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The Story of Coal and Iron in Alabama

Ethel Armes

Publication Year: 2011

“The principal authority for the general treatment of the history of coal, and of iron and steel, in
Alabama is the work of Miss Ethel Armes. The Story of Coal and Iron in Alabama is a comprehensive
and scholarly work portraying in attractive style the growth of the mineral industries in its
relation to the development of the state and of the South, in preparation of which the author spent
more than five years.”
—Thomas McAdory Owen, History of Alabama and Dictionary of Alabama Biography

Published by: The University of Alabama Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. iii-iv


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-xii


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pp. xiii

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pp. xv-xxvi

It has been 100 years since Ethel Armes, a former reporter for the Birmingham Age-Herald, wrote her epic history, The Story of Coal and Iron in Alabama. Yet her book, as if transcending time, remains the most referenced book on iron manufacture in Alabama. It is in truth the bible of all such writings, weaving hard facts and real life stories into an exciting tale of how a great industry came to Birmingham and challenged the fiery furnaces of Pittsburgh. ...

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pp. xxvii-xxxvi

THE State of Alabama is now generally regarded as the coming center of the iron and steel industry of North America, and the Birmingham District as the ultimate rival of the Pittsburg District. Since 1890 Alabama has, as a matter of fact, dictated the price of pig iron to the United States. According to the latest statistics she ranks first in the production of brown ore, third in the production of red hematite, and third in total production; she is third in the...

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pp. 1-11

IN the mists of the early nineteenth century, when Alabama was an Indian world, the seeds of her coal and iron business were planted. Sown in the wilderness by frontier blacksmiths these two great allied industries - ever close kin to mother earth - were lit during the first years of their growth by the dying Indian fires. Viewed in the light of these fallen embers and with poignant sense of the far geological cycles stretching back into the infinite dark beyond the history of human kind, ...

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pp. 12-26

A GOVERNMENT factory or trading post was established at Fort St. Stephens by General Wilkinson in 1803 in order to bring about good feeling and more friendly commercial relations between the frontier settlers and the Creeks and Choctaws. The rugged bluff Hobuckintopa had been fortified in 1792- by Spanish troops under Antonia Palaas, when a one-company post was established, and barracks, blockhouses, commandant's residence, officers' quarters, church, and rectory...

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pp. 27-39

IT was up in the Chickasaw country in the northwestern region of Alabama Territory, county of Franklin, that the first blast furnace of Alabama was put up in the year 1818, and pig iron making on·a commercial basis begun. There had been, as has been mentioned, forge and smithy at Indian village, Spanish fort, Federal trading post, and territorial colony; but the frontier smith wrought out of imported blooms and bars for the most part, and little use was made of Alabama iron ore. ...

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pp. 40-57

...The first group to be considered comprises the counties of Blount, Jefferson, and Walker. A meagre log cabin colony was located in the extreme southern section of Old Blount County about the time of Andrew Jackson's coming into Alabama. Back of it there were of course Tennesseans, who appear to have been in the ascendency in those days all through the mineral belt. They were, in the main, men of fair working qualities, and, generally speaking, were game. According to Powell's" History of...

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pp. 58-69

THE three counties, Blount, Jefferson, and Walker, received but meager iron supply until the erection, in 1830, of the Roupes Valley Iron Works, known later as Old Tannehill, in Tuskaloosa County. This county, created by the territorial legislature out of the Chickasaw and Choctaw cessions of 1818, was the seat of the new capital of Alabama. Cahaba had followed St. Stephens as political headquarters, but in 1826 gave place to Tuskaloosa, which remained the State capital until...

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pp. 70-81

THE first iron making operations in Bibb and Shelby counties circle mainly about the names of Jonathan Ware, his son Horace Ware, termed by Senator John T. Morgan, "chief of the early iron-masters of Alabama," Jonathan Newton Smith, James Camp, William P. Browne, Robert Thomas, and the Mahans and Fanchers. There are in these two counties records of twelve separate iron works established before the war; two furnaces, "Shelby"...

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pp. 82-103

...There were in Talladega County nine iron works all told - eight forges and one blast furnace - in operation during antebellum days. Of these, the Maria forge, erected in 1836, was the first and Eagle forge (1846), the second. Then followed in successive order: Cheaha Creek foundry (1846), Robert Jemison and--Hunter; Riddles Mill foundry (1848), Edward Spang and Dr. William Summers; Fain's Creek forge, Silas and David Garrigus, A. W. Bowie, Major Walker Reynolds, John T. Ragan; Clairmont Springs...

