THE STORY OF COAL

 AND IRON IN ALABAMA

BY

 

ETHEL ARMES

 

 

AUTHOR OF "MIDSUMMER IN WHITTIER"S COUNTRY"

 

 

BIRMINGHAM, ALABAMA

PUBLISHED UNDER AUSPICES OF

‑ THE CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

1910

 

 

 

 

 

Copynght, 1910

By Ethel Armes

_______

Entererd at Stationers' Hall, London

All rights reserved

 

THE UNIVERSITY PRESS, CAMBRIDGE, U.S.A.

 

My notes: This extensive book (570 pp) is unusual in that its sources appear to be based largely on private communications.  Annotation is sparse.  There appear to be inaccuracies which suggest that source checking by the author was not pursued with vigor.  Nonetheless, the book contains extensive material on the evolution of the industry in which James Thomas had a hand during the 1872 - 1879 time period.  I now own a copy.

 

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

 

FOR valuable criticism and suggestions in the preparation of this work the author is indebted to Dr. Thomas _ M. Owen, director of the Department of Archives and History of Alabama; to Dr. Sioussat, professor of history of the University of the South, Sewanee, Tennessee; to Theo Pollok of Los Angeles, California; to Flora Warren Smith of Muscogee, Oklahoma; to John E. Ware of Birmingham, Alabama; to Caroline Stiles LovelI of Birmingham, Alabama, and to Agnes E. Ryan of Winthrop, Massachusetts. The author is also indebted to the members of the committee appointed by the Chamber of Commerce and to the members of the various county committees, as well as to the leading officers of the representative coal and iron companies of the Birmingham District, and to the press of Birmingham.

 

To the several hundred public‑spirited men and women in all sections of the South who have contributed data for this work the author is most grateful. Had there not been such wide public interest and cooperation in the gathering of the material for this history, its making might have taken a much longer time than it has, for the material has been obtained almost wholly from private sources, through personal interview and correspondence with the descendants of the pioneer iron‑ masters and with the present‑day leaders of the coal and iron business. Old manuscripts, pamphlets, letters, in the possession of private individuals; old bills, inventories, old county papers, clippings from lost reports and papers, photographs, genealogical records, scrapbooks (in particular those loaned by Miss Mary Noble of Anniston, Alabama, and Mrs. H. F. DeBardeleben, Erskine Ramsay, James Bowron, and Llewellyn Johns of Birmingham) have been generously contributed to this work. Many items of incidental interest bearing on the subject‑matter have, however, been found in the works of the Alabama historians.

 

For all assistance in every way, for every pleasant courtesy given to the writer by the people of Alabama during the making of this book, a deep appreciation is due.



                                                           IRON MAKING IN WAR PERIOD                                                       161

 

(The Birmingham area iron industry is established during the Civil War. The beginnings of Oxmoor. Daniel Pratt engages in the iron business and eventually gains control of Oxmoor in 1872.  The beginnings of Irondale.)

 

It is in the war period that the county of Jefferson, to‑day the banner county of Alabama, site of the city of Birmingham, and center of the coal and iron industry of the South, swings for the first time into the circle of the iron making counties. Be cause it is the most important county in this history, it will be presented in some detail. Three crude iron making ventures were started early in the eighteen‑sixties, the Red Mountain Iron Company Works (or the Oxmoor furnaces), owned at the present time by the Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad Company; the Mt. Pinson Iron Works, and the Cahaba Iron Works in Shades Valley, near Irondale.

 

Notwithstanding the mineral riches stored so deep in the hold of the Jones Valley region, none of the big realities of the place were brought to light until this war period; and then they were but mere forecast. With the exception of Baylis Grace's experiment and the futile efforts of early smiths to reduce Red Mountain ores, the mighty ridge of ore lay untouched, being considered " good to dye breeches, not to make iron."

 

Now with Frank Glilmer's prospective railroad assured, the opening up of the Red Mountain country was a foregone conclusion. Moreover, included in the railroad business was the construction of a blast furnace. Colonel Gilmer selected a site in Shades Valley at the foot of Shades Mountain, closely bordering the railroad, and but two or three miles from Graces Gap, the place later named Oxmoor. Finding government aid was necessary, Colonel Gilmer and John T. Milner then went up to Richmond. They saw Secretary of War Seddon and succeeded in giving a contract drawn up with the Confederate Government

 

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162                                           THE STORY OF COAL AND IRON IN ALABAMA

 

" to build a railroad to Red Mountain and to erect there furnaces and rolling mills."l Thus the initial iron making enterprise of Jefferson County was practically a war measure. Colonel Gilmer and John T. Milner organized the Red Mountain Iron and Coal Company on their return, and Frank Gilmer's brother, William B. Gilmer, was elected president. The shareholders of both the railroad and this furnace company comprised some twenty‑five planters and business men of Alabama and Mississippi, among whom, besides members of the Gilmer and Noble families of Montgomery, were B. S. Bibb, T. L. Mount, M. E. Pratt, and Daniel Pratt.

 

Daniel Pratt and Horace Ware, whose property was then valued at a quarter of a million dollars, were the most successful manufacturers of Alabama, at that period. Mr. Pratt had then been living in the State nearly thirty years, and had built up the most extensive cotton gin plant in the South, had founded the town of Prattville, and had made a fortune and a reputation for solid worth, dignity, practical sense, foresight, and integrity. Like Horace Ware, he was of New England. He was born July 26, 1799, on a small farm in Temple, New Hampshire, and reared in the Puritan rigors. After a short term at school, the boy was apprenticed, at sixteen, to a carpenter. At twenty he set out for the South to make his own way, and landed in Savannah with nothing beyond his trade, his chest of tools, and his New England conscience.

 

Training had bred in him the certain excellencies of order, system, thoroughness, and prompt, square dealing. He worked from dawn till dark, following his trade in various localities in Georgia until 1833. Shortly after his marriage to Esther Ticknor, also of New England, he decided to start the manufacture of cotton gins in Alabama. He purchased materials and two negroes and set out with his wife and the wagon outfit for the piney woods of the newer country. He camped in Elmore County, not many miles from old Ft. Jackson (old Ft. Toulouse), and here he built a smithy and gin shop, and started his first cotton gins.

 

After a venture or two in which he prospered, the New England workman selected, in 1838, a permanent site for his mills and factories down in the piney woods and marshes of Autauga County, " not so much for its beauty," S. Mims says, " as for its pine timber."

 

1 Milner's Address to Georgia Society.

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                                                            IRON MAKING IN WAR PERIOD                                                    163

 

Daniel Pratt's specific object was " to build a village dignifying labor in the South, and to give the laboring class not only an opportunity to make independent living, but to train up workmen who could give dignity to labor, and add to results an asset of the whole State." He soon transformed Autauga County. A Negro boy of his used to say, " Marse Dan'l, he ain't no ways satisfied with de way de Lawd done made the earth. But he always digging down the hills and filling up de hollows, dat's all I knows."

 

His town became the county seat. Pratt himself served in both branches of the State legislature, and came to hold high rank in the Masonic Order. He opposed secession, but when the State went with the tide, he counseled wisdom and prudence and preparation for the worst; he urged the building of arsenals and powder manufactures, the establishment of a navy, and the construction of railroads.

 

From the time he started his gin business he bought homemade iron, and was the first large patron of the pioneer iron makers. Horace Ware always said Mr. Pratt was his best customer, " and always paid his debts." Everything Pratt used was first‑class make. He let his timber season, he sent to England for Sheffield steel, and he got the bulk of his iron from the Shelby Iron Works. He talked and wrote about things of commercial value to the State. He did not acquire majority control of the Oxmoor property until 1872, but as a director of the South and North Railroad, Mr. Pratt was, as previously noted, actively interested in the organization of the Red Mountain Iron and Coal Company, which constructed the original plant.1

 

The management of this company engaged the most expert furnaceman then in Alabama, to build the furnaces and to act as superintendent. This was Moses Stroup, whose career, as builder of Round Mountain and of Tannehill furnaces, has already been alluded to, and who was, with his father, the pioneer iron maker and furnace builder of Georgia and the Carolinas. The same massive and robust construction used at Tannehill was employed at Oxmoor. The stacks were indeed twin mates to the Tannehill group.

 

Shortly after Moses Stroup had started work, another iron making enterprise, the Mt. Pinson Iron Works, was set on foot

 

' Data given by Colonel H. F. DeBardeleben of Alabama, son‑in‑law of Daniel Pratt.

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164                                           THE STORY OF COAL AND IRON IN ALABAMA

 

in Jefferson County, on a crude scale. A man named McGee, a refugee from Tennessee, came into Alabama with several slaves who were all trained smiths. Selecting a point on Turkey Creek, near Hanby's mill, a short distance from the Mt. Pinson road, McGlee put up his little water blast forge, smith, and foundry, in 1862. His notion, like A.A.Huckabee's, down at Brierfield, was not to feed the Confederate arsenal, but to take care of the farmers, who were beginning to suffer for lack of tools. As a matter of fact, too, the field now held out fair financial inducements. As it turned out, however, McGee had to shoe so many horses for the Confederate army that there was little time left for any tool making, and the Mt. Pinson Iron Works proved little more than a blacksmith shop.

 

In the winter of 1863 the " Old Roman " furnaces at Oxmoor went into blast, each making ten tons of charcoal iron per day. At the same time Frank Glilmer opened the Helena coal mines. Milner says: " He sent thousands of tons of coal all over the South, and thousands of tons of Red Mountain pig iron were shot away in shot and shell at Charleston and Mobile." The entire output of the furnaces, " charcoal iron No. 1," was hauled to Selma by one little locomotive, "Willis J. Milner," a little, broad gauge wood‑burner, named for John T. Milner's father. The old South and North Railroad, boosted along by the Confederate government, was a patchwork line, " every sort and kind of rail from 60 pounds T to 30 pounds T and strap rail and stringer!" The old railroad men of the State grin broadly to‑day, whenever they refer " to the old original line of the Louisville and Nashville in Alabama." None the less it handled a vast amount of freight from 1863 to 1865.

 

Early in 1863 a nephew of old Daniel Hillman, Levin S. Goodrich, visited Oxmoor with a letter addressed to " William B. Gilmer, president of the Red Mountain Iron and Coal Company' or to iron‑ masters of the Confederate States, generally." Negotiations were then pending between the company and the Confederate Government for the furnishing of a quality of iron adapted for the making of Parrott rifles, shot and shell. It was this Mr. Goodrich who eventually (1876) made Oxmoor famous as the first coke furnace.

 

A few months after the Oxmoor furnaces went into blast an iron‑master from Holly Springs, Mississippi, W. S. McElwain, took up an option on eight hundred acres of land in Shades Valley.

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                                                            IRON MAKING IN WAR PERIOD                                                    165

 

It was an out‑of‑the‑way location, being a few miles northeast of Oxmoor, and a quarter of a mile in the woods, off the stage road from Nashville to Montgomery, which was known as the Montevallo Road, and seemed to be remote from the possibility of Federal attack. In 1864, McElwain, backed by W. A. Jones, put up a stone stack, using Shades Creek for water power. He named the furnace and the few shacks Cahaba Iron Works, but the folk in the neighborhood always called the place Irondale.

 

McElwain, like Daniel Pratt, Harrison Hale, Horace Ware, and several other iron‑masters of this period, was a New England man. He was born at Pittsfield, Massachusetts, in 1832, and was brought up to the machinist trade. After a term of service in a gun factory in New York and in a foundry and machine shop' at Sandusky, Ohio, the young man was urged to come South, through his uncle, Walter I`. Goodman. Goodman was in charge of the construction work of the Mississippi Central Railroad, now a part of the Illinois Central system. At Holly Springs Mr. McElwain induced W. A. P. Jones and Captain E. G. Barney, superintendent of the Mississippi Central, to join him in the foundry business, though all that McElwain had for capital was his New England ingenuity and his brains. Captain Barney put into the concern an old locomotive boiler that he fished out of the Tallahatchie River, and Mr. Jones furnished the lumber. McElwain fashioned a cupola out of the shell of the old boiler and a shed out of the timber, and began operations.

