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KEMPTON, MD

Kempton is down in extreme southwestern corner of Garrett County, MD. This was Davis Coal & Coke Company's Mine No. 42, and Kempton shipped its first coal in 1914. In 1922 the Maryland Geological Survey observed that the Kempton mine "is without doubt the most modernly equipped of all the coal mines in the State of Maryland."

In 2003 I drove into Kempton and looked around at the reclaimed mine area and few remaining company houses. I talked to some people in the yard of a house and they said I should talk to Brad Corbin in the last house because he knew all about the history of Kempton. I knocked on his door and he was nice enough to talk to me about Kempton, where he has lived on and off since the 1930's. He said that there were over 100 houses in the mining camp at one time. The company houses along the front of the coal camp were the "Bosses Row" that excluded foreign-born miners and their families. They lived behind this row, up on the hill. Brad recalled that the coal company charged two dollars rent per month for the houses. The company painted the houses once every two years, and they painted them different colors. There was a place in the alleys for Kempton residents to leave their garbage, and the company would pick up the trash and take it to their dump somewhere past the town's boundary. Only the superintendent's house had indoor plumbing, but there was one water hydrant for every two houses located between the two houses that it served. Of course, people had to carry the water back in the house for cooking or "Saturday Night Bath." The coal company also provided the service of cleaning out the outhouses once a year. They would bring a truck around and haul the refuse off in it, and spread lime in the pit if needed. When the pit was at the end of its usefulness, the company would move your outhouse for you. The Kempton mining village also had street lights, and Brad said it was a model coal camp that was nicer than some others.

Brad remembered that the mine at Kempton was in the Upper Freeport seam of coal (locally called the Davis seam), which "didn't let off a lot of smoke like Pittsburgh coal." He also stated that some of the coal went to the Maryland Steel Company near Baltimore. According to Brad, the shafts were 418 feet deep, and there were two hoists at the Kempton tipple, one for the miners and one for the coal. In later years, the Compass Coal Company operated the Kempton mine. Despite claiming that there were enough coal reserves at Kempton to last over 25 years, in early April 1950 a notice was placed in the window at the company store that the mines would close in a week. Brad said that none of the miners were expecting this. On April 15, 1950 the Kempton mine closed and the pumps, which were on 24 hours a day, were shut off. The mined flooded, Brad recalled, in only about 6 weeks. After the mines closed people started leaving Kempton and, in 1952, the first Kempton Reunion was held, which continues to be an annual event to this day, although with fewer people attending. Today, the entire Kempton mine has been reclaimed, and the only thing left to mark the spot of one of the most productive coal mines in Maryland is the vent cap over one of the shafts.


A few of the coal company-built houses remaining at Kempton, MD. The two homes pictured here were part of the "Bosses Row." (July 2003 image by author)


Here are the remains of the Kempton company store. It was operated by "Buxton and Landstreet," which was the retail subsidiary of Davis Coal & Coke Co. The store was actually a few feet across the state line in West Virginia. Seems Maryland had outlawed the scrip system of payment by then.

Brad remembered that some Kempton miners drew scrip. Often, he said, miners would receive only a "red circle on their statement." By this Brad means that their was a zero on the paystub because the miners were in hock to the company. In addition to the services provided at the company store, the coal company also kept a doctor in the town and gave him a nice home, and built an "Opera House" which also contained a barber shop and pool room and where movies were shown. Sometimes an entertainer like Grandpa Jones would stop off in Kempton and give a performance at the "Opera House." This was also where UMWA Local 4113 held their meetings. Brad said that there were many strikes, but they weren't as violent as in other coalfields. (July 2003 image by author)


This extant building at Kempton, MD was a storage building for the company store and also served as a workshop and stable. The railroad ran right up to it, and this was the terminus of a Western Maryland Railway spur. (July 2003 image by author)


These ruins of the Kempton mine have now been reclaimed. (Image courtesy MDE)


The original Kempton tipple was demolished some time after the mine closed in 1950. Another smaller tipple must have been built at the same site later, and it is pictured here in ruins. This one, perhaps built for independent truck mines, may have actually used elements of the original Kempton tipple. (August 1980 image by Donna Ware, courtesy Maryland State Archives)


This old picture looks like it was taken from a Model T Ford on the hill above Kempton. Visable are company houses, the tipple, and a slate dump. (May 1939 image by John Vachon, Library of Congress)


Kempton was considered the "model" coal company town of Davis Coal & Coke Company. (May 1939 image by John Vachon, Library of Congress)


Coal camp kids run down an alley in this vintage photo of Kempton. (May 1939 image by John Vachon, Library of Congress)


The larger coal companies sometimes provided a company doctor. Here is the company doctor in Kemtpon. I wonder if he also had to cover other nearby Davis Coal & Coke coal camps at Thomas and Pierce. (May 1939 image by John Vachon, Library of Congress)


A cow walks up the front steps of the Kemtpon company store. The coal companies allowed their coal camp tenants to keep chickens and milk cows. During the day people would let their cows graze in the nearby fields or woods. My grandmother said her family did this at Winding Gulf, WV. She said in the evening the coal mining families would go out and retrieve their cows to bring them back to stay in their company house yard at night. I asked her how people knew which cow was theirs, and she said, "We knew our cow and she knew us." (May 1939 image by John Vachon, Library of Congress)


This is what the inside of the Kempton mine looked like. Part of the mine eventually extended under West Virginia. Around 1922, when this photo was taken, the top 5 or so feet of the coal seam was being mined. Below that was a parting, and below the parting was a poor coal that had no commercial value and was not mined except for roof clearance. (Maryland Geological Survey image via Google Books)


(May 1939 image by John Vachon, Library of Congress)

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