History of Ashland, Kentucky

History of Ashland, Kentucky

Ashland, Kentucky's recorded history begins with the migration of the Scots-Irish Poage family from the Shenandoah Valley via the famed Cumberland Gap in 1786. The family settled upon a homestead along the Ohio River by the name of Poage's Landing. The Poage settlement remained an extended-family community until the mid-1800s."Attractions." Ashland Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. 2 Sept. 2006 [http://www.visitashlandky.com/html/attractions.html] .]

In 1854, Levi Hampton, one of the founders of the Kentucky Iron, Coal and Manufacturing Company, suggested that Poage Settlement be renamed to "Ashland"."A history of Ashland, Kentucky, 1854-2004." Ashland Bicentennial Committee. 2004. 2 Jan., 2007.] A name change was inevitable, as the city was becoming an industrialized region, not a mere 'settlement.' Hampton, who was an admirer of Henry Clay of Lexington and his estate, [http://www.henryclay.org/ Ashland] , requested the renaming to "Ashland" in respect of the farmer. It was accepted unanimously.

The first child born in the new town of Ashland was named Ashland Poage, a mixture of the old and new names.

The first post office was at Pollards Mill that opened in 1847. ["Kentucky Atlas & Gazetteer." University of Kentucky. 8 Jan. 2007 [http://www.uky.edu/KentuckyAtlas/ky-ashland.html] .] Seven years later, it was renamed Ashland after the incorporation of the town.

Industrial growth

From its roots in iron manufacturing as a result of Ohio's pig iron industry, Poage's Landing became a center of industry for eastern Kentucky. It was not until 1854, however, that industrial development began with the charter of the Kentucky Iron, Coal and Manufacturing Company by the Kentucky General Assembly. The company soon hired an engineer to lay out the new town of Ashland. M.T. Hilton was soon laid out the task of laying out the streets; at the time, Ashland was nothing more than a few businesses lining Front Avenue and a few residences scattered along the Ohio River and near the foothills. The layout was quite controversial at the time: 100 ft. streets were considered too wide for its time.

Major industrial employers in the first half of the 20th century included the Armco, the Ashland Oil and Refining Company, the C&O Railroad, Allied Chemical and Dye Company's Semet Solvay and Mansbach Steel.


One of the largest industrial developments in Ashland was announced in 1920."A history of Ashland, Kentucky, 1786-1954." Ashland Centennial Committee. 1954. 2 Jan., 2007.] President George M. Verity, president of Armco, proposed to construct a steel mill. When it was completed on October 19, 1923, it featured a continuous rolling method to produce steel sheets, the first of its kind in the nation. Armco later purchased the old Ashland Steel Company, followed by the Norton Iron Works and the old Ironton Furnaces.

In 1920, Armco employed 3,600 but just eighteen years later, that had increased to 5,500. In 1954, the payroll increased to 7,500 before decreasing to 4,500 by 1972, 3,500 in 1982, 1,630 by 1986 and just 700 by 1992.

In 1925, the Ashland Culvert Works company was founded, later purchased by Armco and renamed to the Armco Drainage and Metal Products Company.

On March 12 1941, ground was broken for the Bellefonte Furnace. Completed in 1942 at a cost of $5 million, it produced 1,000/tons of steel per day.

In 1950, a $40 million expansion was completed. A new hot-strip mill was opened on May 20 1953 that employed 3,000. One year later, a cold reduction mill, strip pickler, light gauge zincgrip and a heavy gauge zincgrip was completed at a cost of $12 million. At the close of the 1950s, Armco announced another $95 million upgrade, later upgraded to $145 million. In 1963, the Amanda blast furnace was completed as part of the upgrade.

In August 1984, Tom Gorder became the president of Armco's Ashland Works. Trying to stem the loss of 2,000 jobs in 10 years, he stated he would help consolidate Ashland and Middletown, Ohio's steel mills together in an effort to improve efficiency. That resulted in the closure of the hot strip mill, however, a new slab caster was constructed that provided steel slabs for Middletown. The hot strip mill's closure in 1992, however, eliminated 930 jobs. The Sinter plant, cold strip mill, temper mills, pickling lines, annealing lines and machine shop all closed by 1995.

In May 1989, Armco sold 40 percent of its company to Kawasaki Steel of Japan; the remainder was sold in 1994 and the plant was renamed for AK Steel.

By becoming more efficient, the plant saw increasing profits. The workforce increased to 900 by 2004. On April 2 2004, Governor Ernie Fletcher announced a $40 million tax break that would help fund a vacuum degassing unit and modification to the slab caster, crucial to coke making and steel options. The modifications also made steel production for automobiles easier.

Allied Chemical & Dye Company Semet-Solvay Division

Constructed in 1912 east of the central business district, this coke plant featured 54 horizontal flue coke ovens. Four years later, an additional battery of 54 ovens was constructed. In 1937, the two original 54 batteries were expanded to 60 each.

