HISTORY OF THE COAL CREEK WATERSHED

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Copyrightę Coal Creek Watershed Foundation, Inc. 2000 through 2013
CELEBRATING OUR 13th YEAR!!
 

COAL CREEK MOTOR DISCOVERY TRAIL
GUIDE BOOKLET

Link to Map of Motor Trail
This trail is our dream for the future, not all sites are ready to be visited.  For a tour of what is available at this time, see Self-Guided Tour page.

Coal Creek War and Mining Disasters

After the Civil War, prisons in the South overflowed. Southern states enacted the "convict lease system" which turned prisoners from liabilities into assets by leasing them to work in mines, plantations, and railroads.  There were only three ways out of the convict labor system: escape, self-mutilation, or death. By the 1880's, business owners and politicians started using convict laborers to replace striking mine workers to crush labor unrest. Prison and labor reform movements of the time saw no end in sight for this cruel institution. 

Then, free miners from Coal Creek found a solution by going to war with the State of Tennessee from 1891 to 1892. Tennessee ended its convict lease system and the rest of the South soon followed suit. Many of the miners who survived the Coal Creek War, died in mine disasters at the Fraterville Mine in 1902 and the Cross Mountain Mine in 1911. These disasters, which killed 268 men and boys in Coal Creek, helped raise public awareness of the dangers of mining. Safety reforms, brought about in response to these disasters and others, have helped save thousands of lives in mines throughout this country.

Relive the history and explore the scenic mountains and streams of Coal Creek by traveling the new Motor Discovery Trail. The trail is free, provided by efforts of the Boy Scouts of America, the American Society of Civil Engineers, Trout Unlimited, the Coal Creek Watershed Foundation, local residents, and students. This trail is dedicated to those miners who lived and died in Coal Creek to improve the quality of life today. 

Boston group tours Coal Creek

A: Fraterville Miners' Circle in Leach Cemetery. Eighty-nine of the 184 miners who perished in the Fraterville Mine Disaster of 1902 are buried in concentric circles around an obelisk in view of Vowell Mountain to the west.  Link for cemetery activities and historic cemeteries.  It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2005.
B: Shoot-Out at Coal Creek Train Depot. After a strike by miners in Fraterville, mine owners recruited replacement workers from St. Louis and other locations to move to Coal Creek. Firecrackers set off by a group of boys started a shoot-out that ended with nine men wounded and four dead in 1904.

C: The Wye. Walden Ridge marks the eastern extent of coal-bearing formations in the Coal Creek watershed. Coal has been mined on a continuous basis from the watershed for about 150 years.

 

D: Fort Anderson on Militia Hill. Free miners started the Coal Creek War in 1891 to abolish the convict labor system. The State militia was sent in to build Fort Anderson on Militia Hill to restore order. After numerous battles where convicts, guards, and militia were captured and released, Governor Buck Buchanan sent in sufficient militia with heavy artillery and Gatling guns to end the conflict in 1892.   More info on Militia Hill and Convict Miners.

Photo of cannon on Militia Hill
during Coal Creek War

E: Mountain View Church. Overlook of Rainbow Bluff Hollow and Fraterville.


Free miners waiting at Thistle Switch
near Fraterville for the arrival of
Governor Buchanan on July 16, 1891

F: Thistle Switch. During the Coal Creek War, six hundred free miners met with Governor Buck Buchanan to negotiate a settlement. Nothing was decided and the Governor sent in additional militia. Colonel Granville Sevier, grandson of Tennessee's first Governor, and his men were captured by two thousand miners and put on a train back to Knoxville.
G: Fraterville Mine Disaster of 1902. The Fraterville Mine opened in 1870. On May 19, 1902, an explosion killed 184 men and boys working in the mine. The Fraterville Mine Disaster remains the seventh-worst in the history of mining in the United States and the worst in the South. Powell Harmon left a farewell message telling his sons Henry and Condy never to work in the coal mines. Nine years later, Condy Harmon died in the Cross Mountain Mine Disaster.


Rescue parties went through the
Thistle Mine portal to access the
Fraterville Mine after the
explosion on May 19, 1902

H: Thistle Mine. The first fatal mine explosion in Tennessee occurred here in January 1891.  After the 1911 Cross Mountain Mine explosion, the direction of the Thistle ventilation fan was reversed to remove afterdamp from the Cross Mountain Mine and allow five miners to be rescued.

I: Ghost of Drummond Bridge. In August 1891, during the Coal Creek War, a young miner named Dick Drummond was lynched by the militia from a railroad bridge renamed "Drummond Bridge". Some report that the ghost of Dick Drummond still haunts the Coal Creek watershed.

J: Battle of Fatal Rock. During the Coal Creek War of 1891 to 1892, Colonel Kellar Anderson, the commander of Fort Anderson, was captured by miners. Major Daniel "Old War Horse" Carpenter organized volunteers from Knoxville to relieve the beleaguered Fort Anderson. The army  from Knoxville stumbled into what they thought was a small army of miners who shouted "surround them, boys". Actually it was only a half dozen sentries. During the confusion, two volunteers were killed and the rest retreated back to Knoxville. "Old War Horse" became exhausted during the retreat and had to be hauled back in a wagon.

K: Briceville Opera House. Opened on April 20, 1890, the two-story Briceville Opera House, with its elaborate clock tower, challenged the Clinton courthouse for prestige in Anderson County before it burned in the early 1900's.
L: Briceville Elementary School won a Title I Distinguished School Award in 1999, one of only 88 schools nationwide to win such an award.

