Mike Ragland -Cotton in my Blood

Mike Ragland, Guest Columnist

Editor’s note: Mike Ragland has been under the weather, and offers this “Classic Ragland” column to tide readers over until he picks up his pen again.

The South didn’t have near as many railroads before the war as did the North. After the war was over and the South was devastated, the entrepreneurs from both areas recognized the importance of the iron beast, and the country went railroad crazy. They even started building one to connect the west coast to the rest of the country.

In 1848 the Selma, Rome and Dalton was chartered as the Alabama and Tennessee River railroad, and was originally planned as a Selma to Gadsden connection.

At the time of the war it reached as far as BlueMountain (near what would become Anniston). By 1867, the company’s directors decided to abandon the Gadsden plans and extend the line one hundred miles to Rome, and then Dalton where it would connect with the Western and Atlantic railroad. Once it reached Rome, the connection to the W&A was possible by switching railroads.

The extension was completed in 1870, but did not ensure the financial stability of the company, and it entered into receivership in 1874. It was reorganized as the Georgia Southern Railroad. In 1881, the East Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia bought the Georgia Southern and absorbed it into its operations, giving it a line from Dalton to Selma. This railroad, along with the Richmond and Danville, were merged to form the new Southern Railway. On June 1, 1982, the Southern and Norfolk & Western Railways announced an agreement to merge into a combined system encompassing 17,000 miles of track and today’s Norfolk Southern was born.

Southern operated the line as a secondary main until the mid 1970’s when the section from Piedmont, Alabama, to Atlanta Junction just south of Rome was abandoned. Towns or stops on this section include Ladiga, SpringGarden, Pleasant Gap, Rock Run, Bluffton, and Tecumseh, Alabama. The towns in Georgia were listed as Etna, Prior Station, Oremont, Cave Spring, and Cunningham.

In the 1980’s, Norfolk Southern abandoned the line from FortMcClellan to Piedmont.

The rail bed between Rome and BlueMountain was completed before the war, but no rails were placed on it. It was a good road, however, for troops to travel between theatres of operation. They deemed it a short hike between railroads and it was used quite frequently.

After the Mexican War, Moses Stroup built a furnace at Round Mountain, Alabama. Using an existing forge, he made hollow ware and all types of ironware. He also made iron pigs, which were hauled to the CoosaRiver by wagon and then shipped to Rome, where the Noble foundry turned it into Confederate ordnance a few years later. It is said the first cannon the Nobles made for the south was from Round Mountain Iron.

The Nobles, using all the iron they could get from the Round Mountain furnace, also built the furnace at Cornwall, and were hauling as much iron as they could get to their foundry.

The RoundMountain furnace was attacked, as was Cornwall, and partially destroyed by Union Soldiers under the command of Major General Frank Blair in 1864.

It was restarted in the early 1870’s after the war, and after the railroad ran through the area. The iron in the area made it a profitable package for the railroad and the furnace owners. Several furnaces were notable in the immediate arena besides the one at RoundMountain. There was the Rock Run Furnace, the Etna Furnace, and the one that interests me is the Tecumseh furnace. And no, it wasn’t named for the Indian.

The Tecumseh Iron Co. was organized in 1873 by Willard Warner, who was a brevet brigadier general in the Union Army and served on the staff of William Tecumseh Sherman. He named the furnace in his honor.

It was located on the Selma, Rome and Dalton Railroad and first began operations on Feb. 19, 1874. At the time of its construction it was considered one of the finest iron furnaces in the south. The furnace had an output of 25 tons of iron per day at its peak.

The company operated constantly till 1886, and then part time to October 1890. In 1909, the Birmingham Coal and Iron Company purchased the entire property. The Woodward Iron Company bought the Birmingham Coal and Iron Co. on Aug. 4, 1912, and had the furnace dismantled for scrap.

One of the rumors I’ve always tried to document but haven’t been able, was that the mad arsonist himself visited Rome, on the way to visit some of his holdings in the iron fields of Alabama. Legend has it that he shook hands with citizens of Rome, and many confederate veterans while in Rome. Something tells me this is true, but also hard for me to accept. If it is, they were better Christians than I would have been.

The community of Rock Run was at one time larger than Centre, making it the largest town in Cherokee County, Alabama. It was booming. The railroad itself was hauling all kinds of agriculture products to Rome, or Selma. In the 1880’s Rome was building one foundry after another, as was Anniston, where the Noble family had re-located. The furnaces were running day and night.

A lot of the foundations of the various furnaces can still be located, and pictures exist of many in the CherokeeCountyMuseum.

When you speak to folks that had ancestors, or grew up in this area themselves, they speak highly of the lifestyle that was enjoyed at the time, much like the MillVillage where I was raised. It was hard work, but was a good life. Wages were decent for the south at that time.

I like researching the long-gone areas where the history is so rich. One place in CherokeeCounty that I’ve been unable to do much with was the Cotton Mill on Hurricane Creek that closed in the 1920’s. If you have anything at all, please call me.

Mike Ragland is a former Cave Spring city councilman and a retired Rome police major. His most recent book is “Living with Lucy.” Readers may contact him at mrag@bellsouth.net or mikeragland.com.