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Lynch resident Irene Florek, who is 100, arrived in town with her family when she was a few months old. Florek lived near the baseball field and remembers frequent activities including games and parades.One local history recounts that the company would close off the street to the hotel when it snowed so kids could go sledding.

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Italian immigrants used sandstone quarried from the nearby hills to build impressive public buildings. Goode, a retired community college professor who grew up in the neighboring coal town of Benham and has studied the history of Lynch, said of other coal towns.

The thought was that keeping miners content would enhance production and keep down problems. Steel coal town in West Virginia to work at the new Lynch mines.

In that century, Lynch has mirrored the history of Eastern Kentucky as coal jobs swung up and down and families moved out to find work during hard times. Now, like the rest of the region, Lynch is looking for a new way forward.

More than half the coal jobs in Eastern Kentucky have disappeared since a precipitous slide started in 2012. The town’s population has declined to less than 800 from a peak of 10,000, and a third of the houses are vacant, according to U. Residents are trying to promote tourism and small businesses to create jobs, and a study about the possibility of merging with two nearby towns is underway.

Lynch was not immune from the violence associated with those struggles that cemented the nickname “Bloody Harlan.” There were shootings in Lynch, including one fight at the bathhouse in which two men died, Goode said. Steel and other coal companies exerted authoritarian control over employees and the economic, political and social life in the county, John W. Steel division that operated Lynch, the company laid in a supply of tear gas and extra ammunition, barred organizers and followed union members and destroyed their literature, Hevener wrote. Steel eventually accepted the UMW at Lynch in the late 1930s, deciding that the cost wouldn’t be onerous. Coal production hit a 50-year-low in Harlan County in 1960, and the county’s population dropped by nearly half between 19 as people left to find work, according to Census figures. They tore down many houses, sold others to residents, turned over schools to county districts and gave offices and other buildings to the towns, keeping only their mining operations. These days, the city is living month to month financially and operates in the red at times, said Mayor John Adams.

“They didn’t hesitate to resort to violence,” he said of the union organizers and the coal companies. Hevener said in his 1978 account of the labor battles of the 1930s, “Which Side Are You On? A state commission later said that a “virtual reign of terror” existed in the county, financed by coal operators in collusion with public officials, and that miners had been evicted, beaten and mistreated. Pay and benefits for miners improved under the union, said William Morrow, 94, who lied about his age to go to work for U. “Getting by — that would be optimistic,” Adams said.

Hampton sent letters to Eastern Kentucky Social Club members and former residents seeking help, which brought in thousands in donations. Black and white employees worked together in the mines, but black miners could not move up to supervisory positions until winning a lawsuit in the 1970s, and schools and entertainment were segregated. Steel “made it seamless,” said Dwain Morrow, whose father, William Morrow, retired after working 40 years for the company. Harlan County had some of the most widely reported labor clashes in the country between the world wars.

There was racial violence directed at black residents in the Appalachian coalfields, especially in the early days, but there was a relatively high degree of harmony between the races at a personal level, historian Ron Eller wrote in his 1982 book “Miners, Millhands and Mountaineers: Industrialization of the American South 1880-1930.” Whites and blacks in the mines had to rely on each other for their safety, and there were not major differences in pay or living conditions for miners of different races, Eller said. Coal operators used control over the county’s economy and politicians to beat back organizing efforts, evicting union members from company houses, blacklisting them from getting jobs and paying the salaries of sheriff’s deputies who intimidated miners. By the late 1950s, mechanization had eliminated many miners’ jobs and railroads and factories switched to other fuel sources, reducing demand for coal. Steel and other companies, including International Harvester at neighboring Benham, decided it was too costly to maintain company-owned towns. Steel eventually ended its involvement in Lynch after more than six decades, selling its mines to Arch Coal in 1984.

Bill Estep [email protected] Bill Estep [email protected] The valley along Looney Creek in Harlan County was a wooded wilderness in 1917 when U. Steel, hungry for coal to make steel during World War I, bought 19,000 acres and set about creating the largest company-owned coal town in the world.

The company built an entire town from scratch — hundreds of houses, stores, schools, a hotel, a hospital, a baseball field, a fire station, water and power plants and industrial buildings, including a machine shop and the highest-capacity coal tipple anywhere.

“It was hustle and bustle here,” said Mike O’Bradovich, a first-generation American whose father came to Lynch from what became Yugoslavia and whose mother was from Germany.

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