BY ABB CRABTREE
Sitting in a valley between two mile-high mountains was the most modern coal operation of its time. It was called Roach’s Creek.
It was the dream of a few men in the State of Ohio. In the year of 1921, a company was formed of mostly young engineers. They had their office in the Provident Bank Building in Cincinnati. The president was a Mr. JOHNSON from Chicago, and CARL SLOUGH was vice-president.
It got its name — Roach’s Creek —-from a family by the name of Roach who were probably the first people who lived there. It was part of the lumber industry of Scott County until they developed the coal resources.
At the foot of the mountain where the trail led across to Straight Fork was a stable where they kept oxen that they used to log the timber. There were some private homes until the company bought them all out along with about 4000 acres of land.
My grandfather, RICHARD CRABTREE, was part of the logging operation and my father, ABSALOM E. CRABTREE, went there in 1922 as one of the coal miners. He stayed there until 1930, even though the mines had closed down and the post office had been moved.
The company moved small shacks in on railroad cars for the first miners to live in. My father moved into one of these along with my mom and oldest brother and sister. He lived in it until they built some houses that they had bought from Sears, Roebuck and Company. He moved into the third house built after the boarding house and club house.
In charge of one site operations was GOMAR THOMAS, General manager, and CHARLES LEWIS, Superintendent. They were both from West Virginia.
This was the first fully electrified coal operation in the world. Remember, this was even before the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) had come into being. The company had its own power plant which was run on water and coal, much the same as electricity is produced today, except that it was on a smaller and cruder scale.
They sawed their own crossties and other lumber and timbers to build their railroad, tipple and other related buildings. They even built their own schoolhouse, which was used for school, church and even a theater in later years. JOE CRISCILLAS was in charge of logging and HENRY MARCUM was boss of the sawmill. CHARLES SILCOX was "Barn Boss." He looked after the work animals such as mules horses and even oxen.
The railroad they build was two miles long and connected with the Tennessee Railroad at Montgomery Junction, just above Norma. They contracted A. M. COOK to build the railroad and he did it mostly with imported black labor. He had nothing but white men as bosses. The coal company owned its own locomotive and, as near as I can find out, LUTHER BYRD was the first engineer, GLAD WOODWARD was the fireman and FRANK BUTLER as the brakeman.
HERBERT and LAWTON BILBREY were given the contract of opening the mine entries. A couple of men who worked with them were BOB LAMBERT and MILLARD BUTTRAM. The coal was hauled from the mines around the mountain on a small railroad that was called a "Tram Road." The coal was pulled in small cars by an electric engine called a "Motor." The coal was then dumped into the upper tipple or "Head House." It was then sent some 1800 feet down the mountain in what were called "Monitors." The coal was then cleaned of all rock and slate and separated into different kinds, such as block, egg and steam. Most of the steam coal was used by the company for their power plant and train engine. HUGH SILCOX was the boss of the tipple operation.
Roach’s Creek Employees Pose In Front Of Boarding
As I stated earlier, the houses for the miners were bought from Sears, Roebuck and Company. They were about 40 or 50 of these homes and they were mostly three and four room cottage type houses. The layout of the camp was designed by Col. TOWNSEND, a retired army engineer. There were five or six wells drilled to furnish water for the people. Besides the camp houses, there were other houses for the management personnel. As I mentioned before, the company built a schoolhouse out of rough lumber and it had folding doors to make it into a two-room building. The first teacher at the school was MANFORD SEXTON. The school was used for lots of different things, such as a movie theater, a church house and a general gathering place and entertainment center. I have seen country music stars entertaining in that old schoolhouse — personalities such as CLIFF and BILL ("Hot Shot" Elmer) CARLISLE and the queen of country music, KITTY WELLS. She is now in the Country Music Hall of Fame. There are some of this school’s first students still living, including a Mrs. PERKINS, who now lives in Kentucky. Her father was the first man to operate the boarding house at Roach’s Creek, PERRY ANDERSON. The brick work for the camp houses was done by Grady Voiles, the father of REASON VOILES.
This was probably the first community in the county to have electrically-lit homes and a garbage service which was run by horse and wagon, and even "honey buckets" for the outhouses. The houses and outhouses were built or erected by the NOLAN Brothers out of Kentucky.
FRANK TIGHE was one of the first stockholders in the company. He was also a store manager, bookkeeper and postmaster in the beginning of Roach’s Creek. Mr. TIGHE and the company surveyor built the first radio in the camp. He also bought the first automobile and had it shipped in on the train. There were no roads to drive it on to get out of the camp, so he just drove it the best he could within the confines of the camp.
Roach’s Creek Coal Company issued its own script. It had a hole in the center and was issued in denominations of pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters, half-dollars and dollars. The workers could get an advance on their pay in script and spend it in the company store and it would be withheld from their nay every two weeks. When the company changed hands in 1931, the new company issued its own script. It had a manure fork on the back for the Straight Fork Coal Company. It was handled in the same way that Roach’s Creek script had handled theirs.
The Huntsville Supply Store After It Ceased Operation
With the stock market crash, Roach’s Creek Coal Company went into the hands of receivers and various other people tried to operate the mines, but were unsuccessful until 1931. That summer, a company was formed, the Straight Fork Coal Company, and they started up the operation again.
They got their first full-time doctor from Williamsburg, Kentucky, a Dr. BAKER. Later, Dr. WOODWARD was the company doctor. These two men lived in the community. Later on, there was Dr. CHAMBERS and Dr. FRAZIER. The community even had a barber shop which was run by BOB STEWART. Before him was HORACE CHAMBERS who did hair cutting part time.
We still have a few people living who worked at Roach’s Creek when the mines first started. To name a couple: H. B. ROSS and Preacher "Bob" WILLIAMS.
There is nothing left now but some of the foundation brick and a few chimneys of the houses. West Coal Company is cleaning up the area and reclaiming the area they strip mined several years back.
This is 1989 and what started with a dream had ended with some very fond memories 68 years later. This is just a few of the things that could be written about Roach’s Creek (also known as Dean). There could be written a whole book on this one place and the people who built it and lived there. One can always hope and dream.
(FOOTNOTE — First National Bank expresses its appreciation to Abb Crabtree and the Scott County Historical Society of which he is a member. Crabtree’s article on Roach’s Creek was first published in the Scott County Historical Society Newsletter and is reprinted by permission).
FNB Chronicle, Vol. 1, No. 2 – Winter 1990
First National Bank
P.O. Box 4699
Oneida, TN 37841
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