In 1889, a coal mine was opened on Fredonia Mountain overlooking Dunlap, Tennessee. For the next quarter century, the mining operations grew into an industrial complex that contributed greatly to the thriving economy and evolving social structure of the small town.
Constructed at the base of the mountain were a series of “beehive” ovens, designed to turn coal into coke for use in the iron and steel foundries of nearby Chattanooga. The first 24 ovens and the company store were built in 1902. Then, in 1906, 144 ovens and a steam -powered coal washer were constructed. In 1916 a new railroad up Little brush Creek created the demand for more coke production. Along with a one-million-dollar coal washer, 100 more beehive ovens were built on the east end of the site. These last ovens and the coal washer were used very little, due to the company’s having to file for bankruptcy in the mid 1920’s. A total of 268 stone ovens had been built when, in 1927, the mining operations were shut down due to falling coal prices, and the onset of the Depression.
The coke ovens lay dormant for more than 50 years, exposed to the ravages of nature, garbage dumpers, and rock thieves who dismantled stone from the ovens. In the mid 1980’s local citizens formed a historical group and began efforts to clear away the debris. Soon, a park was created to preserve this piece of the county’s heritage.
Today, the ruins of the once thriving complex cover most of the 62-acre park. The property was donated, for preservation, to the Historical Association by Bowater Southern Paper Company. The park has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places, and is maintained by the Coke Ovens Museum Association and the Sequatchie Valley Historical Association volunteers.
—(The information above is courtesy of Carson Camp.)
On the grounds are a large picnic pavilion, two smaller pavilions, numerous picnic tables and grills. There are hook-ups for RVs and other campers, for rough camping. Permission to camp must be obtained from the Historical Association.
The Coke Ovens Museum, adjacent to the ovens, is on Mountain Creek Road, within the city limits of Dunlap. It is a two-story replica of the commissary, or company store, and stands on the original site. The major portion of funds for the construction came from a bequest of David Gray, deceased. The museum is open on week-ends, and other times by request. — Content by [email protected]