The Town & People 1917 - 1926
The town was named in honor of Thomas Lynch, the first president of the United States Coal and Coke Company and various subsidiary mining companies of the United States Steel Corporation from 1897 to 1914.
The construction was directed by Edward O’Toole, general superintendent, and Howard N. Eavenson, chief engineer, of Gary, W. Va. The Lynch staff included John T. Franklin, assistant to the general superintendent, J. D. Jennings, superintendent of construction, L. A. Billips, division engineer, Frank S. Follensbee, construction engineer, Frank J. Dooley, chief clerk, and Grover C. Sledge, manager of stores.
The plant location was in a wooded wilderness, with absolutely nothing at the site. Everything had to be brought in to start the job. The first supplies were shipped by express to Benham, Kentucky, a neighboring plant owned by the International Harvester Company, at the end of the railroad. The shipment consisted of one carload of mules and one carload of miscellaneous supplies, wagons, harness tools, etc.
The supplies were unloaded and moved to the Lynch camp site about one mile upstream.
When construction began, labor conditions were probably worse than they had ever been in this country. Huge defense plants at Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and Nashville, Tennessee, and the Army camp at Louisville, Kentucky--all within a few hundred miles of Lynch-- were under construction and it was almost impossible to make contracts at any fixed price. It was decided, therefore, to do all the work with company forces.
Labor recruiting was no mean problem. The surrounding mountains were first recruited for labor. The natives would accept jobs on general outside work but would have no part of mine work. Adventurers of all kinds came to Lynch to see first hand what the pickings were. Some stayed; many left. The labor force during the first year was truly a colorful group of all types, creeds and colors.
By the middle of September 1917, there were 300 cars of material on the Louisville and Nashville Railroad system consigned to the Lynch operation. The consignment, consisting of mining machinery, building materials and camp supplies of all kinds, was unloaded at Benham and hauled to Lynch by mule train.
The railroad company refused to extend their tracks to the Lynch operation because they considered the project to be a mushroom operation that would die with the end of the war. The coal company then built its own railroad, first extending the track to the No. 1 tipple site, about one-half mile upstream from the International Harvester property line, then on to the upper end of the town site, with necessary spurs to facilitate the movement of supplies.
When enough men had been employed to start construction, access roads were graded and temporary shanties, bunk houses, kitchens, stables and other necessary structures were built as rapidly as possible. The first erected was a large wooden administration building at the lower end of town, to accommodate the mining department, store, bank, post office, and hospital.
As the railroad construction progressed and enough shanties bad been built to house the work force of about 1000 men, construction began, with steam shovels, men, mules and dump carts, grading roads and tramways and excavating for dwelling and plant buildings. Deep wells were drilled. The creek channel was straightened and walled to provide room for plant buildings. Drifts were opened in the coal seam along the hillsides, and four temporary tipples were built. Timber cutting crews were organized and three sawmills were put into operation. The first permanent dwelling was completed and occupied on November 10, 1917. A temporary power plant, equipped with four 150 K.W. engine driven generators, was placed in service on December 1, 1917. The railroad was completed on January 1, 1918.
By that time there were 1500 men on the payrolls, the majority of whom were housed in bunk houses and fed at the 25 company kitchens. The wholesome food, served in ample quantities in these kitchens, was probably responsible for the hiring and holding of the much-needed labor force.
Due to the severe winter of 1917-1918 and the influenza epidemic, which took its toll of employees, including Frank Kearns, the recently appointed plant superintendent, progress was slow. However, by the early spring of 1918, 75 dwellings had been completed and occupied. With the coming of favorable weather, permanent construction continued until the major portion was completed in late 1920.
Isolated, as it was, from any large city, everything for comfortable living and efficient operation bad to be furnished by the company.
Streets were laid out so that grades would not exceed 10% on secondary streets and 5% on the main street. Masonry or concrete ditches, retaining walls and culverts were provided to insure proper surface drainage.
Two hundred single and four hundred double houses were built under twelve different plans. In addition, five boarding houses, each containing twenty-two bedrooms, were built for unmarried miners. The Lynch hotel, containing one hundred and eight bedrooms, was erected for clerks, engineers, store employees, school teachers and mine officials.
The houses were painted and trimmed in various colors to break the monotony in appearance. With the exception of five official dwellings, which were of concrete block, stuccoed, all houses were of wooden construction, with asphalt shingles.
The interior of the rooms was plastered. Running water was piped into every house. An electric light was provided in each room and one on each front porch. About thirty of the dwellings had hot water central heating, the remaining being heated by a grate in each room. Those with central heating were also equipped with toilet and bathing facilities. Those without such facilities had outside closets equipped with concrete septic tanks. The overflow from these tanks escaped through sewer pipes, to which also the kitchen sinks drained, into the main sewer.
The entire town was sewered and the sewage flowed to a sump at the lower end of town, from which it was lifted by centrifugal pumps to a treating plant on the hillside.
The houses were built on lots of sufficient size to allow space for lawns and gardens for an ordinary family. Concrete sidewalks extended to the front and rear porch of each house.
On account of the isolated location of the plant, ample repair facilities for all types of machinery used were imperative. The machine shop was the first such building designed and erected. The shop was equipped with the necessary tools to repair and overhaul any of the equipment used at the plant.
The only public utility company within reach of the plant had two small stations located about eight miles from Lynch. A substation at this plant would have to depend on a single transmission over the top of Big Black Mountain, which it would cross at one of the highest points in the State. Such a line would be liable to considerable trouble and would be almost Inaccessible for repairs, and as the power company required the coal company to finance the extensions, the latter company decided to build its own power plant in order to have a reliable source of power at all times.
The power requirements greatly exceeded the capacity of the temporary plant, so the temporary plant was laid out for two 1875 K.V.A. three-phase, 60 cycle, turbo-generators, with the necessary switchgear, boilers, pumps, condensers and spray pond. The building was constructed as rapidly as possible, the equipment installed and the plant put into service in August 1919.
In the early construction days, water was procured from deep wells with manually operated pumps. By the time the power plant was completed, the entire town had been piped for delivery from a central point. The wells were blown with compressed air and the water flowed to the power plant sump, from which it was pumped to a 300,000 gallon steel tank, on the mountainside, located at an elevation sufficient to supply two standard fire streams at the highest fire hydrant in town. Fire plugs were placed at intervals so that no house would be more than 200 feet from at least one plug.
The well supply was not sufficient, so lines were laid up Looney Creek and Gap Branch, well above town, from which the creek water flowed to the sump, where it was chlorinated before being pumped to the tank.