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William H. Berge Oral History Center

Coal Company Towns Project

Interview with Ilene Johnson

Feb 23, 1982 (1982 oh 100)

Conducted by Doris Sutton

Transcribed by Laurie Wilcox

WILLIAM BERGE: The following is an unrehearsed taped interview with Mrs. Ilene Johnson of Lynch Kentucky. The interview is conducted by Doris Sutton for the Oral History Center at Eastern Kentucky University. The, ah, interview is conducted at Mrs. Johnson's home at Lynch Kentucky on February 23, 1982 at 10 am.

DORIS SUTTON: Miss Johnson we want to thank you for agreeing to talk to us today from Eastern Kentucky University but first will you tell us exactly what your name is?

ILENE JOHNSON: Ilene Johnson.

SUTTON: And where are you from originally Miss Johnson?

JOHNSON: I'm from Horse Cave Kentucky, Clark County.

SUTTON: How did you get in this area?

JOHNSON: My brother, who was the chief surgeon here at one time, when Lynch had 1:00a hospital, ah, came here and ah when I graduated from college, why I came up here to live with him.

SUTTON: Then your parents never did live in this area?

JOHNSON: No. My parents died when I was fairly young.

SUTTON: Was it your brother then whose name is on the football field?

JOHNSON: That's right. It's my brother.

SUTTON: We just came from out there, he must have been quite well known.

JOHNSON: He was quite well known and quite well liked.

SUTTON: Did he work for the company?

JOHNSON: Yes, he was the company's chief surgeon. Of course he wasn't that when he first came here but when he retired he was.

SUTTON: Well did a company doctor or surgeon treat people not directly employed by the company? Did they do private work as well?

JOHNSON: Well I suppose so but most of the people came to the hospital. . . .


SUTTON: Miss Johnson, was your brother attached to a hospital in the area?


JOHNSON: Yes, Lynch had a hospital. It was owned by the company at first and then of course it went to the Notre Dame Sisters.

SUTTON: Well now when you came here to live with him what sort of job did you get?

JOHNSON: I ah, was a home Ec major with a English minor and they did not have a 3:00Home Ec Department so I just ah, I was given a job as an English teacher at first. And I liked it so well that I never did go into Home Ec anymore, I liked English. Now I became one of the high school teachers, the senior sponsor and then in ah, 1945 I became the high school principal. And I served as high school principal under Mr. H. L. Cash, who was from uh Stanford Kentucky. One of Kentucky's greatest school men. When he died suddenly in 1952 I became superintendent of the Lynch Independent School. And I served as superintendent until September 1960. I went back to school and got a third degree. I had an AB from Georgetown College, and MA from Peabody College then and I went back to Peabody and got a Specialist in Education in 1962. And then I went into college teaching. I went into with the University of Kentucky down here at southeast community college in Cumberland, part time for a while and taught English and 4:00taught English the Cumberland high school for two or three years, just part time. And then I went full time the university and retied from the university in 1976.

SUTTON: Well of all your teaching experiences which one would you say was the most rewarding?

JOHNSON: I have taught for 49 years. I can say that everyday was a rewarding day.

SUTTON: Did you find being a superintendent a hassle?

JOHNSON: Not too much. Not too much at all. I enjoyed every minute of it. Our people here are very cooperative. We had fine people, fine students, fine teachers, and when I started teaching here we had very good salaries. In fact I suppose our salaries were the highest in Eastern Kentucky. We had. . .

SUTTON: I thin that was the Coal Company that?


JOHNSON: The coal company was very cooperative. Now they didn't subsidize the salaries at all but they were very cooperative. Our superintendent were just, and men of the company were just extra nice to us.

SUTTON: Did the parents of the students participate in, in school things by attending ball games and all this?

JOHNSON: Oh my yes [clears throat] Ah we had chapel programs every Wednesday and the children participated and ah one whole section of the auditorium on Wednesdays was filled with parents.'

SUTTON: They don't do that much anymore.

JOHNSON: They don't do that anymore. All the time I was senior sponsor we had senior plays. And the auditorium was filled to capacity.

SUTTON: Well what do you think the difference is now that the school system has become sort of consolidated and everybody to where, to Cumberland, to Harlan?

JOHNSON: Ah our, we lost our school last . . .


SUTTON: High school?

JOHNSON: Year. If you read the Courier Journal on June the 8th I believe or June 7:00the 9th edition you had a good summary of the passing of the school and how sad it was. But we had a good day. So many people came back ah; several of the former superintendents of the coal company ah, the book that I have in my hand A History of the Lynch District 1917 to 1957 was written by Mr. T. E. Johnson. He was a superintendent here for a number of years. And he and his entire family, with the exception of two of the children, came back. People and former teachers. One of the first teachers in Lynch school Mrs. Katherine Kerns, who lives in Lexington now ah came back. And Mary Metcha who lives in Louisville now and Mrs. Sam Brook from Ashville, North Carolina, who was one of the second grade teachers here in the early days came back for this last graduation. It was a good day but it was a very sad day because, you know it hurts to lose a school where you've spent ah so many happy hours. I spent thirty-three years up here.