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pp. 104-120

...The act, passed by the legislature February 17, 1854, is accounted the most notable event of Governor Winston's administration. The fact of the matter is, however, that the business was put through, not by aid of Winston, but rather in spite of him. Samuel G. Jones, Charles Pollard, Frank Gilmer, George S. Houston, J. W. Lapsley, Luke Pryor, James W. Sloss, and a few men of their kidney were fighting for the cause of railroads in Alabama. The northern and southern portions of the State, without a railroad, ...

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pp. 121-133

...Frank Gilmer at once merged his various other interests into the one railroad. A company was formed in the fall of 1860, with Milner still chief engineer, to complete the line in the five years stipulated. Just at this particular time, however, Alabama was more interested in discussing States' rights than she was in railroad enterprises. Cotton was the principal industry, the one idea, the one hope of the majority of Alabama men. Cotton planting was...

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pp. 134-148

THE embryonic period in the formation of the Confederate ordnance department having passed, there came the word of the fall of New Orleans in 1862. It sounded throughout the Confederacy as brave Pushmataha said his own death would sound to his tribe in Alabama, "like the fall of a big tree when the wind is still." At once perceiving that Mt. Vernon was out of position, owing to its proximity to Mobile, General Gorgas ordered the arsenal...

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pp. 149-156

THE Alabama coal supply of the Confederate Government during the war period came in the main from six counties: Tuskaloosa, Jefferson, Walker, St. Clair, Bibb, and Shelby. Every train and barge load was concentrated at Selma and distributed from that station to Montgomery, Mobile, and other points. John M. Huey of Jonesboro, Jefferson County, was detailed with rank of captain as agent for the Confederate States navy to handle the coal and lumber end at...

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pp. 157-177

THERE were, as has been specified, six counties furnishing coal to the Confederate Government. This group, with the exception of Walker and St. Clair, also furnished pig iron. Thus the iron making counties at this period were nine, all told: Lamar, Tuskaloosa, Jefferson, Bibb, Shelby, Talladega, Calhoun, Jackson, and Cherokee. Late in the eighteen-fifties, and, indeed, quite up to the outbreak of the war, there were in the State but few blast furnaces...

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pp. 178-194

...In 1881 this furnace was named Jenifer by Samuel Noble in honor of his mother, Jenifer Ward Noble. The Alabama Iron Company, in which Horace Ware was a large stockholder, operated it until it was sold to Sam Noble and Horace Ware, and made a part of Clifton Iron Company. It is now a part of Alabama Consolidated Coal and Iron Company. In Calhoun County there was but the one furnace plant prior to the war, which has been heretofore recorded, the Cane Creek or...

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pp. 195-214

THE first county to get upon its feet after the great cannonading was Jefferson; the first turnace, that of the Cahaba iron works, or Irondale, in Shades Valley. The plants at Shelby, Brierfield, Round Mountain, and Oxmoor followed in successive order, and certain other iron making enterprises were presently inaugurated in northeast Alabama by the Noble brothers and several officers of the Federal army. Every plant in Alabama had been silenced by Wilson's hand, ...

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pp. 215-237

To take up again the thread of the South and North Railroad history, broken for the time by war and all its sorrows, it is seen that it now becomes closely knit and interwoven with every circumstance and incident of Jefferson County. And very soon, indeed, the biggest piece of business which has yet been chronicled in these pages comes to pass. It seems that the first legislature convening after the war, passed a State aid law, the main object of which was the...

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pp. 238-254

...They acquired controlling interest in the Red Mountain Iron and Coal Company, and upon Colonel Troy's failure to enlist northern capital in the reconstruction of the Oxmoor furnaces, they assumed charge of the reconstruction work. A reorganization was efl'ectea, Judge Henry D. Clayton of Eufaula, Alabama, was elected president, and the name of the company was changed to the Eureka Mining Company, after Captain E. B. Ward's triumphant Michigan enterprise. Daniel Pratt and Judge Clayton put up the bulk of the money...

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pp. 255-265

THE Oxmoor furnaces remained shut down until the fall of 1873. That the chartered rights of the old company might be secured, a new organization, the Eureka Mining and Transportation Company of Alabama, was then effected; and the rights and titles to both the Eureka and the Red Mountain Iron and Coal Company were purchased. These rights bestowed upon the original incorporators by the legislature of Alabama were, according to Frank P. O'Brien, without...

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pp. 266-282

...The progress of the new Eureka Company suffered because the Louisville and Cincinnati factions controlling it could not come to an agreement on any proposition either of policy, financing, or operation. DeBardeleben held on to the small block of stock he had retained at the transfer of the properties. Each of the syndicates, looking towards majority control, desired to purchase it. "But I would not sell," remarked the colonel. "I knew if either party got full control the property would go to pieces again. So I stayed umpire to keep the peace."...

