Friday, March 9, 2012

A Ghost Town in the Southwest Corner of Maryland

 Brad Corbin and the southwest corner boundary marker in Kempton, Maryland

The western boundary of Maryland --The Deakins Line -- and the southern boundary of Maryland -- The Potomac River -- meet in the former coal company town of Kempton, Maryland.

The charter of Maryland specified the south bank of the Potomac River as the southern boundary of Maryland, and a meridian line north from the head spring of the Potomac as the western boundary of Maryland. This somewhat decayed concrete marker is on the south bank of the the Potomac due north of the Fairfax Stone as the river turns eastward.  The situation is shown on this excerpt from a 1967 topographic map. I've marked the southwest corner of Maryland in red.

The Potomac at Kempton is a creek, not the trickle we find at the Fairfax Stone.

Concrete marker "No. 1" was placed here in 1910 as part of the Supreme Court decision that finally established the Deakin's line as the western boundary of Maryland. This drawing from Charles Morrison shows the marker seen from the north across the stream.

This 2001 snapshot shows the marker in the weeds on the south bank of the stream in a western Maryland snowstorm.

This recent photo shows the the southeast side marked  "W. VA" and the northeast side marked  "1910 MD."

The northwest side says "W. VA" and the southwest side, "No 1 W. VA."

I was led to the marker by Brad Corbin over a cold muddy wetland and through rhododendron thickets. He lamented the cutting of trees and the water pollution that plagues the area but shared a irrepressible pride in the history of his town.

Kempton today is a ghost town, a few old houses along an isolated road. When the coal mine closed in 1950, Kempton closed up with it. But in its time, Kempton was a model coal town. The Garrett County Historical Society's book, Ghost Towns of the Upper Potomac, describes the old Kempton this way:
Founded in 1913 by the Davis Coal & Coke Company, a strip of land 3/4 of a mile long and several hundred feet wide was cleared for the construction of company houses, four to six rooms each with a front yard and a garden in the back. In 1915, J. Weimer became the first school teacher at $40 a month with 53 pupils. The company store was located on the West Virginia side along with the Opera House that contained the lunchroom, bowling alley, pool table, dancing floor, auditorium, and the post office.
This 1917 photo, looking west across the town, shows the neat company houses arrayed along the two streets.

Kempton mine, # 42, consisted of three 420 foot shafts into the Upper Freeport coal vein. One was a "man-shaft," one a coal shaft, and one was used for ventilation. The water that had to be pumped from the mine was dumped directly into the stream. Brad Corbin regrets the loss of native trout due to the resulting water pollution.

The company store, Buxton and Landstreet, was located on the West Virginia side of the border. Mr. Corbin says that was because company stores were not allowed in Maryland -- Maryland outlawed company stores in 1868.

Miners could get cash advances in company scrip, called "chinky tink" by the miners, tin coins with a K stamped into them that could be used at the company store. This photo of Kempton company scrip comes from Gilbert Gude's book Where the Potomac Begins.

Carl E. Feather somewhat dramatically links the fate of the company scrip to the fate of Kempton.
AT MIDNIGHT APRIL 15, 1950, the Buxton & Landstreet Company store and the Davis Coal & Coke Company's Mine Forty-two at Kempton, Maryland, ceased operations. Kempton was mortally wounded that night and died forty-two days later when its economic lifeblood, the company scrip now worthless was collected and tossed down the 480-foot mineshaft. Black earth was bulldozed over the opening and the town dump erected above it as a tombstone. The token profits reaped by the company store were returned to their source.
These ruins are all that's left of the Buxton and Landstreet company store today.

A red brick building at the turn of the road on the West Virginia side was a storage building for Buxton and Landstreet and a carpenter shop for the Kempton Mine; mules were kept in the back. This building belongs to Mr. Corbin now. He says it has no value but he wouldn't take a fortune for it. The tin sign in this photo marks the Maryland West Virginia Boundary.

A few of the company houses still line Kempton Road. This one, south of the road, backs onto the Potomac, and Fairfax Hill rises behind.

A yellow cat watches from the window.

The house that Brad Corbin and his sister live in was the mine superintendent's house.

Brad Corbin was born in Kempton in 1932. His father worked the coal mine.  Mr. Corbin left Kempton after service in the Korean War and worked for Sears and Roebuck in Cincinnati Ohio. He returned to Kempton in retirement. Bradley Corbin's parents were Claude and Gladys Davis Corbin who are well treated in Gude's book. Brad is unofficially "The Mayor of Kempton."


