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Saturday, 12/24/05

State briefs: Historic fort, mine site donated to foundation


Heirs of the family that owns Vowell Mountain in Anderson County have donated 86 acres to the Coal Creek Watershed Foundation of Knoxville so it can be preserved.

Cherel Henderson, executive director of the East Tennessee Historical Society, said the mountain and Fort Anderson on it "are just alive with history." The fort was built by Civil War veterans about 30 years after the war.

Coal mining also was done in the area, and the state allowed mine owners to lease convict labor to extract coal.

In 1902, the area was the site of the Fraterville mine explosion that killed 200 men and boys, many of whom wrote tearful farewell messages to their families just before suffocating. As a result of the disaster, Congress in 1910 created the U.S. Bureau of Mines with authority to improve safety in the nation's coal mines.

Sam D. Smith, a historical archaeologist with the state, said he believes Militia Hill site of the fort "is one of the more unusual and historically significant sites we have in Tennessee."

Charles Faulkner, retired University of Tennessee archaeologist, agrees.

"I'd certainly like to be involved in a dig here," he told The Knoxville News Sentinel. "There are military artifacts here. I would be interested in the daily lives of the militia who lived up here."

The foundation is headed by Barry Thacker, principal geo-environmental engineer, president of the engineering firm Geo/Environmental Associates and founder of the watershed foundation.

Thacker said other property owners near the historic site need to be persuaded to participate in the plan to preserve the area. Additional property will have to be acquired at the old convict mine site.

Right now, Thacker is aiming for the restoration of Militia Hill only. He'd also like to see the area placed on the National Register of Historic Places.