HISTORY OF BRICEVILLE AND
THE COAL INDUSTRY
Reprinted with Permission from Dallas
This article was taken from the fine works of Marshall McGhee and
Gene White. Title of the book is, “Briceville, The Town That
Two young Civil Engineers, in 1835, by the name of Henry H. Wiley
and William S. McEwen, created an affiliation and entered, surveyed,
and secured grants on most all the mountain lands in Anderson County,
as well as countless acres in Campbell and Morgan counties in Tennessee.
This work was completed in approximately 1848.
Corporations were later formed to secure their holdings. They were
Coal Creek Mining and Manufacturing Company, Poplar Creek Coal and
Iron Company, and the Tennessee Mining and Manufacturing Company.
Johnathan Heck was considered another pioneer who secured numerous
mountain grants, and later created the Coal Creek Consolidated Coal
Company. He ultimately deeded the grants to the aforementioned companies.
After Heck’s death, the Coal Creek Mining and Manufacturing Company
purchased his assets in Anderson and Campbell counties. Heck created
the original Royal Consolidated Coal Company mines later operated by
George Chandler and William Pless.
A fourth man, Senator Calvin S. Brice of Ohio, was an investment
banker with offices located in New York City. He took great interest
in many developments in the South. His main interest was the old East
Tennessee, Virginia, and Georgia Railroad (now the Southern R.R.),
and in the Knoxville and Ohio R.R. This operation later became the
Coal Creek Branch from Knoxville to Jellico. Brice was also a significant
stockholder in the Coal Creek Mining and Manufacturing Company. Briceville
was named for Senator Brice.
(Coal Creek, now Lake City, acquired its name from the creek that
runs through town, not from the coal deposits on its watershed. The
name of the creek was named for a man “Cole.” Old deeds,
etc., spell the name of this stream as “Cole” Creek, not “Coal” Creek.
Upon the arrival of the railroad, and a depot constructed, the official
name was changed to “Coal Creek.”)
Certainly through the influence of Senator Brice, the railroad
was extended, in 1888, to the present Cross Mountain or Slatestone
mine. In 1889 another branch was finished to the Tennessee Mines. The
old Knoxville Iron Company lease is dated February 17, 1888. Upon extension
of the Tennessee railroad line, the Minersville Mine was underway in
Farming and timber were the two main sources of income in early
Briceville, Tennessee. The coal had been in the area for millions of
years, but extracting and shipping it were the two drawbacks. Much
of the land was owned by the Coal Creek Mining and Manufacturing Company
except for the small homesteads and land grants given to the military
Some coal mining was performed prior to the Civil War (1861-1865).
Transportation for this process was performed via the river/streams
system, or by wagons to Clinton where the coal was loaded onto a train.
In 1873, after the Civil War had ended, four companies were in operation:
Wiley, Gear and Company; Coal Creek Coal Co.; Knoxville Iron Co., and
McEwen and Wiley.
The Knoxville Iron Company owned a large rolling mill and foundry
in Knoxville. Management felt that mining the coal for their own use
would be cheaper and beneficial to the rolling mill.
McEwen and Wiley were stockholders in Coal Creek Mining and Manufacturing
and were mining on their own land. Operations were halted after a while
to devote full time to leasing the land, which in turn, would produce
a royalty for each ton of coal mined. The royalty at one time was 1/4
cents per bushel. Many folks with mineral rights sold their portions
for a flat fee, while others held out for a royalty fee on each ton.
If the folks had held out for the latter, they would have retired rich.
There was 36,000 tons of coal shipped in 1871.
The railroad was eventually extended from Coal Creek to Slatestone
in 1888, and to Minersville in 1889, with more mines opening and more
coal being shipped.
Other coal companies included Minersville Coal Co., Andy’s
Ridge Coal Co., and Royal Coal and Coke Co. In Briceville (1991) there
were 21 coal seams with only 8 workable. The others were considered
unfit due to outcroppings and coal not thick enough, and other specific
reasons. At the time, the two most prosperous moneymakers were the
Coal Creek and the Peewee seams.
Mine openings were the Shamrock Mine in 1888, with John Jeffers as
superintendent. The Tennessee Coal Mine Co. also opened in 1888, with
T. J. Davis as superintendent. The latter had two openings, the Keystone
and the Monitor. During this time there were 20 dwellings. Travel to
the company commissary was one mile.
The Knoxville Iron Co. was the leading producer; they producing 1000,000
tons of coal in 1885. Coal prices in Knoxville at the time were $3.75
per ton with delivery set at 25 cents per ton.
The S&H and Premium Coal Companies were in operation in Briceville
in 1991. The workers consisted of 75 people in four deep mines and
three surface pits, producing 4,000 tons of coal per week.
Superintendent of Keystone in 1891 was David Davis. Wages in the
mine were: foreman, above ground, $2.22 per day; mechanic, $1.80 per
day; laborers, $1.28 per day; men [children] under 16 years of age,
44 cents per day; below ground foreman, $2.36 per day; miners, $1.89
per day; laborers, $1.65 per day.
The miners suffered through many grievances, one being that there
was no check weighman. And-so, they simply had to trust the company
check weighman completely. They had no bath houses in which to cleanse
themselves after a hard, dirty day at work. A company requirement was
that they were to stay underground whether there were coal cars for
them to load or not. Out of the miners own pockets they paid for their
working utensils, shovels, picks, carbide lights and carbide, black
powder, oil, fuses, wedges, four-bit bits for drilling the coal, etc.
If it was a dry mine, they breathed the coal dust. If it was a wet
mine, they were exposed to dampness the entire working day. A cold
lunch was always on the menu.
Receiving pay in scrip was an ongoing grievance. Commissary prices
were outrageous. Powder, $2.25; fuses, 80 cents; picks, $1.00; four-foot
bits, $2.50. At other competitive stores the prices were: powder, $2.00;
fuses, 60 cents; picks, 75 cents; four-foot bits, $2.00.
Groceries at the commissary were flour, 90 cents; sugar, 8 1/2 to
10 cents; potatoes, $1.40. Other stores: flour, 80 cents; sugar, 5
1/2 to 8 cents; potatoes, $1.00