Archive for Tennessee

Ghost of the O&W

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 1, 2012 by atomicimages

View of O&W Bridge from a rock in the river.

Some years ago I made a bucket list of abandoned structures around the east Tennessee area that I knew I wanted to get to and document. While many of these relics are in protected areas they are not getting any younger and someday they will be gone. The O&W bridge, located in the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, was pretty far down on the list but a couple Sundays ago I decided to hunt it down. I needed to get away for a while and a journey to the wilds of Scott County seemed like the thing to do. I have always had a love for Big South Fork and its rugged landscape, plus its not super crowded so one can visit in relative peace. Getting to the bridge requires an 8 mile drive down a potholed gravel road that adds to the charm, actually the current road is the former Oneida and Western Railroad mainline. It is narrow and winding like the railroad but it traverses some truly beautiful scenery. Upon reaching the bridge it is definitely worth checking out as it is a rare bird, one of few remaining Whipple through truss bridges. Besides the bridge, the area itself is a great place to spend an afternoon along the river with a few morsels of sandy beach to enjoy. Interesting to note is all the coal that can be seen along the waters edge often in fines or big rounded chunks that have been eroded away and washed downstream. Thanks to Teddy Huffmaster for insight into the coal in the river.

Coal deposits in the water's edge.

Coal deposits along the water’s edge from erosion of sedimentary layers.

Backstory of the O&W

The Oneida and Western Railroad (or just the O&W as it was known) operated from 1913-1954 and was one of two main railways that ventured into the virgin lands of what is now Big South Fork for the purpose of accessing the rich coal and timber reserves of the area. This gorge was tough to build a railroad into and required steep grades and many bridges to get at the resources. Upon its completion it ran from Oneida, TN to Jamestown, TN at a distance of approximately 30 miles and provided regular passenger service in addition to the numerous freight trains. For many of  the locals that lived and worked along the route the railroad was the only viable transportation in and out. Builders started in Oneida at the connection with the Cincinnati, New Orleans, Texas, and Pacific RR (CNO&TP), which today is part of Norfolk Southern,  and began grading west toward Jamestown and the Cumberland River. Two years later, in 1915, construction crews reached the edge if the Cumberland River and the Nashville Bridge Co. began constructing the all steel truss bridge that we examine in this article.

O&W map

A hand drawn map of the O&W route sourced from The bridge can be seen in the background of the lower picture to the right of the locomotive. Click the map for a larger view.

Work at the time was tough and earned a track layer 25 cents an hour in 1921. Continuing on past the river bridge, the railroad reached its destination at Jamestown in 1921 having conquered all the water crossings and large cuts, one as deep as 90 feet. Men of the day used mule teams to scrape and transport dirt in the shaping of the right-of-way, so think about that when driving the 8 miles of road that is truly the handwork of those men. 1930 saw the railroad wanting to extend the railroad another 7 miles to reach a large stand of timber at Jamestown leaving the final mileage 37.84. There were many “stations” along the relatively short railroad that included:

Station Name – Mile #
Oneida – 0
Verdun – 2
Reed’s Station – 3
Toomey – 6
Speck – 13
Potter – 14
Gernt – 16
Zenith – 17
Christian – 19
Briar Point – 20
Hagemeyer – 21
Stockton – 25
East Jamestown – 30
Jamestown – 37

The bridge design itself is rare in the regard that few survive today. Whipple through truss bridges were build in the period between 1847 and 1900, the only problem is this bridge was build in 1915…so that is 15 years too late right? Apparently, the bridge was salvaged from another rail line and brought to the site in pieces and rebuilt. The actual original build date for the bridge structure is unknown but older than 1915. I suppose it must have been cheaper to buy the salvage bridge than buy a new model, but this was somewhat common practice of the day. There are other bridges around east Tennessee that I know were used previously, two that come to mind are the Poplar Creek  Quadrilateral Warren through truss railroad bridge (relocated to serve the government’s K25 plant when built) and the Clinch River two-span Polygonal Warren through truss bridge (relocated on barges from west Tennessee) that carries the CSX railroad over Melton Hill Lake in Oak Ridge.

View of O&W bridge deck.

Deck view of the O&W bridge. Boards are widely spaced so careful walking and certainly do not ride a bike across. Bikes and horses should be walked across for safety. The sides have been fenced which is a good thing.

