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KENTUCKY - A GUIDE TO THE BLUEGRASS STATE - 1939

Cities and Towns of Kentucky

ASHLAND

Railroad Stations: Carter Ave. and 12th St., for Chesapeake & Ohio Ry.; N. end Interstate Bridge, for Norfolk & Western R.R. ; Kenova, W. Va. 6 m. E. for Baltimore & Ohio, and Norfolk & Western R.R's.

Bus Station: Union Depot, 13th St., near Winchester Ave., for Greyhound and Sparks Bros. Lines.

Local Buses: Local, interurban, and jitney buses; fare 5tf and 10cents .

Airport: L. from Winchester Ave. on 34th St.; no scheduled service.

Taxis: 25 cents minimum.

Toll Bridge: Kentucky-Ohio Interstate Bridge: autos, 25 cents ; pedestrians, Stf.

Traffic Regulations: No U-turns or left-turns on business street intersections.

Accommodations: Two hotels; rooming houses and private homes cater to tourists.

Information Service: Eastern Kentucky Auto Assn., Henry Clay Hotel.

Radio Station: WCMI (1310 kc.).

Motion Picture Houses: Four.

Swimming: South Side Pool, off Blackburn Ave., E., 10cents and 25 cents . Golf: Hillendale Club, Division St.; 18 holes, greens fee 50 cents and $1. ASHLAND (555 alt., 29,074 pop.), largest and most important city in Eastern Kentucky, is concentrated on a rather high and wide flood plain of the Ohio River. The river makes a great bend around the southernmost tip of Ohio, receives the waters of the Big Sandy at the border between West Virginia and Kentucky, and then sweeps northwest with slow, easy curves past the long waterfront of Ashland. The city stretches up the river to Catlettsburg at the mouth of the Big Sandy, and down to the rolling mill plant, a distance of seven miles, widening and narrowing with the contour of the river bluffs overlooking the town.

Ashland is the chief Kentucky unit of an industrial area that includes Huntington, Ceredo, and Kenova, West Virginia; and Coalgrove, Ironton, and Portsmouth, Ohio. The river bank at Ashland is uncommonly high, acting as a wall against all but the superfloods that ravage most river towns year after year. This protected river front is, however, strictly utilitarian. Along it are strung the steel and iron mills, the sawmills, the coke plants, and brickyards. In front of the city fleets of barges pass, pushed by stern-wheeled tugboats, carrying thousands of tons of freight far more than in the heyday of river boats. In the decade before the turn of the century the Ohio River peak was 12 million tons, whereas in 1936 it was in excess of 24 millions of tons. The Gordon Greene, last of the packets making the run up-river to Pittsburgh, periodically sweeps by with the old grace. Down near the river front, too, are many of the warehouses, wholesale houses, packing houses, the livestock market, and a few of the retail stores. But this part of the city is caught by high floods, and the modern business district has centered along Winchester Avenue and intersecting streets, three blocks inland on a higher plain. Here are the banks, hotels, modern office buildings, churches, and department stores, and, immediately adjoining them, the downtown residential section, all showing the marks of the boom in the 1920's. On a third and still higher terrace, from Carter Avenue to the hill, and well above even the 1937 flood level, is the chief residential area, with the 52-acre Central Park, only five minutes' walk from the shopping district. Near the park are the fine houses of Bath Avenue, built by the iron masters, the lumber men, and the "wholesale" families. To the south the town has spread, up the river bluffs and over the irregular, wooded plateau where the new, winding streets follow the contour lines, and buses and jitney service connect the residents with downtown business and industry. These terraces provide natural zoning for the city and account in part for the unusual attractiveness of Ashland. It is a steel, coal, iron, and railroad center, free of the appalling grime and ugliness that disfigure so many American steel towns.

