The Benham Coal Company records, one of several Appalachian collections to be digitized by UK Libraries Special Collections Research Center as part of the National Endowment for the Humanities funded Coal, Camps, and Railroads project, is now available on ExploreUK.
on the eastern side of Harlan County, Kentucky, Benham is a coal town
developed by the Wisconsin Steel Company, a subsidiary of International
Harvester. Beginning in 1910, the city was constructed from rural
communities once tied together by subsistence agriculture to provide the
raw material to another industrial city where steel was made. Benham
was often described as a “model” coal camp, one with better quality
housing with running water and electricity, schools, churches, a hotel,
commissary, meat market, theatre, baseball diamonds, a doctor, and other
amenities supplied by the company. As the demand for coal diminished in
the 1940s and 1950s, miners and their families looked elsewhere for
work. By the 1970s, Benham‘s continued loss of population corresponded
to its dwindling coal production and in 1986, International Harvester
left Benham altogether.
The Benham Coal Company records (151 cubic
feet, 302 Boxes; dated 1911-1973) focus primarily on the early years of
Benham Coal through the 1940s, including office files, employee
benefits association records, files on accidents and safety, and
UK Libraries was awarded a National Endowment for the Humanities
grant in 2013 for the Coal, Camps, and Railroads project. Over 130 cubic
feet of portions of the Bert T. Combs Appalachian Collection, including
the Benham Coal Company records, will be selectively digitized,
focusing on 189 years of economic development in the Eastern Kentucky
coalfields from 1788 to 1976.
The materials document the search
for, extraction of, and distribution of coal, oil, and natural gas
resources, the creation of railroads to bring these raw materials to
industrial manufacturers and electrical power generators across the
United States, as well as the company towns, their services, and the
individual lives that grew up to sustain and make possible this economic
The Sherrill Martin papers, Tacony Oil Company collection, and the Kentucky Union Land Company records have also been digitized as part of the Coap, Camps, and Railroads project and are available on ExploreUK. More information on UK Special Collections Research Center’s online Appalachian collections can be found here.