The rails and rivers of Catlettsburg
CATLETTSBURG -- The small Eastern Kentucky community of Catlettsburg has been through a number of changes over the years.
The population boomed in Catlettsburg as a result of the timber industry and its close proximity to the Big Sandy and Ohio rivers. But as river transportation gave way to railroad and automobile transportation, the booming town of Catlettsburg settled down to what it is today -- a close-knit community.
Frank Branham, a local Catlettsburg historian, provided the following information on the history of the town:
Catlettsburg, the seat of Boyd County, is located at the confluence of the Ohio and Big Sandy rivers. The town was named after the Catlett family, land owners who settled in the area in 1808.
The settlement was incorporated as a city in 1848. The Catlett name still appears on a water tributary to the Ohio River, Catlett's Creek.
The Civil War
While Guyandotte residents in West Virginia were split in terms of support for the Union or Confederate armies, Branham said Catlettsburg stood firmly behind the Union Army. Though no major battles took place inside town limits, Branham said minor skirmishes took place around the town.
Men from Catlettsburg made up part of the 14th Kentucky Infantry Regiment. The regiment came under the control of Col. James A. Garfield, who later became the 20th president, to keep advancing Confederate troops out of eastern Kentucky in 1861. According to Branham, troops in the regiment consisted of men from Greenup, Lawrence and Boyd counties.
Branham said soldiers from Catlettsburg fought with the regiment to the end of the war in 1865. The regiment fought in a number of battles including the Battle of Middle Creek on Jan. 10, 1862, and the Battle at Foster's Farm on June 2, 1864.
The highest profile battle the regiment fought in, Branham said, was the Battle of Atlanta on July 22, 1962. In the Union victory, the Confederates suffered 8,499 causalities and the Union suffered 3,641.
The timber business and the rivers
Millions of dollars worth of timber were transported down the Big Sandy River, a tributary of the Ohio River, and the Ohio River through Catlettsburg to Ashland by timber rafts. Branham said a number of saw mills and timber yards collected the timber, processed it and made it ready for consumers.
Branham said transporting timber by way of the river was popular from the mid-1800s through the 1920s. The 1930s, however, marked the last time timber rafts were used on the river.
More than 100 steamboats, he said, worked out of Catlettsburg over the years. Aside from moving goods and natural resources through the area, steamboats also carried passengers before railroad transportation became readily available.
Many of the town's residents had jobs that revolved around river transportation and commerce. Boats, he said, were designed to travel through the Big Sandy in very low waters. But when waters became too low to travel by industrial steam boats, Branham said Catlettsburg residents worked on boats traveling on the Ohio River.
While Collis P. Huntington was constructing railroad lines for the city that would later bear his name, Branham said Catlettsburg did not receive a railroad line until about 1880. The line ran from Huntington to Catlettsburg, and is now owned and operated by CSX Transportation.
The 1937 flood caused millions of dollars of damage for towns along the Ohio River and its tributaries. In 1954, Catlettsburg decided to build a floodwall to ensure the safety of its residents.
Since its completion in 1959, Branham said the floodwall has held back the river's raging waters that would've severely damaged Catlettsburg's residential property.
Branham also noted the importance of the flood control reserves located all along the river. The combination of the reserves and the floodwall, Branham said, has helped preserve the town's structural integrity.
Catlettsburg Refining LLC
Marathon's Catlettsburg refinery is located in northeastern Kentucky on the western bank of the Big Sandy River. According to Marathon Oil's Web site, it was purchased in 1924 by Swiss Oil Corporation, then parent company of Ashland Inc. The refinery was partially built to assist the World War II effort. It sits on a 650-acre site, has a capacity of 226,000 barrels per calendar day and is staffed by more than 800 employees.
Producing nearly two percent of the gasoline made in the United States, the refinery processes both sweet and sour crude oils that are supplied primarily by pipeline. The Catlettsburg refinery is a major producer of asphalt, diesel, jet fuel, petrochemicals, propane and lube oils.
Population (2000): 1,960
Median household income (2005): $24,000
Median house/condo value (2005): $39,900
Racial Mix: White Non-Hispanic 98.1 percent and 1.1 percent black
Ancestries: United States 13.8 percent, Irish 13.4 percent, English 9.2 percent, German 5.3 percent, Dutch 2 percent and Italian 1.8 percent.
Leading employment industries: Males, construction, 14 percent. Females, food and beverage stores, 14 percent.
Mayor: James Allen Lambert
Council Members: Tim Thompson, Randall Peterman, Phillip Caldwell, David Marushi, Julius Young and Charles Caperton.