SUTTON: What do you think? How do you think the students feel now they aren't here but have to be bused some other place?

JOHNSON: I haven't talked to any of the students, very much. I've seen some of them. I ask them how they were getting along and they said fine. I was in the Cumberland school not too long ago and I asked one of the teachers how they adjusted and they said very well.

SUTTON: Did the system there absorb your teachers from here?

JOHNSON: Absorbed, ah, I think they absorbed all the tenure teachers I'm not 8:00quite sure whether they absorbed the others or not. But the Harlan County system has been very nice. They're nice people to work with and I'm quite sure the teachers are getting along alright. Now the first six grades are still up here. And one off my former students, I had her in high school, then when she graduated from college she came back to teach here, Coreen Wells. She is the head teacher up here and doing a very good job. And the girl in the office, if you have been up here, ah she's Virginian Shyra, she was my secretary for a long time and very competent and very efficient. And she is working up here now.

SUTTON: Could we talk for just a moment about the people who live here in Lynch. 9:00If you were asked to speak at a meeting in Louisville for example, and asked to talk or describe the way of life of the people in Lynch, what would probably be topmost on your list that would say set them apart from say people in Louisville or Lexington?

JOHNSON: I don't know exactly what you mean.

SUTTON: Well, ah.

JOHNSON: When I came here, the people, uh many of the people that were here then have gone now. Ah they've retired and moved away but we as I often say there are many good people who have passed through Lynch and there're still many good people here. We had we have a farm; we used to have a farm element here that were very very fine. You just couldn't beat them in any way. They were very cooperative they wanted their students, and in those days we visited the homes. And the teachers were so welcome, they just went out of there way. And ah

SUTTON: Well you know it's possible in Lexington or Louisville or any of the 10:00larger cities to live in a neighborhood for five or ten years and not know your neighbors. Ah how would that compare with what goes on here in Lynch.

JOHNSON: Well know we used to know our neighbors and we still do but we knew 11:00them probably better then. We did a little bit more visiting maybe because all of the teachers visited their students. I don't know whether the student I mean the teachers visit their students now or not. They tell me the difference in schools now is the difference in parents. They're not as concerned and they don't want you to correct their students but now our students were very obedient. I never did uh paddle a student as long as I was up here. I allowed it to be done and Mr. Cash, he was principal at the time, did a little. But uh I don't know the old saying is you know the parents would say to the child [laughing] "If you get a whipping at school you'll get one at home" but now that's not true now.

SUTTON: So the changes that have taken place other places have taken place here.

JOHNSON: I expect they have. I haven't been in school very much but we always had good discipline here.

SUTTON: Um hm. I've noticed that you don't have very many stores in Lynch, what's, what's going on there?

JOHNSON: Well we just lost our store you know. We had a mini mall here for years 12:00and years and years. Ah, when I came we had a bakery in the basement of the store an ice plant and ah we had every department. We had hardware, men's, ladies ready to wear, we had piece goods. We had a wonderful drug store and ah place up on the back of the drug store where you go sit down and have a coke and relax and. Furniture department on the third floor. In other words as I say we had a mini mall. But sometimes I think they, people didn't appreciate it as much and they just let it go. I don't know

SUTTON: Tell me a little bit about the religious life in the community ah, just at random. Whatever comes to your mind about it?

JOHNSON: Um hm. Well, of course, many of the foreign people, you know, were 13:00Catholics. We have a beautiful Catholic church here and some of my best friends are Catholics and we don't disagree about religion at all, we're just wonderful friends. Mrs. Overbeck, who was one of the teachers in the early days, is one of my best friends and she's Catholic. But as it is in other places, ah, we don't ah, people just don't go to church as they used to. Now when I first came to Lynch, I am a Baptist, and we had a community church and all of us went to the same church and it was, ah, I suppose managed you might say by the Methodists because they, you know how the Methodist, they send their preachers. And we all went to the Lynch community Methodist Church, or just, it was called then just the Lynch Community Church. But in 1927 the Baptists organized their church and we have ours up here now.

SUTTON: Is it Southern Baptist?

JOHNSON: Yes, Missionary Baptist.

SUTTON: And so you have Catholic, and Baptist and Methodist now?

JOHNSON: That's right.

SUTTON: Any other denominations in this area?

JOHNSON: In this area I don't, in this, in Lynch now but we have other denominations in the area.

SUTTON: Right.

JOHNSON: Uh, I don't know just who they are or where they are but I'm quite sure we have other denominations. But in Lynch we have the Catholics and the Methodists and the Baptists. And ah, the uh black people have two Baptist churches and one Methodist church.