 

Goodman threw work his nephew's way and it was not long before McElwain had a pattern shop, foundry, and blacksmith's shop. Within eighteen months from the time they started, the business had attained such proportions that they felt warranted in making a bid for building the iron works of the Moresque building, in New Orleans. They received the contract over competitors from Philadelphia, Pittsburg, Cincinnati, and New Orleans. After receiving this contract they made other contracts in Mississippi and New Orleans. In the fall of 1860 J. H. Athey, formerly of Eouisville, Kentucky, entered the firm, buying half of W. A. P. Jones' interest. The firm's name, however, remained the same, the parties being Jones, McElwain, Anthey, Barney, and Merrill. The contract work occupied all the time of the foundry until the spring of 1861, when the working force often reached two hundred men, with an all night force in addition.

 

In 1861 when they were winding up their contracts they re-

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166                                           THE STORY OF COAL AND IRON IN ALABAMA

 

ceived proposals from the Confederate Government to turn their foundry into an armory for making small arms and cannons for the Confederate Government. They accepted the offer, $60,000 in Confederate money, advanced by the government. At that time everything wore a war‑like aspect, but nothing stopped the work on the armory. Building material was ordered and an additional building, two hundred feet long, fifty feet wide, and two stories high, was constructed as well as a huge blacksmith shop with thirty forges, trip hammer, and rolls for the manufacture of gun barrels. knowing that it would be useless to attempt to get gun machinery from Europe, McElwain and Merrill built their own machinery. They worked out all the patterns at home at night, and sent them to different foundries in the State to have them turned into machinery. The first gun for the Confederate service is said to have been made by McElwain and Merrill at Holly Springs. It had a rifled barrel, and during the war was struck with a ball, returned then to McElwain, and bored for a shot gun.1

 

The first cannon of the Confederacy were also turned out here at Holly Springs armory by McElwain and Merrill. They were made of brass, and McElwain's widow relates how, in the making of these first guns, she, too, used to lend a hand, pouring out the ladles of metal into the mold. The cannon and some of the small arms manufactured here were used at the battle of Shiloh in April, 1862. At that time the armory, with a working force of four to six hundred men and boys, was turning out twenty‑five stands of arms per day and some ordnances, cannon balls, and shells. After the battle of Shiloh, the Confederate forces fell back to Tupelo, Mississippi, leaving Holly Springs practically in the Federal lines.

 

Prior to this time General Gorgas and the secretary of war, hearing of the valuable machinery that Jones and McElwain Company had, made several ineffective overtures to them to purchase it in order to concentrate it all at Macon, Georgia, where they had a large ordnance works. " After the battle of Shiloh," Merrill relates, " seeing that the Confederate government would give us no transportation for the machinery out of the Federal lines, we sent our agent to Richmond to know what the government would give us for our machinery and stock. They

 

' This relic is to‑day the property of McElwain's daughter, Mrs. H. J. Miller of Highland Park, Chattanooga, and is treasured as a family heirloom.

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                                                            IRON MA1fING IN WAR PERIOD                                                    167

 

agreed to give the actual cost of the machinery and stock with any advance that might have occurred since we bought it." The sale was eventually made at a sacrifice. Some of the machinery was moved to Macon, Georgia, and every vestige of the Holly Springs works was destroyed by the Federal soldiers in a night raid, just after the evacuation of Corinth. McElwain, as related, then set up in Jefferson County, Alabama. He built a house near what is now Gate City, and a tram track from his red ore mine, the Helen Bess, opposite Woodlawn, over to his furnace, in Shades Valley. The new plant turned out ten tons per day of charcoal pig iron, all of which was shipped to Selma.

 

The Oxmoor plant, under Moses Stroup's practical hand, kept up steadily its twenty tons per day. Mary Gordon Duffee writes:

 

" The furnaces gave employment to a large amount of skilled labor, and created quite a settlement of worthy people.... The surrounding country then partook much of the characteristics of a wilderness and was sparsely settled, since the mineral interests were up to that period deemed worthless, the present effort at manufacture an experiment, and agriculture the sole calling of the people of the valley. The unfinished condition of the South and North Railroad rendered the proper construction of these furnaces a herculean undertaking, and no individual or corporate company would have dared such an effort without government aid. The picturesque beauty of the location was even more striking then than now. The sides of the hills were covered with luxuriant growth of native forest. The waters of the creek wound in silence around the mountain's base. A street climbed the sloping ascent, and the cottages of several families made the scene almost homelike. Success soon crowned their efforts and the works began to yield practical results while the storm of war beat so loud and fierce without. Confidence in the ability of the army of Tennessee to keep the foe in front and with no thought of the Desperate strategic movement in its rear which was aimed at the heart of the South kept the work going from day to day. The fertile farms of the valley, till then unshorn by war's invasion, furnished an abundance of food."

 

During the period from 1863 to 1865, however, the press of work on all the furnacemen and artisans became a thing unutterable, and was as hard and relentless as service under Forrest himself.

 

Although Moses Stroup was nearly seventy years of age‑by this time, he toiled night and day. There was a singular reserve about this old furnaceman and a deep kindliness of nature and manner.

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168                                           THE STORY OF COAL AND IRON IN ALABAMA

 

He had an affection for his home and his children somewhat out of common. Although he married late in life he had six children, three boys and three girls, whose mother died when they were all quite young. His boys all went off to the wars. The oldest boy, Alonzo Stroup, enlisted in a North Carolina regiment; Henry, the second boy, joined a North Alabama regiment; and little Andrew Moses, no more than sixteen years old, and the youngest of the family, entered a boy company mustered in in Jefferson County. No sooner had the Oxmoor furnaces gone into blast than Moses Stroup got word that Henry had been killed on the firing line up in Virginia. Then, without warning, the body of little Andrew was brought home to his father. The boy had fallen under the camp rigors at Selma, just as his company was making ready for the front. They buried the child in the old Elyton cemetery. No sooner was his grave covered than Moses Stroup got the message that the oldest boy had been shot to death just as Henry had been, somewhere in the marches north.

 

During those hard pressed years several of the blast furnaces in other counties flickered, and some went out; but the Oxmoor furnaces kept up to the mark, steady and true, and everyone knew it was because " Old Man Stroup was on the job." But a day came when the work was wrested even from Moses Stroup. He saw the destruction of Oxmoor and heard of that at Tannehill and in the other States. All of his handiwork thus was gone, out of sight and usefulness, it seemed to him forever. Yet, they say, that when the guns had ceased firing, old as he then was, he was ready to begin again, though there was nothing for him to begin with. His daughters gathered to him, and with them and their children he spent his closing years, dying near Montevallo, in 1877.

 


                                                            IRON MAKING IN WAR PERIOD                                                    173

 

(Giles Edwards, a Welshman known to Hopkin Thomas enters the area.Hopkin is erroneosly referred to as the father of Samuel.  Did Giles contact Hopkin and James at some later date relative to opportunities in Alabama?)

 

 

Just across in the neighboring county of Shelby, in the spring of 1862, a Welsh iron‑master, Giles Edwards, was at work. To his labors, projects, and discoveries are traced some of the richest mineral holdings in Alabama, belonging now to the Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad Company, and to the Republic Iron and Steel Company. Three States bear witness to his handiwork: Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Alabama.

 

Edwards was born on a small farm at Merthyr Tydvil, in Glamorganshire, South Wales, September 26, 1824.1 In the neighborhood where he spent his early boyhood there were many huge iron works.

 

Merthyr was then called the iron metropolis of Wales and had the most extensive iron works in the world. Iron had been made

 

I Information received from Mrs. Salinah Evans Edwards of Birmingham, Alabama, widow of Giles Edwards; Mrs. J. W. McQueen, daughter of Gilee Edwarde; R. K. Edwards, son of Giles Edwarde.

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174                                           THE STORY OF COAL AND IRON IN ALABAMA

 

there as far back as 1660. Near the boy's home, under the shadow of old medieval castles, were remains of old blast furnaces that were built to smelt the Roman cinder. Ships laden with ore from South America and Australia hailed into Cardiff, and the iron went forth to all the world. The entire horizon was peopled with shadowy furnaces, the great works of Dowlais, Cyfartha, Plymouth, and Penydarren.

 

Iron was in the boy's blood. He entered the shops at Dowlais and received his technical training from the Croziers. He became an expert in mechanical drawing before he was eighteen years old. His mother died about this time and his father determined to go to America. Together with Giles, Jr., he set sail and after more than a month's voyage, landed at Quebec, Canada.

 

From here they went direct to Pennsylvania, to Carbondale, in picturesque Luzerne County. This was about 1842, ten years before the town was incorporated, but being so near the head of the Lackawanna River, it was in the very midst of the important coal mining district of Pennsylvania. Young Giles Edwards started right off at his job, made the drawings, and superintended the pattern making for the first mill at Carbondale. This was then but a crude mining settlement in the heart of a wilderness, but it was as beautiful as his native country, as the picturesque "Vale of Glamorgan," and here it was the young Welsh boy met the girl he married.

 

She was little Salinah Evans, the daughter of a Welshman who had emigrated with his family from Cardiff. Their home had been at Tredegar, Monmouthshire, the very county that bound Glamorgan on the east. And they had come across seas in a vessel laden with iron, had landed in New York, and come straight to Carbondale.

 

Selinah Evans was not more than thirteen years old when Giles Edwards, who was nineteen, met her. From the first he loved her and set to work to make a home.

 

Scranton became the depot and shipping point for the product of the North Anthracite basin and the center of the trade in mining supplies, outfits, and immense shipments. The Welsh congregated here and helped things move along. Giles Edwards was one of many, but he had a strong hand in the planning and building of the first shops and manufactories of iron and mining machinery there. His good work drew the attention and interest

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                                                            IRON MAKING IN WAR PERIOD                                                    175

 

of Hopkin Thomas, father of Samuel and John Thomas, who later became such great factors in the iron industry of Pennsylvania and Alabama. So Giles Edwards left Scranton and went to work for Mr. Thomas, down into Schuylkill County, which was then known as " the southern coal field," and superintended the Thomas works at Tamaqua on the Little Schuylkill River. When the work of building a foundry was done there he went with Mr. Thomas to Catasauqua. The Thomas family was the most prominent family of Catasauqua. David Thomas, the " father of the American iron trade," was the chief man of the village, and he had a library that was a treasure house for all the growing young iron‑masters of that day. Giles Edwards worked by day, superintending the blast furnaces and making plans, and he studied by night. His health broke down and John Fritz took hold of him and made him quit. He had made a trial for a space in New York, with the Novelty Works, but had returned to Catasauqua and started at overworking again, so Fritz held him up, talked of a milder climate for him and persuaded him to go to Chattanooga.

 

" I could not bear the idea of his going South at first," Mrs. Edwards said. " I thought he would burn up! I thought we all would, but I finally agreed to it."

 

This was the way in which Giles Edwards and his family came South, and began at Chattanooga, in June, 1859.

 

Tennessee was then in the front rank of the iron producing States of the South. There were then over seventy‑five forges and bloomeries, seventy‑one furnaces, and four rolling mills, as enumerated by Leslie in '56. The Bluff furnace, to which Giles Edwards was assigned to remodel, had been built five years before by Robert Craven, James A. Whiteside, and James P. Boyce, for using charcoal. James Henderson of New York, manager of the East Tennessee Iron Company, had the plant in charge and had decided to make it a coke furnace. He had the limestone stack torn down and a new iron cupola with stack eleven feet wide at the boshes erected in its place, the work being planned and superintended by Giles Edwards.

 

In his " Iron in All Ages," Swank says:

 

" The new furnace was blown in in May, 1860, but owing to a short supply of coke the blast lasted only long enough to permit the production of about five hundred tons of pig iron. All the machinery and appointments of the furnace worked satisfactorily.

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176                                           THE STORY OF COAL AND IRON IN ALABAMA

 

The furnace was started on a second blast on the sixth of November, the day of the Presidential election, but political complications and the demoralized state of the furnace workmen were obstacles too great to be overcome and the furnace soon chilled from the last cause mentioned, and in December Mr. Henderson abandoned the enterprise and returned to New York."

 

This was, however, the first coke furnace in Tennessee. During the stay of the Edwards family in Chattanooga an event of considerable romantic interest to the iron and steel men of the country happened in their house. The incident concerned " Captain " William R. Jones who afterwards became known as "the most important man in the Carnegie scheme." Then he was just Bill Jones.

