Harkins Family papers


Walter S. Harkins, Sr. (1857-1920) was a lawyer and entrepreneur active during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in Floyd County, Kentucky. By the 1920s his sons, Walter S. Harkins, Jr. (1898-1936) and Joseph Davidson Harkins were practicing in the Harkins law firm and also participating in the development of coal and gas in eastern Kentucky. Materials primarily include business papers, including a large amount of the correspondence and case files relating to legal cases handled by the Harkins and Harkins law firm.

Descriptive Summary

Harkins Family papers
1860-1954 (inclusive)
14 Cubic Feet
Mineral rights -- Kentucky -- Floyd County -- History.
Law reports, digests, etc. -- Kentucky.
Mining leases -- Kentucky -- Floyd County -- History.
Practice of law -- Kentucky.
Bankers -- Kentucky.
Banks and banking -- Kentucky -- Prestonsburg.
Coal trade -- Kentucky -- Floyd County -- History.
Lawyers -- Kentucky.
Organized into the following series: Personal (1876-1953, undated), Business (1860-1954, undated), Topical Files, Legal Cases, and Photographs.
Finding Aid Author
Processed by Archives staff.; machine-readable finding aid created by Beth Eifler
Preferred Citation
[Identification of item], Harkins Family papers, 1860-1954, 63M46, Special Collections and Digital Programs, University of Kentucky Libraries, Lexington
University of Kentucky

Collection Overview

Biography / History
Walter S. Harkins, Sr. (1857-1920) was a lawyer and entrepreneur from Floyd County, Kentucky. Harkins was married to Josephine Davidson and inherited significant portions of land through the estate of her father, Joseph M. Davidson, an influential member of eastern Kentucky society. Prior to 1889, Harkins' law business was primarily devoted to the recovery of debts on the behalf of wholesalers and collection agencies based out of regional cities such as Cincinnati and Portsmouth, Ohio, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Baltimore, Maryland. Harkins worked to recover these debts from merchants and private citizens in eastern Kentucky and ultimately used the information gained from this business to acquire land and mineral rights in the region and to promote eastern Kentucky as a location for investment to industrialists, real estate agents, and fellow entrepreneurs throughout the United States and Europe. With the extension of railroads into eastern Kentucky during the 1890s and early twentieth century, Harkins' legal practice shifted toward the representation of companies devoted to the development and extraction of eastern Kentucky's natural resources (coal, oil, natural gas, and timber). Harkins did much to facilitate the economic and social transformation in the region by consolidating landholdings for the purpose of attracting investors and by representing outside companies in numerous legal disputes with eastern Kentuckians over who would control development in the region and how it would occur.
By the 1920s his sons, Walter S. Harkins, Jr. (1898-1936) and Joseph Davidson Harkins (1884-1954) were practicing in the Harkins law firm and also participating in the development of coal and gas in eastern Kentucky. Walter Jr. died in 1936 at age 38, but Joseph's sons Walter S. (Scott) III and Joseph D. Jr. were still practicing law at the time of their father's death in 1954.
Scope and Content
These are primarily the business papers of the Harkins family of eastern Kentucky, though some personal papers are also included. Much of the correspondence relates to legal cases handled by the Harkins and Harkins law firm, as well as a substantial number of case files containing letters and carbons of transcripts and other court documents. There are also letters dealing with the family's other business interests, including the development of the Big Sandy River Valley. Personal papers include family correspondence, clippings, certificates, and photographs.

Restrictions on Access and Use

Conditions Governing Access
Collection is open for research.
Use Restrictions
Copyright has not been assigned to the University of Kentucky.

Contents of the Collection


Scope and Contents note

The Harkins family personal papers are predominantly composed of receipts and invoices related to W.S. Harkins' purchase of household items, including clothing, jewelry, furniture, groceries, books, and office supplies. The receipts and invoices also give indication of Harkins' extensive law library, his rising financial status and place within eastern Kentucky society, and his reputation as a shrewd, and active, consumer. In addition there are letters from suppliers to Harkins containing advertisements or samples of products which they hope will interest him. There is personal correspondence from family, friends, and fellow professionals, including a few letters addressed to Harkins' wife Josephine and other members of the Harkins family. Also included are payrolls, receipts, and correspondence pertaining to the building of Harkins' new house around the year 1905 in Prestonsburg (Floyd County), Kentucky.

Papers dealing with Harkins' involvement in civic organizations and political matters were removed from this section and placed with material on his business dealings and to illustrate the interconnected nature in which these forces functioned in his life during this period. Papers concerning Harkins' personal banking activity, particularly with Catlettsburg National Bank, were also kept in the "business" category because they are more pertinent to Harkins' paying of others' debts rather than his personal finances.


Walter S. Harkins

Certificates of appointment to Notary Public and Delegate in Kentucky, 1884-1889

  • Box 1, folder 1
To top

Estate Papers, 1919-1928

  • Box 1, folder 2
Scope and Contents note

[These papers outline the financial account and land and mineral ownership of Walter S. Harkins. They show receipts and disbursements of his estate and the accounting of land tracts. Included are papers related to the various oil, gas, and mineral leases that Walter S. Harkins owned, often showing from whom and where they were bought. The papers also outline the history of various land tracts and how they came to be in the Walter S. Harkins estate.]