SUTTON: They don't have a catholic church?

JOHNSON: No they don't have a Catholic church but I think there are some members of the Catholic Church.

SUTTON: Well do you have any Jewish members in the community here?

JOHNSON: No, ah we do in Cumberland.

SUTTON: Do they have a temple or a synagogue that you know of?

JOHNSON: I believe they have one in Harlan, I'm not sure.


SUTTON: About, on the same subject more or les how do you see the role of the church in the everyday lives of the people here? Do they, do they participate a great deal in the community activities and are these things related to each other at all.

JOHNSON: Well as I say people just don't go to church like they used to and I don't know why. I feel like it's part of my life and I try to be very faithful because I think God called me to be a teacher and I think that's why he sent me to Lynch but I haven't done so well about it [laughing].

SUTTON: Forty-nine years sounds as if you've done quite well.

JOHNSON: Well I could have done better I'm quite sure but I enjoyed every year 15:00of that, and, I tell you another thing about the children as I say in my day. Our children walked to school. And we had a , used to have a bus that would run from Cumberland up here and the children of course could get on it down here and ride up to the school for a nickel, and many of them did. But it wasn't a regular school bus but it was convenient. And then of course the parents would take the children, some of them, to school on rainy days and we never did have to miss school. Even in the snow the children walked, and liked it. And we had I suppose Lynch and Jenkins had the highest attendance of any schools in Kentucky.

SUTTON: Do you think that the fact that they had to walk contributed to that?

JOHNSON: Well I think the parents were so cooperative that they never thought about having a bus. And now you couldn't get one to walk across the street.

SUTTON: Things that then as I said earlier that have changed other places have changed right here in Lynch?

JOHNSON: Have changed here too, uh hu.

SUTTON: Well what about during the time when you were teaching and 16:00superintendent and so on, ah, what, how would you describe the general physical well being of the people, their health and that sort of thing?

JOHNSON: Oh [coughs] I would say their, had excellent health because our doctors would come to school and ah, examine the children. And many times they would go to the hospital office hours. They were well taken care of.

SUTTON: So nutrition wasn't a problem?


SUTTON: Nobody really went hungry and that sort of thing?

JOHNSON: Nobody in Lynch that I know of has ever been hungry.

SUTTON: Do you think that's true in all of the coal company settlements?

JOHNSON: Well, I don't know they make good money here.

SUTTON: Uh huh.

JOHNSON: And I'm sure they do other places too.

SUTTON: Yeah. Can you fill me in a little bit on what people do for recreation?

JOHNSON: Well I don't suppose there's too much ah recreation. Ah, they have 17:00tennis courts at the college and um, they're available. Um, Terry Williams has been working on a project to open a recreation place down at Benham where the old Benham Theater used to be. Then out here behind the house is a ball park, where there used to be the football field. The children play football and ah, you know, just among themselves and everything. And they did have some tennis courts down here but they haven't been taken care of. But they were used for a while. Then down at Benham I think they have little league, and they have little league at Cumberland. Oh, we have, we used to have a country club.

SUTTON: Is that where the swimming pool is?

JOHNSON: That's where the swimming pool is and it's going to be built back and its.

SUTTON: They're grading there now to rebuild it. What happened to that?

JOHNSON: It burned.

SUTTON: Oh my.

JOHNSON: And it was so pretty. It was built of logs and just so rustic and 18:00beautiful inside.

SUTTON: Is it going to be rebuilt the same way?

JOHNSON: I don't think it is. I haven't heard but I don't believe it is going to be built of logs, but it was just beautiful. And then there's a golf course up there. And they, and there is a golf course up at Benham also, and there is a swimming pool down there. Cumberland used to have a swimming pool but the highway took that.

SUTTON: Well there's enough to do if a person really wants to do something, right?

JOHNSON: Absolutely. I think you can make, of course many of the children like to stay at home and watch television but a person can make his own recreation, get out and walk.

SUTTON: Did you come here in 1927?

JOHNSON: That's right.

SUTTON: So you were here all during the Depression.


SUTTON: How did that affect Lynch directly, the whole decade of the 30s?

JOHNSON: Well I think it brought them more together.

SUTTON: Is that right?


SUTTON: Were the mines open most of the time during the 30s as you recall?

JOHNSON: As I recall, I don't know, some days you know they...We had a big store 19:00we'd call it the mini mall, and we had two little stores. They'd always post the work record on there sometimes they'd work one day a week, you know sometimes two. It was pretty bad. And of course the banks closed. Ah, I was in Europe in 19 and 30 for six weeks and ah, I was able to make the trip even, but the teachers of course salary was never, we always got paid they weren't very big. I started out here at one hundred; I think $125 a month.

SUTTON: And that was pretty good pay though wasn't it?