Exploring the Bridge Area

The bridge, though remote, is accessed by several trails and the road. It is one lane but plenty wide and we drove across with people standing on both sides with room to spare. To drive to the bridge from Oneida, TN headed south drive through the town on US 27 and turn right on 297 (or left if coming north) and then left on the aptly named O&W Rd. This road is decent and paved for a while, but eventually turns to gravel and crosses several one lane bridges. We passed a couple of passenger cars on the rough gravel section, but I really recommend a vehicle with larger tires to navigate the few ruts and numerous potholes. The drive is a little over 8 miles once you get on O&W Rd. but it is beautiful as the roadbed follows a wild creek down into the gorge and comes out alongside the Cumberland River.

If hiking, the most common path is from the trailhead at Leatherwood Ford. The O&W Bridge trail begins here and is roughly two miles one way to reach the bridge. This is a relatively easy hike with little elevation gain. The segment closest to the bridge is actually an incomplete planned extension of the railroad to Leatherwood Ford.

side bridge view

To access the lower sections of the bridge and the river a wide wooden staircase has been constructed on the east end of the bridge. Once reaching the bottom one can truly appreciate the river and get better views of the bridge in it’s natural environment. Just to the south of the bridge there is a sandy beach area that was a nice spot to relax and enjoy the sights and sound of the river for awhile. There are some rapids near the bridge (referred to as O&W rapids) that make for some pleasant river music. This is also a take out for kayaks, which may be the purpose for the large staircase. I’m not a kayaker so I admit this isn’t my field of expertise.

Overall, the bridge makes for a nice afternoon outing. You can check out the bridge, but also enjoy the wild river’s beauty. The 8 mile road to the site has plenty of beautiful scenery itself as it runs deep into the wild areas of Big South Fork.


Bridging Ruin – Nemo Camelback Truss Bridge

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 18, 2011 by atomicimages

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know much about bridge design or theory. While I generally photograph abandoned mines, structures, and tunnels I thought I would broaden my scope a little but and give some love to this beautiful old bridge in Nemo, TN. Nemo is just outside of the tiny town of Wartburg (named after Wartburg Castle in Germany oddly enough), and is in the same general area as the abandoned Tunnel 24 discussed previously in this blog. In fact, the road that used to cross here (and its newer counterpart) runs over both the old and new railroad tunnels.

Sadly, this bridge has obviously passed its useful lifespan and has been replaced by an ugly, bland modern (though undoubtedly safer) version. For info on this bridge I turned to the hands down best old bridge site on the web which I have referenced often in the past.  The page dedicated to this bridge can be found here as well as an interesting historic photo.

If you don’t feel like clicking over there I will post the facts on the bridge here but all credit for the reasearch goes to Calvin Sneed who authored the page on Bridgehunter, NOT me. The images in this post, however,  are mine indicated by my watermark and cannot be used without permission. Anyways here the facts:

Camelback through truss bridge over Emory River on Catoosa Road
Nemo (unincorporated), Morgan County, Tennessee
Open to pedestrians
Future prospects
Preserved as part of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation’s Cumberland Trail System
Built 1929 after this and nearby bridges at Oakdale and Deermont were destroyed by floods in 1906
Atlantic Bridge Co.
One 180-foot Camelback, two 149 foot Camelback spans. Each span is a pin-connected Camelback through truss.. pin connections were very unusual on a span of this type in 1929, normally they were on earlier truss spans. The two 149-foot truss spans, the second incline contains only one panel, while the 180-span has the more typical two-panel incline. West abutment is masonry, east abutment is masonry with a concrete camp, denoting they were built for the 1906 spans. Top chords, end posts and veticals are channels with lacing. Bottom chords and diagonals are paired rectilinear eyebars, and the counters are single cylindrical tie rods.
Length of largest span: 180 ft.
Total length: 481 ft.
Deck width: 18.7 ft.
Approximate latitude, longitude
+36.06859, -84.66237   (decimal degrees)
36°04’07” N, 84°39’45” W   (degrees°minutes’seconds”)
Approximate UTM coordinates
16/710520/3994085 (zone/easting/northing)

Though it is showing its age in the form of rust ad a crumbling deck, it is in remarkably good shape to be 81 years old and will hopefully remain as a pedestrian bridge and landmark for a long time to come. They also built the parking at the Nemo recreation area under the east end of the bridge so your car will stay cool wile you are up checking out this fine specimen, of which very few remain. Catch them while you can.