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pp. 283-308

...The Birmingham rolling mills, Alice Furnace Company, Sloss Furnace Company, Pratt Coal and Iron Company, Cahaba Coal Mining Company, Williamson Furnace Company, Woodward Iron Company, and Mary Pratt Furnace Company. Foremost among these were the Pratt Coal and Iron Company, the Cahaba Mining Company, and the Woodward Iron Company. The first group to be regarded in these chronicles comprises the rolling mills, the Alice and Sloss furnace companies, and...

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pp. 309-329

THE making of the Birmingham District opened the way into new regions of achievement throughout the mineral belt. In the northeastern section, as well as in the other quarters, whose records have just been presented, fresh iron making enterprises gradually revived the country completely ravaged by the dogs of war. Although none of the antebellum furnaces of any marked State influence in the counties of Calhoun, Cherokee, Etowah, and Talladega were reconstructed, ...

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pp. 330-346

...Camping out on his Loredo ranch he soon pulled himself together. Recuperation with him, like everything else, was swift-footed. His strong-winged temperament has always carried him triumphantly over obstacles that would make the average man collapse. No matter how blasted his business affairs, his health, and his fate one day, a good night's sleep will change for him by next sunrise the very face of destiny. There is that in him, indeed, the urge, the verve...

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pp. 347-359

Two important contemporary events of the days of the Great Boom of Birmingham were the formation of the Sloss Iron and Steel Company, now the SlossSheffield Steel and Iron Company, and the inauguration of construction work by the Pioneer Mining and Manufacturing Company, now a division of the great Republic Iron and Steel Company. The organization of the Sloss Iron and Steel Company came about in this way. Colonel Sloss was nearing his seventieth year...

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pp. 360-393

THE coming of the Tennessee Coal, Iron, and Railroad Company into the Birmingham District in 1886 is perhaps the most significant event in Southern coal and iron records of this interesting year. The company's leap from the Cumberland Mountains into the Alabama field had origin in certain differences in matters of policy that occurred between Enoch Ensley and T. T. Hillman, and also between A. M. Shook and W. M. Duncan. ...

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pp. 394-419

THE Tennessee Company was reorganized in 1886, directly following the Alabama deal, and a new board of officers was elected. Colonel Enoch Ensley now became president of the company; T. T. Hillman, first vicepresident; Colonel A. M. Shook, second vice-president; Nat Baxter, Jr., chairman of executive committee; James Bowron, secretary and treasurer; and young George B. McCormack, auditor. The main office remained, however, in Nashville, not...

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pp. 420-435

LATE in the year 1888 another revolution occurred in the Tennessee Company. W. M. Duncan interested a new group of New York capitalists, Thomas C. Platt among them, and majority control of the company passed into their hands. Under their manipUlation the price of the capital stock went up from about thirty cents to one dollar and twenty. A new board of directors assumed control of the company and new officers were appointed. John C. Browne of Tennessee was elected...

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pp. 436-460

...Like the Woodward Iron Company it went in for legitimate development work on a quiet, steady scale, and became a money-making enterprise from the start. In 1897 the blast furnace Vanderbilt, then just recently erected, was acquired by Major Tutwiler, together with thirty-six thousand acres of coal and ore properties, sixteen thousand acres of which contained the Pratt Seam of coal. A minority interest in the company was bought three years later by Morris Adler and E. L. Adler. Morris Adler became vice-president and E. L. ...

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pp. 461-487

"If the Carnegie people and all the rest can make first-class steel out of our iron, - why shouldn't we?" became the question uppermost in the minds of the officers of the Tennessee Company as orders for their basic iron kept coming in from the great steel companies of the North. Furthermore, the Tennessee Company was beginning to face the fact that instead of continuing to market their raw materials indefinitely they must finish their products. Having now acqu.ired by both...

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pp. 488-506

THE development of Walker County, the greatest coal county of Alabama, is of distinctly present-day interest. Although the earliest coal mining operations of the State are associated with this county, yet the establishment of mines on any other than a crude and primitive scale was practically forbidden until recent years, owing to the lack of transportation facilities. The country, wild and thickly wooded, is in the very heart of the great Warrior coal field, and...

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pp. 507-533

THAT the Tennessee Coal, Iron, and Railroad Company was not being run by the new syndicate that acquired control of the stock in 1901, with any notion as to the legitimate development of its properties was a fact that Don H. Bacon (elected president in 1902) at length found out, as had his predecessors. The company was still being made a Wall Street football. While it fairly shouted for reconstruction work, its directors failed to countenance that reconstruction when set...


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pp. 535-538


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pp. 539-581

E-ISBN-13: 9780817385774
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817356828

Publication Year: 2011

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Subject Headings

  • Alabama -- Economic conditions.
  • Mines and mineral resources -- Alabama.
  • Coal mines and mining -- Alabama.
  • Iron industry and trade -- Alabama.
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