HAZARD, Ky. – Perry County is filled with small communities with interesting histories and names. While many of these communities have a history related to the coal industry, and are often times named for the coal companies themselves, the names are actually as widely varied as the people who live here.
Martha Quigley the director of the Bobby Davis Museum and Park in Hazard, and has been investigating the origins of many community names for decades, and some have still eluded her, including Avawam, Delphia. She has, however, been able to trace many of the names back through the years and find out how those communities gained their now-familiar monikers.
Until recently, Yerkes, located along Ky. 451 near Krypton, was one of the communities that remained elusive. While searching through early mining records, Quigley eventually stumbled upon what she believes is the community’s namesake.
“There was a foreman that worked for one of the coal companies whose last name was Yerkes,” said Quigley. “I just think that is a little bit too much of a coincidence.”
The community of Lothair was annexed into Hazard’s city limits in the 1960s. According to one of the Herald’s Facebook friends, the traditional (though unconfirmed) story of how Lothair got its name came from some of his elders who said a female resident was the inspiration. This resident, whose real name is unknown, had hair down to her ankles, and walked every day from Lothair to Hazard. She reportedly became known locally as Lot-of-Hair.
As people would ask where various people lived or how to get to a part of town, they would reply: “Where Lot-of-Hair lived.” Over time this was reportedly shortened to Lot-Hair and eventually Lothair.
Two other Hazard communities actually got their name from one source. Wabaco and Walkertown are both named for a locally owned coal company.
“That is actually the name of a coal company,” said Quigley. “Walkers Branch Coal Company.”
The Walker family, which is still a name heard locally, owned the coal company that was shortened to Wabaco, and then also lent their name to Walkertown.
“There was a large family of Walkers in that area and they owned a lot of land, and they still do,” Quigley noted.
Unlike the well-liked Walker family, the community of Slemp in southern Perry County was apparently named for a man who was not so well-liked.
“There was a guy named H. Bascom Slemp, and he was a coal dealer,” said Quigley. “He was one of the moguls that came through here.”
Slemp became known for being a hard negotiator, and often severely under bought land for the coal rights from people of the southern Leatherwood area.
“He was the one that represented the companies that were trying to buy land for 25 cents an acre,” said Quigley.
Quigley added that she has no idea why the town was named for him since he had such a negative reputation. It is believed it could be because he owned so much of the land, or because he became so synonymous with the area.
According to Quigley, the families of Kenmont just off of Ky. 15 near Jeff, are very proud of their coal mining heritage and still meet for a Kenmont Coal Camp reunion.
“Kenmont, that was the name of the coal company and they owned a lot of land,” Quigley explained. “They had a store, they had a boarding house, they built a school and they had a theater. That was where the church was located; they had lots of houses.”
Christopher, located between Lothair and Glomawr, was also named for a coal company. The Columbus Coal Company covered a large portion of the area east of Hazard. The town was named for Christopher Columbus to honor the company’s name. Columbus Coal Company was one of the largest near Hazard at the time.
The community of Allais in Hazard was named for a French family that moved around the country and settled for short periods of time. They made a mark on the community for their ability to make money everywhere they went. They eventually settled out west, leaving the community in Perry County.
Squabble Creek near Buckhorn was named for an unpleasant event in the community’s history. According to a brief history in Robert M. Rennick’s book, Kentucky Place Names, the family that inhabited the area in the early days would make large hunting trips to stock up on meat. After one of these trips the family laid out all they had caught and could not decide of the best way to split up the haul.
They fought over their trappings in such a grand fashion that they would refer to the area of the fight as Squabble Creek.
Though the above communities represent only a fraction of those in the county, there are many more histories that are no longer known and may never be. With nearly 100 different communities in Perry County, so much of the local history has been forgotten or only known to very few.
“Some of this stuff,” Quigley noted, “is just lost.”