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The Boom Years in Dunlap

By Carson Camp, as it appeared in The Running Water Historical News - Marion County, TN - June, 1995
In 1899 a mine was begun on the Cumberland Plateau above the City of Dunlap (Sequachee 13 July 1899:1) This opening led to the start of the Sequatchie County coal and coke industry which transformed this small agricultural region into a thriving industrial center for almost 28 years.
The Douglas Coal and Coke Company of Delaware began the Dunlap operation with $400,000 of capital stock put up by investors from New York and Delaware; the company purchased 14,000 acres of coal lands in its initial venture and officially announced its intentions on September 30, 1900. (Sequachee 4 October 1900:1) Almost immediately a rail spur was laid from Nashville, Chattanooga and the St. Louis Railway to the base of what is now called Fredonia Mountain in the west section of the city. A gravity incline railway was constructed to allow the coal mined on the Cumberland Plateau to be lowered to the mail rail tipple located on the valley floor.
The incline was over 3900 feet in length and operated on a gravity principle which allowed the weight of the descending incline car or "monitor" to pull the empty car back up the steep mountain grade. The cars’ speed was kept in check by an operator at the top who controlled the main pulley or "drum" with a friction brake attached to the drum. The incline rope, made of a single length of 1 ¼ inch cable, made several turns around this cast iron pulley ("Dunlap 7"). The system worked very well and inclines of this design operated in the Sequatchie Valley for many years, attesting to the skill of the engineers who designed the system.
The Dunlap incline cost approximately $13000 (Sequachee 26 December 1901:2) to build and today visitors still marvel at the vast effort that was expended to blast out the route through the sandstone cliffs above the city. Historic photos taken during construction have illustrated that the construction was done totally by the manual labor provided by local residents who worked with picks, shovels and black powder explosive. At the top of the incline a massive sandstone rock overhangs the old rail bed. It is evident that attempts were made to blast the huge rock away with the black powder explosives available during the turn of the century. It was all in vain. The hanging rock still shadows hikers who follow the steep grade of the incline more than ninety years after the drill holes were hammered by local workers.
The Tennessee Coal Fields
The Company Town
Preserving Our History
Reconstructing Our History
The Sequatchie Valley Historical Association
114 Walnut Street Dunlap, Tennessee 37327
423-949-2156

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