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Mason County Memories

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david k petersen

Stearns Kentucky Part 1 of 2 History Column Dave Petersen Justus Stearns had a long arm as he reached out to begin enterprises in States outside of Michigan and his beloved Ludington. In 1901 Justus sent William Kinne to Kentucky and Tennessee to survey the area and purchase land for logging. A bonus was the discovery of large amounts of coal and within a year the framework for Stearns Coal and Lumber Company was in place. The original purchase of lands was 50,000 acres and called the Big Survey. This was just the beginning as the holdings grew to 200,000 acres by 1957 equaling 200 square miles. The Gum Tree figures heavily in the lore and history of Stearns Kentucky. It was under the branches of this old tree near the "Tie Yard" (The place that local loggers brought ties to sell to the Railroad Company) that the incorporation papers that created Stearns Lumber and Coal were signed and soon after store Number 1 was constructed. (as shown) Justus built more than a mill and had plans for more than a coal mine, he built communities and provided the means for the residents of the hills and valleys surrounding his enterprise to work their way out of the poverty that was so prevalent in the area. In appreciation and in recognition for his efforts to bring new development and prosperity to the area the Governor of Kentucky gave Justus the rank and title of Colonel. Barthell opened in 1902 and was the first of 18 mining camps built by Stearns Coal and Lumber, that camp has been partially restored. The improvements in the area, which had been practically inaccessible prior to the establishment of Stearns Kentucky changed the lives of the residents of the area. They found steady work, new schools, health care, and more. As a result of the efforts of Justus Stearns to pay a fair wage and provide these other amenities, efforts to organize a union did not take hold, particularly among the original employees who kept the mines running when newer employees thought to strike. An attempt in 1908 resulted in the National Guard being called in as the organizers turned more viscous and threats were made against the lives of the officers of the company. Warrants were issued against 3 of the union organizers who took refuge in the hotel, the U.S. Marshall who came to make the arrest was shot and killed, and the resultant battle ended with the hotel being burned to the ground, the death of one of the organizers and subsequent arrest and conviction of several others. Stearns Coal and Lumber took care of its employees and they in turn took care of the Company. If you have any photographs or stories you would like to share with our readers please feel free to contact me at 757-3240 email davep@blackcreekpress.com or write in care of the Ludington Daily News PO Box 340 Ludington Mi 49431 End part 1 Pic 1 Stearns Coal and Lumber Company Pic #2 the old gum tree stands in front of Company Store #1 Pic #3 Locomotives at the Kentucky and Tennessee Railyard

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