History of the Codells

1899 – 1948

James C. Codell was born March 16, 1885 as Pasquale Codella in a small Italian village.  At the age of 14 he immigrated to the United State, alone, with little money.  As an Italian immigrant J.C. took what work he could find. He earned his first American dollar as a water boy.  J.C then moved into the mosaic trade laying terrazzo tile for $3.00 a day.

Although J.C had little formal education, he understood its importance.   In his late teens, while working in the mosaic trade provided for a high rate of pay, he recognized that the majority of his co-workers were Italian.  Through self-instruction J.C. began to overcome the language barrier.  He then traded in his job in the mosaic trade for a railroad job which paid half as much – $1.50 for a ten hour day.  J.C.’s reasoning for this move was because it provided him with a better opportunity to learn the “new” language.

Within a year of working, J.C. had become foreman of his crew and prior to the end of his next project he had become Superintendent. In 1906, when J.C. was only 21 years old he completed a quarry-stripping contract on his own and came out with a profit of $3,000.00. Shortly after, the old Mason & Hanger Company sublet J.C. his first railroad contract dated February 25, 1908, a two-mile stretch on the Winding Gulf Branch of the Virginian Railroad in West Virginia. J.C. began this project with five mules, a dump cart for each, and seven wheelbarrows. When the project had ended J.C. had profits of $4,500.00 and 12 additional mules.  After 15 months of hard work J.C.’s next contract, a six mile gap in Breathitt County, Kentucky gave him a profit of $6,000.00 and 64 mules. Contracts continued to produce profits, in the form of cash, mules, and equipment. By 1914 J.C had established a permanent headquarters in Winchester, Kentucky and J.C. was bidding on contracts in his own name.  Through J.C.’s hard work and determination, Codell continued to grow. During his 34 years in Winchester, the name J.C. Codell became a synonym for achievement. In 1948 J.C. Codell passed away, leaving behind his wife and five children. From an Italian immigrant with just a few dollars to his name, J.C. Codell had amassed 1,400 acre farm and a profitable business which was passed on to his family.


In 1949 James C. Codell II took the reins of the business. Like all of J.C.’s sons, James was brought into the company at an early age and worked his way up.  James was born and raised into the family business and was well suited for the position. Within the first few years of taking over the business, James Codell Jr. had quadrupled business. Within 10 years Codell had grown large enough to include a staff of 60 employees and an annual payroll that reached upwards of 800 workers, at that time, becoming one of the largest earth-moving contractors in the state of Kentucky. Between 1947 and 1958 Codell built more than 660 miles of railroads and several hundreds of miles of highways in addition to various other projects.

The years continued to produce  growth for the company. In fact, the business had gotten so big that they purchased two planes and constructed their own runway on the family farm which could also be used by public. This allowed for expedited travel to job sites as required, or delivery of parts to limit shutdown times. (A favored means of transportation to James II. Pictured at left, the company Aero Commander nicknamed the “Scat Cat”)

Under the direction of James C. II the company took on some of its largest projects including two national record-breaking projects; the $150 million dollar Orville Dam project (which was the largest non-defense contract let by the United States Government at that time), the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, and the $59.1 million dollar Pikeville Cut-Through in Pike County, Kentucky.  Throughout the years Codell Construction continued to uphold the same family values and strong work ethic insisted upon by its founder.

Like his father, James met his wife while working on a railroad project. The couple went on to have four children, a daughter – Alice, and three boys – James C. III, Hagan, and David. The three boys went on to work in the family business. James continued to stay active in the business as the company continued to grow. Over time James C. II slowly transitioned out of the business to make way for a new generation to take over.

1985 – 2005

Up until the 1980’s Codell remained primarily a mass earth-moving and rock excavating contractor. During the late 1980’s and into the 1990’s contracts for new roads were growing sparse and the earth work grew increasingly competitive. Markups began to dwindle. Under new leadership, the Company changed it direction and headed into the field of construction management.  James C. III had worked his way up to Executive Vice President and served until 1995.  Jimmy left the Company to serve as the Secretary of the State Transportation Cabinet. Hagan also left during this time for a career in banking. In 1995 David Codell took over the role of president serving until 2005.

2005 – Current

In 2005 James C. Codell IV (Jim), the great-grandson of J.C. stepped into the role of president for Codell Construction.  Under Jim’s oversight Codell has continued to provide construction management services for public, municipal and private entities completing a large variety of project types. In 2018 Codell celebrated its 110th year of providing quality services to its customers. Please contact us for more information on how we can help you successfully complete your project!