Magic City Liner Notes

The settlement of Bell County Kentucky’s Yellow Creek was established by John Turner in 1810. Growth was limited until engineer and entrepreneur Alexander Arthur began investigating iron ore deposits in 1886. He was born in Scotland, raised in Canada, and had most recently been running a massive lumber operation in Newport, Tennessee which failed due to a massive flooding of the Pigeon River, breaking the log booms, and losing their profits to the currents. This time, Arthur was promoting a possible “Pittsburg of the South” to wealthy backers. In England, he found the funding to start the “Magic City” which was formerly named Middlesborough after the existing English town (shortened to Middlesboro in 1894). The American Association was formed with a 20 million dollar investment and the purchase of 100,000 acres in the Yellow Creek Valley area. The city was laid out in a grid fashion, with wide streets and railroads. Large, upscale hotels and bars were established, and thousands of workers poured in due to the promise of growth, work and prosperity. Middlesboro was suddenly a “boom town”.

The song “Magic City” is about that time in Middlesboro and depicts three kinds of people that would have been found there in the late 1800s. Verse one depicts a laborer in the iron ore mines, which proved to be a lower quality mineral and less in quantity than Arthur hoped. Verse two speaks of a shop owner attempting to prosper from servicing the growing community. Verse three is about the dark element of the population at the time, when properties were reportedly flipping at astronomical rates and some people were taking full advantage. Much of Arthur’s promotions of The Magic City seemed to be a “slight of hand”.

Middlesboro had an extremely massive and damaging fire in 1890, and the financial crisis of 1893 dried up the incoming funds. Since then, the city has had ups and downs and has become a retail center for the tri-state region with numerous industries, restaurants and hotels. It is the only city to have been built “down in a hole” in a meteor crater.

Additionally, during that boom time, it is believed that the first published ragtime song was composed there by Ben Harney. Our “Magic City” song was written in that format, with some regional touches that we are calling “Ragabilly”.