According to a 1917 story in The Paintsville Herald, “Nothing is more strongly indicative of the advancement of any section along commercial lines than the development of its hidden resources and nothing has contributed in greater measure to build up Johnson County, Paintsville, and the Big Sandy Valley than has the Consolidation Coal Company’s operation at Van Lear.”
The story continued: “From a poor and thinly-settled farming section has sprung up the hustling town of Van Lear, with a population of about 2,500…. It is incorporated with good officials, a moving-picture show, billiard and pool room, soda fountain, churches, schools, excellent stores, barber shops, and in fact all conveniences of the larger towns.”
Van Lear is one of Southern Appalachia’s most-celebrated coal towns, made famous in Loretta Lynn’s classic song, “Coal Miner’s Daughter.” It grew so big, so quickly, that one newspaperman called it “the overnight city,” but then, in the 1940s, when Consolidation Coal decided to sell out, the town faded just as quickly.
Using stories about the town and its people that ran in the local newspaper, Clyde Roy Pack has created a portrait of a proud and self-reliant community in the foothills of the Appalachians from the time of World War I through Prohibition and the Depression to World War II.
The Overnight City: The Life and Times of Van Lear, Kentucky, 1908-1947, gives readers an extraordinary glimpse at ordinary life in the coal fields of Eastern Kentucky in the first half of the 20th century, from mine fatalities and murders to graduations and society news.
Clyde Roy Pack is an award-winning newspaper columnist and retired teacher. He is the author of several books, including Muddy Branch and Pretty Babies Grow Up Ugly. He lives in Paintsville with his wife, Wilma Jean.
The Overnight City is published by storyatom media.