Please welcome guest author Cathy Cassady Corbin. Corbin is the editor and agent for Martin Himler’s autobiography which will be published in 2015. Corbin also is a member of the Martin County, KY Historical and Genealogical Society and of the Society’s Himler Project Committee.
Martin Himler is known internationally for his 1919 founding of the Himler Coal Company, a coal company owned by Hungarian miners and structured on a unique co-operative business model that allowed the miners to be stockholders of the company and own their homes in the town of Himlerville (now Beauty), KY. The Hungarian immigrant coal mining entrepreneur arrived in America via the SS Carpathia on May 7, 1907, with 9¢ in his pocket and two goals in his mind. Mr. Himler was only eighteen years old when he stepped onto American soil, but he already knew that he wanted to fulfill his goals of making a living in America’s free enterprise system and serving America to the best of his capabilities.
Mr. Himler’s first job in America was working as a coal miner in Thacker Mines, Thacker, WV. He also worked in the Iselin, PA coal mines. Mr. Himler later worked as a peddler to coal mining towns, and his entrepreneurial spirit further led him to begin his journalism career with the publication of Magyar Banyaszlap, Hungarian Miners’ Journal, a weekly newspaper published, as Mr. Himler said, “for miners by miners”.
Many Hungarian immigrants worked in American coal mines, and Mr. Himler saw a need for these miners to receive news from both America and Hungary, along with information about job openings and American citizenship. Mr. Himler penned the first issue of Magyar Banyaszlap while he was waiting for his peddling customers at a Holden,WV mine. Magyar Banyaszlap was self-supporting within five months and soon had a following of 60,000 miners. Some of the issues of Magyar Banyaszlap were published in both Hungarian and English, and the success of Magyar Banyaszlap inspired Mr. Himler’s life-long career in journalism.
The residents of Himlerville were primarily Hungarian immigrants who came to America to live and work. By 1922, there were 100 miners’ homes in Himlerville, and 1,000 Himlerville residents. Mr. Himler’s home and the home of Eugene Lang, Treasurer and Secretary of Himler Coal Company, were located in the town of Himlerville, and the town also is reported to have contained a company store, a theatre/opera house, a school, the Himler State Bank, St. Stephen’s Catholic Church, an ice cream parlor, a bakery, a powerhouse, a round house for locomotive maintenance, a building for community gatherings, the Himler Coal Company and Magyar Banyaszlap Office, and a community park in the middle of town. The Himlerville community had its own culture, its own way of life and prosperity, and according to the July 28, 1976, edition of The Martin Countian , “… the people who were a part of Himlerville surely have a lot to be proud of. Himlerville will go down in Martin County history as a strong force in helping shape the county’s future.”
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 columns 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 (another 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. 2
The beautiful and welcoming home of Martin Himler was a center of social activity in Himlerville. Miners gathered at the home in the evenings, guests from throughout America were hosted at the home, and community dinners and activities often were centered in Mr. Himler’s home. One of the Himlerville residents, a young Hungarian woman named Mary Domosley Koblass, shared her memories of Mr. Himler’s home in the July 28, 1976, edition of The Martin Countian.
Mary began her description of a banquet held at the Himler home to honor a Martin County physician, Dr. Stepp, by saying that guests arriving at Mr. Himler’s home had to climb over one hundred concrete steps to reach the home. Mary explained that the steps had a double purpose of both stimulating guests’ appetites AND loosening the accumulated mud on guests’ shoes. The dinner guests arriving to honor Dr. Stepp were greeted on the front porch by Mr. Himler and his nephew, Mr. Andrew Fisher.
The guests included coal buyers and journalists; even the famous New York Hungarian journalist and screen writer Illona Fulop was a guest. Guests cleaned their shoes, then were led to either the large combination sun parlor and library where a fireplace was heaped with Himlerville coal on cool evenings, or to the more luxurious parlor known as the Blue Room. Mary said that the conversation at the dinner table was focused on only pleasant and humorous topics; shop talk was purposely avoided.
