The Early Years of Kentucky River Coal Corporation

Kentucky River Coal Corporation began its existence nearly a century ago, when John C. C. Mayo and W. S. Dudley began to purchase lands and mineral rights in Eastern Kentucky. Mayo, a teacher in Pike and Johnson Counties, recognized the value of the regions vast coal reserves. Starting in the late 1890’s, with the backing of Dudley and Charles Tennis of Pittsburgh, Mayo began purchasing property in Perry, Letcher and Leslie Counties in the name of Tennis Coal Company.

C. Bascom Slemp, of Big Stone Gap, Virginia, came along a few years later and began buying land in the name of Kentucky Coal Land Company. The name was later changed to Slemp Coal Company.  At about the same time, another group headed by J. Rodgers Barr, general manager of the Lexington and Eastern Railroad, and Arthur Henry, purchased land along Lost Creek in Perry County, in the name of Lost Creek Coal Company.  This name was later changed to Haly Coal Company, after the death of Barr.

Another investment company, Kentucky River Consolidated Coal Company, formed by a group from Indiana, began acquiring property in this same area. All these companies were investing significant sums of money into property that had absolutely no current production.

Expansion and Development

In the early 1900’s Mayo’s plan was to attract the rail lines to build into Eastern Kentucky. He knew this could only be accomplished by putting together large blocks of coal reserves which would attract mining companies. He began talking with several of the groups purchasing property in the area and a plan was formed to consolidate their holdings into one company. Mayo died in May 1914, before his plan came into being, but in April 1915, Kentucky River Coal Corporation (KRCC) was born. KRCC was formed by merging Haly Coal Company, Slemp Coal Company, Henry Coal & Coke Company, Letcher Coal & Coke Company, and Kentucky River Consolidated Coal Company. KRCC’s owners included John D. Langhorne, a Washington, D. C. investor, his brother Daniel, and Johnson Newton Camden, a U. S. Senator from Kentucky. They continued to purchase other land companies by adding Slemp Oil & Gas Company, Tennis Coal Company, Stag Coal Corporation, Kentucky Coal Lands Company, Lotts Creek Land Company, and others. By 1921, KRCC had acquired approximately 143,000 acres of mineral holdings.

KRCC signed its first coal lease in August of 1915, with Blue Diamond Coal Company. Blue Diamond began production shortly thereafter and has been producing coal from property owned by KRCC to this day. The purpose of KRCC was to be a land holding company. It neither mines coal nor carries on operations of any kind, but rather leases property to coal producing companies, oil & gas companies, and timber companies, on a royalty basis.

The town of Hazard consisted of approximately 700 residents in 1910. By 1921, that number had increased to 7,000, and when extended to a six mile radius, the number increased to 20,000. The first coal was mined in 1916 from the Hazard area, and amounted to approximately 213,000 tons. By 1921, production had increased to 2,632,000 tons.

Modern Era and Continuing Legacy

KRCC continued to add property to their holdings throughout the mid-1900’s. During this time, they acquired Hamilton Realty Company, Kentucky Union Company and Kentucky Ridge Company. The most significant purchase came in 1942, with the acquisition of Swift Coal and Timber Company. This added approximately 25,000 acres to the company holdings. In 1983, the Company acquired the Carrs Fork Corporation, a land company holding 9,000 acres, followed by a purchase of 13,000 acres from Georgia Pacific Corporation in 1992.

In 2002, the first major change to the company structure occurred. Kentucky River Properties LLC (KRP) was formed, to better position the company within the industry. KRCC transferred all holdings to KRP, but remains as the parent company, retaining an 86% interest. Following the reorganization, KRP acquired the Hall Land and Mining Company in 2003, adding about 10,000 acres, and purchased about 15,000 acres from James River Coal Corporation in 2004. Currently, KRP’s mineral holdings in Central Appalachia are approximately 272,000 acres and include property in Perry, Letcher, Leslie, Knott, Harlan, Breathitt and Clay Counties. In 2010, the Company ventured in a new direction, purchasing property in the Illinois Coal Basin in Western Kentucky, Illinois, and Indiana. Two acquisitions added about 95,000 mostly mineral acres, and more than 400 million tons of recoverable coal.

The original investors in KRCC saw very little return, if any, on their investment through the years of the Great Depression and World War II. Their descendants, though, still retain a large percentage of the company and fill key management positions. Catesby W. Clay, Chairman Emeritus, was Camden’s stepson. Former Chairman of the Board, James G. Kenan III, is Clay’s nephew. C. D. Langhorne, Jr. was a member of the board and is Daniel Langhorne’s grandson. John C. C. Mayo III, grandson of John C. C. Mayo, has also served on the board. William S. Langhorne, current Chairman of the Board, and Brutus J. Clay who is serving on the Management Committee, represent the latest generation of the founding families. So, the original families that began this venture in the early 1900’s, still play a major role in KRP.