The Story of Benham
In the July 1944 issue of Benham,the International Harvester publication, a resident writes that "Benham lives-in the hearts of many people far and wide." Stories related by the early European settlers identify Bonham's namesake as Ben Ham, a hermit who came to Benham when it was known as Big Hollow. He planted apple seedlings, beneath which he is buried. When Ben Ham's apple trees blossomed, they produced the finest apples. These apples and the town were thus named Benham.
It is interesting to note that the September 1944 issue includes "The True Story of the Naming of Benham." It states that such stories hinge on old-timers legends, while the actual history of Benham is truly interwoven with the history of International Harvester.
On July 23, 1911, after the town was built, the Yowell Post office, (established in 1900) was renamed Benham. Deemed "a more appropriate name" for the growing town, Benham was the name for the mountain spur which guarded the community. Another source cites this long ridge as named for John Benham, a hunter and possible Civil War deserter who moved to a hunting camp on the Benham Spurin search of the last of the Eastern Woodlands Buffalo. At that time, buffalo hunting, marked a ritual of personal triumph. The animal's extinction was seen as a watershed of "social progress."
Designed and built as a company coal town, Benham began with plans to build 408 ovens to coke coal for the giant furnaces at South Chicago Steel Works. In 1911,the first load of coal was shipped out of the L & N Railroad depot at Benham. A self-contained company town, Benham was a close-knit community, which resembled an extended family.
The town was built as a circle, around which were situated the mine offices, company store, hospital, theater, clubhouse, school, church and bandstand. These facilities provided the high quality school teachers, clergy, medical staff, consumer products, entertainment and recreation. Families worked, played, worshiped, and went to school together. Quiet rows of neatly painted houses and manicured lawns obscured pay differences.
Today, the depot is no longer there, but along with the coal miners' monument wall, the CSX caboose situated in the Coal Miner's Memorial ParkPark symbolizes the town's coal mining past, and represents the community revitalization while preserving its heritage. With its hard work, a Number 2 coal shovel, and a wheel barrow, the Benham Garden Club kindled this process by transforming the "valley of the drums" junkyard into Coal Miners' Memorial Park.
Benham's first water supply still flows through its original hand cut stone spring. To visit Bonham's past, visit the Kentucky Coal Mining Museum. To see its present and future, take a tour of Benham and witness the active process of community-initiated change.