JOHNSON: That was very good pay. I wasn't here very long when it went up to $165.

SUTTON: Did it make a difference in the pay scale whether you were male or female?

JOHNSON: No ah, the first year I was here, it made a difference in the pay scale 20:00whether it was elementary or high school [phone rings].


SUTTON: Miss Johnson, when you first came here to Lynch what was your impression of the homes that you visited as a teacher?

JOHNSON: Most of them were very clean, very clean; uh there were a few exceptions. But I don't believe, you know, to go into that you know.

SUTTON: Right.

JOHNSON: That might embarrass somebody but 99 and nine tenths percent of them were very clean.

SUTTON: Do you think Lynch is something of a model in terms of...?

JOHNSON: Well to me it has been. It's been good to me and I've been good to Lynch and um, I think it is supposed to be a model coal camp. It is said that our old tipple that we used to have was the largest in the world.

SUTTON: Is any part of it standing, the old tipple?

JOHNSON: Part of it uh huh is standing up there.

SUTTON: Is it one that you can see from the road


SUTTON: As you go from here toward Benham or which way?


JOHNSON: Not the shoot across you know its part on the right as you go up the ah yellow brick.

SUTTON: How much of that whole paraphernalia do you call a tipple?

JOHNSON: There's very little of it left


JOHNSON: Where they load the coal

SUTTON: Uh huh. Have they replaced it or they just don't use it or what?

JOHNSON: I think they use part of it.

SUTTON: Uh huh

JOHNSON: to load the coal but I'm not sure. It mostly comes in on a belt.

SUTTON: Right. What about the furniture now that you might have seen in the houses at that time, was it pretty up to date and...?

JOHNSON: Very um hm.

SUTTON: How, how was all that brought into Lynch?

JOHNSON: By the t-on the train. When my brother came to Lynch he had to have a 22:00car. And of course the streets were all paved in the town but his first car had to be shipped in on the train. [clears throat] Then ah the road to Cumberland was sort of a dirt road like holes in it. Sometimes even when I came it took about 30 minutes to get to Cumberland. I used to walk down the railroad track it was.

SUTTON: Probably faster, wasn't it, than driving a team

JOHNSON: [laughing] yes.

SUTTON: Through all those holes and.

JOHNSON: And then the road over the mountain to Virginia was not paved at first, when I came. I've driven over it many times when there was ah, mud up toward the hubcaps.

SUTTON: Now are you talking about toward Pennington Gap?

JOHNSON: No I'm talking about toward Appalachia.

SUTTON: Oh, okay.

JOHNSON: See that's the way we had to go out in order to get into Kentucky. In other words we had to go around to Middlesboro before you got a start.

SUTTON: Things have changed haven't they?

JOHNSON: Things have changed uh huh. Our only swimming pool was in Big Stone Gap and we used to go there swimming. But if the cloud came along it looked as if it would rain we hurried home because the mountain would be muddy and slick.

SUTTON: Well how far away was that?

JOHNSON: Oh about 15 miles maybe less.


SUTTON: Did you ride horseback or?

JOHNSON: Oh no, we had a car. Now people have ridden horseback here, ah, used to be quite a celebration here on the Fourth of July and on Labor Day. There used to be a big amphitheater out her in the ball park and we'd have ah, professionals, I suppose you'd call professionals come in for entertainment. And we'd have bands and everything quite a.

SUTTON: From Tennessee, from Kingsport?

JOHNSON: Well from any, I don't remember where they were from, but it was quite a. It was quite a day on the Fourth of July and ah.

SUTTON: There was street dance?

JOHNSON: Yes we used to have street dances up in front of the store but that's been a long time ago.

SUTTON: Well how were you affected, let's go back for just a minute. During the Depression now teachers did go on being paid but how were you affected otherwise?

JOHNSON: Well the company was very nice to people and the uh store, was called 24:00the United or Union Supply Company, they were very nice. As I say we've had some wonderful people in this town and this company has been extra extra good to people.

SUTTON: I think they must have been

JOHNSON: Oh yes.

SUTTON: Because I haven't heard anybody yet that wasn't just most happy about the whole thing.

JOHNSON: Extra good to people.

SUTTON: Would you ever have considered leaving Lynch, [chuckle] once you became accustom to living here.

JOHNSON: I like it here. The climate is wonderful in the summertime it may get warm in the daytime but at night it's always nice and cool. No, my friends are here. As I was talking to the lady on the telephone, Mrs. Overbeck, I don't have a better friend. And then Dr. and Mrs. Skaggs are here. Now her brother is William Sturgil who is chairman of the board of trustees at the University of Kentucky, you've heard of him?

SUTTON: Oh yes indeed.

JOHNSON: And she's a very good friend of mine. I just have many good friends.


SUTTON: So you wouldn't go back to the [unclear] part of the.

