West Blocton Bible Methodist

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TRUMAN H. ALDRICH:

The Founder of Blocton, Alabama

Truman H Aldrich Founder of Blocton Alabama
Courtesy: Birmingham Public Library

CHRONOLOGICAL HISTORY OF SIGNIFICANT EVENTS IN THE LIFE OF TRUMAN HEMINGWAY ALDRICH: THE FOUNDER OF BLOCTON

 

1848
-Born October 17 in Palmyra, New York.

1850's
- Prescribed outdoor activities by family physician due to ill health.

1860's
- Attended Military Academy in West Chester, Pennsylvania and Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York.

1869
- Graduated with a degree in mining and civil engineering.

1869
- Employed as civil and railroad engineer in New York and New Jersey.

1870
- Married Anna Morrison of Newark, New Jersey.

1872
- Entered banking business with brother-in- law, George Morrison, in Selma, Alabama in partnership with Colonel Cornelius Cadle.
- Continued his outdoor pursuits by prospecting in the Cahaba coalfield.
- Visited the coal mines at Montevallo, Alabama.

 

1873
- Leased the Montevallo Coal Mines and entered the Cahaba coalfield as a mine operator. Truman Aldrich said, "I knew just about as much about practical coal mining then, as a horse knows about holy water" (Emfinger 12).

Although it was mid-summer when he leased the mines, he set his men to digging coal. The act was unprecedented. In the forty years that coal had been dug in Alabama, no man had done such a thing in the summer time when the weather was hot and humid. Mining in Alabama was one of the highly seasonal industries... But then, the story spread that Aldrich was a Yankee, and no one ever knew what a Yankee would do.... He enjoyed the amusement and curiosity excited by his stacked up coal. Before Autumn, the coal was in big pyramids, all over the scrubby field, near the main ent7y. It kept piling up and the joke spread because not a soul bought so much as a hat)lull. 7hen all at once the first frost came. Everyone, of course, wanted coal right away. He responded on the instant to the demand of not only the immediate community and the surrounding counties, but he even began shipping coal all over the state, and drove out the English coals in the southern section mid sold Montevallo coal in larger quantities than had ever been done before (Emfinger 12).

 

1875
- Purchased the Montevallo Coal Mines. "Mining operations over the State then were pretty small potatoes," said Mr. Aldrich. "Montevallo, mind you, a small potato, too, like the rest of 'em" (Armes 270).
- Considered the only real coal mine in Alabama.
- Called mining community west of Montevallo, "Aldrich", after family surname.

Truman Aldrich heads the list o the big coal operators of Alabama. No scientific or genuinely practical methods were applied to coal mining in this State until the early eighteen seventies when Mr. Aldrich came into the field (Armes 267).

1876
- Leased Montevallo mines to his brother William Aldrich and Cornelius Cadle and started prospecting for a good coking coal.
- Prospected with assistant Joseph Squire in the Warrior coal field.
- Discovered the Jefferson and Black Creek Seams and sank the first shaft mine in Alabama over these rich coals.
- Continued surveys, tests, and operations at various points in both the Warrior and Cahaba fields. "Mr. Truman Aldrich set [out] on foot, therefore, the first thorough survey and systematic exploration of the Warrior field that had been attempted" (Armes .272).
- Searched the area for coal. Men did not have to hunt for limestone, or iron ore in central Alabama, those elements obstructed themselves.
- Incorporated the Jefferson Coal Company at Morris in Jefferson County.
- Owned by Truman Aldrich, Marshall Morris, and S. D. Holt. Mines opened in 1875. Output helped fuel the Eureka furnace experiments that produced the area's first coke pig iron at Oxmoor (White 294).

1877
- Located a succession of coal seams in the Warrior coal field.
- Joined with Henry DeBardeleben and Colonel Sloss to develop the Warrior coal field which he had surveyed:

Those men of the Old Guard, they were of great caliber. They had force, character, invention, and they had courage and brains. They were true pioneers. And it takes pioneers to dare. He'll bet his last dollar on conviction. there'd be no development, no construction, anywhere, if somebody didn't take the risk in the beginning and if everybody waited to be cocksure of their money. The work that Aldrich [Blocton's founder] and DeBardeleben did has left a lasting impression on the country. Those two men deserve the respect and gratitude of all the generations to come. For all will be the beneficiaries in one way or another of these two great captains of the Old Guard (Armes 346).

