Appalachia, Big Sandy River, blind, Catlettsburg, Center Street, Ed Haley, Elks Building, Gunnel Block, history, Horse Branch, Kenova, Kentucky, Lawrence Haley, life, Louisa Street, Ohio River, Pat Haley, U.S. South, West Virginia, writing, Yates Building
Catlettsburg, Kentucky — the place where Ed Haley lived from the mid-twenties until the early thirties — was a booming timber town in its hey-day. Located at the mouth of the Big Sandy River and across the Ohio River from Kenova, West Virginia, it was laid out in 1849 and incorporated in 1858.
Catlettsburg is a blue-collar town. As of 1990, its population was 2231 with 98% registering as white. Downtown Catlettsburg extends from the courthouse area on Louisa Street between 30th and 28th streets to the vicinity of the Elks Building on 26th street, with evidence of old structures just beyond. The courthouse, which was erected in 1930, is neat and surrounded by a spacious yard. It is flanked by annexes, a few small new buildings, and an old red brick two-story building on 28th that offers apartments to the public. On a moist day, the smell of wet garbage or a strong musty odor pervades the central part of town. Down Louisa Street from the courthouse exist a few churches and a couple of old buildings now occupied by an antique store and pizzeria. Across the street, toward the river, sits a string of more old buildings, but mostly newer stuff. Continuing toward the Elks Building is Center Street. The floodwall — a hideous but necessary structure — is positioned to the right, with a few old storefronts and a bingo place where Pat Haley runs a kitchen business. On its Center Street side, the Elks Building has a carving that reads: “Gunnel Block 1906.” Toward its back is a tall slender addition called “The Yates Building 1911.” Across Center Street, evidence of a business district extends one more block to 25th Street. The town continues on but the old downtown seems to end there. Near the floodwall, just back of the old district are the backs of little houses and a few narrow two-story frame houses facing the river — or wall. On 26th Street up past the Elks Building is City Hall and a beautiful little church. The street ends at four sets of railroad tracks. Turning left onto Chestnut Street, which runs east to the back of the courthouse are nice two-story white or red brick residences with a funeral home and law office. Across the tracks, which are elevated slightly above the old part of town, is Route 23 and beyond are larger homes on the hill.
While Ed Haley spent countless days walking on most of these streets, especially in the vicinity of the courthouse, he actually lived at the western edge of town on Horse Branch. Today, Horse Branch offers a flood-prone playground, a Freewill Baptist church and old single story frame shacks crowded together against a narrow paved road. The only thing new on the creek seems to be trailers. Lawrence Haley said the old family home there was long-gone.