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Hazard/Perry County, Kentucky History

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The Beginning

Thirty years after the admission of Kentucky into the Union, a section of territory was carved out of Floyd County in eastern Kentucky and named Perry. In 1824 a post office was established on the banks of the North Fork of the Kentucky River, 145 miles southeast of Lexington and called Perry Court House.

The settlement was made up of some half-dozen small dwellings and was a popular stopping place for mail carriers and other travelers in route from Manchester in Clay County to Prestonsburg in Floyd. On June 20, 1854, the name of the settlement was changed to Hazard, the village being named for a heroic leader in the U. S. Navy, Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry (1785-1819), who helped defeat the British fleet in the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812. Admiral Perry died long before learning of the town and county named in his honor, but the eastern Kentucky mountaineers who made their way north to fight with the forces of the admiral never forgot his name.

During its first few decades Hazard served as little more then a trading post as the area people journeyed into town from the far reaches of the county to attend court, gather supplies and go back to their humble homes to dig for an existence. General stores often received their merchandise by boat from Jackson, 45 miles downstream, or from Stone Gap, VA, some 80 miles away. The Stone Gap trip by wagon necessitated climbing over Big Black Mountain and took from two to three weeks for a round trip. The wagons were often pulled by a fourteen-mule team or by a six or eight oxen. During these leans years the population had grown to just 537 by 1910.

1910

News was hard to come by during the early part of the century but word spread quickly in 1910 when it was learned that a railway was to be built from Jackson in Breathitt county to McRoberts in Letcher along the North Fork of the Kentucky River, with a station in Hazard. Most people living in the rugged terrain along this route had never seen a train. Excitement ran high when right-of-ways were acquired and work was contracted out. Hundreds of men cut through the hills and filled in valleys to supply the necessary level grade for laying track. The first train arrived in Hazard in June, 1912. Hundreds of people came out to greet its arrival and welcome in a new era of prosperity.

1920

The town's population increased seven-fold by 1920 to 4,348 and then to more than 7,000 by 1930. In these heydays hundreds of coal mines were opened and work was abundant. Men were paid salaries never heard of in the mountains prior to the arrival of the railroad. Also for the first time people in the mountains were being exposed to other cultures as foreign nationals came into this prosperous area to work and start businesses. Prior to this time virtually the entire population was made up of descendants of pioneers who came over the mountains from Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina to scratch out a lonely existence in the wilderness.

Depression of the 1930's

After the stock market crashed and the depression set in, however, the glory days ended. Some coal miners were paid as low as $2.00 a day for 14 hours of work. The local economy was at its lowest level since before the railroad came. Coal was being sold in some cases for as little as 73 cents a ton. During this grim period mine and business failures were at an all-time high. The Hazard Chamber of Commerce came up with every scheme known to its members to revive interest in the future, but it took years of struggle for businesses and for the average citizen to once again attain some measure of prosperity.


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This page was last updated on 14 July 2012 at 5:42 pm

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