When the delicious feast in honor of Dr. Stepp had ended, Dr. Stepp was driven to his home at Kermit, WV, via a Model T Ford. Mary further explained that the overnight guests were shown to their upstairs bedrooms, each room with a private lavatory, and Mr. Fisher bid everyone a pleasant good night and God’s blessing. Mary’s words to summarize her memories of life at Mr. Himler’s home are: “Such was the social life in the Himler residence. I am sure that any guest that was fortunate enough to be invited there treasured the occasion for a lifetime!”
Many Martin Countians remember the story which says that Mr. Himler took the money from Himlerville and escaped with the money into the darkness of a June, 1928, night, never to be seen or heard from again. However, the story is only a story. The Martin County, Kentucky Historical and Genealogical Society wishes to dispel this myth. Facts are that Himlerville went into receivership with a Cincinnati Bank in 1925 as a result of three factors: the unexpected expense of the Himler Coal Company Railroad Bridge, the one- inch seam of slate that was found in the Himlerville coal and that soon became a nine- foot seam of slate, and the decreased demand for coal following World War I. Himlerville Coal Company filed for bankruptcy because the company could not produce and sell enough coal to keep the company financially stable. All of the Himlerville Coal Company stockholders lost money, but Mr. Himler lost the most because he owned more shares of the company than other stockholders.
The Hungarians had hopes of opening another mine at Himlerville, but Nature intervened. Himlerville almost was washed away by the raging waters of Buck Creek on June 28,1928, and Mr. Himler said that he considered the flood to be a sign from God that the prosperous Himler Coal Company days were finished. The flood’s devastation sent most of the Hungarians to work in mines in WV.
The judge at the Himlerville bankruptcy hearing declared that the bankruptcy was the “cleanest” bankruptcy that he had seen, and the $1, 250,000.00 of Himler Coal Company assets were sold for $50,000.00. When Mr. Himler left Himlerville, he went to the Mayo Clinic to seek treatment for a lesion in his mouth that was thought to be malignant. Mr. Himler had $4.00 when he arrived at Mayo Clinic from Himlerville, and he had to contact friends and relatives to ask for financial support.
Martin Himler’s work in America was far from finished when the prosperous and happy Himlerville community came to an end. Mr. Himler continued his journalism career, and he fulfilled his goal to serve America when he became Colonel Martin Himler, Office of Strategic Services (now CIA), United States of America. Mr. Himler served America and the world when he became the interrogator of Nazi war criminals in Europe and decided the fate of the criminals whom Mr. Himler referred to as “the cringing beasts before me”.
The Martin County, Kentucky Historical and Genealogical Society initiated the Himler Project in June, 2014, with the mission of restoring and preserving an Appalachian historic site important not only to Appalachian history, but to American and world history as well. The Society needs the creative ideas, the volunteer help, and the financial help of Appalachian History readers to ensure the success of the Himler Project!
The Martin County, Kentucky Historical and Genealogical Society believes that a restoration of Mr. Himler’s home is imperative to preserve the Hungarian immigrant culture of Himlerville and Appalachia, and the Society’s vision for the restored home is to maintain the home as a center for Hungarian immigrant culture and coal mining history. The restoration of Mr. Himler’s home and the preservation of the remaining Himlerville structures and the Himlerville Cemetery may lead to the designation of Mr. Himler’s home as a national landmark. The Society doesn’t want to miss the historic and economic opportunity to have a national landmark in eastern Kentucky.
The Society is grateful to Dave Tabler for sharing information about the Himler Project with all of you, and more Himler Project information will be coming when a restoration contractor has been selected and a restoration fundraising goal has been set. If you have ideas for the Himler Project or would like to volunteer to help with the Project, please contact Tom and Cathy Corbin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Himler Project needs the support of all of us living in Appalachia and of everyone who loves Appalachian history. Please visit the Save The Himler House Facebook Page, the @himlerhouse Twitter Page, and The Himler Project website. The Himler Project is looking forward to hearing from Appalachian History readers!
1 Hungarians Successfully Conduct Co-operative Mine in Kentucky, by J.R. Haworth, Coal Age, Vol. 20, No. 11, September 15, 1921, p. 413.
2 Martin County Historical and Genealogical Society. A Pictorial History of Martin County, Kentucky. Paducah, KY: Turner Publishing Company, 2001.comments