Coal town, lumber, prohibition . . .

It is doubtful that John Baylis Earle understood the true momentousness of the occasion when he struck a pick into the hillside at the opening of Hopkins County's first commercial coal mine in 1869.

The mine became a huge success, drawing people into the area with its promise of work. The little village that formed around the mine became known as Earlington.

The mine was owned by the St. Bernard Coal Company and was incorporated as the first commercial coal mine in Western Kentucky.

When the railroad was completed through Earlington in 1870 it opened yet another door for the St. Bernard Co. In the early days railroad engines burned wood and it was through the efforts of John B. Atkinson, the superintendent and later president of the coal company, that the railroad began to use coal instead of wood to power its engines.

With the completion of the railroad from Evansville, Ind., to Nashville in 1871, the town's coal industry became even more successful. At one time St. Bernard Coal operated eight mines and had its main office in Earlington.

Atkinson had a great interest in education and gave his undying support to the cause in Hopkins County.

By 1875 enough people had settled in the town to merit the establishment of a church which was also used as a school. In 1882 the town was laid out with stones for markings.

In that same year Atkinson, always a soldier for the common good, also helped establish prohibition in Earlington, making it the first town in Hopkins County to prohibit the sale of intoxicating liquor.

It is most likely a correct assumption that the days of the early marshalls in the town were exciting, as there were many local saloons and several slayings.

With prohibition came improvement in the quality of life in Earlington and stores and other businesses were quickly established.

In 1886 Loch Mary was built and named for Atkinson's daughter, Mary. At the time it had the distinction of being the largest lake in Kentucky.

In the early years a bandstand stood on the corner of Main and Railroad Streets and provided a place for the local entertainers, the Klub Kentucky Band, to give weekly concerts during the summer months.

Earlington continued to grow until the mines began to close after World War II. Coal mining in the area began to slow down and by 1980 the decline had nearly halted any progress in the town. The last general store closed in Earlington in 1983.

As time passed and the railroad and coal industries slacked off Earlington became the quiet town it is today. But that hasn't meant it hasn't seen some progress.

Recently the town received a community improvement grant to restore houses in the Johnson Hill area. The $750,000 grant provides money to renovate low income housing in the area. Sixteen homes in the area that were beyond repair have been torn down and 15 have been completely refurbished. The project should be complete by January 1997.

The town recently replaced its water tank and paved many city streets for the first time. The gravel driveways through the city park, located on Loch Mary Lake, were also paved this summer.

The beginning of the school year also brought some changes to the lives of Earlington children. Because of some county schools closings and the school district being rezoned, children from Mortons Gap, White Plains and other nearby communities will attend kindergarten through fifth grade at the Earlington school.

This feature story originally appeared in the The Messenger in the small towns section of their "Changing Face of Hopkins County" on September 6, 1996 and was written by Slone Hutchison, a summer intern from Murray State University working with The Messenger to gain practical news papering skills during her summer vacation.

My thanks to The Messenger for granting permission to publish on the Hopkins County, Kentucky KyGenWeb page.

. Son of Mr. & Mrs. Dillard Patterson. Husband of Eudena Grant Patterson. [Photo]