The population of the city is divided into four rather distinct groups. The first of these is made up of the old families that have been here for three or four generations the people who made their money from iron, clay, coal, and lumber, and the professional people. Next to them are the workers of the older generation who used to live in a kind of feudal relationship to the owners of the mills and factories. In the last three decades, as Ashland doubled its population and the small mills grew large and were absorbed by outside interests, two new elements were added the clerks, managers, technicians, and white collar workers who poured into town, and the hill people who came down to find work. There are very few foreign-born, and the rather small Negro settlement has its own educational plants and community life.

Eighty percent of the homes are owned by those who live in them. Small business and "corner groceries" thrive in the newly incorporated neighborhoods. Education and the schools are the object of a zeal that is almost a crusade. In the last few years new elementary school buildings like the Hager and the Hatcher, and junior high school buildings like the recently completed Putnam, have sprung up in the downtown area and the suburban hills, and a city library has been erected in Central Park. Churches are well attended and play a large part in the spiritual and social life of the community.

From the very beginning the rich natural heritage of the region has been the dominant factor in its growth. Natural resources determined where white men first would settle in this eastern section of Kentucky, and then dictated the types of industrial enterprise in which they would engage.

Even the Indians placed a special premium on this section and were extremely loath to give it up. Of all the choice hunting grounds in this area, the red men held on to the timbered valley of the Big Sandy and the neighboring banks of the Ohio long after white settlers had forced them out of surrounding territory. While the local deposits of coal, iron ore, fire clay, sandstone, limestone, oil, and gas meant little or nothing to the Indians, they did value highly the fine hardwood timber, the convenient watering places, and the abundance of wild game. Also, they favored the high bench on the site of Ashland as a convenient place to bury their dead, as evidenced by the number of burial mounds that remain in the heart of the city.

Eastern Kentucky did not beckon to white pioneers until the Indian power north of the Ohio was broken at the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811. The first pioneers to come to the high flood plain and establish the forerunner of Ashland brought with them a fixed determination, and a willingness to fight an attribute that quickly found expression in disputes over land claims growing out of inaccurate surveys. These disagreements cluttered the local courts and some of the disputants "lawed" each other for years, settlement in many cases coming long after the original contestants had died. True to the early feudist's code, a number of the belligerents chose a more expeditious method of settling arguments and disposed of their opponents in the orthodox frontier fashion.

When three Poages George, Robert, and Robert, Jr. came from Virginia in 1815 to settle in the fertile lands now occupied by Ashland, they chose a spot that is included in the present downtown section, and there established "Poage Settlement." As other pioneers moved in from the East and erected log cabins, the settlers' attention was focused on the industrial potentialities of the fine forests and the transportation facilities of nearby streams. The great stretches of timber already had made the Big Sandy Valley the scene of much activity, and Catlettsburg, five miles up the Ohio, was becoming widely known as a lumber town.

Naturally, therefore, lumbering was the first and most important industry of the new village which developed from Poage Settlement. Soon, however, with the discovery of iron ore and other mineral deposits, much of the hardwood in the vicinity of Ashland was being converted into charcoal for use in the production of iron. The Bellefonte furnace, first in Ashland and Boyd County, was set up in 1826; it consumed millions of feet of Kentucky's best timber, but produced thousands of tons of iron. By the time Ashland was formally laid out in 1850, most of its inhabitants had been attracted by the promise of the vicinity's valuable mineral deposits and hardwood timber. The village took its name from Henry Clay's home, "Ashland," in Lexington. Industrial development came rapidly. The new village was only one year old when the State legislature authorized incorporation of the community's first railroad, now the Kentucky division of the Chesapeake & Ohio. Ashland welcomed its first bank in 1856 and immediately assumed a more important commercial standing when the bank established a branch in Shelbyville. The first railroad was completed in 1857, and the next year Ashland became an incorporated village.