1878
- Incorporated with DeBardeleben and Sloss the Pratt Coal and Coke Company, the first big coal company in Alabama. He was superintendent and mine manager.
- Joined the American Institute of Mining Engineers. He was the first Alabama member of this society.

1879
- Supervised the completion of the Pratt mines and railroad and shipped the first coal and coke to Birmingham.
- Ethel Armes stated in The Story of Coal and Iron in Alabama,

But for the opening of the Pratt mines the little town of Birmingham might indeed have utterly collapsed ...Among the three men who are spoken of today as the Old Guard, DeBardeleben, Sloss and Aldrich, the town [Birmingham] began to be builded anew, and gathered forces for its start in the race for leadership of the new industrial South. The foundations of the future were laid by them on a solid bed of coal and coke. Henry DeBardeleben said, "And it was through T Aldrich that this Pratt coal, the best coking coal in the State, became known and opened up to commercial use" (Armes 274).

Mr. Aldrich got out the coal. He stayed at the camp, slept in a log shack near the commissary, and managed the mine, the railroad, the men, and machinery - all the detail work. He also attended to the surveying . and engineering, and kept up what he called his "geologizing". He worked night and day. The three men worked eighteen hours a day, for nearly three years. They made a success of the mines and the money began to roll in (Armes 274).

 

1881
- Resigned as general manager of the Pratt Coal and Coke Company to organize "the greatest coal company of that period in the South", THE CAHABA COAL MNWG COMPANY: BLOCTON, ALABAMA

1882
- Started with an area of more than twelve thousand acres of coal lands.
- Created a great sensation in the Birmingham District.
- Closed a $400,000 coal deal with Henry DeBardeleben and "then began the building of his new coal mining world in the Cahaba region" (Armes 296).
- Desired to create a coal company that would make the Pratt coal mines "play second fiddle".
- Built his new empire in the Blocton Basin of Bibb County. Blocton Basin was almost eighteen miles long and averaged over five miles wide.
- Acquired several thousand acres of additional coal land.
- Partnered with Cornelius Cadle who had acquired additional lands in this area.

1883
- Purchased land in the center of the southern Cahaba coal basin (Blocton Basin) to build his Number One Mining Town - Blocton, Alabama.
-Truman Aldrich recorded land purchases from:

April 8, 1883 George W. Tillery
April 8, 1883 Elias Callahan
May 1, 1883 J. C. Reach
May 4, 1883 Urriah Smith
May 7, 1883 W. G. Morrison
May 19, 1883 R. D. Smith
June 11, 1883 R. P, McCully
June 11, 1883 R. D. Smith
July 2, 1883 S. G. and M. J. Daniel
July 11, 1883 Swann and Bilflips
July 14 1883 Swann and Billips
(Bibb County Deed Books, 1883).

 

Truman H, Aldrich - The founder of Number One Mining Town: Blocton, Alabama and The Cahaba Coal Mining Company

 

June 27, 1883 - Signed petition of incorporation with brother William Aldrich, Cornelius Cadle Jr., and Charles Turner at Woodstock. They declared a capital stock of one million dollars composed of 10,000 shares of $100 each.

June 30, 1883
- Filed Declaration of Incorporation for the Cahaba Coal Mining 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
- Issued Certificate of Incorporation by the Bibb County Probate Office.

Fall/Winter 1883
- Constructed an 8.2 mile Woodstock to Blocton railroad line at an expenditure of $160,000.
- Located the Cahaba Coal Mining Company headquarters at what would soon become Number One Mining Town: Blocton, Alabama.
- Mapped out a model community with north/south, east/west streets on Number One Hill and along Caffee Creek. Tenth, Ninth, Eighth, etc., and Cadle Streets were on the hill. Front, Aldrich, Anna, Spring and Madison Streets were between the creek and the Old Woodstock Road. Church sites, school sites, community garden sites and a site for a tennis court were included. - Constructed home west of tenth street on knoll overlooking Blocton. It was two storied with a Victorian observation tower. (His brother William Aldrich had similar Victorian towers constructed at his home in Aldrich, Alabama after 1889). The Aldrich home in Blocton was remodeled many times during the twentieth century. (Property of David and Sue Pickett for the last half of the twentieth century).

