COAL DUST MEMORIES OF BLOCK, TENNESSEE
By Dallas Bogan
Reprinted with Permission from Dallas Bogan. This article was published in the LaFollette Press.
Kila Hatmaker Powers wrote of Block, Tennessee, which was inserted into the book "Coal Mining Towns," compiled by Marshall L. McGhee.
She starts by writing that Block, Tennessee, was a coal mining community about four miles west of Caryville on Hwy. 63. It was established in 1889 and was named for a seam of coal, which was a thick seam, called a "block." In 1939 the population was 135. It was a pretty self-sustained community with a boarding house, commissary, post-office, doctor's office, and school. Later on there was a bathhouse for miners to use before going home, as there was no running water in the homes. As Kila recalls, there were about 50 houses for the miners and officials to live in. There were some on the mountain which she never saw for the families had to walk from the highway to their home. At the beginning there was no road. The only means of ingress and egress was by train. When the road was finally built it was a gravel road, which was usually like a wash-board. Travel over it had to be very slow due to the ruts after rains.
Church was held in the one-room school. Sometimes someone came and showed a movie and that too was held in the school.
Kila writes that most of the houses were known as shot-gun houses. You could look in the front door and shoot a gun. The bullet could go all the way through the house without hitting anything as there were three rooms and the doors were all in a line. The larger and better houses were kept for the mine officials. Not that better was much of an improvement unless you did the improving yourself. Water for drinking was carried from a spring across the creek from our house. Wash water was carried from the creek. Kila states that she had a pretty good life there.
There wasn't much they could get into except a fight every now and then. They had a super swimming hole for use during the summer and the mountains to roam in. In the winter they played outdoors in the snow. Seems there was more snow back then than now.
Kila's family got running water and a bathroom when she was 16 years old. Her mother bought an electric range and water heater. She sure missed the old Home Comfort range in the kitchen. The house was cold as gee-whiz without it. Their heat was from a Warm Morning coal stove in the living room. The kitchen stayed good and warm in the winter and that is where the family took their bath until the addition of the bathroom.
After the first four grades of grammar school everyone caught the school bus and rode to Caryville Jr. High School. The class stayed there until the 9th grade was finished and then went on to Jacksboro High on "The Hill."
All things considered, Kila says that it was a good life. She writes that it is sad now to go back and see where everything used to be. Gone are all the houses, store, school, and everything familiar. To her, the mountains seem higher, the creek narrower. Gone is everything but fond memories.
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