West Blocton Bible Methodist

Alabama Bible Methodist Conference


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Blocton, Al


1827 The first coal was mined in Alabama.

1854 The first coke was made from Alabama coal for foundry use.

1861-1865 The first underground mining was conducted in the Cahaba coal field.

1872 The future founder of Blocton, Truman Aldrich, entered the coal business in Alabama.

1875 The number one coal operator in Alabama, Truman Aldrich, leased his mines in Montevallo to his brother William Aldrich and Colonel Cornelius Cadle and began prospecting the Cahaba and Warrior coal fields between Tuscaloosa and Birmingham, and Calera and Decatur to determine:


if there was, in Alabama, a genuine first-class coking coal thick enough to work commercially,


if there was a sufficient area of this grade of coal to last a long time,


if such coal existed within reasonable distance from the iron furnaces and railroads, without constructing long branch lines.


1876 The first coke pig iron was made in Alabama at the Oxmoor Furnace.

1877-1881 The Warrior coal fields were developed by Truman Aldrich in partnership with Henry DeBardeleben and Colonel Sloss.

1881 The founder of Blocton, Truman Aldrich, resigned as superintendent of the Pratt Coal Company to build his own new coal world in the Cahaba coal field. He had acquired thousands of acres of coal lands in the Cahaba coal field that contained coal that was excellent for coking, steam, and domestic use.

He located the apex of the coal field, and the future site of Blocton, eight miles south of the Alabama Great Southern Railroad line at Woodstock.

1882 The Cahaba Coal Mining Company - the greatest coal company in the south for that era - was organized by Truman Aldrich. Its headquarters would be located at Blocton within two years.



June 30, 1883 A Declaration of Incorporation was filed by the Cahaba Coal Company at the Bibb County Probate Office. The primary purpose of the corporation was:


the mining and selling of coal,


the making and selling of coke,


the construction and operation of railroads.

July 13, 1883 The Certificate of Incorporation for the Cahaba Coal Mining Company was issued by the Bibb County Probate Office.

February 10 1884 The Bibb Blade reported that, "The road is now complete, and the company expects to ship coal tomorrow... The place has near 200 inhabitants at present.... This bids fair to become another Magic City".

April 26, 1884 The stockholders of the company authorized an issue of gold bonds of $500,000.00 for the purpose of paying for the mining development, railroad construction, and other indebtedness. $30,000 was set aside to open a new No,2 mine.

March 31, 1887 The Fiscal Year Ending 1887 Report stated that the two mines at Blocton produced 135, 010 tons of coal:


No. 2 mine in the "Underwood" seam had an average daily output of 625 tons,


the cost of the coal including general expenses was $1.08 per ton and the average selling price $1.31 per ton,


profit for the fiscal year amounted to $54,347.48.

April, 1887 The "Blocton Coal" was in such demand for steam purposes that a the orders could not be filled. At least four railroad corporations were being supplied this excellent coal. This created new expansion opportunities for the company. They planned:


sinking of No. 3 slope to the "Underwood" seam of coal,


sinking of No. 4 slope to the "Woodstock" seam,


contracting for a two-mile extension of the railroad to the mines,


construction of four hundred coke ovens.

March 31, 1888 The Fiscal Year ' Ending March 3 1, ! 888 Report stated:


four new coal mines were opened;


coke ovens to the number of 300 were nearing completion;


railroad tracks were completed to mines Nos. 3,4,5, and to the coke ovens, the length of the new tracks being six miles;


128 dwelling houses were constructed during the year bringing the total to 282;


total net profit per ton of coal was 42.8 cents which included a profit of 15.1 cents per ton from sales of merchandise;


demand for "Blocton Coal" was in excess of supply and it was thought that the company could market at least 2,000 tons of coal a day.

August, 1888 The beehive coke ovens were fired and 140 were in operation.

October 20,1888 –
December 17, 1888 The company mines were not worked because of a miners'strike. This strike was due to a ten percent reduction in wages which became effective throughout the Birmingham District and which the company, in face of competition, was compelled to meet. Coal was furnished to the company's customers from mines elsewhere. The strike failed and reduced wages were continued in effect.

March 31, 1889 The Fiscal Year Ending March 31, 1889 Report stated:


354,678 tons of coal produced, of which 303,406 tons were shipped to customers;


140 coke ovens were in operation and 150 were ready for operation;


17,802 tons of coke were shipped, 100 tons a day being shipped to the Eureka Company at Oxmoor and the same quantity to the Birmingham Furnace and Manufacturing Company at Trussville;


185 additional coke ovens were authorized because of the successful use by the Pioneer Mining and Manufacturing Company of coke made from the company's coal, and a favorable report on the qualities of the coke for blast furnace purposes by John Fulton, a recognized authority.

