The Tennessee Coal Fields

By Carson Camp, as it appeared in The Running Water Historical News - Marion County, TN - June, 1995

Tennessee once bustled with a major mining industry in the southeastern section of the state. This area was known as the South Tennessee Coal Fields and was part of the Great Appalachian field, which extends from northern Pennsylvania to central Alabama.

The coal field of Tennessee is the Cumberland Plateau, which extends in a northeast and southwest direction across the state. This section of mountains form a noticeable line across the state and also forms a dividing line between middle and east Tennessee. This field has a width of bearing coal from thirty to fifty miles.

Inside this range of mountains and valleys exists various coal seams that have been mined since the early 1800's, but most mining in this section began after 1850 with the first large scale operation at Tracy City and Sewanee in Grundy and Franklin counties. (Nelson 4) Bledsoe, Sequatchie and Marion counties lie in the interior of the coal field, but are bisected by the beautiful Sequatchie Valley, which is over seventy miles in length and averages some five miles in width.

In the geographic center of this valley is the small city of Dunlap, Tennessee, approximately 700 feet above sea level and the county seat of Sequatchie County. This small town, which today has a population of some 3800 residents, lies approximately thirty miles northwest of Chattanooga, Tennessee.

A major ridge, called Walden Ridge separates Dunlap from Chattanooga and during the 1800's was a major obstacle for the people wishing to travel and visit between the two cities. This ridge of steep sandstone cliffs rising over 2000 feet could not easily be crossed by railroads, so the first rails were laid at the start of the valley beginning in Bridgeport, Alabama. This unusually long but level route made the railroad trip a sixty-four mile long journey from Dunlap to Chattanooga. The first train arrived in Dunlap in 1888 and with this historical event, the removal of the county's coal and timber resources could easily and efficiently be transported to Chattanooga's industries and other locations which until then proved too expensive and unprofitable for development of the region's coal reserves.

The Boom Years in Dunlap
The Company Town
Preserving Our History
Reconstructing Our History


The Sequatchie Valley Historical Association
114 Walnut Street Dunlap, Tennessee 37327
(423) 949-2156