JOHNSON: No our home was sold in Horse Cave two years ago and ah my people are buried. Dr. Payton is buried there; I took him back when he passed away. And I go back you know, I don't have many there left. I'm the youngest of my family. I don't have many left and I do go back occasionally but this is my home.

SUTTON: Right but, let's talk about your brothers and sisters now. Your brother who's the doctor came here first.

JOHNSON: That's right.

SUTTON: Was he the first one to leave home?

JOHNSON: My parents had died and um. My other brother and my sister all I had 26:00one sister, she died when I was nine years old and I had another brother Lewis who when he ga-when he a received his masters in University of Kentucky in engineering ah he went to Missouri, he married there and settled there and passed away in 1964. So I graduated from Georgetown then came on to Lynch because as Dr. Payton said I was too young to stay by myself and there was a job opening here. I'd started out at a home ec teacher in Monterey, Tennessee. But I went done and resigned and came here and liked it ever since.

SUTTON: So there were three of you who survived to grow up?

JOHNSON: That's right.

SUTTON: two brothers.

JOHNSON: No. . . Yeah there were three of us that survived, uh huh.

SUTTON: And both of your brothers are dead now?

JOHNSON: Yes. Ah my other brother who was six years older than I died in 64 and Dr. Payton died in 74.

SUTTON: Um huh. So was Dr. Payton the middle child and you were the youngest?

JOHNSON: No he was the oldest and I was the youngest.


SUTTON: Oh okay, well I'm going to get this all straightened out in a minute [laughing]

JOHNSON: [laughing] that's alright.

SUTTON: So you really don't have much to go back towards Cave for anyway right?

JOHNSON: No I just have I don't have anybody there.

SUTTON: What do you think about just being around where the mountains are?

JOHNSON: I love the mountains. It's a kind of just.

SUTTON: More than just . . . [unclear]

JOHNSON: They're so beautiful.


JOHNSON: Even now when they aren't any leaves there is a little bit of beauty because of the evergreens and of course we've had a pretty hard winter. But if you ever driven down the road and could see all the pretty snow on the mountain, they're just beautiful. There's just a pretty time of the year all the time.

SUTTON: Well now tell me a little bit about the location of Lynch. As I face Virginia am I looking straight at Black Mountain? Is that what you cross to get into Virginia?

JOHNSON: Over east, this is Black Mountain and of course the chain goes down this away.

SUTTON: Is that Pine Mountain?

JOHNSON: Pine Mountain is over this way towards Whitesburg.

SUTTON: Okay so you're between the two actually.

JOHNSON: I suppose.

SUTTON: Black Mountain and Pine Mountain. Ah, is this land pretty fertile down 28:00in here?

JOHNSON: In the depression now, you were speaking of that a few minutes ago, it must have been very fertile because people had gardens everywhere. This mountain over here was cleared halfway up and people grew. There was a family across the street by the name of [Curetedge?], August [Curetedge?], and in his yard there. People had gardens in their yards tomatoes, he had, he had three crops each year [laughing] when one would pull up, like pulling up onions, he'd plant something else. Then it'd harvest he'd plant something else because he knew how to do. He was from Italy and you know every bit of ground there, the land is terraced. He knew how to do it. And now people have gardens over cross the railroad over here,

SUTTON: Um hm. They just get one crop a year out of it do they?

JOHNSON: Yes they just do that now but.

SUTTON: The lands worn a little bit now isn't it, though?

JOHNSON: Well of course they don't have to raise the gardens like they used to. 29:00But during the depression every foot of ground was used [laughing].

SUTTON: How, ah, what's the condition of the mines and the job employment right now here?

JOHNSON: Well its fine, just last week they worked six days.

SUTTON: And that's three shifts a day?

JOHNSON: Yes that's three shifts a day.

SUTTON: So unemployment sort of down at least for the moment?

JOHNSON: Ah, I don't know how many people are hired. Now you'd have to go to the office and ask how many are on the payroll, you know miners. And I don't know how many there used to be.


SUTTON: [mumbling] When you began working here as a English teacher, did you find it a particularly hard job? Particularly since you, were not a native of the area?

JOHNSON: No it was not difficult. I think most o f our students used very good 30:00English. Now they, many of them, as I told you came from parents who spoke other languages. These parents wanted their children to speak good English. I always tried to encourage the children to use good English and if they came from a home where another language was spoken I tried to encourage them to learn that language also. Ah, for example, I had a student whose mother was Hungarian, her father was Italian. She had an opportunity to learn two languages at home besides English but she didn't want to do that she wanted to concentrate on English. Years later when she came back to see me, and many of my students do come back to see me, she said to me I wish I had taken your advice because I could have gotten a job this past summer as an interpreter if I had learned my 31:00languages at home. So as parents wanted the children to do well and they encouraged them to do well and we were fortunate in Lynch to have excellent teachers, and they do speak well.

