Packard Kentucky was an enigma. A ghost-town long extinct, Packard exists only in the surviving memories of a few former inhabitants, a handful of faded snapshots, and but a smattering of arcane references in yellowed periodicals.
Of the numismatic investigations that I have undertaken, chronicling the elusive story of this long-forgotten town was quite formidable. Little but scant documentation remains of this place, and nary but two photographs of Packard were found during the course my research. It took weeks of archive research to locate the photos herein; not a single photograph of Packard existed publicly online until now‡.
Packard began as little more than a mining camp; a hamlet established prior to the dawn of the 20th century. The town sat just 9 miles from the Tennessee border in Whitley County, nestled among the Cumberland Mountains. Named in honor of Mary Amelia Packard, a local schoolteacher, the little town sprouted in a sleepy corner of southeast Kentucky coal country.
From its genesis in the late 19th century until its demise a few years after World War II, the town of Packard hosted three coal companies. By far the largest employer was the Mahan Jellico Coal Company†, with upwards of 200 employees during the height of its operations. Two other coal companies, the Polley Coal Company and later the Booth Blue Gem Coal Company, also conducted mining operations in the area. At the town’s apex, as many as 250 workers were employed by these coal companies.
As with most coal towns, everyday life centered around mining activities, and the companies which provided the locals with their livelihoods. As long as the mines remained open, the “Company” town existed. But when the coal seams inevitably exhausted, so too was the rationale for the towns, and they would inexorably evaporate. This too was the story of Packard.
Estimates vary, but the town had somewhere between 300 and 700 homes, a Baptist Church, a small schoolhouse, a U.S. post-office, a railroad spur, a doctor’s office, and of course, a Company Store.
The townsfolk were proud people and were proud of their town, and shared a strong sense of community with one another.
Townsfolk supported the patriotic causes of the day, and contributed their time and their money like many other American towns.
In a clear example of the town’s patriotism, in 1918 a local union representative published a scathing editorial in a nationwide magazine.
In it he expresses the town’s sentiments, where he resolutely declares the town’s disapproval of Pancho Villa, a Mexican-Revolutionary of the time.
Contrarily, Packard also shared many of the challenges faced by working class Americans.
In many ways though, because Packard was a “Company Town,” the challenges the residents bore were profoundly harsher.
During the early decades of the 20th century, Packard’s miners were active participants in the burgeoning labor and union movements. At various times, its miners participated in walkouts and strikes.
In fact, during the great United Mine Workers Strike of 1922, fear of violence was so widespread, that 25 Kentucky National Guardsmen accompanied by two machine-gun contingents were sent to Packard to keep the peace.
Aside from chronically unsafe working conditions, Packard’s miners were also unhappy that the town possessed but one mercantile, Mahan-Jellico’s ‘Company Store.’
The nearest alternative was over two miles away. Given transportation challenges of the time, the Mahan-Jellico Coal Company took full economic advantage of this isolation by price gouging.
Moreover, like most company stores in coal camps, miners and their families paid for goods using company-issued tokens, or scrip.
Depending on the company and company town, some, if not all, of miner’s wages were paid in coal scrip, rather than U.S. dollars.
This practice, inconceivable today, forced many miners into an existence of forced subjugation and poverty. Without wages paid in U.S. Dollars rather than coal scrip, workers found it nearly impossible to take their families and leave the mines in search for other work.
G. Hamlin, a Packard resident and union representative, expresses the towns frustration with their circumstances.
The town was situated in a hollow, surrounded on all sides by mountains; the nearest transportation hub over 18 miles away. Sanitary conditions for the town’s residents were abysmal, and well water was obtained by a lone pump used to supply potable water to all of its inhabitants.
Fortunately, as with the many coal mining towns scattered throughout the United States, the miners of Packard ultimately became fully unionized, and began to enjoy better working conditions as with the rest of America.
But such accomplishments were short-lived. Less than 30 years later, in 1946, the Mahan-Jellico Coal Company ceased mining operations at Packard.
And with the loss of the mines, the town was abandoned and faded away. The remnants of Packard still exist today, but are located on private property.
All that remains are a few crumbling foundations of the town’s buildings, having long since been razed.
Pictured below are three token specimens from my cabinet, issued for the town of Packard. These tokens, known as ‘coal scrip’, were issued to employees and their families as means of credit, and for the purchase of goods at Mahan-Jellico’s Company Store.
In order to date these tokens, one must perform a bit of historical legwork.
You will notice that unlike most Hard Times, Merchant, Civil War, and Trade tokens, these tokens have stamped reverses with a patent number and a manufacturer’s name.
Counterfeiting of store-card tokens was quite prolific until the early part of the 20th century. Until that time, all that was required for a counterfeiter to reproduce a token was the mere act of obtaining it. Once obtained, a counterfeiter could send the token to a litany of manufacturers and request to have it reproduced en-masse. Because token manufacturers of the era did cooperate with one another to verify the legitimacy of such requests, all the counterfeiter had to do was ensure they did not send the request to the original manufacturer.
As a means to combat this problem, David E., Edwin H., and Wesley Ingle devised a strategy of patenting token “designs.” Once patented, they could stamp their patent number along with their design on all of the tokens they struck. This simple method virtually guaranteed that the tokens they produced would not be counterfeited. If and when a token manufacturer was asked to duplicate an Ingle token, the manufacturer would refuse out of fear of violating U.S. patent laws. Using this new strategy, the Ingle brothers opened a token-manufacturing business in 1909. Their method became known as the “Ingle System,” and the family business became highly successful.
So successful in fact, that a progression of buy-outs, mergers, and acquisitions ensued. To correctly date these tokens, one must take note of the below timeline:
In the Fall of 1973 the National Script Collectors Association devised a rudimentary template which clarifies striking dates:
Thus, pursuant to the evolution of the token companies above, and the years that Mahan-Jellico was in operation at Packard, these tokens were struck sometime during the following timelines:
$1.00 piece – 1919-1931 5-cent piece – 1934-1941 10-cent piece – 1934-1931.
Notes and Sources
† The Mahan Jellico Coal Company later became the Southern Coal and Coke Company³
‡ Approximately 40 hours were spent reviewing online digital collections at Harvard University, University of Michigan, the Library of Congress, Hathi Trust, University of the Cumberland’s, University of Kentucky, Google Books, and various Kentuckian genealogical sites. Not a single photograph of Packard, KY was discovered. Photographic prints were finally located in the paper archives at the Whitley County Historical and Genealogical Society.
- Mary A. Siler, Photographic Archives of Whitley County Kentucky Historical and Genealogical Society
Wikipedia, Packard Kentucky
Patricia Neal: An Unquiet Life, Stephen Michael Shearer, The University Press of Kentucky, ©2006, pg.4
‘Whitley County Kentucky Coal Camps,’ Kentucky Coal Education, Kentucky Foundation, ©1996-2007
The Kentucky Anthology: Two Hundred Years of Writing in the Bluegrass State, Wade H. Hall, University Press of Kentucky, ©2005, pg.606
Back Talk from Appalachia: Confronting Stereotypes, Katherine Ledford, University Press of Kentucky, ©1999 pgs.219-223
United Mine Workers Journal, Volume 28, 1917
Elkins Catalog of United States Coal Company Scrip Third Edition Volume I, Bill Williams, Steve Ratliff, NSCA, ©1997, pg.168
‘The Ingle System, The Token Corner,’ Coin Slot Magazine, Stephen P. Alpert, August 1981 Issue
Scrip, Stuart E. Brown JR, Virginia Book Co, ©1978, pg.55
The Library of Congress Digital Archives