Mining History at Dunlap Coke Ovens Park
Photo by Sean Fisher Photography
Looking at the Sequatchie Valley today, with its open farmland center and densely wooded edges, it’s hard to believe that it was once home to a thriving coal industry. Get a glimpse of this fascinating history at the Dunlap Coke Ovens Park, just a few minutes from downtown Dunlap.
The 88-acre park features 268 beehive coke ovens, which were used in the early 1900s to convert mountain coal into industrial coke. A museum (call for hours of operation) on the property highlights photos from Sequatchie Valley’s coal boom days. Both the park and museum are free and guests are welcome to wander the grounds between sunrise to sunset.
The coke ovens on the property were part of a coal mining operation that started in 1899 on Fredonia Mountain overlooking Dunlap. To make the extracted coal usable for the iron and steel foundries of nearby Chattanooga, the coal needed to be “cooked” in “beehive” ovens to convert it to coke. The coal mining company store and the first 24 ovens were built in 1902. Four years later, 144 more ovens and a steam-powered coal washer were constructed.
In 1916 a new railroad opened up along Little Brush Creek making it possible to ship more coke. Along with a new million dollar coal washer, 100 more beehive coke ovens were built on the east end of the site to meet the growing demand. Unfortunately, these last ovens and the coal washer proved to be too large of an investment for the company to bear, and it filed for bankruptcy in the mid-1920’s. A total of 268 stone ovens had been built when, in 1927, the mining operations were shut down due to falling coal prices and the onset of the Depression.
The coke ovens lay dormant for more than 50 years, exposed to the ravages of nature, garbage dumpers and rock thieves who dismantled stone from the ovens. In the mid-1980s local citizens formed a historical group and began efforts to clear away the debris. The property was then donated for preservation to the Sequatchie Valley Historical Association by Bowater Southern Paper Company and has since been placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The park and museum are currently maintained by the Coke Ovens Museum Association and Sequatchie Valley Historical Association volunteers who offer free tours of the property by appointment.
The park also hosts an annual Bluegrass Festival the first weekend in May – bring a lawn chair and enjoy live music in this beautiful setting.