Briceville Elementary School’s
14th Annual Mining History Field Trip

16 May 2014


The shirt says it all!

Briceville 4th and 5th graders went in search of a “Big Chestnut” that was labeled on an historic map of Coal Creek.  The reported location of the tree is near the abandoned Fraterville Mine portal.    


The American chestnut blight that ravaged Appalachia in the early to mid-1900s likely destroyed that giant, but seedlings can sprout from the roots of a chestnut even after the tree dies.  Briceville students trekked to that spot on their annual mining history field trip to see if chestnut sprouts are present, and if so, do they provide an indication of the diameter of the former tree.  Appreciating the significance of the historic map that identifies the “Big Chestnut” requires an understanding of its maker, Henry Howard Wiley.          



Chesnut planting site in clearing above the Fraterville community

"Big Chestnut" labeled on historic map of Coal Creek

Fraterville (Village of Brothers)

Henry Howard Wiley

Henry Howard Wiley formed a partnership with Kingston lawyer, William S. McEwen in 1838 for the purpose of acquiring and clearing the titles to several 5000-acre tracts of coal-bearing lands in Morgan and Anderson counties.  Clearing title to tracts of land in those days entailed performing detailed surveys with a rod that was 16.5 feet long, as well as a compass.  The detailed maps he produced required skill as a surveyor, engineer, and artist.


Wiley’s many years of pains-taking work were about to pay off when Knoxville community leaders saw development of East Tennessee’s rich natural resources as the way to rebuild after the Civil War.  Coal powered that industrial revolution, and Wiley owned much of it.


But just as he started signing leases for others to mine coal on his land, New York financiers—lawyers and bankers—filed lawsuits challenging his title to the vast coal holdings.  Rather than fight a battle in court for decades over ownership, they struck a deal by forming Coal Creek Mining and Manufacturing Company (CCMM) with Wiley providing the land, while the financiers provided capital and connections. 

Coal Creek Mining and Manufacturing Company is still in business, but now as the Coal Creek Company.  It manages the 72,000 acres of land that Henry Howard Wiley spent his life developing. 


The segment of Wiley’s map at the Fraterville Mine portal shows the boundary between land formerly owned by the Camp family, which is now owned by the Coal Creek Watershed Foundation, and Coal Creek Company property.  The property corner closest to the mine portal was reportedly set at a “Big Chestnut.” 

Briceville students at Fraterville Mine site

Barry Thacker marks the site of the "Big Chestnut"



A 1540 expedition through the Appalachian Mountains
led by Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto captured their
awesome prevalence by simply saying,
"Where there be mountains, there be chestnuts."

Steps of Briceville Church which was built
by Welsh immigrant coal miners
in 1888 and is listed on the
National Register of Historic Places


Briceville students found numerous American chestnut sprouts at the property corner, which indicated that the “Big Chestnut” was about 6 feet in diameter when it succumbed to the blight. 

Students at Itinerant Miners' Burial site


Before finding the sprouts, Briceville students toured the Fraterville Itinerant Cemetery where 32 graves were identified by ground penetrating radar during the annual Briceville School field trip in 2012.  Students also learned how Lizzie Pratt, the wife Fraterville miner Taylor Pratt, had a premonition of disaster on the morning the mine exploded on May 19, 1902.

After finding the “Big Chestnut,” Briceville students planted blight-resistant American chestnut hybrids in a clearing overlooking the community of Fraterville.  They then learned about the Welsh of Tennessee and the legacy of the Fraterville miners at Leach Cemetery.


Students plant American Chestnut trees



After eating lunch at Cracker Barrel, they read the farewell messages of Jacob Vowell, Powell Harmon, and Eugene Ault in Briceville Church before finding Ault’s headstone in Briceville Cemetery. 

They also learned how the 14th annual mining history field trip is different than the rest:  Now, every 11th grader in Tennessee will learn about the Coal Creek labor saga as part of the state’s American History and Geography curriculum.  Briceville students got an early start on that lesson.   



Students at Briceville Church and Cemetery


Bandanas are presented to the students each year in honor
of the coal miners who fought to protect their jobs
in the Coal Creek War of 1891-1892

Students look for their family names on the
monument at the Fraterville Miners' Circle
at Leach Cemetery

Walking in the footsteps of the Fraterville miners
to the entrance of the mine





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