CHAVIES, Ky. — Unlike most communities in Perry County, the residents of Chavies apparently didn’t have any allegiance to the town’s name. Until it was required to have a name in order to get a post office, Chavies, according to the record, wasn’t called anything. Whereas most towns and communities are named for a landmark, significant event or person in its history, Chavies went in a different direction.
As the story goes, the four founding families of Chavies wanted to start a post office, but since they had never called their settlement anything and had no name to give the post office, they gave that responsibility to the national post office in Washington, D.C.
The current postmaster in Chavies, Valerie Hamblin, found a short history written by a former postmaster while she was cleaning up one day. The history said: “In Early 1881 Thomas Johnson and the other three families in the area, the Eversole’s, Duff’s, and Campbell’s, decided they needed a post office… When asked what name they wanted to name the post office Mr. Johnson left the naming of the post office up to the Washington fella. The fella had a girlfriend named Chavies in one of the western states so he called the post office Chavies.”
It is believed that her name was probably of Latin decent and was actually Chaves, but this was lost in translation by the time the name actually made it to the community.
The post office is celebrating its 131st birthday this year. Remarkably, for most of that time the office has been in the same location and ran by the same family. The Johnson family has held the postmaster position for well over half of the post office’s 131 years. The building the post office is located in has been its home since 1928.
Since being given the name by the national post office, the residents of Chavies have found pride in it. The Chavies Post Office, Chavies Food Mart, and Chavies First Church of God are just a few long standing landmarks in the community that bare its unconventional name.
Chavies, while being a small community, seems to have quite a bit of history relative to its size. The oldest home in Perry County is located in Chavies. The Eversole Cabin (to be fair, some say this cabin is actually part of the Krypton community) is about to turn 223 years old, and has seen everything from Kentucky becoming a state, to the Civil War, to Chavies becoming a community.
It is reported that the Eversoles traveled west with a group following Daniel Boone, however, they felt that where Boone’s group settled was becoming too crowded. These true settlers and pioneers turned back to find a place they had passed through on their journey.
The cabin, on Chavies-Dunraven Road, sits in a flat valley near a river, giving them the ability to have water and land to farm in this mountainous region. From 1789 to 1800 the home saw several structural changes, going from a one-room cabin to a two-story, four-room house with the town halves of the home connected by a dogtrot.
The home stayed with the Eversole family until the infamous French-Eversole feud. During that time the Eversoles reportedly had to give up the home to pay off a debt accrued by the family’s ongoing fighting.
The cabin has seen battles in both the Civil War and the French-Eversole feud. The outside of the home still shows the scars of these battles and is littered with bullet holes.
The home currently belongs to Judge-Executive Denny Ray Noble, who has completely restored it and had made it available and open to the public.
Like most communities in Eastern Kentucky, Chavies also has a mining history. But unlike many, the mine in Chavies is operated by one of the longtime local families of the area, the Duffs, instead of a large outside company. Pine Branch Coal has been one of the main sources of jobs in the northern Perry County area since it opened.
“Most everything here was coal mining,” said Steven Napier, a lifelong resident of Chavies. “Most everybody around here, that is where they work.”
Napier, who has lived in Chavies for nearly 90 years, said that he was one of the first people hired to work at the state-of-the-art mine. When Pine Branch started, they decided to do a fairly rare, but considered safer, type of mining called auger mining.
Napier and two other men ran the machine that dug into the mountain. “It was the first one that was ever in Perry County,” said Napier.
After his time with the coal mine, Napier went on to serve in the Army and then became a teacher before retiring and continuing to live in Chavies.
While Pine Branch Coal remains one of the biggest employers in this part of the county, Chavies also is home to another area of employment and potential job growth. The Coal Fields Industrial Park has been home to several large businesses in Perry County that brought jobs after moving on to the site.
Chavies was also the home to a busy railway that brought with it growth opportunity during the Eastern Kentucky boom times in the 1920s and 30s. During this time, the railroad brought thousands of temporary employees that built the railway, and then worked in the mines across Perry County. As the projects were completed, many of these people moved on to other mines.
In the recent past, Chavies has become the home of several charitable organizations such as the Appalachia Service Project, or ASP. ASP was started in Barbourville in 1969 by a Methodist minister, Tex Evans. ASP brings groups of young people to several counties in Appalachia to rebuild homes.
In 1990, Chavies became the home of an ASP center in Perry County. It is one of only three year-round centers for ASP, this means that while most of the organization’s work in the region is done during eight weeks in the summer, Chavies continues to have volunteers year round working on homes. Since starting to work in Chavies, ASP’s best estimate is that they have worked on over 275 homes in the county.
The Chavies ASP center is in the old school above the town. According to Ben Martin, who coordinates the ASP center in Chavies, the organization is soon going to be doing more in Chavies and Perry County by having a staff member stay at the center for three years at a time. This is a part of an attempt at working closer with the community. Also a part of this, ASP will be opening this center up for people looking to host events.
Another charitable organization in Chavies is the Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky (FAKY), formerly the Community Foundation of Hazard and Perry County. FAKY was started in Chavies in 2006 and works to help fundraising and operations for organizations in Eastern Kentucky. Lately, they have started helping other counties form their own community foundations so they will all be able to work in partnership to accomplish goals region wide.
Chavies’ story is not one that is slowing down. While it has seen its share of ups and downs from the migration of residents when the train depot and some coal mines closed, it has also become a place of growth in the county. Because of its charities and its places of job opportunity it is a hopeful and helpful community. And all of this comes from a place that was, apparently, born without a name.