The Brushy Mtn. State Mines – 70 Years of Hard Labor (Part I)

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , on December 18, 2010 by atomicimages

Hidden in the mountains of east Tennessee, just outside the hamlet of Petros lies the now closed Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary, once a key part of the Tennessee penal system. It doesn’t have the fame of Alcatraz or other well known prisons but it was just as important and mysterious. It was constructed by inmates from stone quarried on site and looks like a castle, it must have been something to build their own prison. From above one can see it is shaped like a cross which illustrates the importance of religion to the people of the area.  It’s history is long and complicated, it is one of the oldest penitentiaries in the US, and I won’t go into it all here we are mainly focusing on its associated mines which I have now explored three times. The mines are, in fact, the reason Brushy Mountain (or just Brushy as locals call it) exists in the first place. The history of the mines is a story of free miners and convict miners and a mostly unknown uprising known as the Coal Creek War.

The Coal Creek War

This too is a long and complicated story but I’ll just supply the basics. Once upon a time in TN there was a system instituted known as the “convict-lease” system where prisoners were worked by the state to “repay their debt to society.” This was common in the south after the civil war. It all began because of a debt that the state incurred after the civil war at where they had helped supply the Confederate army of the state. In an attempt to make the prison system break even the legislature came up with the convict lease system in 1865 where prisoners would be leased to companies to make money for the state to try and repay the debt. Fast forward to 1871 and prisoners were being leased to railroads and mining companies. Many escapes occurred on railroad gangs but few in coal mines for obvious reasons. Already, free industrial workers were complaining about the competition from convict labor. Now fast forward to 1889, the Tennessee Coal, Iron, and Railroad Company came to the state and asked to lease a large number of convicts to work in mines near Briceville, Lake City (then known as Coal Creek), and other places. The first insurrection by free miners took place in 1891 in Briceville but it was only the beginning.

Throughout 91′ and 92′ free miners burned coal company buildings and released hundred of prisoners from stockades sometimes loading them a hundred or more at a time on trains and sending them off. This occured several times around Briceville; Tennessee state militia had to intervene several times and enforce the convict labor system. In just one example at Oliver Springs miners stormed a stockade and when the guards refused to release the prisoners the miners exchanged gunfire with the guards for a half hour, left, then returned with reinforcements and put the inmates on a train bound for Knoxville and burned the stockade. This happened until the end of the lease system in the mid 1890’s. In 1893 the state legislature approved a bill allowing for the construction of a new prison to house and work the convicts which would later become Brushy Mountain.

Brushy and her Mines

The state ended up purchasing 13,000 acres for the prison site and Morgan county was expanded into Anderson county so it would all be in one county. Today the Frozen Head State Park is comprised of some of these lands and it borders the prison site, the mines are considered part of Frozen Head. A 20 mile railroad line from Harriman was constructed (largely by prisoners of course) so coal could be hauled from the mines. The state installed ovens to increase the value of the coal by “coking” it (burning it at a high temperature, as much as 2,000°C) to produce a material used in steel production known as “coke.” Men that has worked in the coal mines already continued to do so at the new prison, while other convicts worked the ovens, coal washer, tipple, etc. By 1896 the miners were pulling 1,000 tons a day out of the mountain.

However, working hundreds of prisoners in cramped and dark tunnels was risky and on several occasions there had been escape attempts, hostage taking, and sabotage. In 1959 a large rebellion inside the mountain of 95 men made national headlines, the prisoners eventually got starved into surrendering but after it ended booby traps were found inside including ones rigged to sticks of dynamite. One newspaper excerpt I found said the miners had 200 sticks of dynamite and threatened to destroy the shafts if their demands for better working conditions were not met.   This was likely one of the final nails on the mines’ coffin. I haven’t been able to find much information about previous incidents other than references to the fact that they occurred. The mines opened just after the Coal Creek war in 1896 and operated until 1966 from what I can tell, 70 continuous years. There are several mines collectively known as the “State Mines” and I believe there were multiple ones operating simultaneously. They appear to be on four levels of the mountain, presumably where the different seams were. I am also fairly sure that some entrances have disappeared with time. Photos of the original operations seem to be hard to come by and I am still fuzzy as to how all the pieces of the puzzle fit together.

