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Three general areas have been defined for Eastern Kentucky: the Pottsville escarpment on the west, which separates the region from the Pennyroyal and Bluegrass Cultural Landscapes; the west-central plateau east of the escarpment which supports some livestock farming; and the mountainous eastern area under which vast coal reserves rest (Karan and Mather, 110-114). Middlesboro is an exceptional case, a city covering a broad basin that stretches four miles east-west and three miles north-south, surrounded by mountains rising more than 1000 feet above the town.
The general settlement patterns and town types that arose in eastern Kentucky were responsive to this topographic condition.
Travel routes, settlement patterns, and industrial production all defer to the contours of the landscape more so than in other portions of the state.
Much of the essence of eastern Kentucky coal towns derives from the physical condition into which they are placed.
The layers of minerals underlying the surface have provided inhabitants of Eastern Kentucky with abundant building materials, the foundation for marginal agriculture, and rich mineable resources.
Lower to Middle Pennsylvanian-age sandstones vastly predominate the underground rock strata, with occurrences of shale's and conglomerates much less often (see Map #, Generalized Geological Map, 1979).
Stone served the needs of many builders for foundations, chimneys, and for landscaping even though it saw limited use in wall construction.
Because of its many potential uses both inside and outside of dwelling construction, stone production is discussed at length here.
These natural conditions made company towns a logical response to resource extraction.The placement of and distance between buildings did and does reflect social factors (Martin: ) but still must make sense according to physical and spatial pressures.The need of a company town, that is, the housing of many people in a restricted location, often conflicted with the possibilities of terrain.A survey of the state's quarries in the 1920s revealed that eastern Kentucky possessed 30% of the state's counties and 20.9% of the state's quarries (Richardson: 107).This compares with the Bluegrass area which consisted of a comparable portion of counties but held 56.8% of the state's quarries (Richardson: 201).