  They constructed the camp as a model mining camp community and bragged in the eastern newspapers that all the dwellings were “electrified.”


Thank you, Knoxville News Sentinel, for being an important part of my life.


Nancy Hooker Powell

2917 Battle Forrest Drive

Decatur, Georgia  30034