HARDBURLY, Ky. – The history of Hardburly can be traced back to the first half of the 20th century, when coal flowed from the hollow by the train car and the old coal camps bustled with activity.
Though the camps have long since faded, and Hardburly is now a strictly residential community, the history of coal mining there is as rich as any around. And just like other communities, Hardburly has its own unique place names and landmarks. There is Mexico Hollow and Groundhog Hollow. There is Muddy Hollow and the Masonic Lodge, along with the Hardburly park.
According to coaleducation.org, there were actually two coal companies operating in Hardburly during the early 1930s and into the 1950s when miners and their families lived in nearby camps. The Hardy-Burlingham Mining Company, from which Hardburly got its name, was in operation from 1931 to 1948 and employed nearly 500 people, while the Old King Mining Company ran from 1933 to 1958 and employed 250 people.
At 91 years old, Edna Feltner still remembers the old Hardy-Burlingham camp, where her family moved when she was a child after her father hired on in the mines. Moving from Lotts Creek, they first moved into her grandmother’s house before acquiring their own, which Feltner noted were all white with black trim at that time.
“They were good houses, and they painted them every year and took good care of them,” she said. “People lived pretty good back then.”
Feltner married and moved to her own house when she was 17, but she noted that Hardburly was a busy community then. Coal miners earned their living in the mines, and “just about $9 a month” would pay for nearly everything they needed through the company store, she added.
“There was quite a few people living in Hardburly at the time,” Feltner said, noting that Hardburly’s residents could get whatever they needed without having to leave the community. “They had pool rooms, doctor’s office, theater, everything.”
In her book, Hardburly: My Home, Gladys Potter Slone uses anecdotes she collected to describe early Hardburly as a “booming mining camp,” with wooden sidewalks, several businesses and even their own sheriff. She noted that while some people did drive, many in Hardburly actually traveled by rail at the time.
“The Camp was split up in sections, but I don’t know how the hollows and hills got their names that they had,” Slone wrote. “The main section of the camp was called Main Street. This was where all the business was taken care of; this was the upper part of Main Street. The lower part was the commissary store, movie theater, Union Hall, poolroom with snack bar, churches, schools, doctor’s office and barbershop.”
By the 1950s, camp life in Hardburly began to fade away, and some of the coal miners moved to look elsewhere for work, while others sought a new life in Hardburly.
“It changed fast,” Feltner said. “They started selling the houses out and everything. People bought the houses and moved in.”
Barbara Crase was born and raised in Hardburly during that time, and while the camps were disbanding, she said the mines remained active. The community change considerably in the decades that followed, until in more recent years coal was no longer a resource being extracted from the hills surrounding Hardburly.
But one thing that remained the same as Crase grew up was the sense of community between those living in Hardburly’s neighborhoods, something that may not be as evident today.
“It’s not like it used to be,” Crase said. “If you had a neighbor that was sick, if they needed help in their gardens, everybody would get together and make sure that their gardens and everything was taken care of. If you had a sickness in your family, the neighbors were always there to sit with them.
“I think that’s the way we were raised then,” she added.
Feltner agreed, describing Hardburly as a tight-knit community where everyone was willing to help.
“We had good neighbors everywhere,” she said. “I remember my mother had cancer and they’d come sit up with her of the night, until she passed away. They helped us all they could.”
But like every community in Perry County, Hardburly has undergone many changes. Some of Hardburly’s history can still be seen today in the form of several camp houses that survived the years and remain inhabited. The Hardburly Baptist Church, which both Crase and Feltner attend, has been serving the community for many decades. Crase noted that her uncle, who was in his 90s when he passed away several years ago, could remember as a boy wheeling rocks to the building site as the church was being constructed.
And then there are the remnants of Hardburly’s past that are evident today, like the occasional lengths of railroad track that still peek out from the ground running parallel with the road. There are old, abandoned buildings that once housed businesses or offices that stand as reminders of a past community that now only exists in photographs and the memories of people like Edna Feltner.
When all is said and done, however, Hardburly will have played an important role in the history of Perry County, and continue to remain home for many Perry County families. And for residents like Edna Feltner, Hardburly will be forever their home, and one which they continue to remember fondly.
“It was just a good place to live,” she said.