February 10, 1884
- Reported to Bibb Blade "The road is now complete, and the company expects to ship coal tomorrow... the place [Gresham] has near 200 inhabitants at present.... This bids fair to become another Magic City" (Bibb Blade. February 20, 1884).

March 5, 1884
- Named Gresham by newly appointed postmaster and company vice-president Colonel Cadle after Union Civil War general he had served with at Vicksburg (Charles Adams research).
- Renamed Blocton by founder Truman Aldrich after seeing a ton block of coal removed from one of his early mines (c. 1884-85).

April 26, 1884
- 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 used to open a new No,2 mine.
- Incorporated with William Berney, Robert Jemison, L. D. Aylett,. and Joseph McLester the Central Bank (Berney National Bank) of Birmingham.

1886
- Published without cost to State, Alabama, State Bulletin No. I containing descriptions of new Tertiary fossils with nine plates of illustrations. As a boy he took up the hobby of collecting fossils and pursued it with such a devotion that he became a noted authority.

1887
- Incorporated with others the Leeds Land Company in Jefferson County (White 76).
- Elected president of the Blocton based Cahaba Coal Mining Company, the second largest of thirty-three coal and iron companies in Alabama.

March 31, 1887
- Reported in Annual Report that the two mines at Blocton:

bulletproduced 135,010 tons of coal,
bulletNo. 2 mine in the "Underwood" seam had an average daily output of 625 tons,
bulletthe cost of the coal including general expenses was $1.08 per ton and the average selling price was $1.31 per ton,
bulletprofit for the fiscal year amounted to $54,347.48.

 

April 1887
- Produced such a favorable quality of coal for steam purposes that the company could not fill all the orders. At least four railroad corporations were being supplied "Blocton Coal".
- Created new expansion opportunities:

bulletprojected sinking of four new mines,
bulletplanned for the construction of four hundred coke ovens.

March 31, 1888
- Stated in the Fiscal Year Annual Report that four new mines had been opened:

bulletMine No. 3, a slope in the Underwood or No. 2 seam,
bulletMine No. 4, a slope in the Woodstock or No. I seam,
bulletMine No. 5, a slope in the Woodstock seam,
bulletMine No. 6, a drift in the Underwood seam
bulletConstruction of coke ovens to the number of 300 were nearing completion.
bulletCompleted railroad tracks to mines Nos. 3,4,5, and to the coke ovens, the length of the new tracks being six miles.
bulletConstructed 128 dwelling houses during the year bringing the total to 282.
bulletMade a net profit per ton of coal of 42.8 cents which included a profit of 15.1 cents per ton from sales of merchandise.
bulletEstimated that demand for "Blocton Coal" was in excess of supply and it was projected that the company could market at least 2,000 tons of coal a day.
bulletBegan actively recruiting miners from outside the region.

7he miners who settled in northern Bibb added variety and color to the county's fairly homogenous population. They came not only from the region but also from states as far north as Iowa and from such places as Belgium, Italy, Austria, Hungary and Bulgaria... Usually the European men preceded their families and lived in stockades on the company ground in Number 3 Town....

(Ellison, Bibb County Alabama 170-71).

 

August, 1888
- Fired the first bank of beehive coke ovens.

October, 1888
-
December, 1888 Closed Blocton mines due to a miners' strike. A ten per cent reduction in wage rate went into effect throughout the Birmingham District. The company, in the face of competition, was compelled to lower wages. Coal was furnished to the company's customers from mines elsewhere. The strike failed and reduced wages were continued in effect.

March 31, 1889
- Stated in the Fiscal Year Ending March 31, 1889 Annual Report:

bulletproduced 354,678 tons of coal of which 303,406 tons were shipped to customers,
bulletoperated 140 coke ovens and 150 were ready for operation,
bulletshipped 17,802 tons of coke, 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,
bulletauthorized 185 additional coke ovens 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
- Sanctioned the first commercial photograph of beehive coke ovens by photographer Horgan.

December 31, 1889
- Produced 75,774 tons of coke at the Blocton beehive coke ovens during the first full year of operation.

