Hikers Enjoyed Almost Perfect Day in Ruins of Dade’s Lost City

March 27, 2019


Photo of coke oven interior by Charissa Skillern Scamehorn. Photo below of creek by Laura Cureton Cross.


Patience is a virtue. Patience was what it took to continue planning for the Dade County Historical Society trip into the hollow that holds the last remnants of Cole City, the Dade Coal Company and the convict lease program in Georgia. The hike was postponed twice. Thank goodness, though, it didn’t rain again Saturday.


Hard work is another virtue that was used to accomplish this event. There was a massive amount of earth moving done by Jeremy Sims and his crew last week. It couldn’t be done earlier because it was still raining. Thank you to him and all associated with getting us in and out of the gulf.  


Dade EMS and  Dade County Sheriff’s Office employees, B.J. Hartline, Hunter Sharp and Sandra Mathews were there in case of medical or legal issues. Both the New Home and West Brow Fire Departments are thanked for their contributions on Saturday. William A. Back, being a member of our group and owner of part of the property, did yeoman’s work coordinating with the landowners to be on their property. He also handled many insurance and other details which are too many to mention, but he is hereby thanked for his efforts.


Thanks to our members for planning, working hard and pulling off a really great event for ourselves and our 105 participants. Any event takes much work and this one turned out “might near perfect.”


If you didn’t get to come then you missed a “Chamber of Commerce” day. You also missed hearing archeologist and Dade citizen Lawrence Alexander as he explained about the geology at Cole City and the specifics of mining and operating such a large operation as Cole City. Who would have considered such a small thing as how it smelled when the ovens were going full blast? Alexander listed the mineral which would be emitted by coking the coal. One of the main ones was sulphur. Many of us know how sulphur smells because it is usually among the first chemistry experiments we are allowed to try. Who doesn’t remember that rotten egg smell?  Can you imagine never smelling fresh air or having that rotten smell permeate everything?


There is still so much to learn about that civilization, but one thing is for sure: The beauty and the wonder of what Mother Nature has reclaimed is a treasure in our community.


Since you readers didn’t get to hear my part of the program, I will post my handout here. You knew this old teacher would never miss a change to take advantage of a perfect teachable moment with a captive audience. Enjoy and feel free to challenge the information or send me questions. Also, I would love to have photographs of family members who worked at the mines. We will scan them for you at the library.



Facts about Cole City, Dade Coal Company and life and times at the Prison

  • The family of John B. Gordon lived and worked on Sand Mountain in 1856.

  • One of the mines was named the Gordon Mine and was mapped as such by the Army Corps of Engineers.

  • John B. Gordon organized in 1861 the first troop to volunteer for the Civil War from Dade. They were called the Raccoon Roughs and Governor Joseph E. Brown wrote to Gordon and told him to hold off on sending that group.

  • The troops of Major General George Thomas crossed Sand Mountain and Lookout Mountain during the first week of Sept. 1863. Thomas’s Secretary was future President James A. Garfield.

  • Georgia created the Convict Lease System in 1866.

  • Former Gov. Joe Brown was named President of the Western and Atlantic Railroad. He needed coal. He and others started the Dade Coal Company and incorporated a town. They named it Cole City after the president of the Nashville, Chattanooga and St. Louis Railroad. His name was Col. E. W. Cole.

  • Cole City was incorporated by the Georgia legislature in Feb. 1873: "The corporate limits of said city shall extend two miles in every direction from the present main entrance of the coal mine now operated by the Dade Coal Company." (1873 Volume I, page 127).

  • The sale or creation of alcohol, wine, beer or any mineral spirits was prohibited by another act of the legislature during that session in 1873. This might account for the high number of saloons that are documented in Murphy Hollow.

  • In 1876, Brown leased 100 convicts at $11 per convict for five years. They were leased by the Dade Coal Company

  •  In 1875, Georgia had 926 convicts (90 white males, 805 "colored" males, 30 "colored" females and one white female).

  • In the 1880 census for Cole City there were counted at least 950 persons with 375 of that number being prisoners. They counted the prisoners separate from the rest of Cole City in the 1900 census.

  • Many of our ancestors either worked or lived at the mines during this period. This is the first time some common Dade names appear in Dade County. They came here to work.

  • There were frequent prison breaks and runaway convict situations. They were always big news both here and in Chattanooga and Atlanta news outlets.

  • The Convict-Lease system was outlawed in 1908.

  • After the property which was formerly incorporated was divided, local coal mining continued for some years. More recently the property has been used as a hunting preserve and for the timber on the property.

  • In 1996, Cole City was designated as a Historic Township by the Department of Community Affairs in accordance with the Official Code of Georgia Annotated 36-30-7.1.


​​NOTE: The quarterly Historical Society meeting is Saturday, March 30 at 10:30. We meet in the library history room. New members or interested parties are welcome. After the meeting, we will do some planning for our next event which is on May 18. This year’s Cemetery Walk will feature the Brock-Morrison Cemetery at the foot of Lookout Mountain in Piney on Creek Road.

--Donna Street




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