So much of our southern industrial heritage has fallen victim to either the Scrap heap or the Strip mine. The Cahaba Coal Fields were the foundation of industry and economic growth during the late 1800s and early 1900s. I wanted to explore this location before it disappears forever. What is known about this location? The Roden Coal Company operated the Marvel Mines from 1906 until 1951. An explosion on October 22, 1916, killed 18 miners. This operation was large enough to be served by two separate railroads. Both Southern and L&N worked these mines using a single line in a joint partnership. The following photos are how the operation looked around 1916. This image shows the #1 & #2 shafts. They operated two separate coal seams. This image circa 1930 shows the #1 shaft no longer in use. Notice the marble inlay at the top of the shaft. I found this diagram of the site to better show the complete operation. (Thanks to the unknown artist for a fantastic illustration) Today several interesting ruins still remain. The fan house still remains. Recent logging operations have shown no respect for this historical treasure. This is shaft # 1 Notice the marble inlay. The trestle footings still remain. This concrete water tower is another interesting example that is still in existence at Marvel. The mines operated from 1951 to 1953 under a second company, but closed for good in 1953. Thanks to Marshall Goggins and John Stewart for the information and old photos. Now, off to examine Blocton. The name of Blocton originates from a one-ton block of coal extracted from the rich Cahaba Coal Fields. The coke ovens at Blocton were built by Truman Aldrich who organized the Cahaba Coal Mine Co. in 1883. Built between 1888 and 1891, the ovens operated until 1904. By 1890 the number of ovens had grown to 467 with an estimated output of 600 tons a day and were critical to the development of the iron and steel industry in the Birmingham area. This image shows the ovens in operation around 1899. This small engine still remains at the site. By 1928 freight costs were soaring and the Great Depression was the final demise of the operation. The community of Blocton has saved this southern industrial historic treasure.
About 20 years ago stones from the coke oven site were being hauled away for a construction project at Tannehill. Local residents got interested in the ovens then and halted the removal. The current Coke Oven Park restoration effort is being led by Elizabeth Salter, an Americorps/VISTA volunteer with the Cahaba River Society.