A Walk in History

Hikers who trek the Little Soddy Creek section of the Cumberland Trail truly walk into history. As one descends the old mining road from Clemmons Point into the south side of the valley, the oldest mine in the state, the original Soddy Mine that opened in 1866, is just “over yonder.” Often water can be seen discharging from the now collapsed and hidden mine entrance.

Upstream from this old mine, near the end of the access trail, is the old Fibrother Mine under the trailhead bluff. This mine was operated by the five Millsap brothers, who were local residents. It is here that Mr. Raymond Redden, a resident in his eighties resided at the intersection of Hotwater Road and Old Hotwater Road, cut and supplied ties for the ore cart tracks as a young man.

On the main trail after crossing Little Soddy Creek, you are in the former center of activity supporting the old No. 7 mine. Just upstream was Mr. Jeffery’s mule barn where up to 48 mine mules were housed. He lived at the head of the gulf (or “gulch” in the local idiom) and his job was caring for the mining mules, which also included repairing the leather harnesses. The only phone was located at the Commissary Shed operated by Paul Thrasher.

Just down stream is the site of a variety of old mine support operations: the boiler house containing two steam boilers, the blacksmith shop, the machinery building containing the steam engine to drive the machinery to control the 7000-foot-long incline cable car system down to the bottom of the gulf, and whatever else was needed to run the mine.

One can almost hear the clanking of machinery, the hissing of the steam engines, the clickety clack of ore cars, the braying of the mules, and the clinking of miners’ lunch boxes as Old No. 7 beckons all to the task at hand—extracting the precious black ore. And nearby sits Mr. (Tom) Levi who controls each of the thirty-unit parades of loaded ore cars that make the descent to the coal washing station at the bottom in but nine minutes.

Following the path of the old incline tracks takes the hiker high above the stream as it plunges rapidly in a series of cascades, soon almost 100 feet below. Near the bottom of the decline can be found one of the old boilers from the upstream power house, lodged in the stream bed near where the incline made one of its seven stream crossings on its way down the valley. One may occasionally spot a relic of the past—a section of track, an ore car wheel, a piece of cable—as the hiker passes along this historic route.

Skirting up and around the steep north bank brings one again near the stream and across from an old foundation on the south bank; this was a structure housing the potential bane of the mining industry—the blasting dynamite, fuse cord, primers.

Climbing away from this one-time beehive of activity where it is reported that 800+ people were gainfully employed, one can sometimes hear the whistle of a modern train. However it is easy to imagine the clanking of heavily laden cars recently filled by the washer at the base of the mountain, all pulled by the chugging and puffing steam engines of the times.

Leaving the valley, the vision of what was once there is dimmed by time, but the history of activity once performed here is etched forever in the present-day character of the community.

—Jim Schroeder