November 1989 The first photograph of the Blocton beehive coke ovens was produced by professional photographer Horgan. (See: Front Cover)

December 31, 1889 The beehive coke ovens at Blocton produced 75, 774 tons of coke in its first full year of operation.

March 31, 1890 The Fiscal Year Ending March 31, 1890 Report stated:


500,694 tons of coal produced, an increase of 146,016;


75,676 tons of coke produced;


average cost of coke was $2.13 per ton and a profit of $0.327 per ton;.


185 additional coke ovens nearing completion.

June 1, 1890 The 467 beehive coke ovens were in operation with an estimated output of 600 tons a day. The coke produced maintained its good quality and gave satisfaction to its users.

A disintegrator was planned and installed before the end of the year.

Summer, 1890 The Town of Blocton had truly become the "Magic City" of Bibb County:


increased in population to 3,600;


coal products from Blocton had a direct outlet over three truck line railroad systems;


the Louisville and Nashville Railroad Company, the East Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia Railroad Company, and the Cincinnati, New Orleans and Texas Pacific Railroad Company,

March 31, 1891 The Fiscal Year Ending March 31, 1891 Report revealed:


691,908 tons of coal produced,


52,638 tons of coke produced. "The low production of coke was caused by the non-operation of the blast furnaces of the company's regular customers due to the continuation of low market prices for pig iron";


another disintegrator was installed at the coke ovens;


a Robinson coal washer with a daily capacity of 400 tons was installed,


net earnings were $286,257.19.

July 30, 1892 The Cahaba Coal Mining Company and the Excelsior Coal Company were consolidated. Truman Aldrich was president of both companies.

December 19, 1892 An agreement was carried out conveying the Cahaba Coal Mining Company to the Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad Company for $3,000,000 of TCI stock. This terminated the active career of the Cahaba Coal Mining Company and Truman Aldrich in the "Magic City" of Blocton, Alabama.

The company conveyed to TCI.-


44,000 acres of coal lands in the lower Cahaba basin;


15 miles of standard-gauge railroad track with appurtenant equipment;


467 coke ovens;


575 tenement houses, stores, and telephone lines;


seven coal mines in active operation with a daily capacity of 3,000 tons.


April 4, 1893 The President of TCI wrote in the annual report to the stockholders:

By this very important union of interests [Cahaba Coal Mining Company, DeBardeleben Coal and Iron Company, and TCII, the three most important producers have become united instead of remaining in active competition...

Whilst the present development of your property looks very large and is relatively large (this Company being the largest producer of bituminous coal and pig iron for the open market of any company in America), notwithstanding this fact, we are not working and have not worked over five percent, of our property. This vast mineral domain represents in area more than thirty per cent of all the available and accessible mineral land of the states of Tennessee and Alabama, and more than sixty per cent, in value of all the coal and iron in both these states.

The possession and ownership of such an estate should be a matter of pride to all the stockholders, for when it is fully developed, it will not only be a great heritage to your posterity but will also be the greatest factor in building up and giving prosperity to the South.

Summer - Fall 1893 The condition of the iron market was abnormally depressed. during the worst depression of the nineteenth century. There was a concerted effort by TCI to reduce its costs and widen its market. Attention was directed to the advantages of manufacturing steel, which would consist in reducing the quantity of pig iron produced for the open market and in the encouragement for the location in the South of industries which would consume pig iron and steel.

January 31, 1894 The TCI Annual Report stated:


lowest prices for pig iron which to that time had ever been realized,


volume of pig iron sales decreased to sixty per cent of normal,


coal trade fully maintained its usual position,


largest coal contract in the New Orleans market was secured by TCI in competition with water


borne coal from Pittsburgh.


The founder of Blocton, Truman Aldrich, played a major role in saving TCI from bankruptcy during this time. He was second vice-president and superintendent of TCI.


April - Mid-August, 1893 The TCI coal-mine and blast furnace operations were suspended for four and one-half months due to a strike. TCI incurred extraordinary expense in maintaining a force of militia and paying the expenses of a large number of deputy sheriffs. They were deemed necessary for the protection and preservation of the company's property.

January 31, 1895 The TCI Annual Report reported that low market price for pig iron continued depressing coke production.


June 3, 1897 The company entered into an agreement with the Semet Solvey Company for the construction and operation by that company of 60-120 by-products coke ovens. TCI was to furnish a continuous supply of coal for the operation of the ovens and to take the coke and gas produced. The conditions of the agreement were fulfilled and this by-product coke oven plant was noteworthy as being the first built in the South.

An Impressive photograph (c. 1899) of the north end of the Blocton beehive coke ovens was on the cover of the 1900 TCI Annual Report.


Tennessee Coal and Iron Company c. 1899 Courtesy: Charles Adams

1900-1907 The beehive coke ovens operated, on and off during the first decade of the twentieth century.