M: Briceville United Methodist (Community) Church. Built in 1888 by Welsh Coal Miners, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2003.  Coal Creek Mining and Manufacturing Company transferred land for the church in 1896.  Its location on a hill and architecture make it one of the most beautiful churches in East Tennessee.

N: Cross Mountain Mine Disaster of 1911. On December 9, 1911, an explosion and the resulting afterdamp (noxious gases formed from the explosion) caused the death of 84 men and boys. Five men were rescued. Mouth-breathing, self-rescuer equipment, demonstrated at Cross Mountain, became standard equipment for miners and is still in use today. The Cross Mountain Mine Disaster was the thirty-sixth worst in the history of mining in the United States. When considered in conjunction with the Fraterville Mine Disaster, Coal Creek is the third worst mine disaster site in the history of mining in the United States.
O: Air Force Radar Base Station. In the late 1940's, the Federal government decided that an early warning station was needed in case of enemy attack on Oak Ridge. A radar station was built on top of Cross Mountain.  U.S. Air Force barracks were built at the base of Cross Mountain. A 10,000-foot long tramway was built to move men from the barracks to the radar station.

P: Circle Cemetery. Several miners from the Cross Mountain Mine Disaster are buried in Circle Cemetery in Briceville.

 

Q: Blue Hole of Coal Creek. A deep pool has formed at the confluence of Nunn Hollow with Coal Creek. Blue Hole has been a local gathering spot for generations of Coal Creek residents. Many have been baptized in the cold water of Blue Hole.
R. Minersville and Tennessee Mine Camps. Tennessee Hollow was the site of mine camps that expanded from Briceville during the late 1800's and are now ghost towns.

S: Native Americans. Arrowheads found at the base of cliffs in Tennessee Hollow show that this was a popular spot for early Native Americans.

 

T: Three Forks Hollow. To  experience the wonders of Three Forks Hollow, you need only look and listen. Some say that the ghost of Dick Drummond can be heard from this secluded spot.

U: Cross Mountain Summit. After the radar station opened in 1951, the area suffered a drought and some folks blamed it on the new radar station. Military cutbacks closed the radar station because it was found to be too high in elevation (3500 feet) to detect low flying aircraft.

V: Beech Grove Slurry Impoundment. In 1977, the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA) was passed to establish stringent environmental standards for coal mining. Impurities removed from coal mined from the area after 1977 were disposed in the Beech Grove Slurry Impoundment, in accordance with stringent SMCRA standards, until mining operations ceased in 1997.
W: Beech Grove Falls. Prior to the advent of cars, many families spent Sunday afternoon walking up the railroad tracks for a picnic at Beech Grove Falls.
X: Beech Grove Mine Camp. Many of the homes in this community were built during the height of coal mining in the early 1900's.
Y: Coal Mine Drainage Abatement. The Coal Creek Watershed Foundation, Inc. (CCWF) was established as a non-profit group to improve the quality of life in the watershed. One objective is to reclaim abandoned mine land as part of the Appalachian Clean Streams Initiative of the federal Office of Surface Mining. Underground mines abandoned before 1977 in the watershed discharge water with elevated concentrations of iron.  Our goal is to build wetlands to allow iron to deposit without being scoured during flooding events.
Z: Coal Refuse Pile. Another objective of CCWF is to reclaim abandoned coal waste deposits that were abandoned before the enactment of stringent SMCRA Standards.  Abatement of abandoned mine land problems, to improve Coal Creek water quality and thereby enhance the Clinch River trout fishery, is another goal of CCWF.

Mine Reclamation Lessons

More history about the Coal Creek watershed can be found at the Briceville and Lake City libraries. Some of the applicable history books include:

Briceville: the town that coal built by Marshall McGhee and Gene White (1991)

Briceville...Through the Years by Gene White (1994)

Reflections in the Water: Coal Creek to Lake City by David Rogers (1976)

Memories: A Folk History of Briceville School by Marshall L. McGhee (1987)

Circling Windrock Mountain by Augusta Grove Bell (1998)

We need help from you historians. We need volunteers to summarize the history of the area to include on this web page. Please email us at bthacker2@coalcreekaml.com or send us information by mail to CCWF, P.O. Box 31707, Knoxville, TN 37930-1707. Old photographs with captions and dates would be great, even if you are not a history expert. Photographs of old mining activities in the Coal Creek watershed are of particular interest. We will recognize the authors and providers of the photographs where possible.

[Home] [Master Plan] [Map] [Photo Gallery]
[Bank Stabilization Projects]
[Deadwood Removal Days] [Discovery Day 2000] [Scrape, Paint & Clean Day 2000
[Historic Fraterville Mine Disaster Field Trip 2001] [Fraterville Mine Disaster 100th Anniversary]
[Coal Creek War and Mining Disasters] [Mine Reclamation Lessons]
[CMD] [Economic Benefits] [Motor Discovery Trail] [Historic Cemeteries]
[Partners] [Schools in Watershed] [Mark the Trail Day]
[Awards] [Coal Creek Health Days]
[Briceville School History Field Trips] [Ghost Stories]
[Trout Stuff] [Join Us] [ Contact Us] [Eastern Coal Region Roundtable]
[Articles in the News] [Dream Contest]

Copyrightę Coal Creek Watershed Foundation, Inc. 2000 through 2013
CELEBRATING OUR 13th YEAR!!