 

The Edwards family had known him in Catasauqua, where he had first come as an apprentice to the Crane Iron Company when only a boy in knee breeches; he had wrecked the Catasauqua school house when he thought a " pal " of his had been unjustly punished, and had led the gang of Welsh boys in feudal strife against the Irish at the other end of the town. He was ever a fighter, but always square.

 

He had met Harriet Lloyd a short time before the Edwards family moved South, and Harriet Lloyd was a very pretty girl. Her relatives were alarmed when Bill Jones loomed up as a suitor, and all the more because Harriet—in spite of her suitor's expletives and this record for scraps—liked Bill Jones right well.

 

Mrs. Edwards was Mrs. Lloyd's best friend, and it was to her that Harriet was sent " for a long visit," with the prayer, " whatever happens don't let Harriet marry Bill Jones! " and Mrs. Edwards gave her sacred promise.

 

Nobody thought of Bill Jones going to Chattanooga, but there he went, and when he could not get a job in the iron works he set up a saloon and a pool and billiard room, and then laid siege to Harriet Lloyd. Giles Edwards' good wife was in dismay. Every day young Bill Jones came and every day Mrs. Edwards said to him:

 

" Promise me you will not marry Harriet."

 

Young Jones was rather soft‑hearted and he could not refuse Giles Edwards' wife, so he promised every time, but never failed to add:

 

"Not to‑day, Mrs. Edwards—I promise; I will not marry Harriet to‑day ! "

 

A day came, however, when he avoided Mrs. Edwards, and consequently, made no promise. He had chosen his wedding day, and Harriet Lloyd became his wife.

 

But to return to Giles Edwards. No sooner had the Bluff furnace been put into working order than in March, 1862, at the request of Judge Lapsley of Selma, whom he kind met in New York, Mr. Edwards came into Alabama, and reconstructed the

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                                                            IRON MAKING IN WAR PERIOD                                                    177

 

Shelby Iron Works. The work at Shelby was continuous, the rolling mill originally built by Horace Ware being steadily and successfully operated all through the war. It was in 1864 that the plates for the armor of the ironclad ram, Tennessee, were rolled by the Shelby rolling mill.

 

A memorandum from John E. Ware reads as follows:

 

"March 18th, 1862, Horace Ware sold six‑sevenths interest of his iron property at Shelby to John W. Lapsley, James W. Lapsley, John R. Kenan, Andrew T. Jones, John M. McClanahan, and Henry H. Ware for the sum of one hundred and fifty thousand dollars. This property then consisted of one charcoal blast furnace of eight tons daily capacity, one rolling mill of ten tons daily capacity, a foundry, saw mill, and six thousand acres of timber and mineral lands. These seven men incorporated the Shelby Iron Company and erected another furnace, and operated the works until April, 1866, when the plant was destroyed by Wilson s raiders.

 

One of the foundrymen then employed at Shelby was Hamilton T. Beggs. He was born in 1830, in Liverpool, England. Like George Peacock, he served a steady apprenticeship as a boy, and came to the United States in his nineteenth year. He worked as a journeyman several years, following his trade in several of the States. Late in the eighteen‑fifties he set up his own foundry at Chattanooga, Tennessee, and by 1861 was casting guns and bombshells for the Confederacy. Horace Ware then sent for him. Beggs worked at Shelby until the war's close, then at Columbiana, and in the year 1879 moved up to young Birmingham. Here he built the first foundry and machine shop of that city.


                                                    IRON MAKING AND THE FALL OF SELMA                                            191

 

(The furnaces, along with all other industries,  are destroted by the Northern forces.)

 

 

No more bitter cup in all the world's tales of the blood and misery of war was ever drunk by a general than (Gen. Nathan Bedford) Forrest drank that day at Selma. Out then sped his violent command that every man and boy in Selma, old or young, soldier or no soldier, be drowned in the Alabama if he would not fight. " Into the works or into the river " stalked that fierce order, and at point of the bayonet Forrest's lieutenants drove the panic‑stricken vagrants to the guns. Blind terror quivered in every street, shivered on the doorstep of every house,—dread fear of Forrest himself.

 

Not a second was lost. By noon every straggler in the town was rounded up. Forrest then counted but three thousand men in all, and only one half of the number seasoned troops. The raw reserves he drove at the center of the vast horseshoe curve, facing due north and direct to the front; with his Kentuckians he took stand immediately at their rear, a very bull's eye of that vast target range.

 

His strongest force and main reIiance was commanded by Armstrong, " the best troops in the army of the West," although sadly

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depleted now, and Forrest stationed them on his left, on the south. western or Valley Creek side of the defenses. On line with them, but outside the works, some miles across country, were Chalmers and his brave fellows couchant in the Cahaba hills. At any rate, one more try! On cooperation between Chalmers and Armstrong lay Forrest's last hope for the aggressive.

 

On his right, at the southeastern or Beach Creek side of the works, were assigned General Roddey and his command. All along the lines the men stood in readiness, but the wide gaps between were pitiful. Never before did great guns seem so impotent!

 

During the hours marking the disposition of the Confederate forces, the sound of the dark cavalcade steadily advancing—coming as the Juggernaut—filled the air with foreboding. Now it was reported that Upton's division was marching in the wake of Long's division, down the Range Line Road. Now Long was crossing at double quick by flank movement to the Summerfield road, down which Wilson and his staff were riding. Already the bluecoats were hard by Kenan's plantation. Now the Confederate picket was driven in, the enemy began to close in on the defenses. At this crisis and by Forrest's continued urging, Lieutenant‑General Taylor boarded a locomotive and moved out of the danger zone. As the hour struck three, Long's division was in full force before the works; every regiment dismounted and Long began instantly to develop his line of battle, sharp at Forrest's left, and hard against Armstrong, whereupon Armstrong and the militia opened fire. Upton's division was marching in at the southeastern sweep of the works and beginning to form under Roddey's fire. From the parapets there could now be discerned columns of smoke rising from the river road near Burnsville, thus announcing the destruction of the railroad station, the bridges, and trestles, the cutting off communication with Montgomery.

 

Meantime gun fire from Armstrong's line kept up sharp and steady, but Long's men, under cover of the slight ridge beyond the glacis crept silently and safely into battle formation, while Wilson was taking swift reconnaissance of the works.

 

All at once, out of the Cahaba hills, leaped Chalmers, sharpfanged on Long's rear. The enemy's picket guard, posted on Valley Creek, was driven in; a stampede of the pack, stock, and led animals threatened; attack in force was feigned and, for a

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                                                    IRON MAKING AND THE FALL OF SELMA                                            193

 

breathing space, demoralization of Long's ranks seemed imminent. But the hope was thwarted. Without a second's hesitation, waiting for no concerted action (if concerted action had been planned by Wilson), Long's troops rose as one man. In very earshot came the Federal general's cry, " Forward, men! " And out of cover, cool and quick, rose the sharp, blue line at crest of the ridge; it advanced into the stubble field, full in the face of a wild storm of gun fire—Armstrong's savage crossfire of musketry and artillery. Another second and the blue line broke. The charging cavalry men floundered knee‑deep in the quagmire. Many of them, both officers and men, fell riddled with bullets, their breasts torn with shells. Long himself dropped, wounded. As he was carried off the field his colonels sprang to lead the charge, while high above his‑rear came the sudden hissing of artillery.

 

A battery—a reinforcement unforeseen by Forrest—half concealed on the ridge, now replied to the Selma guns and supported the Federal charge. Four hundred yards of the glacis were gained. Close to the stockade the enemy formed again and in carbine range at last, answered the Confederate musketry fire with their Spensers. Then with a yell, they started on a run in a solid line for the works; they scaled the stockade, uprooted the stout posts, leaped the ditch, and began to climb the ramparts. The first man atop of them—a young corporal—reeled back, shot through the head. In the thunder of the fire and the fog of smoke, Armstrong's men held fast, clubbing the enemy back with their guns, hurling saber stroke on stroke at them, in hand‑to‑hand fight now to the death. A bursting shell from the unseen battery back of Long tore a breach in the earth works near the Summerfield road behind which huddled the raw reserves. The undisciplined men broke loose and turned in panic. Back Forrest drove them in the very face of the battery fire and the oncoming troops, rushing them to stem the breach, and ordering Roddey to unite with Armstrong. But Upton was now hard upon Roddey, and before the new alignment could be made, the enemy was swarming in the breach, the militia was palsied, and Armstrong's men were being forced back upon the second line where no guns were. Not twenty‑five minutes had passed by since Long cried " Forward,"—but the entire outer line, all the guns, and most of the militia were in the hands of the enemy!

 

Armstrong and Roddey united now, taking solid stand upon

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194                                           THE STORY OF COAL AND IRON IN ALABAMA

 

the inner line. On pressed the enemy, leaping the guns. The Fourth United States Cavalry formed for a charge of the new position. On they came on the gallop, with drawn sabers—the whole regiment riding without a quiver into a withering fire of musketry that broke their charge. But they rallied at the very foot of the bastions and dismounted. Two other regiments hurried to their assistance in the fast gathering dark, and all three, supported by the scourging battery1 that cut the breach for Long, now stormed the parapets, leaped down into the bastions, and cut into the quick of Forrest's men, while out of the swamp uprose the rest of Upton's troop spitting fire. All assailing the second line in full force, on front, overlapped Forrest on flank and rear. And now came the stampede.

 

Night fell, black as a catafalque. Friend struck friend and foe struck foe in the mad dark. Forrest, Armstrong, Roddey, and all their men that were left formed near the saltpeter works for one last charge. They were surrounded again, and had to cut their way out toward Beach Creek swamp and get away by the river road.

 

Over across Valley Creek, quick along the Cahaba road, and under cover of the dark, a long wagon train retreated, loaded with quartermaster's and ordnance supplies—all that was saved for the Confederacy out of Selma. As the teams under lead of Captain Huey of old Jonesboro were whipped up and rumbled along in the darkness, the stubble fields and clumps of woods in that vast level stretch of country began to glow with a savage light. Hour after hour, mile after mile, the red glow sped like screaming shells after them. At midnight they halted at the Cahaba ferry, and even then—ten miles away—every bush and tree stood etched in sharp black lines against the flaming sky that told the fall of Selma. The very links in the trace chains and the buckles on the mules' harness glittered like wild eyes. Captain Huey got his every team across the river in the dead of night under that weird light.

 

The burning went on and on—and beyond that burning city smoked the ruins of Oxmoor, Irondale, Tannehill, Brighthope, Brierfield, Shelby, and all the rest—the coal and iron business of Alabama, quieted now, it seemed forever.

 

1 Chicago Board of Trade Battery.

CHAPTER XIV

 

RESURRECTION OF THE IRON WORKS 1866‑1870

 

W. S. McElwain goes North for capital to restore Irondale. Several years later, James Thomas negotiates with Boss McElwain for control of the Irondale furnace. Irondale fails and Thomas, together with Colonel Sloss, rebuilds Oxmoor.

 

 

THE first county to get upon its feet after the great cannonading was Jefferson; the first furnace, 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, and the State's coal and iron business as well as her cotton business had been burned to the roots. Fully two thirds of the shareholders in the mining and furnace companies who survived were ruined in their personal circumstances. Every interest in the social, economical, and industrial life had been dependent upon an agriculture that now was paralyzed. The young men of Alabama lay in their graves.

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196                                           THE STORY OF COAL AND IRON IN ALABAMA

 

:Hundreds upon hundreds of families, long established in the country, were now packing up and leaving for the West. John T. Milner was one of those who lifted his hand to stay the great exodus. " We must bring labor here that will be effective," he declared, " or see our State given over to unthrift, idleness, and weeds, as has been the case in every other country in the world where slave labor once formed the basis of agricultural wealth, and was afterward set free." He thereupon set forth the need for foreign immigration, pleaded again for railroad enterprise, advocated trade with the Gulf, and pointed out once more the prospective value of the mineral region. He saw Alabama as she was, and did not hesitate to speak the truth. His patriotism was not " My country, right or wrong," but rather, " My country, may she pluck out the roots of her disorders and come to stand with clear vision, clean‑ limbed and progressive." John T. Milner's was not the vain apostrophe to Alabama prevalent among certain of his colleagues: "Mother of sages and heroes, no stain dims your glittering escutcheon! Let your brow be lifted up with glad consciousness of unbroken pride and unsullied honor." Rather he faced the issues squarely. " Go to work," he cried to prostrate Alabama. " Let us now devote our energies to eradicating the diseases that are destroying us at home."