1890
- Contributed material for the publication of the Geological Survey of Alabama - Report on the Cahaba Coal Field, written by Joseph Squire (Squire 9).
- Inaugurated coal trade with Gulf Ports, West Indies, and South America.
- Sold thirty-three thousand acres of land he owned with Captain Danner in the Brookwood area of Tuscaloosa County. Truman Aldrich and A. C. Danner were the original organizers of the Standard Coal Company and owned all the coal land in that region. One mine had been opened at Brookwood, a few miles of railroad had been constructed and Dubley Station had been established on the Alabama Great Southern main line.

Captain Danner stated of this enterprise:

It was our intention to go right across the railroad and build down to the Warrior River, put on barges and bring such coal as we could sell to Mobile by water; but we were ahead of our time in our desire to develop the coal resources of Alabama, and undertook too much for our capital and our credit.. and very few appreciated the great future that was ahead of us in the coal business We got into financial trouble and had to abandon the enterprise (Armes 478).

March 31, 1890
- Stated in Fiscal Year Ending March 31, 1890 Report:

bulletproduced 500,694 tons of coal, an increase of 146,016,
bulletproduced 75,676 tons of coke, an increase of 58,870,
bulletreceived a profit of $0.327 per ton on coke,
bulletadded 185 additional coke ovens.

June 1, 1890

- Operated 467 coke ovens with an estimated output of 600 tons a day.
- Produced coke that maintained its good quality and gave satisfaction to its users.
- Planned to install a disintegrator before the end of the year.

Summer, 1890 - Boasted that Blocton had:

bulletincreased in population to 3,600,
bulletshipped coal products from Blocton 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.

November 12, 1890
- Deeded to the Blocton Baptist Church a prime lot in the Number One Mining Town. Truman Aldrich had reserved a lot for a church at the comer of Cadle and Tenth Street. It overlooked the school house and Depot.

December, 1890 - January 13, 1891
- Curtailed coal and coke production due to a strike by the miners. The strike was caused by the effort of the United Mine Workers of America to gain control of the mine labor and to dictate wages and rules to the mine operators. The strike was rendered unsuccessful in its object by the, introduction of Negro labor which indicated to the miners that they would be permanently unemployed unless their demands were withdrawn.

July 30, 1892
- Consolidated the Cahaba Coal Mining Company and the Excelsior Coal Company. Truman Aldrich was president of both companies.

December 19, 1892
- Carried out an agreement conveying the Cahaba Coal Mining Company to the Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad Company. This terminated the active career of the Cahaba Coal Mining Company in Blocton. The company conveyed to TCI:

bullet44,000 acres in lower Cahaba coal basin,
bullet15 miles of standard-gauge railroad track with appurtenant equipment,
bullet467 coke ovens,
bullet575 tenement houses, stores, and telephone lines,
bulletSeven coal mines in active operation with a daily capacity of 3,000 tons.

April 4, 1893
- Reported by the President of TCI in the annual report to the TCI stockholders:

By this very important union of interests [Cahaba Coal Mining Company, DeBardeleben Coal and Iron Company, and TCI], 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 (Allen 27),

1883-1893 Significant accomplishments -Truman Aldrich and the Cahaba Coal Mining Company centered in Blocton, Alabama:

bulletResided in Blocton for ten years.
bulletProduced several hundred thousand tons of coal annually.
bulletBecame one of the leading producers of coal in the Birmingham District.
bulletFurnished all the coal, with one exception, to all railroads going to New Orleans.
bulletAcknowledged as the "best and largest area of good coal lands ever gotten together in the State at that time".
bulletControlled through ownership, partnerships and in corporations an estimated 1.2 million acres. "1,238.031 in all, barring 635 acres of 'surface' ", according to Ethel Armes in The Story of Coal and Iron in Alabama (297).
bulletConsidered the most important achievement of Mr. Aldrich's career as a coal man.
bulletSold "Blocton Coal" to furnace companies, railroad companies, the domestic market, and the Latin American export market" (White 110).
bulletConstructed 467 of the best quality beehive coke ovens in the Birmingham District. Photographs of the banks of beehive coke ovens were used in many publications 1890's- 1990's as the best example of beehive coke ovens). (See: History of The Historic Blocton Beehive Coke Ovens: Blocton, Al).

