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Building on History


Over 35 tons of natural Tennessee flagstone and 25 tons of hand-hewed stack stone were used by Minks Landscape Contractors to build a new pool deck, fireplace, bar, patios, sidewalks and water features in historic Catlettsburg, Kentucky. The landscape enhancements also include 100-year-old bricks, foundation stones from a schoolhouse constructed during the Great Depression, and 24 tons of natural boulders.


Concrete sidewalks in front of the house were also replaced with mortared flagstone. For a contrast of texture and color, Ohio River stone was alternated with pine bark nuggets as mulch. The water jar is a plumbed, pondless fountain that sits on a pea gravel pit.

First settled at the end of the 1700s, Catlettsburg, Kentucky, near that state's border with Ohio and West Virginia, certainly has witnessed changes to its landscape as it transitioned from what once was a major hardwood timber producing area.

About 170 miles down the road is London, Kentucky, home to Minks Landscape Contractors, which has had its share of change since its inception three and half decades ago, and recently crafted a major transformation of a residential landscape in Catlettsburg.

The company's roots go back to Mink's Nursery, which was founded in 1942 and then bought by the father of the present owner, David Samples, in 1981. Landscape maintenance became part of the services offered, which led to small landscape construction projects. Sub-contractors were brought in for any concrete work but finding one that did it satisfactorily was a challenge so Samples learned the trade.

Homegrown Education
His next new skill was constructing water features with biological systems such as fish gardens. One was a sizable project that included a pond and a stream with a waterfall. A month later the customer requested a pool.

Having no experience building pools, Samples was hesitant but accepted when he was told he could hire a subcontractor and just oversee the project. After interviewing pool contractors, one was selected and the work began. But another change was coming for Minks.

"We ended up having to finish the pool because the builder didn't work out," Samples says. "And that catapulted us into the pool business."


The Rumford Fireplace
In the late 1700s, Benjamin Thompson, also known as Count Rumford, studied and wrote about the nature of heat. This led to the discovery, among others, of a more efficient fireplace design: tall and shallow with angled side walls in the firebox to reflect more heat, and a streamlined throat that allowed less heated room air to escape. After researching these fireplaces, the owner of Minks Landscape Contractors, David Samples, built one for the homeowners in this article of a mixture of 3"-4" and 6"-8" pieces of the hand-hewed stone.


The shade structure features a tongue and groove wood ceiling. Black granite was used for the bar top and countertop. The exterior wall was built of brick with 2 false windows to match the house.


Large foundation stones from an old schoolhouse built by the Works Projects Administration (WPA), the Depression-era program that hired millions of unemployed people to construct public structures, were used as pillars for the water features. Each has a 5' sheer descent waterfall bar. The project also included four propane fire pits.


The proposed site of the shade structure was in the middle of an 18' slope from the backyard to a horse pasture below. To create an area for the structure that was at grade with the backyard, three 6'-tall, tiered retaining walls were constructed. The chunks of concrete that had been removed from the old decking, patio and sidewalks were hammered into smaller pieces and used, along with clean 57 gravel, for fill behind the walls.

Close to the Hearth
The history of the Samples' ownership of Minks has been a family affair. Passed down from their dad, David and his brother Mike each own a separate part of the company, and now their wives and sons, Tammy and Joshua, and Vicky and Jonathan respectively, work with them.

About 50 percent of the work is pools and their surrounding hardscapes. The company handles everything in-house except for electrical and gas.

For the Catlettsburg project, a pool was involved but only minimally. The bulk of the work was building up an area 18-feet-high with retaining walls so a new covered outdoor kitchen would be level with the pool, removing and replacing the existing pool coping and decking, constructing the outdoor kitchen with a fireplace and bar, and enhancing the rest of the landscape immediately surrounding the house on this property of around 70 acres.

The homeowners wanted to keep the pool but Minks Landscape ultimately upgraded it by replacing the plumbing, adding two steps, lights and a new liner. Besides the pool, a dilapidated gazebo with a hot tub greeted Samples when he first arrived. Noting the arches incorporated in the architecture of the home, his design for the renovation continued this theme in the shade structure, fireplace and two custom, stacked stone water features.

For the build-up, four retaining walls in all were constructed - three tiered, six-foot-high walls running parallel to the side of the house, and one parallel to the back of the house. They were made from broken face modular block - not glamorous but since they can only be seen from down in the surrounding pasture, the owner opted for them to save on costs.

Old Time Character
A historical perspective resonates in this project. Samples wanted the fireplace to be built in the "Rumford" style, which was popular, for the amount of heat it gave off, from the turn of the 19th century until the introduction of the potbelly stove. The fireplace is based on the findings of Count Rumford, Benjamin Thompson, who wrote about the advantages of fireboxes with shallow, angled sides to reflect heat, and streamlined throats that allow less heated room air to escape.

"I interviewed some people who built fireplaces, but they didn't really have the passion for it, and wanted to build a typical fireplace," says Samples. "So I went to the library and started studying up on it."

He then built his first fireplace ever, which just happened to be a Rumford.

Other nods to the past include 100-year-old bricks from an old jailhouse in London (Kentucky), which were used as a contrast to the flagstone.

"You can still see a thumbprint on one side and four fingerprints on the other from being handled when they were still warm," Samples reports.

Large foundation stones from a schoolhouse built by the Great Depression-era Works Projects Administration (WPA) serve as the water features' pillars. And set throughout the landscape are boulders that had been weathering in the fields of Tennessee for hundreds of years.

But in a modern twist for a project with such a strong connection to times gone by, the homeowners can use an iPhone with the Intellitouch app to turn on and regulate the pool's heater, filter and lights, landscape lights, fire pits and water features, even find out what the pool's water temperature and salt content are.

The past and present converge.

As seen in LC/DBM magazine, August 2016.

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May 19, 2019, 8:30 am PDT

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