 

The wisdom of the argument that in diversified industries alone is builded the material force, the industrial hope, and the wealth of a State, was one of the lessons seared into Alabama by war's flame. The pioneer mining men and railroad men had long been saying this, but their prediction of 'commercial disaster, unless diversified industries were established, had sounded, however, as the prophecy of a Cassandra. The ordnance department of the Confederacy, as has been pointed out, gave the first immense, practical demonstration of what could be done in the mineral region.

 

Of the group of iron making enterprises just mentioned as starting immediately following the war, the account of those in Jefferson County will be followed by that of the Bibb County concerns.

 

The moment Wilson's raiders quit Shades Valley, W. S. McElwain, owner and operator of the Cahaba iron works, went north on a hunt for capital to raise his furnaces. He succeeded in procuring funds from an Ohio firm, Crane and Breed, of Cincinnati,

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                                                  RESURRECTION OF IRON WORKS 1866‑1870 197

 

and returned to Jefferson County, in November of the same year, 1865. He found the county officials in charge of his furnace ruins at Irondale, trying to protect what was left. Mr. McElwain's cousin, H. D. Merrill, and several other men formerly associated with the iron‑master, now joined him. The company soon employed a force of five hundred men, cutting cord wood, burning charcoal, and starting the new works. They brought provisions in for many of the poverty stricken settlers of the valley, who were then drawing supplies at Elyton from the government. Their coming was a godsend to the country.

 

The new furnace went into blast early in 1866. Clothed in a stout, brick jacket, it stood forty feet high, was six feet wide at the boshes, and was lined with sandstone. It was located on the precise site of the former plant at the bluff's foot. The new tramway, fashioned of pine rails, climbed up grade to the top of the furnace hill; the ore loads were pulled up by mules, and the mine cars " or empties " rolled back to the ore dump by their own gravity. The furnace blast was forced by steam power, and the boiler, engine, and blowing cylinders were manufactured by McElwain on the spot.

 

The blast engine, the first in the county by the way, was 160 horse power, and the fly wheel alone weighed 36 tons. This engine was placed later at Woodstock in the Edwards furnace. Machine shop, foundry, commissary, boarding houses, employees' houses, negro quarters, stables, and corral were added to the Irondale plant. The furnace produced well. The output was ten tons a day, and the quality of the iron used was good for small castings, domestic utensils, and for railroad use. The company furnished the old Selma, Rome, and Dayton Railroad (now a part of the Southern system) frogs, switches, and chairs for the rails. According to H. D. Merrill, the manufacturers got sixty dollars per ton for their pig iron. It was hauled by ox team, three or four tons to the load, down the Montevallo road to Brocke Gap, where it was loaded on freight cars, and was sent on down to Helena and Calera. The cost of labor per ton was eight dollars and the cost of transportation, all told, two dollars a ton. This was at the outset when Irondale was the sole furnace in operation not only in Jefferson County, but in the entire State.

 

Mr. Merrill says further:

 

"When Irondale furnace went again into blast, it woke up the whole valley. Our Big Jim whistle, the largest whistle ]

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l98                                           THE STORY OF COAL AND IRON IN ALABAMA

 

believe that was ever made, was also the loudest. We blew it night and morning and it echoed far and wide. The country people used to flock in from right and left, and there were crowds watching us most of the time. All the folks I met, even then in 1866, had no use for red ore other than to dye their clothes with it. They used to be so surprised when they saw us making it into iron right before their eyes. They got to thinking the land maybe had more value than they supposed all their lives."

 

" Boss " McElwain, as he was called, had considerable originative force as well as practical sense. He dealt in an upright way with folk, and his word was as good as his bond. Dr. George Morrow of Birmingham says: "Mr. McElwain was respected and looked up to everywhere. Had he not been so heavily handicapped, he'd have made a great success. He had courage and ability and he accomplished an extraordinary amount of work, for which he has never, to my notion, got full credit."

 

One early spring morning of 1867, Boss McElwain was riding up the old wagon road to the furnace, astride his big, dappled gray. Just as he struck the bridge he heard a shrill voice piping, it seemed, right out of the leaves of the big Spanish oak there:

 

" You ride a gray horse

AndI ride a mule:

Beat me to Heaven

Have to get up in the cool"

 

Boss McElwain drew rein. "Who's there?" he called.

 

A sturdy, black‑haired, tough little mite of a bare‑legged boy dropped down from the oak branch, poked his head from behind the tree trunk, and said:

 

"Have y' got an extry job, Boss McElwain?"

 

" What can you do ? " asked McElwain.

 

" A sight of things," replied the youngster.

 

"How do I know that?" The boss looked down.

 

" Try me and you '11 find out quick," responded the boy.

 

" What 's your name ? "

 

" John David Hanby, Boss."

 

" How old are you ? "

 

" Eight year old, going on nine, Boss."

 

"Come along up to the furnace, John, and we'll see what we have."

 

Thus did John David Eanby, present superintendent of the

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                                                  RESURRECTION OF IRON WORKS 1866-1870                                          199

 

ore mines of the Sloss‑Sheffield Company, get his start in the iron business. He had always been more or less around a blacksmith shop. His first recollection is of his great‑grandfather, Andrew Jackson's own man, David Hanby, making a gun. His father, W. E`. Hanby, after his try at the coal business, took contracts to supply a railroad camp near Helena with provisions and country produce. The failure of the contractor also involved Hanby and he went broke. His little boy, John David, who was born in 1858, at Mt. Pinson, at once set out to help. Having been drawn by the big Jim whistle over to Irondale furnace, little John David longed for work there, but he was afraid of Boss McElwain. He was so afraid of the big man that he shinned up the tree by the bridge when he heard the hoofs of the dappled gray. Hidden by the leaves, he had his say in his own quaint way, and won his job.

 

The time came before long, however, when Boss McElwain had to give up the fight. One misfortune after another attacked his business. Funds got low, and the price of iron fell. He could not see his hand before him. Tuberculosis seized him. In October of 1872 he entered upon negotiations with James Thomas to sell the property. He eventually tried railroading for a few years and then went into the lumber business at Chattanooga, where he died. His name will always be remembered in the history of the mineral development of the South. He is accounted among the master workmen of pioneer days as one indeed who had the grit and showed the way. Late in 1872, H. D. Merrill opened further entries at the old Ishcooda mines, later operating the Cornwall furnace for a time. Returning in 1880 to Jones Valley he became foreman at the Alice furnace, and later, purchasing agent for the Elyton Land Company. Under contract with the Sloss Company, eventually Mr. Merrill quarried the first dolomite ever used in the Birmingham district, this precise quality of flux being originally employed by this company.

 

Concerning James Thomas, a Pennsylvanian by birth, Mary Gordon Duffee wrote:

 

" Mr. Thomas came in the prime of early manhood, to help develop the mineral interests of Jones Valley when the gloom of war's destruction yet lingered over its fair face, and the task seemed hopeless. In manner he was plain and unassuming; in mind, intelligent and cultured. He labored with unwearied zeal for the establishment and promotion of Sabbath schools and churches.... His first term of service was as superintendent

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200                                           THE STORY OF COAL AND IRON IN ALABAMA

 

of the Irondale furnaces, and subsequently the Eureka company at Oxmoor.... It was a constant and favorite remark of Mr. Thomas that he believed, when fully investigated and developed, Jefferson County would prove to be the richest county in mineral deposits in the entire United States.... It was to him all distinguished visitors were referred, and his statistics upon the ores form part of the most valuable of the tabulated data on that important subject."

 

The Irondale furnace was finally abandoned by Mr. Thomas, mainly on account of scarcity of timber. Together with Colonel Sloss he leased the Oxmoor plant in 1876. The Irondale property was eventually purchased by Joseph F. Johnston, one time president of the Sloss Company, and present United States senator from Alabama, and by him it was turned into a farm and orchard. All the machinery was sold to the Swedish sea captain, Charles Linn, for the Linn iron works (now owned by the Tennessee Company), and to the Louisville and Nashville Railroad shops. The old " big Jim whistle," screeching to‑day as loudly as ever in Birmingham, is the only echo left of the old Cahaba iron works of Shades Valley.

 

One may visit the site of the old plant by motor flight. It is owned to‑day by the Church brothers. " You all can't have been very long about these parts if y' don't know whar Church lives," it is said when attempt is made to trace the already forgotten trail. The car must be left on the main road—the old Montevallo road by the way—and one must press through weeds and briers shoulder‑deep, scale a fence around stony pasture land, cross over the now bridgeless creek on a foot log and search for the tram track and the old wagon road. Winding into the very heart of the woods it goes, leading at last to an open sunlit space where once the commissary stood, near the stout masonry abutments of the little fallen bridge. The way is strewn all along with bits of iron and slag, and through the interlacing trees, frown the ruins of the old quarters. Beyond a little winding of Shades Creek is another open grassy space, closed in by tall trees, and at the far end shadowed by the bluff and the fallen stacks. The old furnace is but a shapeless mass of tumbled brick and rock and twisted iron rods. A long‑leafed yellow pine waves from the topmast part of the old stack where once floated the smoke, its plume of industry. A slender sycamore and a sweet‑gum peep over the deep well‑like cavity. Frosty hoarhound flowers, strings of poke berries, and festoons of wild muscadine

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                                                  RESURRECTION OF IRON WORKS 1866-1870                                          201

 

drape it graciously, and, parting the vines, one may see where the molten iron and slag have enameled the brick and stone with myriads of colors as though set with strange, bright jewels. Like Cedar Creek, Old Tannehill, Eagle, Rob Roy, Brighthope, Brierfield, Chocolloco, and the others, Irondale, too, has been turned by nature and by time into a poem.

 

The other furnace plant in Shades Valley remained silent until the success of Irondale, during the years 1867 to 1870, at length brought a revival of interests to the blackened Oxmoor ruins, and a meeting of the directors and shareholders of the South and North (or Alabama Central Railroad) was held in Montgomery in the summer of 1871 to decide on ways and means of rebuilding the plant.

 

Oxmoor remained just as the Federal raiders had left it, in the month of April, 186B, " a scene of loneliness and ruin," Mary Gordon Duffee has chronicled, "that makes my soul faint to recall it." Miss Duffee, a young girl at the time of the war, had, at Oxmoor, an experience of deep and singular pathos. She was in Montevallo when the invading army entered. Her brothers were out in the field, and her parents were sixty‑five miles away at Blount Springs.

 

" It was about set of sun," she writes, "when we heard the rolling of many drums and saw waving pennants and banners of war, and a seemingly endless column of cavalry approach the town. All night we waited the agony of the dawn, knowing a battle was imminent, as the forces of Forrest, Buford, and Roddey were on the southern outskirts. In the forenoon we heard firing at the depot, and a heavy skirmish began.

 

" Two days afterwards with the aid of Miss Emma Bailey I succeeded in organizing a little band of women and children, and we went down the railroad as far as Brierfield to search for the wounded, comfort the dying, and arrange for the burial of the dead. Having discharged my duty I resolved to make my way home on foot. Starvation reigned on every hand. After a walk of thirty miles, begging my nourishment of hominy and buttermilk from the ruined and wretched people by the way, I reached Oxmoor at the close of one of those tenderly beautiful days typical of early spring in this climate. I had renewed my fainting strength—faint indeed from hunger and the dreary walk—with the hope of receiving food and shelter in the dear homes of Oxmoor. As I neared the familiar scene, my heart sank at the strange stillness of the landscape,—not a sound save the call of the birds as they flew from limb to limb. Here and there an old army horse searched for the tender young grass; the wild honey

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202                                           THE STORY OF COAL AND IRON IN ALABAMA

 

suckle threw its spray of pink tendrils against the rocks; it was all so sweet and tranquil—but so overwhelmingly lonely! At last I mustered courage to venture on, and found myself standing amid blackened ruins against the wall of the furnace tower. Up the hill were silent, deserted houses; not a living human being was in sight. The awful truth flashed upon my mind, and in despair too bitter for words, blinded with tears, I knelt down and prayed my God for courage.