SUTTON: What about when you went on up to the ranks to superintendent, ah what kind of cooperation did you get from your board of education?

JOHNSON: Excellent, super excellent.

SUTTON: Are any of those people still on the board of education?


SUTTON: Is that right. But you still have a board for the lower grades?

JOHNSON: No it's the county board now.

SUTTON: Did they....

JOHNSON: Last year we did have a school board but ah, we don't have any others. 32:00Let me give you an example of the cooperation of the board. I had a little problem up at school one day, and I always called the board of education, I mean the chairman, or somebody for advice because after all the board of education is an advisory board, they're not supposed to be dictatorial, they are advisory. And so this gentleman told me, he says, ah, Ilene I am here to help you and give you advice anytime. But that school is your business, you run it. [Laughing]

SUTTON: You couldn't have had a better situation.

JOHNSON: I couldn't have had a better situation. I had an excellent board of education.

SUTTON: Did you have a vocational program in the school?

JOHNSON: Yes we had ah, they called it, ah, shop or manual arts. And we had an 33:00excellent band. And our band teacher right now is one of the good teachers in Morton Junior High in Lexington. [Unclear].

SUTTON: What's his name?

JOHNSON: John Coppinger. He called me the other day and wanted me to send him a list of students from the time the student, high school began up through and including 1940 and we are going to have a class reunion if we can. Of all the students that began to go to school in Lynch up to 1940. And he made the remark to me , he says, Well I've made a very good mark for myself here in Lexington and I owe it all, all part of to you, not all to me I don't mean that. I owe part of it to you. But I've had students who come back many many times. Even for a minute he will come back to Lynch without stopping in to see me and I'm real grateful for that.

SUTTON: Well I think it's a mark of real success on the part of the teacher.

JOHNSON: Well I don't know but I have many, I have many friends.

SUTTON: What about the other teachers who taught along with you where did most 34:00of them come from?

JOHNSON: Well some of them, I tell you, I guess I should say most of them were local. Ah, you couldn't get people to come in to our area. Sometimes, you know, so far away, local.

SUTTON: Were most, most of them certified?

JOHNSON: Oh yes.

SUTTON: Um hm. And did they go . . . [unclear].

JOHNSON: If they weren't certified they went back to school because uh, many of ours came from Eastern. And we always felt the graduates from Eastern were good teachers. Uh, uh I visited the campus many times as superintendent to interview teachers. Some of my friends of the state department like Dr. Martin, came to ah, Eastern as president. I always liked him, well I know your president now.

SUTTON: Oh Dr. Powell?


JOHNSON: Oh yes. He used to be in the state department.

SUTTON: And that's where you knew him.

JOHNSON: That's when I knew him, in the state department.

SUTTON: Right.

JOHNSON: See superintendents were called in to Frankfort many times for meetings and ah, one of my very good friends is Louise Combs-

SUTTON: Oh yes.

JOHNSON: From the Department of Certification.

SUTTON: Right. Is she still there? I believe she is.

JOHNSON: She's not in the Department of Certification, but I think she lives in Frankfort.

SUTTON: Because she was there for years and years.

JOHNSON: For years and years uh huh and Dr. Doran who retired from Morehead as superintendent used to be in the Department of Certification also.

SUTTON: Oh I didn't know that. Was he there when Dr. Martin was there?

JOHNSON: [unclear] He, I don't remember. He was there a long time before I came in.


SUTTON: Let's talk about your own school experiences now. What's your first recollection in the public school system at Horse Cave?

JOHNSON: Well I just remember the first day that I went to school. I wore a blue 36:00dress, being a blonde my Mother always dressed me in blue and of course children in those days wore long white stockings, I had on white stockings and white shoes. I was rather timid I suppose but ah that was the day I went to the first grade. They were building a new school in Horse Cave at the time and we didn't stay in that building, but just a little while. And I can remember each child picking up his desk and taking it over to the new building. Ah, our school of course was small, a small town, but uh we walked to school every day and there was no such thing as a lunch program in those days. We took our lunch and we would eat together in the room or in the ah pretty weather we would eat outside. We had basketball courts outside and I loved to play basketball. And I followed 37:00that basketball career to Georgetown and I played basketball in Georgetown, but I was never an excellent player. But my first time to this part of the country was on a basketball trip when we came up here to play Union College and to play Cumberland College. But I graduated from Horse Cave High school later that is, has become Caverna High School and ah I like the name Caverna because we had a cave in the middle of our town, in Horse Cave. That's where our tennis courts used to be, we used to play tennis down there. And ah I graduated from high school and went to Georgetown. Our parents, my father particularly, my mother was a Methodist but my father was a staunch Baptist and he had to have me to go to Georgetown, and I'm not sorry. All of my people graduated from the University 38:00of Kentucky except me. And my father said I was much too young to go to a big school so I went to Georgetown and I'm glad. I'm proud of Georgetown, I'm proud of what it's done. And I support it now, as liberally I suppose as any graduate does.