To top

Josephine D. Harkins

Dedications to Josephine D. Harkins, 1941-1946

  • Box 1, folder 3
Scope and Contents note

[including one from the Bank Josephine, founded by the Harkins family, which outlines a short biography of Josephine and the Harkins family.]

To top

Joseph D. Harkins

Judge appointment certificates, state bar association materials, address given before the Indiana Bar Association, picture, obituary, and ledger labelled "coal book", 1907-1954

  • Box 1, folder 4
To top

Walter S. Harkins Jr.

Army papers and obituary, 1936, undated

  • Box 1, folder 5
To top

Walter S. Harkins III (Scott Harkins)

Military papers, 1946-1948

  • Box 1, folder 6
To top

Harkins Family

Genealogy, family cemetery blueprint, miscellaneous short story and newspaper clippings, undated

  • Box 1, folder 7
To top


Scope and Contents note

Most of the personal correspondence is between family members, but also includes letters to friends and business acquaintances.


  • Box 1, folder 8
To top


  • Box 1, folder 9
To top


  • Box 1, folder 10
To top


  • Box 1, folder 11
To top

1887 May-December

  • Box 1, folder 12
To top

1888 January-June

  • Box 1, folder 13
To top

1888 July-December

  • Box 2, folder 1
To top


  • Box 2, folder 2
To top


  • Box 2, folder 3
To top


  • Box 2, folder 4
To top


  • Box 2, folder 5
To top


  • Box 2, folder 6
To top


  • Box 2, folder 7
To top



Scope and Contents note

Arranged chronologically, these files include bills, invoices, business agreements, land leases, deeds, and surveys of land in the Kentucky counties of Floyd, Magoffin, Knott, Martin, Letcher, and Pike.

Papers dating from 1860 through March 1889 deal primarily with the Harkins law firm and its representation of wholesalers and collection agencies in their collecting of debts in eastern Kentucky. Letters from these businesses concern the status of claims; inquire about the financial standings of individuals; and respond to settlement offers from Harkins on behalf of debtors.

Papers from 1889 onward display a shift away from Harkins' business in claiming debts to a more intense focus on land dealings and representation of the mining, railway, oil, and natural gas companies beginning to do business in eastern Kentucky.

Much of the correspondence concerns the payment of fees and debts, as well as disputes over amounts owed. There are also letters discussing the prospect of railroads coming into eastern Kentucky and its importance in the development of the mining industry in that area. Moreover, letters also reveal disputes between citizens of eastern Kentucky and the various railroad, timber, oil, and mining companies doing business in the region over such things as destruction of property, failure to deliver merchandise, contested land titles, violation of agreements, and citizens' refusals to sell or leave land coveted by companies.

The business correspondence provides an indication of Harkins's growing influence within the community. The files contain letters from friends or acquaintances asking for assistance in finding employment, requests for him to use his political capital to repair local roads and bridges, and documents which demonstrate his active involvement in the Masonic Lodge and Mutual Benefit Association. In addition, there are numerous letters from politicians seeking his backing.



  • Box 3, folder 1
To top


  • Box 3, folder 2
To top


  • Box 3, folder 3
To top

1883 January-June

  • Box 3, folder 4
To top

1883 July-December

  • Box 3, folder 5
To top

1884 January-June

  • Box 3, folder 6
To top

1884 July-December

  • Box 3, folder 7
To top

1885 January-July

  • Box 3, folder 8
To top

1885 August-December

  • Box 3, folder 9
To top


January-February 1886

  • Box 4, folder 1
To top

March-April 1886

  • Box 4, folder 2
To top

May-June 1886

  • Box 4, folder 3
To top

July-August 1886

  • Box 4, folder 4
To top

September-December 1886

  • Box 4, folder 5
To top

January-February 1887

  • Box 4, folder 6
To top

March-April 1887

  • Box 4, folder 7
To top

May-June 1887

  • Box 4, folder 8
To top


July-August 1887

  • Box 5, folder 1
To top

September-November 15, 1887

  • Box 5, folder 2
To top

November 16-December 1887

  • Box 5, folder 3
To top

January-February 15, 1888

  • Box 5, folder 4
To top

February 16-March 1888

  • Box 5, folder 5
To top

April-May 15, 1888

  • Box 5, folder 6
To top

May 16-June 1888

  • Box 5, folder 7
To top

July-August 15, 1888

  • Box 5, folder 8
To top


August 16-September 1888

  • Box 6, folder 1
To top

October-November 15, 1888

  • Box 6, folder 2
To top

November 16-December 15, 1888

  • Box 6, folder 3
To top

December 16, 1888-January 15, 1889

  • Box 6, folder 4
To top

January 16-February 1889

  • Box 6, folder 5