 

"Rising, I looked up at the summit of the high hill, whose sides had been utterly shorn of their timber, and I saw a comfortable building with smoke issuing from the chimney. This seemed a sign of inhabitants and security. Wearily I climbed the steep and rugged path, and arriving at the gate, told them who I was, begged a sleeping place on their floor, and assured them with all due humility and politeness that I would not presume to ask for food, only the charity of their shelter. The head of the family was a clever, kind gentleman, and son‑in‑law of old man Stroup, the pioneer iron maker of central Alabama, and the friend of my father and of my childhood. This family welcomed me, acted in the most hospitable manner, and compelled me to share the few supplies they had managed to save.

 

" Refreshed by a night of unbroken sleep, I bade these blessed friends adieu at an early hour and wended my solitary way to the wretched ruins. The morning sun shone from a cloudless sky, and I lingered long amid those mournful scenes; then pursued my journey up the street, past the silent homes, only one or two of which were left to greet me. On the summit I stopped to view the grave of a child of Mr. Haynes, a scientist. To my horror a wayfarer told me that stragglers from the army had broken the marble stones and dug into the grave in search of treasure. I hurried away. A couple of Southern soldiers passed me; they were my neighbors, and by them I sent a message to my father to meet me at Elyton. Hope arose in my heart, and soon I found myself at the door of Baylis E. Grace. I wish I had words to tell the gracious sweetness of his voice and manner as he led me into the presence of his young wife, an old Tuskaloosa friend of my childhood; how nobly they exerted themselves in my behalf; how freely they divided their food with me; how graciously the day passed."

 

Thus the ruins of old Oxmoor are pictured.


212                                           THE STORY OF COAL AND IRON IN ALABAMA

 

 

 

(David Thomas comes to Alabama.  Did David Thomas inform James Thomas of opportunities in Alabama or were his sons and James competitors?)

 

 

Coincident with Daniel Hillman's visit to Jones Valley was that of David Thomas of Pennsylvania, "the pioneer of the anthracite iron trade of America" The celebrated old ironmaster, together with his son, Samuel Thomas, and his grandson, Edwin Thomas, came south first at the insistence of his old friend and fellow‑countryman, Giles Edwards. At the old inn in Elyton, they met up with Baylis Grace, whom they employed as their agent. At this date (1866-1869) nothing beyond the purchase of mineral lands by (Giles Edwards, near Tannehill, in the name of Samuel Thomas and Robert H.. Sayre, was accomplished. But this was the first step in the making of the Old Pioneer Mining and Manufacturing Company, which was the foundation property of the Alabama holdings of the great Republic Iron and Steel Company. Operations were not begun until the eighteen‑eighties. Another Pennsylvanian visitor of this early period who did much to arouse interest in the mineral region, was William D. Kelly, known as " Pig Iron Kelly."

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                                              FOUNDING GREAT WORKSHOP TOWN, 1869‑1872 229

 

 

It was at this time (early in 1871) that the Welsh iron‑master, Giles Edwards, passed through .Jones Valley and began his work of prospecting and purchasing mineral properties for the Pioneer Mining and Manufacturing Company, now part of Republic Iron and Steel Company.

 

" On our way to Tannehill," Mrs. Edwards remarked, " we passed through Elyton, and saw the site of Birmingham. There were then only two section houses for the men starting the railroad—nothing else. But my husband pointed up the long valley. ' There lies Birmingham,' he said; ' all that is going to be Birmingham some day.' And he spread his arms out to take in the whole country—so."

 

At Tannehill the Edwards family occupied a house near the ruins of the old stone furnace. It is still standing and is known as the " old mansion house." Here they entertained extensively, having visitors from many parts, especially from Pennsylvania, among them members of the Thomas family and Captain Bill Jones.

 

In response to an inquiry from one E. Wilbur of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, relative to the cost of constructing a then modern plant on the old furnace site at Tannehill, Giles Edwards wrote, May 26, 1871:

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230                                           THE STORY OF COAL AND IRON IN ALABAMA

 

" 1. The cost of building a charcoal blast furnace at this place, of the following dimensions: Height, thirty‑five feet; diameter at the boshes, nine feet, with hot blast and blowing engine, steam boilers, etc., would be thirty‑two thousand dollars ($32,000); a furnace of the above dimensions will make ten tons of pig iron per day—(see accompanying estimate).

 

" 2. The cost of making hot blast charcoal iron will range from seventeen dollars and fifty cents to twenty dollars per ton.

 

" 3. The cost of transportation of pig iron to Mobile from the Brierfield Iron Works, the highest rate that I have known was seven dollars ($7) per ton, by rail by way of Selma and Meridian, Mississippi, to Mobile, and from there by sea to New York at the rate of three dollars per ton,—consult the map and compare the distance from this place,—Tannehill, and Mobile and Montevallo and Mobile.

 

" 4. As to the probable time it would take to build up and get into blast after first breaking ground, I will say that if a start be made the first of August to make charcoal and commence the buildings, I believe that I could make about six hundred tons of pig iron inside of twelve months.

 

" Any other information upon this subject that you desire I shall be glad to give at any time."

 

The Edwards family eventually removed from Tannehill to Woodstock where Mr. Edwards constructed his own blast furnace. In addition to being a furnaceman and iron‑master, Giles Edwards was also, according to DeBardeleben and others, a practical geologist, a student, an engineer, and an expert prospector. The Welshman worked unceasingly for many years at Woodstock. His wife was his comrade and his helper in every sense of the word. " There never was a better wife than Giles Edwards' wife," an old friend exclaimed, " but how she worked! They were a working team, those two! Up from daylight till dark, always busy, always doing something for other people. They had a big house, and were entertaining company all the time. As no servants could be gotten then for love or money, Mrs. Edwards had her hands full, and the way she managed things and moved around and got things done—there never was her equal! " Certain it is that if ever a woman helped the iron business along in Alabama it was Giles Edwards' plucky wife. Her greatest desire— and her husband's—was to see Wales once more and to take their children there. But they never realized their dream. Together they would often talk Welsh, just as in the old time at Carbondale. Mr. Edwards subscribed for a Welsh paper all his life and one of his intimate friends was a Welsh bard. Often in

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                                              FOUNDING GREAT WORKSHOP TOWN, 1869-1872                                      231

 

memory he would go back to Merthyr Tydvil, his proud town that was named for a king's daughter; and who can ever know how many times he saw those shadowy furnaces of other years loom dark on the horizon line when his heart would ache for home.

 

He was a quiet, kindly, deep‑hearted man who loved his work. How bitter it was to him to see the fruit of his toil turned to cinders, to see the ground he had deemed so solid apparently prove to be quickeand, that caught and sucked under his most cherished projects, none can ever measure. When the depression of 1893 engulfed the land, Giles Edwards was too old to take a fresh start, and he died before he could see beyond the bitter waters.

 


238                                                            CHAPTER XVI

 

RECONSTRUCTION OF OXMOOR AND ADVENT OF LOUISVILLE

AND NASHVILLE RAILROAD INTO ALABAMA 1872-1873

 

 

(Early in 1873 Oxmoor was put into blast. Other historians state that James Thomas was in charge. No mention of James Thomas is made in this account.)

 

 

EARLY spring of 1872 marked the entrance of Daniel Pratt and Henry Fairchild DeBardeleben into the Birmingham District. 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 effected, 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 needed to construct two twenty‑five‑ ton charcoal furnaces modeled after the Shelby plant, and agreed to make up deficiencies, should the other stockholders fail to raise the full amount required.

 

This venture of Daniel Pratt is spoken of by his biographer, Mrs. Tarrant, as " the last and crowning act of his life." She

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                                                          RECONSTRUCTION OF OXMOOR                                                   239

 

says: "It was undertaken reluctantly on account of his age and infirmity, for he doubted if he should live to witness its completion, yet his State pride urged him to undertake it. He believed something should be done to develop the mineral resources of the State. He thought labor should be diversified in order that the South might sustain herself.... For this enterprise he felt great solicitude, and remarked a few days before his last illness, ' If it is the will of God, I should like to see the completion of this enterprise."'

 

Young DeBardeleben, who was Mr. Pratt's son‑in‑law, was appointed superintendent and general manager of the new company at a salary of $7,000 per year, which was big money for the office in those days. " And I came in and took charge of what I knew nothing about ! " DeBardeleben says: " I 'd worked iron up into gins, but I had never set eyes on the raw product. Oxmoor was my first lesson in the iron business, and Joe Squire was my first teacher on goal."

 

Up to this time, early in 1872, DeBardeleben had never put foot in the mineral region. Nothing was known of him more than that he had helped run the gin factory down in Prattville for several years and had married Ellen Pratt, Daniel Pratt's only child. He now took hold of his new job, and began to spur on the work to a galloping pace. Savagely energetic, restless, impatient, he seemed to have one foot always in the stirrup, and to be itching to mount and be off and away. Surely he had plenty of sap in his bones. He was just about thirty then, and dashingly good looking, they say. Six feet tall, he was erect and well proportioned, and an athlete. He could leap his horse clear from the ground, they tell, and ride like Bill Weatherford. His hair and mustache were black, his face ruddy, and his eyes black and quick as a bird's. His aquiline nose and a certain arch of brows, with the bright quickness of his eye, gave to his profile then, as now, a keenness, a hawk‑like look.

 

Although born and reared in AIabama, Henry Fairchild DeBardeleben was of Hessian breed, and showed it. His great-grandfather was one of the twenty‑two thousand fighting men who came out of Hesse‑Cassel to the Colonies, at England's call, during the American Revolution. Landing at Charleston, South Carolina, this Captain DeBardeleben hired out himself, his sword, and his men, for England. When the war was over, he got a wife in South Carolina and bred tall sons in the Southern woods.

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240                                           THE STORY OF COAL AND IRON IN ALABAMA

 

A liking for the wild forest, a free life, and the big surge of the far away hills had quickened the DeBardeleben blood for‑generations. " The Indian's life as it used to be,—that is the only life worth living," Colonel DeBardeleben says: " I 'd rather be out in the woods on the back of a fox‑trotting mule, with a good seam of coal at my feet than be president of the United States. I never get lonely in the woods, for I picture as I go along, and the rocks and the forests are the only books I read."

 

And, indeed, given his fox‑trotting mule, a coal seam, and a " couple of riggers " with picks and shovels, and DeBardeleben, even to‑day, becomes lost to civilization for months at a time. He is a born woodsman, and never gets lost in the woods, but in a town or city, even in Birmingham itself, that he has seen grow from a smithy and railroad crossing to the great coal, iron, and steel center of the South, he frequently becomes more or less bewildered.

 

To return for a moment to his forebears. Scarcely a record is extant. The old Hessian captain's grandson, Henry DeBardeleben, left South Carolina for Alabama in his later life. His first wife had died, and lat;e in the eighteen‑thirties he married a Miss lTairchild of New York. He owned a cotton plantation in Autauga County, where was born, in 1841, his oldest son, Henry Fairchild DeBardeleben, destined to become the most picturesque and dramatic character in the coal and iron history of the South.

 

When Henry DeBardeleben was no more than ten years old, his father died. His mother then took her little family to Montgomery. Henry began to earn a few dollars a month by working in a grocery store. At that time in Alabama there was a strong bond of interest and friendship between the few Northern men and women in the State, and Daniel Pratt and his wife were oldtime friends of the widow DeBardeleben. Pratt at length became the guardian of Henry E. DeBardeleben, and brought him to Prattville when he was sixteen years old and sent him to school. He took him into his home as one of his own family, and brought him up as his own son, in the " big white house," as the Pratt home was always called.

 

Now from the plain record of his life, Daniel Pratt's one gospel was work. Indeed, he wore duty, labor, principle, religion strapped, as boards, upon his back. His weather‑vane pointed uncompromisingly toward New England. His sphere of life was

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                                                          RECONSTRUCTION OF OXMOOR                                                   241

 

a narrow height, skyward reaching, rock‑rimmed, just such a place for an eagle's breeding. And, indeed, one scarcely stretches a point when it is said that from this rock in reality an eagle did take wing, as presently shall be discerned.