Another large expansion took place in 1953 with the installation of a third battery. The 76 vertical flue ovens expanded capacity and increased employment. It was constructed by the Wilputte Coke Oven Division, which Allied had purchased only several years prior.

In the early 1950s, a research laboratory was constructed as well.

Ashland Oil and Refining Company

The Ashland Oil and Refining Company was founded in 1924 and had purchased a small refinery near Catlettsburg that had a 1,000-a-day capacity. Its first product was "Pepper" gasoline, later renamed to "Ashland."


Following the flood of 1937, discussions for a new floodwall were initiated. Construction began in July 1949 and was completed in December 1953 at a cost of $3.872 million.

Decline and growth

In 1975, a proposal was floated to combine the governments of both Boyd County, Ashland, and Catlettsburg. It failed 12,514 to 2,518 due to the polarity between the two cities. A similar proposal soon after, "Unigov", was soundly defeated.

A downturn in the steel industry during the 1980s and 1990s left a dramatically smaller industrial base that has reduced the population of Ashland to just shy of 20,000. Those pillars of the city, such as Armco (today's AK Steel) began reducing their workforce in an effort to stay competitive. The Bellefonte Furnace at the steel making plant was mothballed and the hot strip was discontinued. Another major contribution to the population decline was the merger of C&O Railroad into CSX in the 1980s. C&O had operated one of the largest switchyards in the world in nearby Russell and Raceland. After the merger most of the local jobs were transferred to other parts of the country.

Taking the place of the industrial base that once supported Ashland is the service sector. King's Daughters Medical Center has expanded from a relatively small medical facility to the largest employer west of Charleston, West Virginia and east of Lexington. In the past ten years alone, the footprint of the hospital has been more than doubled.

On October 4, 1989, the Ashland Town Center opened with Wal-Mart, Hess's department store, and J.C. Penney, along with 12 speciality shops and a food court [cite news| title="Dow Jones surges to high amid interest-rate optimism." | publisher = Herald-Leader |date = 1989-10-04 | accessdate = 2007-05-29 ] . The 500,000 sq. ft. mall was constructed along US 23 (Winchester Ave.) and eventually contained 87 stores and restaurants when it had its grand opening on October 19. Several months later, the 600,000 sq. ft. Cedar Knoll Galleria opened on November 8 along US 60. When the malls were opened, Ashland Town Center was considered to be more convenient, but faced the obstacle of being built on a former wetlands and by non-union labor. However, as time passed, Ashland Town Center flourished while Cedar Knoll Galleria diminished until, in 2004, the Zamias Corporation, owners of the mall went bankrupt. The property was bought by Reyton Cedar Knoll LLC and re-christened as Kyova Mall. [ [http://www.abandonedonline.net/index.php?catid=8 Abandoned: Kyova Mall entry] ]


Jessica Thomas, then 23-years-old, was arrested in early 2006 on assault and drug possession charges. She claimed that she had sex with more than a dozen members of the police department while they were on duty. As a result, an internal investigation was launched. The police officers who were accused of sexual abuse were required to take a polygraph test; four officers confessed to "inappropriate behavior" and were suspended.Fields, Ben. "Thomas receives five years." Daily Independent 26 April 2006. 30 December 2006 [http://www.dailyindependent.com/siteSearch/apstorysection/local_story_238003210.html] .] Nine officers, however, citing prejudice in the internal investigation, refused to take the polygraph. Those nine officers were later suspended.Fields, Ben. "Thomas claims she was truthful." Daily Independent 15 November 2006. 30 December 2006 [http://www.dailyindependent.com/local/local_story_319004333.html] .] Three of the officers that refused the test later resigned and one was fired. The officers that had resigned stated that in order to "keep their records clean", they were forced to quit the police force.Fields, Ben. "Former officers renew lawsuit." Daily Independent 18 October 2006] . 30 December 2006 [http://www.dailyindependent.com/siteSearch/apstorysection/local_story_291222643.html] .]

Jessica Thomas would later plead guilty of all charges and is currently serving five years in prison for drug abuse.James, Mike. "Thomas pleads guilty to charges." Daily Independent 14 July 2006. 30 December 2006 [http://www.dailyindependent.com/siteSearch/apstorysection/local_story_195231316.html] .]

In November 2006, four of the nine officers that had denied the polygraph sued Jessica Thomas and eleven Ashland police department and local government officials claiming that they were the target of an "unfair and illegal investigation, intimidation and slander". The lawsuit was filed in Boyd County Circuit Court after a similar suit that was filed in federal court in Ashland was dismissed in October because they were "not questions of federal law"; that lawsuit included 17 allegations of violations of the officers' constitutional rights.


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