History of Campbell County, Tennessee
 

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DISCOVERY OF COAL IN JELLICO MOUNTAINS CHANGED SMALL VILLAGE OF SMITHBURG FROM 1833 TO 1878

By Dallas Bogan

Reprinted with Permission from Dallas Bogan.  This article was published in the LaFollette Press.

The following account concerning the Jellico Coal system is taken from Hayden Siler's historical description written in 1938. Since I can't possibly improve on his writings, I will record it as he wrote it.

The second thing that had happened to the small village of Smithburgh between 1878 and 1833 was the discovery of coal in the nearby Jellico Mountains, and the opening of mines. Mining began in 1882 and 1883 with the advent of the railroads.

The Jellico Coal Co., (later the Woolridge Jellico Coal Co.) was actively developing the Jellico seam of coal in 1882, and shipped its first cars in 1883. The Standard Company opened the same seam in 1883 and shipped its first car in January 1884. Smithburgh changed the name of its post office in August of 1883 because the Jellico Coal was becoming so famous. Who named the seam of coal Jellico from the mountain is not known, but it was probably some early geologist or promoter. Just who first "discovered" the Jellico Coal is not known, nor how the earliest promoters became interested in the region. Suffice to say that Mr. B. R. Hutcharaft of Lexington, Ky., Col. Sam Woolridge of Versailles Ky., a Mr.. Kidd, and John Oliver, Horace, and James Fox of Bourbon County, Ky., were the earliest developers of the Jellico Coal in the mines at Woolridge, Standard, Proctor (then known as Red Ash), and Kensee, all of which mines were operating by 1885. Mr. Hutchcraft was also a geologist.

The Fox brothers were particularly interested in the Proctor Coal Co., and it was while living there that John Fox, Jr. the noted novelist got the inspiration for his novel, Mountain Europa and characters for other novels. The Dupont family at one, time owned Kensee, later selling it to Marcellus E. Thornton who was author of "My Buddy and I" Col. Charles, F. Johnson was another early promoter. After 1835 the growth of the town was rapid, with many new mines opened in the vicinity. Crandall's report on Whitley County (Kentucky Geological Survey, 1885) has said, "Of the coals in the measures above the conglomerate division the bed known as the Jellico seam is the most, important...The Jellico coal is already most favorably known in the market, and the question of its extension and relation to the surface features of the country has a corresponding importance. In its relation to the topography of the hill region to which it is here limited, it ranges from 200 to 400 feet above the main water courses...In this region this bed is exceptionally persistent in its structural characteristics, as it is as it is also in its composition, being unusually free from excesses of ash and sulphur throughout... From the preceding-description of the Jellico coal, with its regional extension, it will be seen that it is a bed of great importance to the county, and to the coal trade...The Jellico coal is recognized as a steam and a grate coal of the first rank, and as such it has become the basis of one of the largest coal mining interests in the state. The mining plants in operation here are on a scale suited to a growing industry..."

The capacity of the five mining plants is in excess of the railroad transportation provided, especially to the southern markets. The increasing demand for this coal makes additional transportation lines a necessity, the meeting of which will add greatly to the industrial wealth of the county. In the same report Crandall mentioned, "Below the Jellico seam 100 to 125 feet, in a portion of the Whitley region, is a bed which will find a ready demand from its free-burning qualities. It is known as the Birds-eye coal, from the peculiar pitted fracture which it exhibits in unusual perfection ... The field for this coal is the Patterson Creek region, and the heads of adjacent creeks, Big and Little Caney, Mud and Poplar Creeks." Crandall's prophecy about this coal came true, the railroad to the Bird-Eye camp was completed in 1893, and the camp enjoyed several years of prosperity but has not completely disappeared.

In 1889 there was a strike of three months duration in the Jellico coal field, which was responsible for the shortage of that year. The loss caused by the strike was estimated at 60,600 tons. In 1897 Whitley County fell from the second to fifth place in the line of production due to another extended strike in the Jellico district. The first strike was caused because the miners wanted a check weighman; the strike of 1897 came about because of a reduction in the price paid the miners, and was settled by a compromise with Bank rules being agreed upon.

The brain of the Indian seemed to be cast in a poetic mold. In his simple language, which was too poor for him to allow a wealth of words, he could express ideas in elegant and poetic forms. His figures of speech were drawn from the objects of nature around him. What he lacked in words would be supplied by those figures.

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