Are you interested in teaching your children about life’s priorities while exploring local history? If so, spend an afternoon visiting graves of Anderson County miners who wrote farewell messages after mine explosions trapped them underground. These testaments, written by men taking their last breaths, provide a unique perspective on what is important in life.
The subject of each message is the same....God and family. You or your children may want to read each farewell message aloud, over the grave of the miner who wrote it.
Briceville Elementary School students reading the farewell message of Powell Harmon over his grave in Longfield Cemetery
A suggested itinerary for visiting these cemeteries, and selected farewell messages, include:
Coal mine explosions in the early 1900's at Fraterville and Briceville killed nearly 300 men and boys in the Coal Creek watershed of Anderson and Campbell Counties. The youngest victim was 12 years old. Most died instantly, but some lived up to two days before suffocating. Twelve left poignant farewell messages, written while awaiting death.
Cemeteries where these miners are buried are marked with “Coal Creek Mine Disaster Burial Site” signs. A self-guided tour begins at Longfield Cemetery, located on the north side of Norris Freeway, 0.3 miles east of I-75 exit 128 in Lake City. Continue the tour by turning right onto Norris Freeway from Longfield Cemetery, proceeding to the first stoplight, and turning left onto Highway 25W. Turn right at the next stoplight onto Highway 116 and proceed 4 miles to Briceville Cemetery, passing the town of Fraterville on the way.
From Briceville Cemetery, return to the intersection of Highways 25W and 116, turn right, and proceed 0.8 miles on Highway 25W to Old Lake City Highway. Turn right on Old Lake City Highway and drive 4.5 miles to Pleasant Hill Cemetery.
From Pleasant Hill Cemetery, return to the intersection of Old Lake City Highway and Highway 25W. Turn right on Highway 25W, drive 0.8 miles to New Clear Branch Road, and turn left. Follow the signs to Leach Cemetery at Clear Branch Baptist Church.
More details about these men and boys can be found on the Internet at www.coalcreekaml.com.
Longfield Baptist Church Cemetery
Jacob Vowell shares a common headstone with his son, Harvey Elbert Vowell, who was 14 when he died with his father in the Fraterville Mine. They are buried next to the headstone of Edward Vowell, another son of Jacob who died as an infant. Before suffocating, Jacob wrote: “The bad air is closing in on us fast. Dear Ellen, I leave you in bad condition, but set your trust in the Lord to help you raise my little children. Little Elbert said he had trusted in the Lord and said for you all to meet him in heaven. Bury me and Elbert in the same grave by little Eddie. Goodbye Ellen, Lillie, Minnie, Jimmie, Horace. Oh God, for one more breath. Ellen, remember me as long as you live. Goodbye darling.”
Powell Harmon is buried next to his son, William Condy Harmon, in Longfield Cemetery. Before he suffocated in the Fraterville Mine, Powell wrote: “Dear wife and children, my time has come to die. I trust in Jesus. Teach the children to believe in Jesus. We are all almost smothered. I hope to meet you all in heaven. May God bless you all wife and children for Jesus sake goodbye until we meet to part no more. My boys, never work in the coal mines. Henry and Condy be good boys and stay with your mother and trust for Jesus sake.” Condy did not follow his father’s advice. He died nine years later in a mine explosion in Briceville. In the early 1900's, coal mining was one of few jobs available in the Briceville/Fraterville/Lake City area. Today, a good education provides students with unlimited opportunities for professions.
Briceville Church Cemetery
Briceville Church was built in 1896 by Welsh immigrant miners. Eugene Ault is buried at the rear of Briceville Cemetery near a large beech tree. Before suffocating in the Cross Mountain (Briceville) Mine with Condy Harmon, Eugene wrote: “Dear father, mother, brothers, and sisters, I guess I come to die. Air is not much now. Well, all be good and I aim to pray to God to save me and all of you. I guess I'll never be with you any more, so goodbye. Give Bessie Robbins a stickpin of mine. Tell her goodbye.” The names of all 84 miners who perished in the December 9, 1911 mine explosion in Briceville are included on a monument in New Circle Cemetery, which is 0.5 miles south of Briceville Cemetery off Highway 116 on Circle Cemetery Road.
Pleasant Hill Baptist Church Cemetery
John Hendren is buried near the center of the cemetery at a large headstone. Before he suffocated in the Fraterville Mine, John wrote a lengthy message that is engraved on his headstone.
Leach Cemetery at Clear Branch Baptist Church
James Elliott is buried near the end of the one-way cemetery road loop. Before suffocating in the Fraterville Mine, James wrote a farewell message that is engraved on his headstone. The large monument at the rear of Leach Cemetery contains the names of 184 miners killed in the May 19, 1902 Fraterville Mine disaster. An unrecorded number of transient miners killed at Fraterville, whose names are unknown, are buried near the abandoned mine in Fraterville Itinerant Cemetery.
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