Jerry Summers: Durham, Ga. Coal Mines

Wednesday, August 12, 2020 - by Jerry Summers
Jerry Summers
Jerry Summers

Durham is an unincorporated community in Walker County, Ga., that is probably unknown to the majority of the public except for descendants of the miners and families that worked in the mines.  Durham was first called Pittsburgh like so many other towns that intended to simulate the big steel metropolis in Pennsylvania.  The name of the community changed to Durham after the mining area on Lookout Mountain was purchased by the Durham Iron and Coal Company.

Originally the Cherokee Indians lived in this area but were driven out on the Trail of Tears in the late 1830's.  This allowed industrialists to come into the rich coal mining region and to develop the resources.  Black convicts provided much of the labor to extract the coal from the mines that had begun operating before the Civil War.  When the mines were opened in 1891 foremen were hired to oversee the convicts.  The prisoners lived in barracks and were kept under heavy guard night and day.

The first load of coal from the Durham mines went on exhibition at the Georgia Avenue depot yard in Chattanooga on January 5, 1892.  Originally the coal was hauled from the mines by mule-driven wagons to a winding precarious railroad constructed in that time frame. The Durham line crossed the Chattanooga Southern Railroad that went to Gadsden, Ala., and on to Chickamauga, Ga., where the Central of Georgia Railroad passed through. The coal was examined by coal dealers and manufacturers before it was transported by rail to Coalburn, Alabama, where it could be made into coke. 

With the discovery of vast deposits of bituminous coal, Durham eventually evolved into Durham Coal and Coke Company, a town with the company providing housing, company store, and company-built churches.  By 1910 Durham had a butcher shop, a movie theatre, gambling hall, pool hall, barber shop, ice house and three boarding houses for the miners.  Business was so brisk that newcomers had to wait six months for a company house to become vacant.  The Durham post office was listed as Pittsburgh, Georgia and was in operation from 1900 until 1946.

After the first shipment was made in 1892, the mining of coal continued on and off until the 1940s.  The Chickamauga Coke Ovens are still present today just north of downtown Chickamauga on Georgia Highway 341.  Twice a day trips were made hauling coal by the trains to the ovens where it would be burned at high temperatures without any oxygen present to remove the impurities from the coal.

In order to make iron and steel, coke is necessary because it burns longer, hotter and steadier than coal and this was what the foundries needed in the Chattanooga market.  By 1904 the Durham mines were producing 700 to 1,000 tons of Coke in the Chickamauga ovens every day with approximately one-fifth of the ore being manufactured into coke.  This process continued operation into the Great Depression years when the large seam of coal eventually ran out.

The railroad was abandoned in 1951 and the narrow iron rails on the Chickamauga and Durham line were taken up and the wooden trestles rotted.  During the coal boom of the 1970s the ugly practice of strip mining was extracted from the area.  While the rails were removed in 1952 a majority of the former right-of-way can still be traced although some of it has been encroached on and part of it goes through a private nature preserve.  Eventually the right of way was given to Walker County but plans to build a walking trail from Chickamauga to Lula Falls were withdrawn because of opposition from land owners along the property.

A one day trip to visit the Town of Chickamauga and the coke ovens can be an interesting and historical journey.           

* * *

Jerry Summers

(If you have additional information about one of Mr. Summers' articles or have suggestions or ideas about a future Chattanooga area historical piece, please contact Mr. Summers at jsummers@summersfirm.com  

Train to Durham mines went by Lula Falls
Train to Durham mines went by Lula Falls

St. Alban's Holly Jolly Holiday Market Seeking Vendors For Nov. 7 Event

Voter Registration Drive Set For Saturday At Hamilton Place Mall

City Of Dalton Advises Motorists Of Areas Of Railroad Crossing Maintenance Next Week


St. Alban's Hixson Market, 7514 Hixson Pike, is seeking local crafters and artisans for their annual Holly Jolly Market. The event will be held outdoors on Saturday, Nov. 7 from 10 a.m.-4 ... (click for more)

With less than 10 days before the Oct. 5 deadline to register to vote, the Chattanooga League of Women Voters is partnering with CBL commercial properties, owners of Hamilton Place mall, for ... (click for more)

The City of Dalton announces a traffic reminder for next week in the Dalton/Whitfield County area. A maintenance project for railroad crossings on the CSX line will be taking place next week, ... (click for more)



Happenings

St. Alban's Holly Jolly Holiday Market Seeking Vendors For Nov. 7 Event

St. Alban's Hixson Market, 7514 Hixson Pike, is seeking local crafters and artisans for their annual Holly Jolly Market. The event will be held outdoors on Saturday, Nov. 7 from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. (rain date the following Saturday, Nov. 14). "As with our Farmers Market, the Holly Jolly Market will be following CDC guidelines for COVID-19," organizers said. For booth space and ... (click for more)

Voter Registration Drive Set For Saturday At Hamilton Place Mall

With less than 10 days before the Oct. 5 deadline to register to vote, the Chattanooga League of Women Voters is partnering with CBL commercial properties, owners of Hamilton Place mall, for a push to create another opportunity to register all eligible citizens before Election Day, Nov. 3. Voters can register at the Hamilton Place mall entrance near Jos A. Bank and the former ... (click for more)

Breaking News

Hakeem Calls For Probe Of Hamilton County Election Office; Hargett Said He Has Confidence In The Office

State Rep. Yusuf Hakeem said he was asking for a state investigation of the Hamilton County Election Commission. In a letter to Secretary of State Tre Hargett, he said he ha s great "anguish and concern" that the county election office is "becoming a petri dish for undermining the fundamental right to free and fair elections." Secretary of State Hargett responded, "I will ... (click for more)

Former County EMT Charged With Vehicular Homicide Is Back Out Of Jail After Pretrial Services "Error"

A former county EMT accused of vehicular homicide was taken into custody in court on Monday based on five alleged violations of his pretrial release. But Justin Whaley was back out of jail on Wednesday after it was agreed that the report of the violations was unfounded. His attorney, Lee Davis, said, " The report filed by Pretrial Services was in error. There was no alcohol ... (click for more)

Opinion

Earl Freudenberg Remembers Bettye Parker

One of the most patriotic individuals I have ever known has passed away. Bettye Parker died Tuesday after a short illness. At Bettye's request there will be no memorial service. Bettye ran Bettye Parker Realty on Highway 58 for as long as I can remember. She handled thousands of property transactions. Her son, Paul Parker, also became involved in real estate and is the real ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Nashville's Big Day

The Nashville Election Commission will meet this afternoon to vote on whether to conduct a city-wide special election on Dec. 5. A grass roots group says they have enough signatures to bring a controversial 34 percent tax increase to the voters. Oh, the increase has already been approved, alright, but Nashville is the state’s Waterloo argue others, and if the city government goes ... (click for more)