1907 The Tennessee Coal and Iron Company was purchased by the United States Steel Company.

1909 The Principal Additions and Improvements and Extraordinary Replacements Report for 1909 recorded that new tracks were installed at the coke ovens at Blocton. This was the last record of improvements of the Blocton beehive coke ovens mentioned in the annual records of TCI or USS.

1912 The last commercial picture of the Blocton beehive coke ovens was taken by Birmingham photographer Woods.

Courtesy: Birmingham Public Library


TCI Division of USS

c. 1912

1912-1919 The Blocton beehive coke ovens operated spasmodically until they were replaced by the by-product coke ovens at the TCI Fairfield works. In 1919 TCI almost doubled the number of highly efficient Koppers by-product coke ovens at Fairfield.

1928 The TCI division of US S closed all its mines and abandoned its mining operations at Blocton. This was due to high freight rates and the beginning of the Great Depression.

1929-1930's The beehive coke ovens were used as shelters by hobos during the Great Depression.

1933 The TCI division of USS closed its commissary at Blocton.

1935 The post office at Blocton was closed and all mail was sent to West Blocton

1930's-1990's The youngsters of the area played among the ruins, a few curious folk roamed the site, and local Bloctonians gathered the stack stones and bricks for building homes and stores.

1960 A photograph of the southern end of the historic beehive coke ovens at Blocton (c. 1889) was the first photograph depicting some of the early operations of TCI in Alabama in their 1960 TCI Centennial History.

1984 A picture of the northern end of the historic beehive coke ovens (c. 1899) was published in Rhonda Ellison's book, Bibb County Alabama, The First Hundred Years, 1818-1918.

1987 The huge north end buttress stones of the historic beehive coke ovens were removed from the Blocton site I 00 years after they were placed. The large stones were used to reconstruct an old iron furnace at Tannehill State Park. Removal of the south end buttress stones from the Town of West Blocton property was stopped by concerned citizens.

A Panoramic picture of the Blocton historic beehive coke ovens appeared in Wayne Flynt's book Mine, Mill &Microchip, A Chronicle of Alabama Enterprise.

1996 The West Blocton Beehive Coke Ovens Advisory Committee was established and restoration on the historic coke ovens began.

A full page photograph (c. 1912) of the historic beehive coke ovens was used in the book, Views ofBirmitigha7n, as one of the best examples of coke ovens in the Birmingham District.

An archeological site research was funded by the Alabama Historical Commission through the National Recreational Trails Fund. Dr. Jack Bergstresser was the industrial archeologist that headed the "dig".

1997 The Town of West Blocton was awarded a $25,000 grant by Federal and State agencies to build a one-half mile National Recreational Trail at the southern end of the historic beehive coke ovens.

1998 The Town of West Blocton has applied for additional grants and funding from federal, state, and local agencies and from interested corporations, organizations, and individuals to help preserve the historic beehive coke ovens.


Allen, W. B. Tennessee Coal, Iron, and Railroad Company. MS.533 84-148 NIH3.

Birmingham Public Library, Department of Archives and History, TCI, 1932.

Armes, Ethel. A Story of Coal and Iron in Alabama. Birmingham: Chamber of Commerce, 1910.

Biography of a Business: Centennial Year 1860-1960. Birmingham: Tennessee Coal and

Iron Division, United States Steel Corporation, n.p., 1960. Birmingham City Directory. 1883-1933.

Cruikshank, George M. A History of Birmingham and its Environs. 2 vols. Chicago:Lewis, 1920.

Deed Books, Bibb County. 1883 - 1893.

Ellison, Rhoda C. Bibb County Alabama : 7he First Hundred Years, 1818-1918.

Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1984.

--- Place Names of Bibb County, Alabama. Brierfield: Cahaba Trace Commission, 1993.

Emfinger, Henry A. The Story of my Hometown, Aldrich, Alabama. Aldrich: Privately

printed, n.d.

Flynt, Wayne. Mine, Mill and Microchip A Chronicle of Alabama Enterprise. Northridge: Windsor, 1987.

McMillan, Malcolm C Yesterday's Birmingham. E. A. Miami: Seemann, 1975.

McCord, Howard F. Baptists in Bibb County. Centreville: Privately printed, 1979.

Keyes, Lyda M. History: First Baptist Church West Blocton, Alabama. West Blocton: Privately printed, 1979.

Pierce, Lewis. Birmingham View Through the Years in Photographs. Birmingham:

Birmingham Historical Society, 1996.

Squire, Joseph. Geological Survey of Alabama, voL V (Cahaba Coal Field). Montgomery: Brown, 1890.

White. Margorie L. Ae Birmingham District: An Industrial History and Guide, Birmingham: Birmingham Historical Society, 1981.

NUMBER ONE BLOCTON-The History of the Number One Mining Town: Blocton, Al

This essay was written by Rev. Robert E. Praytor and was compiled to HTML by Matt Arnold