In 1852 Thomas Crabtree was buying every parcel of land he could get his hands on in southern Hopkins County. Before long a developing settlement took on his name, as did the mining operation he organized 30 years later.

The life of the Crabtree Coal Mining Company spanned nearly 100 years, and in that time it gave life to the little town of Ilsley.

The town of Crabtree was about two miles north of the Illinois Central Railroad line, so a miniature railway was laid from the Crabtree mine to the main track. At the intersection of these two tracks, a depot was built and named Ilsley Station, after the vice president of the mining company, Edward Ilsley.

The mining company brought many people into the area, and it took care of its employees. The company built houses, stables, churches, schools and a new company store to replace the one that had burned several years earlier.

By 1903 the town of Crabtree had 500 residents.

By the 1920s and '30s the residents of the town had changed its name to Ilsley, to avoid the confusion of the train depot and the town's post office having two different names.

In 1923 the Norton Coal Company of Alabama bought Crabtree Coal mining Company.

Eula Majors ran a boarding house in the town. Her husband Rufe hauled water from the pond for 25 cents a load and delivered coal to customers in the town.

Rufe's trusty wagon fell prey to Halloween pranksters one year. It was disassembled, hauled to the top of the Company Store, and then reassembled on the roof.

The Crabtree Company Store was located in the center of the town and it served as the meeting place for the residents.

A barber shop was located across the road and beside that was a little store called the Hot Cat. The Hot Cat was a hit with the children of Ilsley because it sold popcorn, chewing gum, candy and even Cracker Jacks. It also sold gasoline and cigarettes and eventually became a grocery store.

The town flourished for several years until 1950 when the Norton Coal Company closed. The post office and schools closed about 10 years later and the businesses followed suit.

Not much remains of the little town of long ago, but the churches still stand, as do a few other shops.

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.

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Nancy Trice
Hopkins County, Ky

© 1997