During the War between the States, Ashland's iron production increased. However, it was not until after the conflict, when iron became a vital factor in reconstruction, that the community gained the dominant Kentucky position in the industry. With the basic requisites, coal, limestone, and iron ore, immediately at hand in the hills just south of the town territory that now is included in the city it was only a short time until many furnaces were erected, and Ashland and its environs vied with the iron-producing towns of Hanging Rock and Ironton on the Ohio side of the river. Notable among the new plants was the Star Iron Works, which was built along the river front in 1868. This plant, in 1870 the year in which Ashland became an incorporated city was taken over by the Ashland Furnace Company, owned by the Ashland Coal & Iron Company Railroad. From March 1871 through June 1874 the furnace produced an average of more than 1,000 tons of pig iron per month, or a gross of 40,527 tons, a record that was not broken until 1916.

The Norton Iron & Nail Works, established in 1873, built a blast furnace, a rolling mill, and a nail mill; and in the same year "Big Etna," at that time the largest blast furnace in the West, added to Ashland's prestige as an iron center. Of all its iron family, Ashland's Bellefonte furnace probably had the most colorful history, although later ones outstripped it in production. In the days before the Ohio was alive with big steamboats, the Bellefonte's products were shipped down the river in barges. In the same manner, coal was brought down the Big Sandy to the furnace, and the fire clay and ore were taken from the hills at what was then Ashland's back door.

As iron and steel forged to the front in Ashland, the community began to mine the clays of Boyd County. Brick- and tile-making became an important industry, and when, within a few years, nearby oil and natural gas deposits were developed, Ashland embarked upon a well-rounded, modern industrial era. Although the source of iron ore supply soon shifted to the head of the Great Lakes, relegating Kentucky ores to the background, the vast supply of other crude essentials and the advantageous transportation facilities of the Ashland area enabled the town to improve its position as a steel center. With the opening of the Ashland Steel Company's Bessemer mill in 1891, the town definitely assumed its modern industrial role; the climax came with erection of a big plant of the American Rolling Mill Company in 1920. Ashland still looks to its own community for the major part of its basic industrial materials, and the hills of the immediate region are the great storehouses from which its rolling mills, coke ovens, fire-brickworks, and lumber mills draw their supplies. The comparatively high plain on which the town sits saved it from a most disastrous experience during the Ohio River floods in 1937.

Although the flood waters went to an unprecedented high mark, inundating the lower streets, and reaching Winchester Avenue in the modern business section, actual losses in Ashland were slight in comparison with those in river towns less fortunately situated. During the flood period, 2,200 residents were evacuated; and property loss, resulting largely from damage to industrial plants, wholesale and retail establishments, and to household furnishings, was estimated by local officials at less than $1,500,000. Ashland cared for 600 refugees from other flood areas until they could be rehabilitated. The city's recovery from the river's onslaught was so rapid that within six months few marks of the flood's ravages remained and Ashland resumed its role of a busy industrial spot where substantial homes, excellent educational institutions, and a culture befitting a sizeable community provide an even balance with steel, coke, brick, and lumber.

POINTS OF INTEREST

1. AMERICAN ROLLING MILL ("ARMCO") PLANT (open on special occasions or by appointment), Winchester Ave., West, was begun in 1920, when the city had a population of 14,000. Five years later, due chiefly to the growth of this plant and its associated activities, the population had doubled, and Armco was employing a force of 3,200. Its present monthly payroll approximates $400,000. Here are seen the processes by which the major raw materials entering into the steel industry iron ore, coal, and limestone become, by reduction and intricate chemical processes employing less well known but essential metals, the specialized steels used in modern manufacture. These raw materials enter at one end of the works, go through the conversion process en route, and emerge at the other end in the forms of steel adapted to the factory requirements of automobile and other manufacturers. The floor space of the Armco plant, which extends to the west of the business section along the Ohio River, exceeds 1,600,000 square feet. Twenty-two miles of standard-gauge side track serve this shop area. Two steam and five oil-electric locomotives, more than 30 freight cars, 60 electric cranes and 15 tractors are employed in shifting materials in and about the plant.

