Hemphill Community Center was originally formed in 1968 and was then housed in the back of the Old Hemphill Fountain which was one of the original Elkhorn Coal Corporation buildings. The organization was founded by James Johnson and Mella Anderson of Hemphill who worked tirelessly to establish a park and horse riding show grounds. After a few years the Community Center disbanded and dissolved. Where the Community Center is now housed was formerly the Hemphill Grade School building where three generations of students attended school between 1944 and 1990. The school closed in 1990 and left a community without a gathering space. Beginning in 1997, the community worked with the Letcher County Fiscal Court and the Letcher County School Board to use the vacant run down building as a community gathering space.
Hemphill Community Center is now a gathering place for families, friends, and neighbors. A place where mountain traditions such as quilt making, traditional music, and hospitality abound. A place to host reunions, parties, receptions, and community events. Located on KY Hwy 317 just north of Neon, KY on the Coal Miner's Highway, it is also home of the Letcher County Coal Miners Monument and the Hemphill Catering Company.
Weekly music, dance, and food takes place every Friday evening at the Friday Nite Pickin’ music event. Other activities include survival skill training, instruction in shape note singing, quilting, cooking, woodworking, beekeeping, canning and preserving food, and traditional music, etc.
History of Hemphill
Hemphill has deep roots to music in the past and present day. There is a sound that has been termed “that Hemphill sound” by some. Doc Boggs, early pioneer recording artist/songwriter, lived here for 3 years and worked in the coal mines in Hemphill. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dock_Boggs)
Martha Carson, early singer/ songwriter/Nashville recording artist was raised in Goose Creek with is less than one mile from our grounds. She toured with such music greats as Ferlin Husky, Jimmy Dickens, Moon Mullican, and Elvis Presley. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martha_Carso)
To illustrate how strongly music was and is revered in the community there was once a murder in the coal camp which took place. A miner had borrowed a Tixie Smith 78 rpm record which had to be played in a crank style phonograph. Community lore holds that the coal miner who owned the record shot and killed the borrower upon finding the record had been broken. We don’t know for sure but we think this is probably the song. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=avzi-os7Az4)
We celebrate these traditions at Hemphill Community center and strive to hold them close. We gather to sing on the 4th Sunday of each month from 2:00-5:00 PM. According to who shows up to sing you could hear some of both of these awesome vocal traditions.
In the early days of mining in The Eastern KY Coal fields conditions were dangerous and safety was an issue. Men from countries around the globe converged on the mining communities intent on building a new life for them and their families. Mable Johnson, describes her family coming across the mountain to live in the camp. When she was age ten her father had decided to leave his farming occupation and become a coal miner. She describes it as “Coming to the Promise Land.” It was a “Pie in the Sky” occupation promoted to mountaineers in the area.
The coal camps such as Hemphill were melting pots of cultural diversity. They were also places of wide class disparities. There was a caste system in place that kept folks in their place.
1) The superintendent was at the top of the community system
2) The bosses
3) The section forman
4) The miners
5) Providers of services to the company
UMWA was not segregated and racism was not an issue in Hemphill.