Editor’s Note: The first part of this story was published in the Herald’s July 3 edition, and can still be found online at www.hazard-herald.com.
HAZARD, Ky. — The city of Hazard has seen immense growth and change over the last 70 years, from the boom of the coal mines to several major economic downturns. Through it all, Hazard has remained a center of commerce, progress and charity in the mountains, giving it the nickname “The Queen City of the Mountains.”
Following the initial coal boom in the early days and the railroad coming to Hazard, dozens of small companies tried to capitalize on the new energy market. However, starting a coal mine and building coal camps and infrastructure takes time and it would be several years before many of these camps would be operational.
According to the book Perry County Kentucky, A History, published by the Perry County chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, it took several years for many of these companies to even begin to ship coal. While these mines and companies brought in thousands of workers to the community and helped create much of the progress in Hazard at the time, most did not last.
By the mid 1940’s only three of the original mines in the area remained. Once the infrastructure was put into place by these early mines, it became much easier for larger mines to come in and be successful. By 1922, only 10 years after the first reported coal statistics from Hazard which consisted of only two companies and 1,400 tons, there were 65 companies mining upwards of 4,300,000 tons in Perry County.
During World War II, coal production skyrocketed to over 6 million tons. After the war, coal declined briefly but sharply enough to create changes in the industry. Since then production has remained steady and mining has become a way of life for many in Hazard and Perry County.
The mines did, however, bring in a new surge of people from outside the mountains to Eastern Kentucky. As these mines brought engineers, operators and wealthy owners, many of them settled in Hazard, making it a truly international town for many decades. It was not uncommon for different languages to be heard on the streets and in the restaurants of Hazard.
World War II marked a big push in Hazard to help the war effort in any way possible. At City Hall in Mayor Nan Gorman’s office are photos of raw material collections from metal to rubber. The items lined Main Street and the piles reached about five feet tall.
One person who remembers this effort and has been fortunate to see much of the changes and evolution in Hazard over the years in Mayor Gorman. She said it was not uncommon for the people of Hazard to lend a hand, and they went so far as to provide soldiers, nurses and doctors as well as supplies to the effort.
Mayor Gorman graduated from high school in Hazard in 1946 and returned to Hazard in 1977, when she married former Mayor Bill Gorman.
In the 1930s and 40s, Hazard was an isolated area with few cars, roads and modern conveniences. Despite this, there was a music and arts school as well as two modern medical facilities.
“There was Hazard Hospital and then the one across the street was Hurst Snyder Hospital,” said Mayor Gorman. “We had two hospitals.”
Mayor Gorman said that her father came to Hazard during the Depression to work as a doctor and worked his way up to directing Hazard Hospital, which was located in a four story facility where the Dawahare building, which currently houses Hazard Herald, is currently located on High Street.
“They had the first surgical unit in Lexington or here that was all tile, so they could wash it down and I know all about it because I used to stand on a box to watch the surgery,” Gorman remembered.
The two hospitals catered to the mines and had contracts with them for emergencies and surgical procedures. Mayor Gorman’s father was contracted with 33 mines in the area, which meant going into the mines if there was an accident or riding a manual train car to a train wreck.
During this time in Hazard’s history, the downtown area existed as a hub of activity where most of the store fronts were located. Mayor Gorman noted that Hazard was culturally and educationally advanced for the state.
“It was a wonderful time in our town,” she said.
The mines brought in people from across the world. Nearly all of the mine operators and owners lived in Hazard and brought their families and private educators with them. While public schools had been available in Hazard since before the coming of the railroad in 1912, most students went to private schools. It would be several years before that students and parents began to trust the public school system.
“We had a wonderful school system, very hard,” said Mayor Gorman.
Since then, Hazard Independent Schools have remained a high achieving school system. They remain above the state norms in testing to this day, and much of that is thanks to the high standards set in the early days of education in Hazard.
Along with Hazard public schools, the city also boasted a school of music and art called St. Cecelia. They offered piano lessons, art, violin and voice.
One figure who worked significantly to shape Hazard was the late Mayor Bill Gorman. Long before his 33-year career as mayor he became interested in bettering his community.
Before coal became the primary export in the area, lumber was exported in large quantities. So many trees had been cut that the hills around Hazard had become nearly bare from all of the timber being cut and sold. When Bill Gorman was only 16 years old he began working on reforestation and planted trees on many of the hills around the city. He was recognized for this work, which set him on a path of trying to improve the city every chance he got.
