On June 17, 1912 the lives of Hazard’s residents changed as the city’s first train car ceremoniously made its way into the town. Now, 100 years later, Hazard looks much different and nearly all of the changes were a direct result of the industry, supplies and people brought to Hazard by way of the railroad.
Organizers in modern day Hazard are set to celebrate the centennial this coming weekend, and it’s one anniversary that includes a lot of history.
In 1911, Hazard was only a town of a few one-room school houses, one hotel and a boarding house, a few wooden sidewalks, and not one reasonably passable road. The Hazard Herald had just put out its first issues after buying out the Mountaineer.
For the nearly 200 people living in Hazard, the proposed date in 1912 for the coming of the railroad was a welcome one. They had hoped and anticipated a way to have a solid connection with the world outside their remote mountains for years, though with little luck.
A ride out of Hazard to visit friends or even for necessary items like cooking utensils and doctor visits was a long, hard journey. The closest train was in Jackson, and getting to it meant either a ride down river in a boat, or an ox cart along rugged terrain. It was not a journey taken lightly or easily.
According to Martha Quigley, director of the Bobby Davis Museum and the author of Railroading Around Hazard and Perry County, even just picking up a frying pan could be quite an ordeal.
“It was so isolated,” Quigley said of Hazard at the time. “They could go down the river on boats, but it was even difficult traveling on the river. The rivers were their roads.”
Traveling down river was a fairly smooth and fast ride, however, up river was back-breaking work with long poles used to push against the river bed to float the boat slowly against the current. These boats were the way Hazard got its news, letters, merchandise, and even visiting relatives.
“It was just so difficult to stay connected to the rest of the world,” said Quigley, adding that it could be weeks before they heard some of the biggest news in the country, such as a presidential assassination.
The biggest push locally for the train was for news and transportation, although when the train finally came it was due to the interests of businessmen far from Hazard.
“I can’t name specific people, but I do know a lot of them lived in New York,” said Quigley. “It was thought that the railroad was built for passenger trains, but it really wasn’t. Passenger trains kind of got in the way of the coal trains.”
Previous to the coming of the railroad, coal was a barely used resource in the area. Small ox carts would occasionally move loads of coal, but the coal industry did not boom until transportation became available to move the coal.
“There were lots of people that were interested in coming into this area and mining coal, but they didn’t have any way to get it out of here,” Quigley noted.
The first train track into Hazard was only one track with no way to turn the engines, so passenger trains and coal trains had to compete for the area. Despite these inconveniences, the coming of the railroad meant a quick and positive change for the small town. It brought people, jobs and industry, and caused an overall boom in the economy and population. The people of Hazard celebrated the coming of the railroad with the grandeur it deserved, although it is not known whether they fully understood the impact at the time.
The monumental event included a brass band sitting atop one of the first train cars that came to the area. It was carrying railroad ties to continue pushing forward with the track. Overnight there came a need for hotels, restaurants, bridges and a train depot. The train was built across the river from the town and people had no good way to get to it. Some took boats, others swam.
One of the first major projects after the coming of the train was to build a bridge. A committee was formed and the building began, which stretched across the town in many different ways.
“Anyone who came to Hazard had to have a place to stay, and there was only one small hotel and one small boarding house, so they had to start building,” Quigley noted.
Within a few short years Hazard grew to have roads, cars, telephones, and swelled to several thousand residents. By just a few decades after the coming of the railroad, downtown much resembled what it looks like today.
“It was like there was a vision that came true on that day,” Quigley remarked.
The centennial celebration will take place this coming Sunday, June 17. The CSX company currently operates the rail yards in Hazard, and will be placing on display a train engine on the tracks directly across from Hazard’s downtown at 6 p.m.
The celebration will include the opening of a photography exhibit of train graffiti at the Bobby Davis Museum, as well as music and food at 7 p.m. Everyone is invited to attend.