Rockwood’s First Christmas

{Robert Bailey – Roane County Historian}

Captain William McElwee, a noted historian, wrote an article about the first Christmas in Rockwood. Rockwood was created as a company town by the Roane Iron Company in 1868. The first furnace was put into place in the summer of 1868 and was put into operation in December of that year. It was the first furnace south of the Ohio River to make iron using coal. As Christmas was approaching, it was decided that there must be a celebration for both the Holiday and the success of the furnace.

The only place large enough where people could assemble was the sawmill. It was here where the first sermon was preached, and the first Sunday School was organized. Laurel and ivy vines were used to create a cave to represent the cave where the Baby Jesus was born. [It should be noted that some believe that Jesus was born in a cave and this is what Captain McElwee believed]. Sawed logs and wood planks were laid out as the table for the meal. A large meal with a large roasted turkey and some chickens with other sides were made by Mrs. White of the hotel. When all was ready, Rev. Mr. Chasteen spoke on the subject of excuses for many who were invited but didn’t show up. One excuse was that that the one man had “married a wife could not come” and “she had not been axed, and he could not go without her.”

When supper was over Captain James Harris, the man in charge of the coal mines announced that there had not been a marriage in Rockwood and “that the year must not go out without giving the women a chance.” Because it was a leap year, women could propose marriage. Four eligible young men stepped forward and sat on the “I am willing bench” who were willing to get married. Two men, Tobe Brown and Alex Gossett were the final choices. No women stepped forward to accept the proposal, and it was decided that the women draw straws. The “winner” was Margaret White, the daughter of the boarding house owner. Margaret then chose Alex Gossett. Bill White, her father, objected and as the Courthouse was closed, it was decided to have a vote about delaying the marriage until a license could be procured. As Bill White owned the boarding house and said that he would break up the boarding house, every border who feared losing his boarding house voted for postponement. Eventually, Alex Gossett and Margaret White got married and had eight children.

Roane Iron Company

Originally written for the Roane County Newsletter to the Community, January 2014.