SUTTON: When you first started to school with that blue dress and those white stockings [laughter - Johnson] what did you find difficult to do in terms of instruction in particular areas?

JOHNSON: I don't know whether I was considered an A student or not, I did very 39:00well, but the classes were small and I can't remember any particularly. We had good teachers and we had a good curriculum. I suppose in some schools [unclear] public school music but we had public school. There was a teacher would go from room to room and teach. We also had what we called in those days elocution teachers. And she would come from room to room. And that is what you would call speech, you know, now. But we were all just one family in a small school and got along just fine.

SUTTON: Were you a good speller?

JOHNSON: One of my friends in Harlan, Gail Larsen, thinks that I'm and excellent speller but in those days we were taught phonics. And I teach my children, or did teach my children to spell by looks and by sound.

SUTTON: So they can spell things that are [unclear].

JOHNSON: So they can spell. And I guess I am a fair speller.

SUTTON: Did you learn to read before you actually started school?

JOHNSON: No I don't think so. I knew my ABC's. But I don't believe I learned to 40:00read before I went to school. [Laughing] If I did I can't remember. But we had what we called primmer and we were in the primer for a little while and of course they called it first grade. But all of us were together.

SUTTON: What about math how did you do in math?

JOHNSON: Well one of the best grades I made in college was in college algebra, but I wouldn't say that I'm such a good math student.

SUTTON: It doesn't interest you as much as the arts and the humanities?

JOHNSON: Oh I like Math but English is my favorite and Literature. It is said 41:00now that teachers in high school teach the subject that they like. For instance a boy was in here the other day and he said ah, my teacher liked Literature therefore we didn't have much grammar. But I correlated it. You know you can teach your English grammar with your Literature by using themes and they learn punctuation in those themes and they learn words, see. And I used to encourage my students to read because in Lynch we had a good library and they read and we learned words there.

SUTTON: Was the school library where all the books uh?

JOHNSON: In Lynch?

SUTTON: Uh huh. Were they all housed there or was there a city library as well?

JOHNSON: No we don't have a city library except in Cumberland.

SUTTON: Um hm.

JOHNSON: But ah.

SUTTON: Well did the towns people were they free to come in to the school to checkout books and that sort of thing?

JOHNSON: I suppose they would have been. I can't remember about it. but ah, I'm quite sure they would, be ah, but.


SUTTON: Miss. Johnson did you have to use stern measures on your student to read or did they like reading on their own and going to the library and checking out books?

JOHNSON: They liked reading on their own and of course I encouraged them because 42:00I liked to read. In one of my courses at Peabody we had to read about 30 books one summer. So I'd pass that knowledge when I had talked to them about what I had read it would be an incentive. And they developed a love for literature and for the arts. But I made so many friends with students, and not realizing. You don't realize in class what you are doing but it's nice when they come back and tell you. Now this excerpt is from a girl who lived next door to school. There were several children in the family; I think four girls and one boy. This girl graduated from high school and went on to Washington and we have ah, been quite good friends and I hear from her occasionally. She travels extensively. We 43:00established when my brother died a scholarship fund called the Payton Johnson Education Fund, and we use that fund ah for scholarships to students from this area. Not just from Lynch but from this area, who want to further their education. This young lady's name was Virginia Allen she is no Mrs. Carl Freeman and she lives in Unity, Maryland and she sent a sizable contribution to the Payton Johnson Education Fund. And this is what she wrote in her letter. "Mrs. Johnson has had a continuing influence on my life. She was not only a fine dedicated teacher but a warm and genuinely loving human being. Her encouragement advice and friendship over the years has greatly affected my life and I shall always be grateful to her. She gave me the hope to be more than I was and in 44:00striving to achieve that goal my life was forever changed. I truly love her; I wish her joy and contentment in all her undertakings. May she live everyday of her life and love every day that she lives. Recently she sent me two art books Adventures in Art that ah, from the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC. She sent them in memory of her brother, who died. There was only one boy. His name was Reginald Allen. And she sent me these two books and I put them in the library but when the school closed I kept them and I'm going to put them in the city library in Cumberland.

SUTTON: Very good. About how many volumes are in that library, have you any 45:00idea, the one in Cumberland?

JOHNSON: No I don't but it's very good and very well managed. There's a Mrs. Evans who is the wife of one of my former students, is the librarian and she does and excellent job.

SUTTON: They circulate a lot of books, however many they have?

JOHNSON: Oh, yes. I don't know how many they have but they have many.

SUTTON: And don't you think that's a good reflection on the community? [unclear]

JOHNSON: It is an excellent reflection on the community and she does very well and she used to come to the garden club meeting occasionally to show slides and she is very cooperative.

