Planners and architects of International Harvester’s Wisconsin Steel Company of Chicago, IL. laid out the community of Benham in 1909 when they purchased several thousand acres. The land was virtually a wilderness covered by virgin timbers with coal beneath the surface. Their plan was to mine the coal and move it to their steel mill in Chicago. By the first world war and thereafter, around a thousand miners would be employed in Benham to meet the industries demands. They designed a central park area which was to be surrounded by the company stores, schools, medical facilities, and churches. The L&N Railroad expanded rail service from Loyall, Ky. into Benham in 1911. Most of the company buildings were located facing both the main highway on one side with access to the railroad at the rear. In 1961, International Harvester transferred Benham to the people who resided there at the time allowing it to become incorporated as the City of Benham.
The school was built in 1926 to house K-12 students until 1992. The teachers’ salaries were supplemented by International Harvester so they were able to attract the best possible educators. After 1961, the school continued, but only to K-8 students until its complete closing in 1992. Once it closed, construction began to renovate the school into the Inn that it is known for today, opening in 1994. The Inn’s on-site restaurant, The Dinner Bucket, is located in the area that was formerly the principal’s office, secretary’s office, as well as the nurse’s office and teacher’s lounge. The current kitchen is where the Home Economics classroom was and later became the kitchen for the cafeteria. Up the front stairs, there is a small sitting room with a large chandelier that has been there as long as anyone can remember. The room was used for art because it has good lighting. On the second floor there were additional classrooms and the school’s library. Many of the rooms have the original hardwood floors and the hallways have the original terrazzo floor. Located near the rear stairs on the first floor was the kindergarten classroom that is now a conference room, administration office, and more guest rooms. The lockers still line the hallways on both floors, some of which you can still open and find love notes and stickers left behind from former students. Students from long ago recall having to line up with their classmates and take a spoonful of cod-liver oil almost every day to keep their body healthy. The school’s gymnasium holds rich history for the Benham Tigers, where even donkey basketball was sometimes a main attraction for the community. The gymnasium now serves as the Inn’s Banquet Hall, which is one of the best event venues in the region featuring state of art sound and lighting. The Benham Schoolhouse Inn has seen multiple owners and operators through the years since opening in 1994 as a business. The Inn was set to close in June, 2016 until being saved by the current administration, Appalachian Hospitality Group, LLC and its President, Mr. C. Travis Warf. Mr. Warf has taken a hands on approach to seeing the Inn succeed for years to come and can be seen at the Inn almost every day.
International Harvester authorized the building of the church in 1911. When it was first established it was the first white Protestant Church and was non denominational. The church was originally built on the site where the School is now at a cost of $5,286.40. Mine employees were accessed $1.00 per month from their paycheck to sustain the church. In the early 1920’s, the need for a school arose with the growing population so the church and it’s graveyard were moved in 1926 to make way for the Benham School. The graveyard was moved to the West End of Benham and the church to the side of the schoolhouse where it is today. When the church was being relocated to make room for the school, the workers were to “mound” up the foundation to make the steeple sit higher than the roofline of the school once it was completed. The officers of the company said that God stands above education and all else and wanted the church steeple to be the tallest structure in downtown Benham. When it was moved, the church was remodeled and expanded. Members bought the stained glass windows and had them installed. A pipe organ with pipes up to 10 feet tall was also installed. It was replaced by an electric organ in 1962 when parts for the pipe organ were no longer available. Until the 1960’s most of the pastors were furnished by the YMCA. In the early 1960’s it became a full fledged Methodist Church. In 1961 the church and the pastor’s residence was deeded to the trustees of the Benham Community Church by International Harvester for $1.00 each. The Church is still beautiful and functioning today, serenading the community several times each week with the electronic speaker in the steeple. The Inn’s guest are always welcome to their church services each Sunday at 10:00am.