Coal Camp Documentary Project

The Coal Camp Documentary Project is an ongoing collaboration between the University of Kentucky Appalachian Center and community members to map and document historic company coal mining towns in eastern Kentucky. This interactive website is designed as a way to share information about coal camp life. It was inspired by those who have direct memories of living in Kentucky’s coal camps and wanted to share their memories with others, including future generations. These vibrant communities, which shaped social and economic life across eastern Kentucky in the early twentieth century, were multicultural and multilingual and contributed to Appalachian identity in many ways. Many of the coal camps, while no longer standing on the landscape, still have active reunions of former residents and their descendants, and stories and images shared at those reunions may be found on this site, as well as archived materials. Do you know of a coal camp not shown on this map? Do you have stories, pictures, or comments to share? Do you attend an annual coal camp reunion that you would like support in documenting? Please browse our site. We welcome your contributions to this public, free resource.

Company coal towns were a unique type of community. They were focused around the extraction of a single resource: coal. Coal companies constructed and ran the built environment, which shaped much of the social and economic life of the residents. Each coal camp, while having a similar structure (housing that residents did not own, stores that used company “scrip” for currency, and alignment with railroad tracks), had its own way of life. Residents often forged close collaborations across differences, and there is much to learn from that history that is relevant today. Broader lessons about the nation’s use of natural resources to industrialize, the organization of mining technologies and labor, changing commitments to the residents, and core contributions of immigrants may be read in the landscape and memory of coal camps in Appalachian Kentucky. Please join us in this exploration of coal camp life through the vivid memories of those whose lives were forever shaped by it.