Ashland, Kentucky — originally named Poage Settlement but renamed “Ashland” in 1854 in honor of Henry Clay’s home — was a thriving spot of business activity when Ed Haley settled there after the Great War. It was an “iron and steel town” free of labor troubles with untapped natural resources situated at the intersection of the National Dixie Highway and the Midland Trail and accessed by at least five railroads. Its primary business was the Open Hearth Furnace Company, which according to a 1917 business directory, was the “largest in the world.” It also had the largest fire brick plant and the largest tannery and leather company in the world. By 1920, its population was 15,000 — almost twice what it had been in 1910.
In 1923, the American Rolling Mill Company (later Armco Steel Corporation) located in the western section of Ashland and constructed the world’s first continuous sheet mill. This new technology was revolutionary: it created thousands of jobs and improved the quality of sheet metal while also reducing its cost so that average Americans could afford refrigerators and other modern conveniences. Shortly thereafter, in what one local history referred to as “the greatest single event in Ashland’s history,” American Rolling Mill Company acquired Ashland Steel Company and the Norton Iron Works. In 1924, Ashland Oil & Refining Company was formed, helping to fuel an economic and population explosion, and the Sanitary Milk Company built a new plant at 34th and Winchester. The following year, Ashland Culvert Works located in town and the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway built a new passenger station. At that time, the population was estimated at 29,000.
During the early twenties, Ed and Ella Haley lived at “Frogtown” in West Ashland, a somewhat low-income area near the Armco plant. In 1920, Ed’s oldest son, Sherman Luther Haley, was born on March 17. He died, according to Kentucky death records, on April 5, not quite one month old. In the census for that year, Ed was listed as a thirty-five-year-old married musician. Ella was listed as thirty years old. Her son Ralph was not listed in census records with them, indicating that he was perhaps with the Trumbos in Morehead. In a 1924 business directory, Ed’s address was given as 618 ½ West Greenup Avenue. Today, this spot is at a floodwall near the city mall and a music store-turned-Chinese restaurant.
In those days, Ashland was not just an industrial site — it also favored the arts and recreation. The eastern edge of town offered a fifty-acre amusement park with a concert hall and dancing pavilion, as well as boating and swimming facilities. There was a YMCA and five theatres and “moving picture houses”, as well as a racetrack and a yearly agricultural fair. Its local high school, the Ashland Tomcats, was the national basketball champion in 1928, having edged Canton, Illinois, 15-10. Ashland seems to have retained its zest for the arts. Today it offers a beautiful park in the center of town, a community college, the Paramount Arts Center, a library, and a museum.