Boothton: Once thriving community

By CATHERINE LEGG / Community Columnist

Boothton, the home of Boothton Coal Mining Company, was one of several coal mining communities in Shelby County during the first half of the last century. Today, if you drive west on County Road 10 for about 12 miles you’ll find no evidence of that once-thriving community.

Like many other coal operations, Boothton closed the mines in the early 1950’s and cleared all of the buildings and houses. Only memories remain – and, maybe in the spring, a few flowers that still faithfully mark old home sites long abandoned.

As in other coal-mining towns, the company owned everything in the town — the mines, houses, offices, stores, school buildings, churches and the community house.

Boothton was almost self-sufficient. Its citizens did not need to leave town for any of their needs. There were few cars, but most things were within walking distance.

There was a post office, store or commissary, meat market, filling station, doctor’s office, barber shop, dry cleaners, school for firs-t through eighth-grades, two churches and recreation in the form of children’s games, front-porch visiting, baseball and swimming.

There was almost a caste system in these mining camps. Houses were rented to the employees of the mine according to their job status. A regular miner had a very humble house, foremen and more skilled workers had better houses and the nicest houses went to the superintendent, office workers, doctor and those with more responsible jobs. There was no running water in most houses, but a well served several houses. Black miners and their families lived in a separate area called No. 1, No. 2 or No. 3 camp.

Families bought most of their groceries and other supplies at the company store.

Sometimes they were paid in “clacker” or “script” that could be redeemed for those purchases. Rent, electricity and health care were deducted from their pay. A doctor was provided by the company to care for the workers and their families.

“In Boothton, $1.50 was deducted each pay period to pay for the doctor’s services and any needed medicines,” Glenice Smitherman of Pea Ridge remembered. “The doctor made house calls and charged extra ($15) for delivering a baby. Sometimes, he would stay with a family for a day or two waiting for the baby to arrive.”

Boothton was like other coal mining towns in many respects, but we folks who spent a happy childhood there agree with Susie DeMent of Pea Ridge who said “Boothton was a really special place because the company’s owner, George Peter, cared for the families and did so many things for the community.”

Catherine Legg can be reached at mailto:clegg2@bellsouth.net.