2. NORTH AMERICAN REFRACTORIES PLANT (open), 701 Winchester Ave., a branch of the nationwide concern with offices in Cleveland, Ohio, manufactures locomotive fire boxes, furnace linings, gas retorts, and similar articles capable of withstanding intense and long continued heat. Eastern Kentucky, especially the vicinity of Ashland, is rich in non-plastic clays that possess the unusual quality of resistance to temperatures up to 3,000 degrees F. The plant was built in 1886, and gives employment to an average of 200 men. 3. CENTRAL PARK, Central Ave. and 17th St., is a 52-acre native woodland area in the heart of the city. Within the park are six Indian mounds, conical in shape, where the red men buried their dead. On the north side of the park entrance, head of 17th St., is the CITY LIBRARY (open 9-9 weekdays). The building, completed in 1937, was erected with government funds. It is a one-story-and-basement, T-shaped structure of Georgian Colonial design, built of dressed local sandstone. The reading room is furnished simply and supplied with current magazines. The stack room provides adequate space for the development of a fiction, reference, and general purpose library. In the basement are conference rooms and an auditorium provided with a small stage and picture screen. The exterior is dominated by a Classic Revival portico of restrained proportions and a belfry tower surmounting the roof.

4. LAWRENCE LEATHER BELTING PLANT (open), Central Ave. and 25th St., manufactures leather belting of all kinds. Hides are transformed by intricate processes into the continuous belting that drives a threshing machine or the fly-wheel of a great power plant, and the plant extends its search for materials into the hide markets of the world.

5. SCRAP IRON YARDS. Skirting the N. side of Winchester Ave., E. of the downtown business section, are great yards where old iron gathered from the farms, back yards, and refuse heaps of a wide region throughout Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia is concentrated preliminary to its movement to the steel mills. The "old iron" is stripped of everything undesirable, sheared into workable sizes, and then caught up by electro-magnets and loaded into cars for transfer to local or perhaps far-distant steel furnaces. At the furnace it becomes an important part of the white-hot mixture that is drawn off into huge mechanically controlled ladles from which is poured the ingot steel that, under the tremendous pressure of huge rollers, is flattened out into whatever rough form may be required by the manufacturer.

6. ASHLAND LIVESTOCK MARKET (open Hon.), 36th St. and Winchester Ave., is the scene of an activity of considerable interest to visitors. The hilly region adjacent to Ashland is not generally adapted to field crop production, but the field and wood pastures of the area feed a very considerable quantity of livestock, principally cattle and hogs. These are concentrated for sale and shipment on Mondays at the livestock yards. Picturesque in garb and speech, drovers from the hills come in with their offerings, to barter and haggle. After the sale the stock goes by rail to the great midwest packing houses.

7. SEMET-SOLVAY COKE PLANT (not open to the public), 40th St. and the river front, presents a spectacular sight by night when the flames from the ovens light up the whole countryside. Coke making is an adaptation, applied to coal, of the long known process of burning wood under conditions that allow insufficient oxygen, with the result that a high-efficiency fuel remains after the moisture and gases are driven off. In similar fashion certain grades of coal are "baked" in great ovens. After the volatile materials are driven off and captured (later to be employed in industry), the residue forms the ordinary coke of commerce. Coke has a thermal efficiency, ton for ton, approximately equal to the best anthracite, and is widely employed both in industry and in the heating of dwellings.

8. GOVERNMENT LOCK NO. 29, Riverside, opposite Clyffeside (E. end), includes one of the dams that control the low-water stage in the Ohio River at a minimum navigation depth of nine feet, the draft necessary for barges. The location of these dams, designed to provide for navigation rather than power, is determined by the slope of the stream bed. They divide the river, from Pittsburgh to Cairo, Illinois, into "pools" that can retain sufficient water for navigation purposes at all times. The Ashland dam illustrates the entire rivercontrol system, and the manner in which barges and their tows are passed through the locks. Government dredges remove the silt that accumulates, and the maintenance of a nine-foot minimum stage provides, for Ashland and for all cities along the Ohio, a low cost route for the movement of iron, coal, limestone, oil, timber, and other basic commodities, as well as for the finished manufactured products in transit to key distribution points.

This information was Compiled and Written by the Federal Writers' Project
of the Work Projects Administration for the State of Kentucky - 1939

 



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