Coal Creek History

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Students volunteer to
install seven additional
markers at sites of
rich Coal Creek history

There are now a total of eighteen
historic markers in
the watershed!!

On this crisp November morning, thirteen Coal Creek scholars installed historical markers, documenting tales from the Coal Creek War where the events happened.

They knew the stories from their days at Briceville Elementary School.

Welsh miners came to Coal Creek in 1867 to develop the region’s first coal mine for the Knoxville Iron and Coal Company, but were replaced by convicts during a strike in 1877.  After a strike in 1891 brought convicts to a mine in Briceville, miners responded to losing their jobs by capturing the stockades and marching the convicts and guards to the train depot in the town of Coal Creek.

Carrying markers onto Militia Hill for placement and installation
on the site listed on the National Register of Historic Places

Where the Tennessee Militia
stood at Fort Anderson
on Militia Hill in the early 1890s

The miners then sent a telegram to Governor Buck Buchanan, informing him that convicts were being transported to Knoxville and would no longer be allowed in Coal Creek.  That event led to an armed conflict between miners and the State of Tennessee, which became known as the Coal Creek War.      

They knew the site from history field trips taken while they were at Briceville Elementary and Lake City Middle Schools.    

Fort Anderson on Militia Hill was the base of operations of Tennessee National Guard soldiers, who were sent to Coal Creek by Gov. Buchanan to restore order during the Coal Creek War.  The fort was abandoned in 1893 after the Tennessee General Assembly appropriated money to build Brushy Mountain State Prison and end the convict lease system.    

The scholars met Gary Tackett, a local resident who is the sentry of Fort Anderson.  He maintains the site and leads a community-watch group to deter vandalism.

They also met author Fred Brown who is conducting research for a book he is writing about Coal Creek, its mines and people.

Five markers were installed around the trenches dug by convicts and soldiers in 1892 to provide cover from attacking miners.    

Sentry of Fort Anderson, Gary Tackett
(far right) with Barry Thacker PE
and Carol Moore

"Breastworks" historic marker

“American Chestnuts” documents how convicts and soldiers cut trees from the site in 1892, not knowing that a fungus brought to New York in 1904 on imported Chinese chestnuts would decimate the remaining American chestnuts within a few decades.  “Breastworks” tells the tale of how a soldier posing for a photograph accidentally shot and killed a convict digging the trenches surrounding the fort. 

Posing in the trenches

At the northeast end where the fort overlooks the town of Coal Creek (now Lake City), “Fire on Coal Creek” describes how soldiers would retaliate when attached by miners by shooting cans full of mud into town.  “State Coal Mine” recognizes how convicts enriched state coffers after the Coal Creek War by working in the state coal mine located adjacent to Brushy Mountain State Prison.  “Siege on Fort” recalls how soldiers repulsed repeated attacks using Gatling guns, so miners switched tactics and captured the fort’s commander one night while he was in the town of Coal Creek.

Installing "Fire on Coal Creek" marker

At the base of Vowell Mountain, two markers were installed at the intersection of Sharps Lane and Beech Grove Road.  Tyler Vandergriff, a scholar now in college, told the legend about the “Ghosts of Convict Miners.”   “Fort Anderson” contains a quote about the site from the Tennessee Blue Book, a History of Tennessee.   

This work day prepared the site for a dedication ceremony scheduled for 17 May 2013 when a plaque will be installed by Briceville Elementary School students and representatives of the Tennessee National Guard to recognize its listing on the National Register of Historic Places. 

Students after installing two markers at the base of Vowell Mountain.
We were thrilled with the number of scholars who spent their Saturday morning
preserving their community history and working for our scholarships.

Special recognition for preserving Fort Anderson on Militia Hill goes to the former landowners of the property.  Nancy Montgomery, a descendant of the original landowners Eldad Cicero Camp and George Camp, donated her portion of the property to the Coal Creek Watershed Foundation.  The other landowner, The Coal Creek Company, agreed to a land-swap, which enabled us to secure the remainder of the site.  It’s now on the state’s White Lightning Trail, and open to visitors. 

Someday, these Coal Creek scholars can show their grandchildren the historical markers and say, “I helped install them to qualify for a scholarship to attend college.” 

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Advance preparation was performed by Mark Morgan, Park Superintendent for State of Tennessee Department of Environment & Conservation Norris Dam State Park, and his staff from the Norris Dam State Park who saved us major labor by augering the holes for the marker posts.

Yay!! and a HUGE Thank you, Park Boys!!

Johnny Pitt, Charlie Smith, & Mark Mowery
shown augering the post holes (Left to Right).
The boys worked for Krispy Kreme Doughnuts
and bandanas (which we wear in honor
of the Coal Creek Miners). 


Staff from Geo/Environmental
load markers into
U-Haul at their Knoxville office

Great work by the scholars and their families for joining us and making the work fun and efficient! The Coal Creek miners would be honored.


Jeffery Housley
Kyle Leinart
Emily Phillips
Kim Phillips
Tallen Roldan
Holley Smith
Seth Taylor
Ryan Vandergriff
Tyler Vandergriff
Chris Williams
Jacob Wilson
Victoria Wright

Other Volunteers:

Gary Tackett, Sentry of Fort Anderson
Fred Brown, Writer of Coal Creek history
John Thurman, CCWF and Trout Unlimited Volunteer
Bobby Carroll, Grandad of Scholar
Various parents of scholars
Carol Moore, CCWF
Barry Thacker, CCWF

The beautiful markers
were produced by
the southwell co.
in San Antonio, Texas


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