This is a gallery of abandoned and forgotten communities in Kentucky.
Additional communities can be located under the Communities location filter.
Davis / Straight Creek
Davis is located along Davis Road in northern Scott County. It is centered around the circa 1828 Beards Presbyterian Church and general store.
Marshallville is located along the former Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad Dawkins Subdivision. It is named after local families.
Van Lear, located in Johnson County, is a coal camp that was established in 1912. It was named after Van Lear Black, who was a director at the Consolidation Coal Company and the president of Fidelity & Deposit Company of Maryland. 1 2
John Caldwell Calhoun Mayo, during his time at Kentucky Wesleyan College in Millersburg, recognized the value of coal and other minerals in the Big Sandy River valley. 4 5 Upon graduating in 1879, 4 5 he started teaching at the Lower Miller’s Creek School at 22. 3 His teaching salary allowed him to invest in land and mineral rights, which he subsequently sold to iron and coal companies for a considerable profit. Mayo persuaded these companies to invest in the exploration and mining of the region.
In 1881, the Chatteroy Railroad was built from Ashland south to Peach Orchard, a mining town in Lawrence County, and extended to Whitehouse in Johnson County by 1887. In 1886, Mayo partnered with local businessmen Dr. I. R. Turner and F. M. Stafford to form a company aimed at acquiring land and mineral rights. 3 6 Two years later, he started another real estate firm, which became the Paintsville Coal & Mining Company in 1889. This company specialized in acquiring land and mineral rights in eastern Kentucky and southwestern Virginia. By 1890, Mayo had control over nearly 30,000 acres of coal-rich lands, including most of the Elkhorn Creek Coalfield by 1891.
After showcasing coal from his land at the Chicago’s World Fair in 1893, Mayo attracted the attention of Peter L. Kimberley who invested $10,000 in the company’s holdings. 5 In 1901, Mayo established the Northern Coal & Coke Company, transferring his landholdings in Johnson, Floyd, and Lawrence counties to this new entity. By 1909, the company, which then controlled 130,000 acres of land in the Elkhorn Creek Coalfield, sold 100,000 acres of its landholdings and mineral rights to the Consolidation Coal Company for $4.5 million. 3 4 5
In 1909, Consolidation Coal initiated the construction of Van Lear. 3 The company also supported the construction of the Miller’s Creek Railroad, a 4.33-mile branch line, under the patronage of Van Lear’s Fidelity & Deposit Company. The MCRR was connected to the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway, which was the subsequent successor of the Chatteroy Railroad, across the Levisa Fork to Butcher Hollow’s mouth. A bridge was completed over the Levisa on January 24, 1910.
Van Lear was established as a city on June 15, 1912. 3 It quickly became the most populated area in the county with over 4,000 residents, surpassing the county seat of Paintsville, which had just over 1,000 residents.
Two company-owned general stores were located in the city. 3 The first was located near the post office and company offices, while the second was situated near the entrance of Mine No. 5. Both of these stores also operated ice plants to serve residents with ice boxes. Store No. 1 had the ice plant in its basement, while Store No. 2 had a separate building for ice production. Additionally, a small commissary was built in Wolfpen Branch, which later served as the Little Mission Church.
The community center, situated right next to the company offices, housed a barbershop, a post office, and a lodge hall. 3 A new recreation hall was built in 1920 which featured a movie theater, a setting for live performances, an ice cream parlor, and a billiard hall. The old recreation hall was divided into two parts. These halves were then used to create a bathhouse for Mines No. 1 and No. 2.
Van Lear had three elementary schools. 3 The first, Greentown School, was a one-room school situated in the Lower Van Lear region while the second was near the entrance of Peavine Branch, primarily to cater to those living near Mine No. 5. The third, Upper Miller’s Creek School, was under the jurisdiction of Johnson County. Eventually, a high school was added.
The Consolidated Coal Company’s clubhouse and the manager’s house, both built in the arts-and-crafts style, were initially located atop Clubhouse Hill. 3 The clubhouse was designed to emulate the elegance of a country club, complete with banquet facilities and spaces for large events. However, a fire on January 7, 1922, led to its destruction. The clubhouse was later reconstructed in a more centralized part of the town and included a ballroom, dining room, and rooms for rent.
In April of that year, the company attempted to relocate the manager’s house from the hill. 3 The house was raised on a framework of beams, known as cribbing, and a steel cable was secured between the house and a tree. A path was cleared down the hill, with the intention of using the steel cable to gently lower the house. Unfortunately, the house’s weight was too great, causing the rigging to fail, and the house collapsed with all its furnishings still inside. The house was subsequently rebuilt near the river.
Consolidated Coal built five mines along Miller’s Creek, with the final one, Mine No. 5, opening in 1918. The company also put up a 1,000-kilowatt coal-powered electricity plant that provided power to both Van Lear and West Van Lear. 3 The plant’s capacity was later expanded to 2,000 kilowatts, enabling it to supply electricity to Paintsville as well.
On August 24, 1913, the office building for the Miller’s Creek Division of Consolidated Coal burned. 3
In 1945, Consolidation Coal combined with the Pittsburgh Coal Company. The latter company then shed its ownership of the Miller’s Creek properties. The residents living in company-owned residences were offered an opportunity to buy their homes. While some took advantage of this, many homes were nonetheless torn down. By 1946, the last mine owned by Consolidated was shuttered.
The local government of Van Lear was deemed inactive by the circuit court in 1963. 3 The final graduating class from Van Lear High School was in 1968. The subsequent academic year saw the establishment of Johnson Central High School in Paintsville. The grade school kept running until 1973 when it was replaced by Porter Elementary at Hager Hill.
During a coal mining revival in the 1970s and 1980s, coal was strip mined in the vicinity of Van Lear, with coal trucked to a tipple that was served by a remnant of Miller’s Creek Railroad. After strip mining ceased, the tipple was abandoned and the railroad tracks and bridge over the Levisa Fork were removed.
The company office building was left vacant, but in 1984, Citizens National Bank acquired it and subsequently handed it over to the Van Lear Historical Society. The society then proceeded to establish the Coal Miners’ Museum within its premises.
Van Lear was reestablished as an incorporated entity in 1991 but was dissolved in 1996.
Van Lear, a quiet and secluded community today, houses the Coal Miners’ Museum, located in what was once the Consolidation Coal office building. Another notable site is the Mine No. 5 Store, also known as Webb’s Store, owned by the family of Loretta (Webb) Lynn. A handful of other small businesses also add to the local flavor. A short distance away is Butcher Hollow, the birthplace and childhood home of singer-artist Loretta Lynn.
- Powell, Helen. “Mine #5 Store.” Kentucky Historic Resources Inventory, 1983.
- Powell, Helen. “Multiple Resources of Johnson County, Kentucky.” National Register of Historic Places, 1988.
- Blevins, Danny K. Van Lear. Arcadia Publishing, 2008, pp. 7-9, 23-24, 28-29, 50-51, 60-61, 77-79, 100-101.
- “Johnson County History …And That’s a Fact! – Personalities.” Johnson County Historical Society.
- “Alumni Hall of Fame Inductee.” Kentucky Wesleyan College.
- “Mission and History.” Our Lady of the Mountains School, 2006.