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The Joseph D. Harkins House, built circa 1924, is a striking, masterful, and rare example of Spanish Eclectic Revival architecture in rural Floyd County. Harkins was the son of coal magnate, banker, and lawyer Walter Harkins, and he joined his father’s law firm in 1906. The Harkins family is a prime example of what has been called the Appalachian “county seat elite.” The house was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1989 for its significant architecture and its connection to the Harkins dynasty.

Joseph D. Harkins House

Joseph D. Harkins House

Harkins Law Office

Harkins Law Office

Walter S. Harkins was one of the first men to invest in coal mining operations in eastern Kentucky. He amassed a large fortune, which he grew by opening a law office and founding The Bank Josephine, which he named after his wife. Walter Harkins’s son, Joseph D. Harkins, Sr., joined the family law firm after passing the bar in 1906. They constructed an imposing Neoclassical sandstone building for their firm in 1914; it has been called, “a primary landmark of Prestonsburg… [that] provides a marked contrast to the downtown buildings that surround it.”[8] It sat directly adjacent to Walter Harkins’ mansion, a beautiful Victorian dwelling similarly described as “the city’s grandest residence.”[8] (This mansion was demolished in the 1960s.)

It was in this architectural tradition that Joseph Harkins built a house for his family. He was given a parcel of family-owned land in 1923 and his house was most likely completed the following year. It was constructed in the Spanish Eclectic Revival style, which is a mix of Spanish, South American, and Mediterranean elements that became popular around 1915. Spanish Revival architecture is concentrated across the southwest and in Florida; however, the rural Appalachian Harkins house exemplifies this style with its stucco walls, red tile low-pitched roof, recessed and arched windows and doors, wrought iron railing and details, and decorative tile. It has been called a “stylish,” “fine,” and “distinguished” example of a Spanish Revival house, and it stands out from its surroundings in a fashion similar to the Walter Harkins mansion and the Harkins Law Office.[9]

The Harkins family—with its interests in coal, banking, and law, and penchant for extravagant architecture—seems to exemplify the trend of the “county seat elite” in Appalachia. Richard B. Drake, one of the founders of the Appalachian Studies Association, writes in The History of Appalachia that, “…every county has a county-seat elite who seem to control the county’s major institutions—its banks, principal stores, the courthouse, and the schools.”[3] Pierce Greenberg expounds on “the concentration of local economic opportunity in county seat cities” in his article “Spatial Inequality and Uneven Development: The Local Stratification of Poverty in Appalachia” in the Journal of Appalachian Studies: he reports that “scholars have long documented important distinctions between elite ‘town folk’ in county seats and poor rural residents in outlying areas of a county” and that “Appalachian residents referred to a distinct class of ‘county seat folks,’ who were lawyers, doctors, and teachers.”[5] Prestonsburg is the county seat of Floyd County and has long been an eastern Kentucky hub. Its economic development since the Civil War has been led by coal and timber industrialists, perhaps none more prominently than Walter Harkins and his descendants. The Joseph Harkins house, a rare architectural gem in a rural area, stands as a monument to their prosperity, influence, and taste.

1) Brother, Janie-Rice. Harkins Law Office, Prestonsburg, Floyd County, Kentucky, Gardens to Gables. June 22nd 2018. Accessed March 25th 2020.

2) Craven, Jackie. Spanish Style Homes in the New World, ThoughtCo. July 9th 2019. Accessed March 25th 2020.

3) Drake, Richard B.. A History of Appalachia. Lexington, KY. University Press of Kentucky, 2003. Google Books. Accessed March 26th, 2020.

4) Explore Floyd County, Kentucky, Kentucky History. Accessed March 25th 2020.

5) Greenberg, Pierce. Spatial Inequality and Uneven Development: The Local Stratification of Poverty in Appalachia. Journal of Appalachian studies, vol. 22, no. 2, pp. 187 - 209. Published Fall 2016. EBSCOhost. Accessed March 26th 2020.

6) Spanish Colonial Revival; Architectural Styles in Fullerton; Gallery, Fullerton Heritage. Accessed March 25th 2020.

7) Spanish Colonial Revival Style 1915-1940; Late 19th & Early 20th Century Revival Period 1880 - 1940; Architectural Styles Categories; Architectural Styles, Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission: Pennsylvania Architectural Field Guide. Accessed March 26th 2020.

8) Warminski, Margaret. Harkins Law Office Building, National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, Kentucky Heritage Council/State Historic Preservation Office. Accessed March 26th 2020.

9) Warminski, Margaret. Joseph D. Harkins House, National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, Kentucky Heritage Council/State Historic Preservation Office. Accessed March 26th 2020.

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Wikipedia - Public Domain (

Wikipedia - Public Domain (