 

For the time being, however, one may readily surmise that the wild boy with the Hessian blood in his veins must have been often a sore trial to Daniel Pratt. He was forever cutting loose from everything, and making for the woods, stalking deer, running down rabbits and foxes, making his home with all manner of strange folk. Books and the four walls of the schoolroom irked young Henry, but Daniel Pratt bent him to study and discipline two mortal years. To keep him occupied out of school hours, however, and to give him a chance to work off some of his energy, he made the boy boss of the teamsters and the lumber yard. This job got the young fellow up before daylight, and gave him some slight idea of discipline, self‑control, and management; it gave him, too, a certain fellowship with the men about the works. The boy was not a shirker or lazy. Then, too, work was a respite from the books. At length he had his chance to quit books altogether, for Daniel Pratt made him superintendent of the gin factory.

 

Then the war broke out, and young DeBardeleben enlisted as a private in the Prattville Dragoons. He lay in barracks a space, at Pensacola, and then made straight for the firing line. A sinew of Bragg's army, his company went through Shiloh, after which DeBardeleben was detailed out of the field by Governor Shorter, to take charge of the bobbin factory at Prattville, which had been pressed into the Confederate service. This year, 1862, was also the year of his marriage to Ellen Pratt, the daughter of Daniel Pratt. She was sixteen and DeBardeleben twenty‑one years of age.

 

He got into habits of steady industry during the ensuing years, became of some real assistance to Daniel Pratt, and helped manage with good grip the growing business. Pratt came to confide more and more his business projects to his son‑in‑law, and in particular, his new railroad enterprises, the South and North business, and the iron making venture in Shades Valley.

 

The coal mines of the Red Mountain Company were at that time in charge of Joe Squire who had been employed since the fall of 1871 by George N. Gilmer and A. J. Noble. Mr. Squire also had charge of the engineering work.

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242                                           THE STORY OF COAL AND IRON IN ALABAMA

 

" On May 13, 1872," he writes, " Daniel Pratt and Henry F. DeBardeleben came to the Helena Mines, and informed me that they had bought a controlling interest in the Red Mountain Company's mining and furnace property, and requested me to keep charge of the Helena mines, and also do some surveying at once at the Oxmoor furnace property. I got on their waiting train and accompanied them to Oxmoor, where they directed me to survey the boundaries of the lands, especially the Red Mountain Company's lands, and locate a mine in the Red Ore, and a tram road for the supply of the furnaces with said ore, and more especially to notify the people in the houses at the works to please vacate them as they would be needed in the course of a month for the hands."

 

Early in the winter of 1873, the Oxmoor furnace went into blast. Daniel Pratt was down then, ill to death, but he rejoiced deeply over the fact that the reconstruction work, by which he hoped the South would gain new life, and diversfied industries have birth, had at length, partly by means of his own earnings and his counsel, and by the work done by his son‑in‑law, reached completion.

 

" I remember the very day our furnaces went into blast,?' said DeBardeleben; "the dogs started up a deer, and ran him full speed clean over the pig bed. The woods all round were chuck full of game. The wild turkeys flew every which way." The place is still wild and wooded and strangely picturesque.

 

The village of Oxmoor took on new lease of life for a little while, under DeBardeleben's administration. Mary Gordon Duffee revisited the place about this time when she was invited to Birmingham as the guest of the city. Of Oxmoor she says:

 

" The furnaces were just rebuilt, and the former sense of busy, active life pervaded the spot. Here every attention was shown me, deference to my slightest wishes, manifested by all the employees from the highest to the lowest. Carefully I investigated the works and made notes. But those who expected brilliant language from me were disappointed. I was too full of the silent memories of the dark hours of the past to venture a word. I knew I could not talk; I was too deeply moved. Little did the elegant men who escorted me about know how often I brushed the tears away as I made notes in my book. There I stood by the enormous engine wheel, and recognized the hand of kind Heaven in raising up Daniel Pratt to 'rebuild the waste places' and ' make the desert blossom as the rose."'


 

CHAPTER XVII

 

LIFE SAVING MEASURES 1873-1878

 

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 precedent in the history of any corporation in the United States. They represented an extraordinary and practically unlimited power, including capital stock unlimited, perpetual duration, absolute exemption from personal liability of stockholders, exemption of all company properties from taxation for twenty years, barring a slight school tax,—all privileges that no amount of money could purchase at the present time.

 

The governing body of the new company was composed, in the main, of the former directors: George Gilmer, Charles T. Pollard, Daniel S. Troy, David Clopton, A. J. Noble, B. S. Bibb, and M. E. Pratt. Colonel Troy was elected president; A. J.

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256                                           THE STORY OF COAL AND IRON IN ALABAMA

 

Noble, treasurer; T. S. Mount, secretary, while Levin S. Goodrich, old Daniel Hillman's grandson, and the only really practical iron man in the company, was engaged as manager and superintendent, in the place vacated by young DeBardeleben.

 

To make a ton of iron at this time in the Oxmoor furnace required 196-1/2 bushels of charcoal. Goodrich reduced this amount to 123 bushels to the ton, and increased the output from eight tons to eighteen. The employment of a chemist, a distinctly fresh endeavor in iron making in Alabama at that time, was an incident of Colonel Troy's administration. Goodrich, it seems, was not an advocate of the "grading by eye" system, then in vogue all over mineral Alabama. He made a systematic examination of the ores that fed the furnaces, and in 1874 obtained Colonel Troy's consent to send various specimens to Dr. Wuth, a Pittsburg chemist. Following the chemist's report, Goodrich wished to attempt the reduction of these ores with coke. But the company had neither the capital nor the relish for experiments. It struggled on, barely self‑sustaining. " Levin Goodrich's ideas were always of a positive nature," asserts Captain O'Brien, " and not a matter of conjecture, and they were sought by many for the same reason that a man whistles when he goes through a graveyard, to keep his courage up."

 

The little town of Birmingham was then practically a graveyard. Nevertheless, Goodrich saw a great future ahead of it, once they all started to making coke pig iron. " He always said," remarked Captain O'Brien, "that nothing could keep the Birmingham District from setting the price of iron for the entire world. He saw no reason why that which is happening in 1909 should not have happened in 1874."

 

Levin S. Goodrich had been in the iron business from his youth, as had his fathers before him. He was born in 1829, at the Old Kentucky Steam Furnace in Greenup County, the year his good old grandfather, Daniel Hillman, came into the wilderness of Alabama. Frank P. O'Brien has furnished the following account:

 

" In 1834 Daniel Hillman, Jr., and the father of Levin Goodrich left Kentucky and came to Reynoldeburg, in Humphreys County, Tennessee, and erected a furnace on the waters of White Oak Creek. To this furnace, rude in design and of small capacity, the name of Fairhaven was given. The following year the families moved to Dover furnace, in Stewart County, Tennessee. Here young Goodrich remained with his father and uncle until

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                                                         LIFE SAVING MEASURES 1873‑1878 257

 

1840, when they moved to Missouri, remaining there three years. By this time young Goodrich had gained some knowledge of iron making He was required by his father and uncle to do every kind of work—from the cutting of cord wood, burning of charcoal, digging of iron ore, to the superintendence of the furnace.

 

" In 1844 there were no rolling mills nearer than Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, so the owners of the Dover and Bear Spring furnaces established one on the Cumberland River, above Dover. Daniel Hillman, Jr., and Dr. Watson purchased the Tennessee rolling mills in Nashville, which plant had long been idle and practically dismantled, and moved it to Kentucky, and began work in 1846, with Richard Fell. In 1848, after the death of Mr. Hillman's partner, Mr. Goodrich was given charge of the mill. Later, in 1848, George W. Hillman, who had been managing the Fulton furnaces, was put in charge of the rolling mill, and Mr. Goodrich was given charge of the Fulton furnaces. Here he remained until 1851, when he had three liberal propositions from outside parties to go into the iron business; but his uncle, Daniel Hillman, Jr., appreciating his worth, agreed to give him a fourth interest in the Mt.Aetna property. This proposition he accepted, and remained in constant control and operation until the furnace was blown out in December, 1854, because it was impossible to get the product to market. From Mt. Aetna, Mr. Goodrich went back to Centre, Kentucky, and took charge of the Centre furnace. While there he married Miss Louisa Ross Carter, daughter of Dr. B. N. Carter, himself an iron man of considerable character. The Civil War coming on about this time, Mr. Goodrich remained for a time in the iron business in Kentucky and Tennessee. [He made a tour of inspection through Alabama, as before noted.] In 1866, in connection with his brother, he purchased from his uncle, George W. Hillman, the Hurricane mill property in Humphreys County, Tennessee, where he remained until he located at Oxmoor in 1873."

 

Handicapped as the Eureka Company then was, having to make iron at more expense than profit, minus a market, minus expert labor, and minus even the timber for charcoal, every prediction of disaster pointed out to them by Henry F. DeBardeleben the year before at length confronted the company.

 

James Thomas was trying to steer Irondale furnace off the rocks. The so‑called Birmingham District, so widely advertised by Colonel Powell, had become the laughing stock of the whole iron world. " The fools down in Alabama," it was said in Pittsburg, " are shipping us ferruginous sandstone and calling it iron ore! "

 

Judge Mudd and his two boys took the Oxmoor furnaces in

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258                                           THE STORY OF COAL AND IRON IN ALABAMA

 

lieu of a debt due them for timber, and ran the plant for several months. A debt of $240,000 was now hanging over the property and the officers of the Eureka Company, turned fairly desperate, goaded by ridicule at home and abroad, made a public offer to turn over their furnaces to any man or any company of men desirous of proving that iron could be successfully manufactured in the Birmingham District.

 

" Just here," Frank P. O'Brien says, " those of us who had invested every dollar we possessed in Birmingham under the impression that the wealth untold that had been described to us by the promoters of the then infant city would, in a few years, make each one of us a millionaire, saw that something must be done to demonstrate the truth of the many claims made for this region. Who was the man to lead us out of this wilderness of despair? That man came forward in the person of Colonel John T. Milner. Colonel Milner sent out notices to ' All those who are interested in the success of Birmingham,' calling them to meet in the office of the Elyton Land Company, situated then in the second story of the building later known as the Bank Saloon, on the corner of First Avenue and Twentieth Street.

 

" This meeting was pretty well attended and was opened by calling Judge William Mudd to the chair, with Major Willis J. Milner as secretary. Colonel Milner stated the object of the call to be the formulation of a plan to organize a Cooperative Experimental Company, which would take advantage of the offer of the Eureka Mining and Transportation Company. He, on his part, would subscribe one thousand dollars in cash and a good sample of coal from three properties, to test its coking qualities. He called upon all others owning coal lands to take up the matter and do all they could to bring about some practical result which would demonstrate that our mineral deposits were not failures."

 

Major Willis J. Milner, secretary of the meeting, reports that after stating the purposes and the objects of the call for the meeting, Colonel Milner stood up and said: " We are confronted with a condition that calls for action on our part. We have been crying 'Natural resources,' and depending on others to come and develop them, like the man calling on Hercules to come and pull his wagon out of the mud. Hercules will not come until we put our own shoulders to the wheel. In my boyhood while at school I knew an old gentleman, a Jew, who by his wisdom and astuteness in business had accumulated a great fortune.

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                                                         LIFE SAVING MEASURES 1873‑1878 259

 

The old man seemed to take an interest in me, and said to me on one occasion, ' Boy, never deceive yourself, as many persons do. You may deceive others, but you must never deceive yourself. Always be sure of that. Now,' and Colonel Milner turned to the men, ' we are liable to deceive ourselves as to the value and quality of our natural resources on which we have so long been depending. We don't know what we can do. Let us find out for ourselves. We have been resting long enough on our natural resources. It is time we should be creating resources."'

 

A statement from Levin S. Goodrich, giving the result of his investigations and his positive knowledge that success would follow the experiment of making iron with coke, was read by Major Milner. Mr. Goodrich himself addressed the meeting in a clear and reasonable talk.