SUTTON: This garden club is it here in Lynch or in Cumberland?

JOHNSON: Yes we have a garden club here in Lynch.

SUTTON: What do you do in your garden club?

JOHNSON: I am not a member, I just go as a guest occasionally but Mrs. Overbeck 46:00is a charter member of the garden club and I go with her once in a while. One of the meetings where she showed some slides on birds. They're interested in these ah, garden club members you will notice that have a little bird houses out, you know now, talk about the birds that come to visit.

SUTTON: What birds are in this area that might not be found in other places?

JOHNSON: I don't remember. Ah, Cardinal I think they.

SUTTON: Well he, he's going to be around all over the state probably.

JOHNSON: That's right he's going to be all over the state.

SUTTON: Right. Then when you decided years ago that you wanted to stay in Lynch was this a o-an on the spot decision or did it just sort of sneak up on you?

JOHNSON: It just sort of sneaked up.

SUTTON: And did your getting married in this area have anything to do with that?

JOHNSON: I might have left had I not, I don't know. Uh, Dr. Payton was called back into the service and ah he was stationed uh at Fort Knox. And of course later her went to Japan and one brother was in France, in that area and Dr. Payton was in the west area , Japan, Hawaii, uh [unclear].

SUTTON: And you stayed here by yourself all that time while he was in?


JOHNSON: Yes. We had a hotel here and miner's who were not married lived there. And teachers stayed there. And I lived at the hotel.

SUTTON: I've heard a little bit about the hotel, can you tell me more? It isn't here at all?

JOHNSON: No the clinic is on part of that land where the hotel. Well it was a 48:00massive building, white beautiful building. It had a porch in front of it with big white columns and a nice lobby with winding stairways. You could see up-if you were up on the second or third floor you could see down the lobby, it was beautiful. It had a dining room. In the basement there used to be a beauty shop and a barber shop and a bowling alley and I mentioned one of the teachers who came back to the last day of graduation, when I first came her, her father was a tailor. He was Italian and he had a tailor shop in the basement of the hotel.

SUTTON: And did, were some of the rooms vacant all of the time so that if guest going through could stay all the night?

JOHNSON: Yes they had transient rooms.

SUTTON: Um hm. But the majority were actually rented out?

JOHNSON: Oh yes, on the second floor. The transient rooms usually on the second floor. Then they had an apartment for the people who came in from Pittsburg, from the company. And ah it was very nice.

SUTTON: Well tell me was this where you were living during World War II?


SUTTON: Where did you meet your husband?

JOHNSON: He was here.

SUTTON: Oh he wor...

JOHNSON: He came here in 26.

SUTTON: Oh. And when did you marry then?


SUTTON: Right in the middle of the war?

JOHNSON: That's right. Ah you might be interested in the houses that used to be here.

SUTTON: Oh I would.

JOHNSON: In Lynch. Every house had running water. Every house had electricity, 49:00ah, maybe just a drop, you know light from the ceiling but every house ah . . . as I said had electricity, they didn't all have bathrooms.

SUTTON: Well now was this when you came here in 27?

JOHNSON: Yes. Ah, those, well where I lived when I first came here with Dr, Payton was the house right behind the hotel around the corner a little bit. And many of those houses had central heat. Came from the heating plant. 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 toilets and bathing facilities. Those without such facilities had outside closets equipped with concrete septic tanks. The overflow from these tanks escaped 50:00through sewer pipes to which also the kitchen sinks drained into the main sewers. Their houses were very good, and of course I think, some might disagree with me, that one of the biggest catastrophes that happened her was several years ago when so many of our houses were torn down. I don't know why altogether not to tell, but they were torn down and they shouldn't have bee because so many people would have come in to live. And I think if they had we wouldn't have lost the school. Cause I don't consider the school exactly lost. I've always worked so cooperatively with the Harlan county system, they're nice people. I was no, I don't suppose any better friend I ever had than James Caywood, who was superintendent of Harlan County Schools for years and years and was succeeded by 51:00Mildred Rollin, who is a good friend of mine. And then now ah, Mr. Sailor and Mr. [Stagnoney?], the assistant superintendent are good friends. So I don't feel exactly it's all lost but I did like to have our school here.

SUTTON: What kinds of houses were torn down?

JOHNSON: The kind you see here. Like. . .

SUTTON: Just like these?

JOHNSON: Good houses, just torn down. The houses were built on lots of sufficient size to allow space for lawns and gardens of an ordinary family. Concrete sidewalks extended to the front and rear porch of each house.

SUTTON: That was something for those days for all of them to be that well.

JOHNSON: Oh yes.

SUTTON: Put together and so forth.

JOHNSON: And they um. . . . I just happened to turn to this: In January of 1947 52:00Dr, Payton was named chief surgeon. [laughter]

[tape turned off]