3 In Your Town: Historic Coke Ovens - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

3 In Your Town: Historic Coke Ovens

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DUNLAP, TN (WRCB) -

In 1899, a coal mine was opened on Fredonia Mountain overlooking Dunlap, Tennessee.

"There was no other employment around here,” explained historian, Carson Camp. “You either worked in the timber, made moonshine or farmed. And when mining came along, that was an occupation that paid a wage."

The men in Dunlap mined coal on the mountain to make coke. Coke is a fuel with few impurities and a high carbon content.

"The steel industry just had to have that,” said Camp. “It just makes the better grade of steel, the best grade of steel is made with melting the steel with coke."

In Dunlap, workers in 1902 used beehive ovens to heat the coal to 1800 degrees, converting coal to coke.

In the early 1900's, 700 people lived in the Dunlap area. More than half them earned a wage at the mines and the ovens.

"They were not paid by the hour. They were paid by the working ton. So if a miner loaded a one tone mining cart, which is what they'd normally hold, he got 10 cents in 1904."

In 1927, the mining operation on Fredonia Mountain shut down due to falling coal prices and the onset of the depression.

The coke ovens laid dormant for more than 50 years, garbage dumpers and rock thieves who dismantled stone from the ovens and essentially wrecked the area. In the mid 1980’s local citizens formed a historical group and began efforts to clear away the debris. The property was donated, for preservation, to the Historical Association by Bowater Southern Paper Company. The park has since been placed on the National Register of Historic Places, and it is maintained by the Coke Ovens Museum Association and The Sequatchie Valley Historical Association volunteers.
 

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