VICCO, Ky. – Like many communities in Perry County, coal mining has played a major role in the development and history of Vicco, one of three cities in the county. In fact, Vicco is named for the Virginia Iron, Coal and Coke Company, and has a twin city by the same name in Virginia.
The city of Vicco was incorporated in 1961, but it was a coal town well before that, and quite a booming little hamlet at that.
“On Friday evenings, when people got their payday, and Saturdays, you couldn’t hardly get through Vicco,” explained Vicco resident Gladys Browning, who at 83 years old first moved to the town when she was nine.
Nearby coal mines meant plenty of business for local stores, noted Browning, whose father, James Dixon, operated the R. Dixon grocery store, named for her mother, Rebecca. Browning said she and her husband Albert eventually took over the store and renamed it Browning’s A & G.
“All of the mines around here were working, and business was really good,” she said.
From the 1930s to the 1950s Vicco remained a small but thriving town because the nearby mines continued to run coal, and they needed plenty of miners to do it. That meant a lot of employment, which in turn meant that there was money to be spent. According to a brief history written by Perry County resident Willard Ashworth, there were 12 mines operating within a two-mile radius of Vicco at one time.
Other businesses included the State Theater, the Vicco Cash Store and the Pastime Theater, the latter of which was damaged during a fire in 1982, while the State Theater also caught fire in 1938.
There were also several mom and pop stores in town, and several “beer joints,” according to Vicco resident Bill Caudill, who for 41 years owned and operated the Davis Grocery in Vicco, across from what is now the Peoples Bank. At present day, the building houses a music store.
Caudill also noted the importance of the coal industry, adding that people employed in the mines spent their money in Vicco and kept the local businesses in business.
“The coal miners and the coal around is what made the town what is was,” he said.
In the next few years, just like the county as a whole, the town’s population began to decline. The construction of Ky. 15 through the city was one reason, Browning said.
“The road came through here, and there was about 15 houses, they had to find another place and moved off,” she said. “That started it.”
Then people began taking their business to Hazard, while some of the coal mines became unionized and a few non-union mines shut down. Coal production in terms of the number of companies in the area also declined, and camps like Scratch Back on nearby Montgomery Creek are now a thing of the past.
But still Vicco continued, and businesses like Martin’s department store remained open and drew a lot of customers even from out of the county. Vicco is situated on the Knott County line, so a lot of business also came from communities at Yellow Creek, Sassafras or Red Oak.
It was during the 1960s when Vicco also got a fire department, and Bill Caudill was on the forefront. He explained that a fire at a local hardware store actually prompted an effort to establish a proper volunteer department in the town.
At the time, he noted, his father-in-law owned a 100 gallon extinguisher designed to be towed behind a vehicle. When a fire broke out at a store owned by Lindsey Madden in Sassafras, he and several others responded with the extinguisher in tow, but they simply lacked enough suppressant to put the fire out. It was after that that Caudill’s father-in-law suggested he start a fire department in Vicco.
A few local business owners chipped in $1,500 that allowed them to purchase an old Chevrolet truck, and a local welder named George Stanley agreed to weld a 1,000 gallon tank to the vehicle. They obtained a pumper that would also allow them to pump water from nearby creeks, and the Vicco/Sassafras Fire Department was born.
“We got the fire department started, and got that tank, and we put some fires out with that thing,” Caudill said.
From there the fire department continued to grow, and recently moved into a new building in Vicco. Caudill actually served as the chief for several years, and he added that he still volunteers.
But not all of Vicco continued to grow in the same manner. Several past businesses like Martin’s closed long ago and only a handful remain. Even the coal mines aren’t running like they used to, Browning noted.
“You hardly ever hear a train come up through here,” she said. “You heard them before every day.”
Though Vicco’s city limits account for only a small portion of Perry County’s total land mass, the city government does provide utilities such as water and sewer to its residents, and many locals in outlying communities such as Montgomery Creek and Kodak identify themselves with Vicco.
Since 1970,Vicco’s town population has remained fairly steady, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. As of the 2012 census, 334 people called Vicco home; that’s only 33 less than 40 years ago. The bank and post office also remain, and the Baptist church recently moved next door to a much more modern and spacious building. And an annual event, Vicco Days, is celebrated every Fourth of July weekend.
Vicco also carried with it a reputation during those busier times. And while Caudill joked that “you could get a fight started anytime you wanted,” one thing that has kept Vicco intact is a sense of community.
“The people were always willing to help each other,” he said. “When something happens, you’ve got no problem getting help in any way you need it. And it’s still that way.”
“It’s just a great place to be.”