Lets Explore!

The site itself is part of Frozen Head State Park and can be accessed from a gated road on hwy 116 at Armes Gap. The trail here is the Lookout Tower trail formerly a 4×4 road now closed to vehicles. If you stay on this trail you will end up at the top of the mountain and the lookout tower, but we cut off before that. The trail to the first set of mines cuts off to the left a mile or so up the trail in the middle of a big incline, the mine trail stays level. On the Frozen Head trail map this is the “Old Prison Mine Trail.” Walk for a couple of minutes on the flat former tram road and you pass a large open area with little trees and then quickly you stumble upon the first mine opening.

This is the first mine opening (or Portal, or Drift Mouth) on the trail, it appears to be very old and is gated.

The first opening is old and gated with old iron bars very much like…prison bars. Until recently I hadn’t considered the possibility that this entrance was sealed in this manner to keep in prisoners and not for keeping the public out, although I could be wrong. The ceiling inside has collapsed and  the timbers look very old and weathered. This entrance could have been used for ventilation and barred to keep prisoners from running out this portal. What looks like a road in front is actually the tram road running over a bridge-type structure built in front of the portal, the opening is larger than it appears in this image extending below the road behind the gated portion.

Intatct gaurd tower surrounded by a fence, though my friend pointed out the gate was open last time I was there.

Just a few more steps down the road is the real evidence of convict labor being used, an intact guard tower. The two pics I have seen of these mines have wooden guard towers so this must have come along in the final days of the operation. In my opinion this may have been the last mine to have been worked. Directly in front of the tower is a well preserved cement portal that still has mine track ties inside with spikes in them.

Very well perserved portal, noted the stacked stone wall to the right of the portal.

In addition to the ties a large braided steel cable also lays on the ground in the entrance. On inside a few feet the tunnel has collapsed (or been intentionally collapsed) barring any further exploration. Speaking of, it should be said that exploring any mine is extremely dangerous and reckless if you want to continue living, but coal mines are much more dangerous than other types as they are often damp, unstable, and gassy.

Small dynamite store, ther were two of these off away from the portal/guard tower.

On past the guard tower are two small closet sized building presumably used to store explosives, one has dirt pushed up in front likely to direct the explosion if one occurred. There is also a smaller oddly shaped building with a small opwning that may have been a fan house. It’s roof is partially collapsed and I had to crawl on my knees to peek inside. There is also a small foundation area where a wood building likely stood. There were probably lots of wooden buildings that no longer exist for that matter.

Weird small structure built into the hillside a few feet from the cement portal. The opening is about four feet high and the roof slopes down over the opening. A recent comment from a reader indicates that this is likely a fan house.

Foundation for some form of wooden building.

Off in the woods below the barred portal are other foundations and bits of cement that can be found hinting at a myriad of buildings that once populated the hillside. Also, there are some ruins of the cable incline that lowered cars up and down the mountain. Up above the rock wall to the right of the cement portal is a large flat concrete pad with two pipes sticking out of each corner with an unknown purpose. There is also a large capped metal pipe sticking up out of the ground. Someday, I hope to find more information about how these mines functioned. I would love to locate some historical photos to compare to my own present day photos. This is an interesting piece of industrial history as there are special circumstances in play, they were functioning mines but with the guard towers and maximum security inmates doing the work.  This concludes whats along this bench. When I get time I will put up Part II up above this area and the “mega mine” that I found there. I’ll leave you with some old writing my friend Troy spotted on the underside of the roof of the guard tower.

Writing on the underside of the guard tower roof and on the walls. It’s hard to read but it looks like the tower was used for a chalkboard! There are tons of dates around the 50’s, the date 3-2-1956 is the largest and most obvious it’s also wrote out as “March 2, 1956.” “Dock” is signed under each date. “Armes” appears frequently as well. There is also other dates nearby: 2-19-55, June 11, 1956, June, 10, 1953, and tons of others I can’t read. For what purpose they were written I don’t know, or who Dock was.


Click here to head on up to the Mega Mine.