 

The result was immediate. The organization of the Cooperative Experimental Coke and Iron Company was effected, and it adjourned to meet June 1 following for the purpose of hearing reports from committees to solicit subscriptions, and also to elect a board of managers or trustees. Power was given a committee, consisting of B. F. Roden, John T. Milner, Willis J. Milner, W. S. Mudd, and Frank P. O'Brien, to make such arrangements as would be equitable with Colonel Troy and the other officers of the Eureka Mining and Transportation Company, looking to the carrying out of the Troy proposition. The adjourned meeting reconvened June 1, and after hearing reports, a permanent organization was effected by the election of Colonel J. W. Sloss, Charles Linn, and William S. Mudd as a board of managers by the subscribers. At the same meeting Levin S. Goodrich was elected superintendent.

 

About this time a proposition was submitted by a Belgian named Shantle, for the use of a patent coke oven known as the Shantle Reversible Bottom Oven, which he claimed was the best system known for converting coal to coke. His proposition was accepted, and five ovens were built by Frank P. O'Brien under the supervision of the patentee.

 

Levin S. Goodrich, with the furnaceman John Veitch as his right‑hand man, began at once changing the furnaces from charcoal to coke furnaces, also cold blast to hot blast by the introduction of (foodrich's Blast Furnace Feeder. Many other improvements were made.

 

Meanwhile, experiments with the various coals were under way.

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260                                           THE STORY OF COAL AND IRON IN ALABAMA

 

There were then but four coal mines in operation in the Birmingham District: Newcastle, Warrior, Worthington, and Helena. There had been a little hole in the ground dug over what was then known as the Browne seam, out in the Warrior field, by Uncle Billy Goold. Several loads were sent down to the furnaces by ox team and the coal was found to be the precise quality Goold claimed it was. It beat every other coal then known in the district for coking purposes..

 

It seems that the year after Billy Goold had sold out in Shelby County and had essayed the cotton‑ broker's business in Selma, he " went busted," as he says. He then renewed his coal trade and opened what is known to‑day as the Goold seam in the Cahaba field. He later went into partnership with Pierce, and helped him open his mine at Warrior. " Went busted again," said Uncle Billy, and he took to the woods prospecting. " Not one dollar did I have, and I dug night and day in the Warrior field, sometimes without food, for over two months. Then one day I struck a seam that made my heart thump for the thickness of it. I came then straightway down into Birmingham, and I went to see my friend, H. T. Beggs. He said he must take a look at the coal. He came and saw it, and he went into partnership with me. We bought one hundred and sixty acres, and I opened two drifts. At depth of one hundred feet I discovered coal four feet and eight inches thick. And good coking coal it was ! " This was the coal later named the great Pratt seam.

 

Uncle Billy enlisted Major Peters, Mr. Pritchard, and Colonel Tate in the scheme. They put up a few dollars, and a pine‑pole road was started into Birmingham. They then brought the coal to the attention of Colonel Sloss.

 

As far as the railroad business went in the mineral district then, affairs on the South and North were still in sorry shape. There was neither coal, iron, nor lumber for the road to carry. Neither were there passengers. For nobody ever went anywhere in Alabama in those days. Between Decatur and Calera there was not enough traffic to warrant the operation of a passenger coach once a week, nor to operate more than one freight car a day. There was no revenue from any source. The outlay of money to complete the railroad was money out of the pockets of the stockholders. Colonel Sloss, president of the unfortunate road, felt, with Albert Fink and John T. Milner, responsible for the extension policy of the Louisville and Nashville into Alabama,

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                                                         LIFE SAVING MEASURES 1873‑1878 261

 

and was naturally deeply concerned. The ownership of the Oxmoor property had at length reverted to Henry F. DeBardeleben, who now possessed the furnaces, and, as heir to Daniel Pratt, owned Red Mountain from Graces Gap to the town now known as Bessemer.

 

The experiment of making iron with coke seemed to every man in the district the last straw. Every eye was turned to Oxmoor. Colonel Sloss waited breathless. The rise or fall of the Louisville and Nashville in Alabama was involved in the experiment. If it were unsuccessful, then the South and North Railroad must be forever abandoned in Alabama. James Thomas, too, from over in Irondale, watched the experiment with nerves on edge. Blast furnaces in the Birmingham District must be given up if coke pig iron could not be made. The little group of men making up the Experimental Company were perhaps even more concerned. Their personal fortunes, and the life or death of the town of Birmingham, depended on the outcome at the Oxmoor furnace.

 

On February 28, 1876, the thing was done! Coke pig iron was made! Every statement of Levin S. Goodrich was proved true. For the first time in Jefferson County and in the history of iron making in Alabama coke pig iron was made, and of good quality. The Birmingham District, the Louisville and Nashville Railroad, and the town of Birmingham with all its citizens saw daylight. It was yet to be demonstrated, however, whether coke iron could be made at a profit.

 

Colonel Sloss and James Thomas did not lose a minute. They entered into negotiations with young DeBardeleben and with the directors and stockholders of the Eureka Mining and Transportation Company, looking to the purchase of the rights, titles, and interests of the company. After getting options on the property they at once organized a company comprising interests from Cincinnati and Louisville. Colonel Sloss represented the Louisville interest, consisting of Frank Guthrie, Victor Newcombe, Dr. Standifer, and others. James Thomas represented the Cincinnati parties, among whom were David Sinton,1 D. B. Fallis,

 

I David Sinton of Cincinnati had made a fortune from pig iron during the Civil War. He eventually acquired majority stock in the Eureka Company and, at the time that DeBardeleben brought about the merger of the Oxmoor property with the DeBardeleben Coal and Iron Company, Mr. Sinton was practically the owner of historic old Oxmoor. David Sinton's daughter is the wife of Charles P. Taft, brother of President Taft.

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262                                           THE STORY OF COAL AND IRON IN ALABAMA

 

Abel Breed, James Breed, and A. M. Brown, vice‑president of the Merchants National Bank.

 

The charter of the Eureka Company was changed before the new parties came into possession of the property. Thomas at once began making changes, and during the next six months expended many thousands of dollars in the building of two new stacks,—the erection at Helena of one hundred coke ovens, and the building at the Oxmoor plant of an expensive battery of patent ovens operated by machinery. The capacity of the new furnaces was about four times as great as that of the old ones, and a much better quality of metal was the result. Furnace No. 2 was blown in March, 1876, while No. 1 was not completed until July of 1877.

 

" Topping its big stone jacket," said John Shannon, who began working as a water boy under foreman John David Hanby about this time, " was a fifteen‑foot high iron work, making the furnace about fifty feet in height. No. 2 had three tuyeres, but its daily capacity did not average more than twenty to twenty-five tons. John Veitch was head furnaceman, and my father, James Shannon, was his assistant."

 

Levin S. Goodrich returned to the iron business in Tennessee, revamped the Mt. Aetna plant for J. C. Warner of Nashville, and worked steadily at the iron trade until his death in 1886. He kept up his interest in the Birmingham District till the last, and watched its progress with eager eyes.

 

James Shannon was from across the water. Like Colonel Sloss, he too was Irish, but he received his training as a foundry. man in England at the works of the great iron‑master, Thomas Whitwell. He married a Lancashire lass when he was working as a top‑filler in the Barron Furnace, and it was in Lancashire 1867, that his son John was born.1 James Shannon emigrated to the United States in 1874 with his family. He worked under W. R. Thomas in the Roane (sp must be Crane) Iron Works near Catasanqua, Pennsylvania, and he was the first expert hand Thomas had been able to get. " Up to that time Thomas had been working nothing but Pennsylvania farmers at his furnaces, and they all used to quit him regularly when crops came into consideration." Shannon accordingly stayed with him as keeper, as foundrymen were then called. Thomas used often to speak of his brother James away

 

I John Shannon, the present‑day superintendent of the Blast Furnace Department of Sloss-Sheffleld Company.

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                                                         LIFE SAVING MEASURES 1873‑1878 263

 

down in Alabama, running an " old timey " iron works by the name of Oxmoor.

 

At length, being employed by Ex‑Governor Joe Brown of Georgia and James C. Warner, president of the Tennessee Coal and Railroad Company, to build the Rising Fawn plant, W. R. Thomas left Reddington, taking with him his two " steadies," James Shannon and Tim Ginevan. Just as they finished the plant, they all got caught in the ebb-flow of the iron tide of 1876, when pig iron dropped from fifty dollars to thirty dollars per ton, and put them, as it put so many, to the bad. Shannon and his family went to Oxmoor.

 

At that time John Veitch was in charge of the furnace under Sloss and Thomas. They were beginning to have trouble with the Red Mountain ores. The furnaces kept turning out " silver gray," then accounted a "rotten iron." There was a limeset every little while for which every one was at a loss to account. Mr. Thomas sent for Peter Ferry, the St. Louis expert, to look into the trouble. Ferry came, bringing with him as his assistant, in August, 1878, a young Missouri boy named John Dowling.

 

Veitch had been making an iron too soft for the market, and Peter Ferry now got out an iron so hard and brittle that the furnaces got limeset again, and were worse than before. Mr. Veitch resigned and would not return, although Thomas sent a messenger for him and tried to persuade him. James Shannon was therefore made head furnaceman.

 

Shannon had been doing a little thinking of his own, and he had discerned the root of the difficulty. It seems that in the continued workings at the Red Mountain mines, the surface, or soft ore, had gradually been used up, and the hard ore, with its additional lime, was being used in the furnaces, with the same quantity of lime applied to the soft ore. It was a perfectly simple matter, therefore, merely to use less lime and a mixture of both soft and hard qualities of ore. Putting his theory into practice, James Shannon thus accomplished the steady and successful reduction of Red Mountain ores to the grade of pig iron then in demand.

 

From that time on Shannon was looked upon with new consideration, and was associated until the day of his death with many iron‑making enterprises in Birmingham. He was eventually employed by Underwood and DeBardeleben to operate Mary Pratt furnace; he then went to the Williamson and Bessemer

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264                                           THE STORY OF COAL AND IRON IN ALABAMA

 

furnaces, and finally to the Big Four at Ensley, where he died in harness in 1897.

 

A matter of signal interest and importance to Alabama during the early eighteen‑seventies was the reestablishment of the GLeological Survey. After the death of Professor Tuomey, in 1857, the survey was discontinued. But the University of Alabama, in 1871, again took the initiative just as it had done formerly in the matter of the first State survey, requiring the Professor of Geology to devote as much time in traveling over the State, in making examinations and collections in geology, as would be consistent with his duties at the university.

 

Dr. Eugene Allen Smith was then, as now, Professor of Geology of the university. He was then about thirty years old and had been serving for three years as assistant State Geologist of Mississippi.

 

Although born in Alabama (in Washington, Autauga County, October 27, 1841), Eugene A. Smith's forebears were all from New England, being of the families Bradford, Phelps, and A1lyn of Massachusetts and Connecticut. He is a lineal descendant of Colonial Governor William Bradford. His father was Samuel Parrish Smith and his mother Adelaide Julia Allyn. His first schooling was at Prativille, the town founded by Daniel Pratt of New Hampshire. After a few years' study in Philadelphia, and again at Prattville, Eugene Smith entered the IJniversity of Alabama, and was graduated in 1862 with the degree of A.B. Enlisting at once in the Confederate army, Thirty‑third Alabama regiment, infantry, he served about a year when he was detailed by President Davis as Instructor in Military Tactics at the University of Alabama. At the war's close he went to Germany, and was at the University of (foettingen and the University of Heidelberg, from which latter he received the degree of Ph.D. in 1868. Returning to the IJnited States, Dr. Smith accepted the position mentioned in the Hississippi State Survey, and in 1871 accepted the chair of Professor of Geology at the IJniversity of Alabama.

 

He conducted the survey without compensation, as had Professor Tuomey, a good part of the time. An act was passed by the legislature, however, in 1873, reviving the State survey and making an inadequate appropriation for expenses. In 1877 and in 1879 certain additional appropriations were made, but the services of the geologist were given without compensation until 1883. Mr. Henry McCalley, assistant in the chemical depart

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266                                                                 CHAPTER XVIII

 

BIRMINGHAM 1dILITANT 1876-1880

 

ALTHOUGH the happy termination of the trials of the Experimental Company promised daylight, as has been seen, it was misty weather that followed, after all. 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."

