Catlettsburg, Kentucky - History - Early History

Early History

Catlettsburg's history begins in the decades directly following the American Revolution. The American frontier was pushing westward, and many frontiersman passed through there on their western trek along the Ohio River. A United States Post Office was first opened there in 1808 as Mouth of Sandy, Va. In 1849, civil engineer James Fry, was commissioned to lay out the original town of Catlettsburg(the area from 24th to 26th streets, and from the former Front to present-day Walnut Streets). The lots were quickly sold, and the community was named after brothers Horatio and Alexander "Sawny" Catlett. They first settled here in in 1811 and resided at the location for at least 26 years. After establishing this settlement, the Catlett's operated a combination business here that consisted of a tavern, post office, trading post, and inn, all out of a log structure they built from virgin timber in 1811. Due to its location along the route of the American frontier, the Catlett's provided hospitality to such notable patrons as General Stonewall Jackson, Henry Clay, Felix Grundy and future U.S. President James Garfield. Catering to the ever growing river traffic, the Catlett business flourished and the present day town grew up around it. Unbelievably, the Catlett home built in 1811 is still standing two hundred years later, and has long been used as the "servants quarters" of Beechmoor Place, a large home located on Walnut Street(U.S. Routes 23 and 60). C.W. Culver bought the property in 1869 from the Catlett heirs and built a large home of the Georgian style on the right of the Catletts' original dwelling. In 1868, Col. Laban T. Moore bought the estate from C.W. Culver for $10,000($171,000 in 2011). Col. Moore was noted as a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives and also had previously served as a captain in the Kentucky Volunteer Infantry. He named his home Beechmoor, a derivation of his surname and that of a magnificent beech that stood on the fertile grounds at the time. Ownership of Beechmoor has remained in the Moore family since 1868. Beechmoor's eastern wing, being 200 years old and built by the Catlett's, is cited as the oldest known building in a 300 mile radius. Built of Kentucky's virgin Hemlock Maple(now virtually extinct), the exterior walls are between 9 and 12 inches thick. The main portion has a stone foundation, and is held up by the same virgin timber, each 64 feet (20 m) in diameter, and running the entire 42-foot (13 m) width of the house. Beechmoor's last full-time resident, Rebecca Patton, Col. L.T. Moore's granddaughter, was always dedicated to Beechmoor's preservation during her lifetime. In 1973, she had her lifelong home listed on the National Registry of Historic Places and made provisions to ensure the home would be maintained in the event of her demise. She died in 1986. Since then, it's been maintained by proceeds from a trust fund and rental property income. A paid caretaker lives on the property full time as of 2011. Several attempts have been made by local civic groups to acquire the property as a museum or civic use property due to its historical significance to the area but have not been successful as of this time due to the family of Miss Patton's desire to retain ownership. The Catlett name is still used on a tributary to the Ohio River, Catlett's Creek, which follows Kentucky Route 168 for many miles west of the city. Catlettsburg annexed two nearby communities on its borders in the late 19th Century: Hampton City to the south side and Sandy City to the north.

The spelling of the city's name was changed to Catlettsburg from the previous spelling of Catlett's Burg in approximately 1890, as the United States Post Office sought to improve postage delivery service by simplifying operations with the combined name.

Catlettsburg served as a Union Army supply depot during the Civil War. The First Presbyterian Church, 26th and Broadway, served as an army hospital during the war. The church building still serves the congregation of the Presbyterian church in Catlettsburg. The current church, built in 1875, is one of two truly gothic buildings still standing in the U.S. The church is of mid-to-late 19th century Grecian design, with most original fixtures in place. It is often used for wedding ceremonies because of its uniquely rare beauty. The Catlettsburg National Bank building at the corner of Center and Division/26th Streets is also listed on the National Registry, but has not been restored by its owner Michael Cumpston at this time.

Beginning in the late 19th century and lasting until the early 1920s, Catlettsburg was the largest hardwood timber market in the world due to its location at the mouth of the Big Sandy River. Due to the profitability of harvesting such hardwoods, most all virgin timber that existed for several miles around Catlettsburg was felled during that time period. Very few trees of desirable breeds such as Oak were left standing once the boom was over, mostly to mark private property lines. One known exception to history's hardwood harvest is the existence of a very large healthy Oak, standing on a knob in the Hampton City section. With its origins dating around 1760, it measures 246 inches (6.2 m) in diameter, a rare survivor in a town that was once the largest timber market in the world. As it marks a property line, it escaped mankind's economic interests. It is the oldest known living tree of any breed within the city limits and for many, many miles surrounding the City. There is also a hemlock Maple tree(which measures over 350 inches in diameter) located on the same property, one of a very few that remain in North America as they were all but extinct due to their heavy usage in home construction from 1750-1925.

Rail transportation began to slowly replace the river's prominence as a mode of transportation as the Chesapeake & Ohio (C&O) railroad began construction of a bridge across the Big Sandy River linking Catlettsburg with Kenova, West Virginia in 1885. The bridge is still traversed by trains many times each day, as a part of CSX corp.'s (formerly C & O Railway) main operations. Known by railroad enthusiasts and historians from around the world, it is unique in design and historic value for its longevity. Used many times daily by CSX freight trains, it is also used by Amtrak's Cardinal passenger train, train numbers 50 and 51, which carries passengers from Chicago to New York City using this bridge. The Chatteroi railroad preceded the C & O by a few years as the first rail line to travel through Catlettsburg's city limits as it followed the Big Sandy River north from the coal fields to Ashland.

The Chesapeake & Ohio Railway built a passenger depot in Catlettsburg in 1906 and operated the facility for over 52 years until 1958 when passenger service was transferred to nearby Ashland. After closing the facility, C & O sold it to the city of Catlettsburg for $1.00. The city has maintained it and used it as a civic center since that time. In 2006, longtime Catlettsburg businessman and politician Russell Compton donated his own personal funds for the restoration of the train depot so it could be restored to its original appearance. Intensive restoration of the depot is now complete, featuring the original directional signage, etc. The facility was renamed the Russell Compton Community Center in 2007 in his honor. In 2010, Mr. Compton again displayed his dedication to the old depot by donating the necessary funds to restore an old C & O caboose to its original appearance. It is now parked on the side of the depot facility.

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