When thinking about Kentucky, Hungarian immigrants are probably not the first thing to enter your mind. In the early twentieth century, a Hungarian immigrant settled in rural Kentucky and established an influential coal town that greatly benefitted the area.
Backstory and Context
Himlerville, Kentucky came into being with the establishment of the Himler Coal Company in 1919 by Martin Himler. Mr. Himler came from Hungary and settled in the Appalachian coalfields. He contacted other Hungarians to participate in a dream of establishing an all-Hungarian community. Soon afterwards, Himlerville became a colony of immigrants who were craftsmen, industrious, and hard working. Over 200 houses and town buildings were constructed to support the mining town.
With the opening of Himler Coal Mine, a railroad was built and a bridge over the Tug River was constructed. Shortly afterwards, a powerhouse was built to furnish electricity and a bank was organized to accommodate mining interests for miners. The town also had a water reservoir and a large town hall used for community activities. A newspaper was published in both English and Hungarian to suit the needs of locals as well as immigrants. With his strict code of conduct, Himler’s paternal attitude toward his employees and the town’s establishments made Himlerville a great place for family living (Torok, A Guide to Historical Coal Towns, 176).
Perhaps the most striking feature of Himlerville was the beautiful home of Martin Himler, which sat atop a hill overlooking the town. With its imposing columnns and homely veranda, the two-story building was magnificent in every way. Similar in construction to a barn, the unique style of the house comes from two forms of architecture: Dutch Colonial and Craftsman. The roof has a gambrel roof, but no flaring eaves (a Dutch Colonial distinction). Instead, the eaves resemble a Bungalow or Craftsman style of architecture. This type of architecture can be categorized by overhanging eaves, double-hung windows, and a front porch beneath the extension of the main roof. Located on Mansion Hill, Himler’s estate captured attentions and commanded a strong presence over the town and its inhabitants.
In 1928 Himlerville Coal Co. went bankrupt and, later in the same year, the town suffered from a drastic flash flood. After these events, Martin Himler left the country while most of the miners and their families left during the Depression and never returned. The name of the town was later changed to Beauty, but remnants of the Hungarian community still remain: several miners’ houses line the main street, the old Martin-Himler State Bank stands next to the creek, and the old Hungarian cemetery for miners rests on a hill across from the town. Today the Himler Mansion is in desperate need of refurbishing. Currently the Martin County Historical Society is in the planning stages of renovating the once-majestic Himler household and Kentucky Educational Television is planning a documentary about the once booming coal town.