 

No further details on James Thomas' efforts are given.  He apparently returned to Catasauqua when a resolution of the difficulties could not be achieved.)

 


A CHAPTER OF PROGRESS 1880‑1886 287

 

 Neither Oxmoor nor Alice furnaces could meet the demand for pig iron in this year. The Louisville an Cincinnati factions in control of Oxmoor had come to the point where they locked horns over the Eureka Company, and James Withers Sloss was getting irked. Not one dollar's dividend had been paid by this company.

 

"Why don't you build you a couple of furnaces of your own,

 

288                                     THE STORY OF COAL AND IRON IN ALABAMA

 

man?" DeBardeleben said to the Irish colonel. "I'll let you have my Pratt coal at cost, plus ten per cent for five years."

 

'Put that down in writing," exclaimed Colonel Sloss, jumping his feet. The contract, to be held binding only in case of the success of the projected company, was drawn up on the spot, signed and sealed. An agreement to secure the requisite ore on practically the same terms was obtained at DeBardeleben's instance, from Mark W. Potter, who, at that time, owned the half of Red Mountain. With both contracts in pocket, therefore, Colonel Sloss took train for Louisville. Exhibiting them to President Standiford, he got the Louisville and Nashville backing on the venture and B. F. Guthrie's capital for a booster. He then cut ties from the Eureka Company and formed his first individual ironmaking concern in the Birmingham District in 1881, under name of the Sloss Furnace Company. The list of officers included James W. Sloss president; B. F. Guthrie, vice‑president; and Colonel Sloss's sons, Fred Sloss, secretary and treasurer, and Maclin Sloss, general manager. These four men, basing operations on the Potter and DeBardeleben contracts, and with support of the Louisville and Nashville, otherwise M. H. Smith, laid one of the foundation stones for the big Sloss­Sheffield Steel and Iron Company of the present time.

 

 

 

                                                      A CHAPTER OF PROGRESS 1880 - 1886                                              291

 

(Mention of Llewellyn Johns, a friend of James Thomas, who was involved in the coal mining business)

 

 

Colonel Ensley then planted himself right down in Alabama, resolved " to do up the Tennessee Company or bust." He

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292 THE STORY OF COAL AND IRON IN ALABAMA

 

ordered four more slopes sunk at Pratt, one of which he named the Laura Ensley, after his wife. His chief mining engineer was a Welshman named Llewellyn Johns, who had been in charge of the engineering work at Pratt, under DeBardeleben, for a short while. Johns was born, as he says, " atop of a coal mine," in 1844, at Ponty Prodd, Glamorganshire, Wales, the home county of Giles Edwards. After an interim at an English military academy, he returned to Wales, to work in the coal mines. Like Billy Goold, he saw no future for a miner in Great Britain, and left Wales for the United States. The young man wandered over the middle Atlantic States, working his way along, and finally struck for the West. His adventures in Nebraska, Nevada, and Montana are a book in themselves. Returning to Pennsylvania, he worked in the Diamond mines near Scranton, and in other localities for various members of the Thomas family, through whom he was induced to " try his luck in Birmingham." He arrived in the Birmingham camp on a spring morning, in 1872, without one cent in his pocket. He approached a man who was busy laying out claims and asked for a job—" something to earn breakfast money." AB it turned out, the man was Captain Frank P. O'Brien, a son of Llewellyn Johns' former boss, at the Diamond mines, in Scranton. The warm‑hearted young Irish " captain " was so delighted to learn this, that he at once went shares on breakfast, bunk and board with the young Welsh miner. Johns then worked in and around Birmingham as a carpenter and miner, and at the Warrior coal mines, under Pierce. He then went to Rising Faun, Georgia, but returned in 1877, to Birmingham, when through James Thomas, he secured the position of superintendent of Helena coal mines, near Oxmoor, after which he went to Pratt. He was eventually identified as mining engineer with the Tennessee Company, the DeBardeleben Coal and Iron Company, and the Republic Iron and Steel Company. The coal mine " Johns," and the blast furnace, " King John," both now owned by the Tennessee Company, were named for him. The colonel, now retired from business, preserves, to this day, innumerable mementos of this wandering past and has in glass cases, at his Birmingham home, " The Elms," the scouting and Indian suits once worn by him, as also the uniform of his school days. Gifted with a certain native‑born eloquence, an enthusiasm distinctly foreign to the average American business man, and an energy unquenchable, Llewellyn Johns

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                                                       A CHAPTER OF PROGRESS 1880-1886                                               293

 

has ever been a marked character of the Alabama mineral regions,—possibly its most unique feature.

 


                                                                MORE BIG BUSINESS 1886                                                        353

 

(Mention of the David Thomas interests and the town of Thomas, Alabama named after that family.)

 

The Pioneer Mining and Manufacturing Company was organized by members of the famous Thomas family of Pennsylvania iron‑masters,—David, Samuel, and Edwin Thomas,— together with Robert H. Sayre and their associates. The first seeds were sown directly after the Civil War, when, as has previously been chronicled, the initial properties of the company were acquired and Baylis Grace and Giles Edwards were employed as purchasing agents and prospectors. The acquisition of additional mineral lands at the hands of various other parties went on gradually for two decades before any material shoot of the Pioneer Company in the shape of a furnace stack pushed its head above ground.

 

Samuel Thomas, whose history is widely known, kept close tab on his properties in his frequent visits to Alabama, but did not consider that the general conditions of the South warranted their development until the boom times of Birmingham in 1887. The old Hawkins plantation on which the town of Thomas was founded was purchased through Aldrich and DeBardeleben for four dollars an acre. Mr. Thomas' company held lands in Bibb, Shelby, Tuskaloosa, and St. Clair counties, besides in Jefferson, much of which was secured at one dollar per acre. Their brown ore properties in Tuskaloosa included the historic Tannehill mines and hundreds of acres in and around the old furnace ruins.

 

John H. Adams, vice‑president and general manager of the Sayre Mining and Manufacturing Company, writes:

 

" The first furnace of the Pioneer Company was built on the old Williamson Hawkins plantation, and the town of Thomas was laid out with its brick houses, its churches, schools, and spring water supply, much after the plan of the town of Hokendanqua, Pennsylvania. All of Samuel Thomas' long‑ cherished desires were carried out under the management of his son, Edwin Thomas, president, vice‑ president, and general manager. Mines, iron ore, and coal for the supply of the company furnaces were opened by him. It is interesting to note in this connection that one of the brown ore properties selected by Mr. Thomas, a piece of property which was looked upon as being of little value, has mined from a comparatively few acres and shipped to the furnace at Thomas over two million tons of iron ore."

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354                                           THE STORY OF COAL AND IRON IN ALABAMA

 

Associated with Mr. Thomas in the building of this town and his iron manufacturing plant was F. B. Keiser, one of the former engineers of the Thomas Iron Company at Hokendauqua, Pennsylvania. Mr. Keiser's father, Bernhard Kieiser, an early German engineer in this country, a foundryman, machinist, and inventor, was, at this time (early in 1887), chief engineer for the Thomas Iron Company. F. B. Keiser was born in 1858, at Allentown, Pennsylvania. He received his early education in the public schools at Hokendanqua, and later took a special course in Allentown.

 

He was instructed in mechanical and civil engineering by his father and subsequently became his assistant. When he left Pennsylvania for the South in February, 1887, he had in charge the mechanical and construction departments for twelve blast furnaces, machine, car, and boiler shops, foundries, rolling stock, and mines belonging to the Thomas Iron Company. He had spent some time in the Connelleville region, studying the manufacture of coke and the construction of coke ovens. He made the plans for the general layout of the first two furnaces which were built at Thomas, Alabama. The company's first furnace went in blast May 18, 1888; the second, also designed and built by Mr. Keiser, was completed in 1890. The third furnace, put up after the Republic Iron and Steel Company acquired the Pioneer Company, was erected under Keiser's supervision.

 

The town of Thomas is located on a tract of one thousand six hundred eight acres, four miles from Birmingham, near Pratt City. Village Creek runs through the property, supplying the furnaces with water and feeding an artificial lake for storage purposes and for protection against drought. West Red Mountain crosses Thomas tract on its northern portion and gives out at the little bridge on the old Jasper road.

 

" A curious fact is that this vein of ore is just one hundred and fifty yards from the Black Creek Coal Seam," says Mr. Adams. Certainly a closer contiguity than exists in any other portion of the State. Within a few yards of this odd geological construction, on the Thomas property, stand to‑day two of the original plantation cabins built long before the Civil War by old Williamson Hawkins. They are still occupied by two of old "Marse" Hawkins' former slaves, Aunt Chloe and Uncle Nat. " Dese yere misable furnaces, an' de slag piles an' de pig iron done ruined my watermillyun patch!" says Uncle Nat. The

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                                                                MORE BIG BUSINESS 1886                                                        355

 

Thomas tract is reached and cut by all of the trunk lines entering Birmingham, as well as by the Birmingham Railway Light and Power Company's main line to Ensley, which passes one and three‑ fourths miles through the property. There is immediately south of and adjacent to the plant a deposit of dolomite which supplies the furnaces.

 

In 1892 Mr. Thomas appointed as superintendent of his mines John H. Adams, who was at that time acting as manager of mines for the Morris Mining Company. Mr. Adams, who came from Birmingham, England, as a boy, has made his own way up in this country. He was born in Birmingham, England, in July, 1856. His father was manager of the Hallfield Iron Works of Bilston. He attended the Dudley Grammar School of Birmingham and the Mechanical Institute of Staffordshire.

 

There were then in Staffordshire great open‑throated furnaces, without bells, and the coke was burned in wide coke hearths. By these great lights John Adams used to do his lessons at night. When he was fourteen years old he set to work in the drawingroom and the mills of Caponfield at Priestfield. He had not been there many months when the chance came to go to America. It seems that John Fritz's rolling mill in Chattanooga had been blown up in the war and the remains were bought by General John T. Wilder, United States Army, and his associates. General Wilder went to England for skilled iron workers, and young Adams was one of the crew employed, and came over that very year (1870). During the ensuing ten years he worked at various plants in Cincinnati and in the Pittsburgh and Bethlehem districts of Pennsylvania. The year of his marriage, 188O, was also the year of his coming to Birmingham. His wife was a Welsh girl, the daughter of George Williams, an iron man, once connected with the old Neath Abbey Iron Works in Wales, where David Thomas had gotten his first job.

 

After working two years in the Birmingham rolling mills under Thomas Coleman Ward, John Adams entered the Sloss Furnace Company, and eventually became mine manager of the red ore mines of Ruffner, Trondale, and Sloss. At the time of the organization of that company's furnaces at North Birmingham, he left to take the position of manager of the Tredegar rolling mills at Chattanooga, and became at length general superintendent of the Bessemer rolling mills, and in 1890 became mine manager of the Morris Mining Company, where he had

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356                                     THE STORY OF COAL AND IRON IN ALABAMA

 

charge of the operations at Redding, Alice, and Wade. Two years later he entered, at Samuel Thomas' instance, the service of the Pioneer Company, with which organization he remained until his resignation in 1906. In addition to his office as superintendent of mines, Mr. Adams also acted as general land agent for the Pioneer Company. He prospected, selected, and purchased large additional areas of coal, ore, and limestone properties, making monthly reports to Mr. Thomas. The brown ore mines at Goethite, near Tannehill, and at Houston, and the coal mines at Sayreton and Republic were opened and developed under John Adams' jurisdiction. The Raimund mine was named by him for Samuel Thomas' grandson.

 

In October of 1899 all of the properties of the Pioneer Company were purchased by the Republic Iron and Steel Company. This immense corporation, whose main headquarters are at Pittsburg, owned mineral interests in lands, furnaces, rolling mill, and steel plants, ore and coal mines in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Minnesota, and at that time had a capital of forty‑seven million dollars. Its entrance into the Southern field afforded another sensation in the business world. In addition to acquiring all the stock of the Pioneer Company, the Republic also bought up the old Birmingham rolling mill, the first on record in Birmingham, and the Alabama rolling mills at Gate City. The latter concern, which had been established in the great boom year, about the same time the Pioneer Company began construction work, was captained by W. H. Hassinger.