  1. Allen,
    Thanks for the posting. The picture and descriptions sound like you had a fascinating time exploring the area. I've taken the family to visit Kitzmiller. With your description, Kempton may be our next advanture in old coal towns of MD.
    John P.

    1. I was wondering, my cousin married into a Kitzmiller family, is the one you speak of a town or the actual family? I grew up spending every summer in Kempton, it was a wonderful place for kids to run, play and explore. Sadly my cousins could not wait to leave it as they found it boring. Funny how when we age we long for such a simple life. SMILE.... I just wanted to say that, thanks. Nancy

  2. Thank you for this great posting. My husband's grandparents were Czech immigrants and due to the various misspelling of the name, their history has been extremely difficult to trace. Just today I found them in Kempton from 1918 - sometime before 1934. I am thrilled to find this info on Kempton and can't wait to share it with my father-in-law. Lynn C.

    1. I was wondering what your husband's grandparents last name was as my great grandfather Perchan was also a Czech immigrant. My grandfather was Dragovich, and he was Slovak. Hope to hear from you.

  3. Interesting. I've been on the same road (out of curiousity one day). Kempton would be considered Maryland's westernmost community if it is still considered one. How is mail addressed to residents on Kempton Rd? Is it considered Oakland jurisdiction? Otherwise I suppose the westernmost distinction would go to Red House, MD.

  4. My grandmother, Dewey Upole was born in Kempton in 1897. She told me her mother took in boarders; miners in the coal mines. She said the day shift slept nights and the night shift slept days. I was too young to ask her if they had clean sheets each stay. I would doubt that it was something that was done doing those days.

  5. Thank you for publishing this little bit of history so that it doesn't get lost. I had relatives that lived in Kempton in the 20s as well.

  6. I have a piece of scrip that says" the Buxton & Landstreet Co.,store # 3 1 cent with a B stamped into it. Where might this have been?

    1. I don't know. Maybe another reader could help us with this one.

  7. Do you have a list of folks who lived in the Kempton from 1920-1940's?

  8. Thank you for this.

    Do you have a list of the families that lived in Kemptom from 1920-1940's? A town map for say of the families locations?

  9. Hi Allen! I am researching the company store at Kempton. Some of the pictures on this page did not load. Could I get in touch with you to try to get a copy? Also, if Brad Corbin is amenable, perhaps you could provide contact information. Thanks!

  10. My mother and her sister were hired as school teachers in Kempton in the early 20's, They found a place to stay, boarding with a gentleman. Their first night there, they were "welcomed" to town with a fiery cross in the front yard. Their Irish last name labeled them as Catholic. Their landlord was pretty sure who was responsible and told them not to worry.
    After a couple of years, my mother returned home to Indiana, and another sister took her place. Her sisters stayed a couple years more. When they left, the community was sad to see them go.
    Despite the scary start, my mother had fond memories of the time she spent there. She told about the time a mining official secretly took her and her sister into the mine, women in the mine being a big no-no. She bought a piano for entertainment. I learned to play on it; a friend still has it. When I was quite young, we stopped there on our way back from Washington, DC, apparently not long before the mine closed.

    1. Hello Mary, I check this page a few times a year to see if there are any new comments. My grandparents were born and raised in Kempton in the 1920's so it seems your family must have taught them. How special and thank you for sharing.

  11. Thank you for this blog on Kempton and its "mayor" Brad Corbin. Brad is my great uncle. My grandfather, Cleadus Corbin, took us to Kempton often to visit. At least every few weeks. We loved it there and having this on record is special. Thank you!

  12. William Barnes (the Clark's grandson)May 20, 2017 at 10:03 AM

    My grandparents Elmer/Martha lived in Kempton. My grandpa Clark worked the coal mine up until it closed.They bought one of the coal mining homes from coal company.They raised ten children in Kempton. My mom/dad would take us down there every summer to visit. I remember the Corbin's, the Hilton's, just to name a few town folk. We would play on the coal slate piles, go fishing, walk up the road to Fairfax Stone, go berry/apple picking, go swimming in a old cory up the road that was back in the woods. And every year the town folk had a Kempton reunion. We met everyone's family and the new ones that where born later in Kempton or out of state.