1893
- Consolidated his company with TCI and became second vice-president and general manager of TCI.
- Moved to Birmingham in 1893 and resided at 17 Street between Aves. J. and H.
- Rescued TCI from bankruptcy during the most severe depression of the nineteenth century.
- Traveled to New York and raised money. "T. H. Aldrich's action at this juncture helped the Tennessee Company over its most critical period" (Armes. 427).
- Convinced Braxton Bragg Comer, a future governor of Alabama, to advance TCI $19,000 in grain and flour for its commissaries. Each day during the depression Comer would drop by to see the TCI general manager, Truman Aldrich, inquiring, "Going bust today?" And Aldrich would reply, "Not today Mr. Comer, but I can't tell about to-morrow" (Armes 426).

1894
- Resigned from TCI, and entered politics.
- Labeled his profession as capitalist in the Birmingham City Directory.
- Nominated to the fifty-fourth Congress by the Republican and People's Party.
- Elected but because the election was contested he served only a portion of the term.
- Resided in Washington D.C. and at the famous Morris Motel when in Birmingham.

1896
- "Returned to the coal business as a sailor to the. sea" (Armes 450).
- Became President of the Cahaba Southern Mining Company.
- Opened and operated the mines at Hargrove in Bibb County.
- Resided at 930 South 20th Street in the exclusive Southside area of Birmingham.

1898
- Became president and treasurer of Cahaba Southern Mining Company.
- Moved to the prestigious Highland Ave. District of Birmingham near the Episcopal Church.

1899
- Became vice-president of Birmingham Machinery and Foundry Company.

1901
- Named acting-president of Sloss-Sheffield Company, the second largest iron and steel company in Alabama. (Only TCI was larger).
- Purchased a large tract of coal land in lower Jefferson County and opened the Virginia Mines. An underground explosion at these mines in 1905 was one of the worst early coal mine accidents in the Birmingham District. The explosion entombed the entire day crew and knocked out the entrance to the mines. When rescuers finally cleared the 1500 foot shaft, they found 106 dead men and 20 dead mules (White 309).
- Incorporated with others the East Birmingham Land Company that successfully promoted this suburb as a home for diversified industry.

1902
- Listed as presidents of Aldrich Mining Company and Cahaba Southern Mining Company.
- Organized the Hillabee Gold Company with his son in Tallapoosa County.

1904
- Became president of the Hillabee Gold Mining Company.

1905
- Repurchased the Montevallo Mines and became its president.

1910
- Pictured in The Story of Iron and Coal in Alabama. One of the few full page portraits in this book.

1906-11
- Listed as president of Montevallo Mining Company.

1911-15
- Appointed Postmaster of Birmingham by President Taft.
- Purchased a residence in the exclusive Glen Iris neighborhood built by Robert Jernison Sr.

1917
- Listed as mining engineer in Birmingham City Directory.

1918
- Appointed regional advisor on resources and conversions to the War Industries Board of the United States. He devoted his entire time to this duty as one of the "Dollar a Year Men".
- Helped organize the Alabama Manufacturers and Operations Association.

1919
- Returned to his profession as mining engineer.

1925
- Listed his profession as geologist.
- Continued to five in the exclusive neighborhood of Glen Iris, in Birmingham.

1928
- Involved in General Mine Equipment Company of Birmingham.

1928
- TCL/USS closed its mining operations in Blocton due to high freight rates and the depressed price of steel.

1932
- Listed as paleontologist in Birmingham City Directory.
- Considered one of the top four paleontologists in the world after a life time of field study of fossils, especially shell fossils.
- Awarded honorary doctor of science degree from University of Alabama.
- Donated his collection of more than twenty thousand shells and shell fossil specimens to the State Museum of Natural History located at the University of Alabama.
- Died on April 28 at age 83.
- Buried in Elmwood Cemetery in Jefferson County.

1933
- TCI/USS closed its commissary in Blocton, ending its last active operations in what Truman Aldrich called Number One Mining Town: Blocton, Alabama.

1935
- U. S Postal Service closed the Blocton Post Office. All mail was sent to the West Blocton Post Office.

1998
- The Truman Aldrich/Pickett house stands as the lone sentinel overlooking the site of The Number One Mining Town : Blocton, Alabama, "once the Magic City of Bibb County".

 

TRUMAN H. ALDRICH: The Founder of Blocton, Alabama

SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY

 

Allen, W. B. Tenneesse Coal- Iron- and Railroad-Company- MS.533 84-148 MH3.

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

Armes, Ethel. The 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 : The 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. The 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

TRUMAN H. ALDRICH:

The Founder of Blocton, Alabama

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