When he was in his 20s, Gorman built a boat and traveled the Kentucky River in an effort to publicize the importance of local waterways.
“He wanted people to be aware that our river was our lifeline,” said Mayor Nan Gorman.
Despite his long career as mayor, Bill Gorman did not initially plan on running the first time. As the story goes, while he was in Florida some men here in Hazard signed him up as a candidate, and in 1977 he was elected, taking the oath of office the following year. Since that time, a Gorman has been mayor in Hazard.
Perhaps one of Bill Gorman’s best known projects was the first TV station in Hazard.
“We got a horrible write up in Life magazine, and it made him mad so he decided that he would put the TV station in,” Nan Gorman explained. “Everybody thought he was just crazy.”
To help the station become successful he traveled to New York City and convinced NBC to be affiliated with his new TV station. In 1985 Gorman sold the station, which is now known as WYMT-TV and exists as a CBS affiliate.
While Hazard boasts the region’s only television station, the city also boasts one of the most powerful radion stations in the region in WSGS, which can broadcast at 100,000 watts. The station plays country music and provides news updates and talk. The first broadcast went out in the 1950s, and the station will celebrate 60 years in business in November. A pioneer in the local radio industry was the late Ernest Sparkman, whose sons still operate WSGS on Hazard’s Main Street.
The week that Mayor Bill Gorman was sworn in as mayor City Hall burned to the ground. The current City Hall was built in its place soon after. According to Mayor Nan Gorman, Bill had gone to Washington, D.C. and asked for the funds to build the new City Hall.
Hazard has expanded significantly outside its initial boarders of only 10 acres to include areas of commerce and medicine. Several businesses opened at the Black Gold Shopping Center at Jacklot Hollow in the 1980s, and many still remain. The public library moved there to a state-of-the-art facility in 2009.
Though much of Hazard’s commercial history has focused on the downtown area, the city is also made up of several different mostly residential communities. Lothair was annexed into the city limits in the 1960s, while other areas include Walkertown, Wabaco, Allais and the Backwoods.
While medicine was a large part of Hazard in the early 1900s it became a major goal of many people in the area to build one large centrally located hospital complex. While the struggle for where this new hospital would be located was brutal, once the decision was made to locate the new hospital on a reclaimed mine site all parties quickly put aside their differences and went to work.
The hospital they worked on later became the Hazard ARH, located at Morton Blvd. It has seen many major changes over the years, including the addition of the Center for Rural Health, a cancer treatment center and a psychiatric center. A flurry of development also sprang up around the hospital, on land once owned by a well-known land developer named Roy Campbell. Roy Campbell Drive, for instance, is located just beside the hospital and includes several other businesses and organizations, including Whayne Supply and LKLP.
Other developments in Hazard in the past three decades include the Hazard Village Shopping Center on the Hal Rogers Parkway, and the Daniel Boone Shopping Center on the Carl D. Perkins Parkway, as well as several residential areas.
But as many businesses began moving out of the downtown area, Hazard’s Main Street, once the town’s commercial center, began to suffer. But in the last year several years businesses have moved to Main Street, in part, because the owners have wanted to work to revitalize the area. Py Cakes, Century 21, and the Journey Church, have all opened new store fronts on Main Street in the past year.
The owners of both Py Cakes and Century 21 have said in interviews with the Herald that they wanted to help be a part of bringing Main Street back to the way it used to be as the center of commerce, culture and entertainment in Hazard and Perry County.
Many of Hazard’s residents have remained interested in maintaining its history over the years by creating and maintaining extensive records on the city and county in both the public library’s genealogy section and the Bobby Davis Museum. The museum curates to many of the historic photographs, books, newspapers, and items that make up Hazard’s history. It is open to the public who share a love of history, and historian Martha Quigley is a wealth of knowledge on the foundation and expansion of Hazard and Perry County.
Sports has also remained an important part of Hazard’s history. The city once hosted a professional baseball team in the Bombers in the late 1940s and early 1950s, and Hazard High School has captured several state championships over the years, including its most recent in Class A football in 2011. Some of Hazard’s more notable sports figures include Johnny Cox and Jim Rose.
Despite economic ups and downs and a current slow down in the coal industry, Hazard has remained a resilient town with people who care about the community and want to see it thrive. And that, perhaps more than anything, is why the town remains an important one not only in Perry County, but in the region.