Tag Archives: Roane Iron Company

Roane County Hosiery Mills

{Robert Bailey, Roane County Historian}

The hosiery mills in Roane County provided many jobs for women and men and was one of Roane County’s most important industries throughout the years. James F. Tarwater was a major creator of hosiery mills in Roane County. In 1905, Captain James F. Tarwater and his associates established the Rockwood Hosiery Mill, which is still in existence as Alba Health. The building sits on its original location on Gateway Avenue. Rockwood was created as a Company Town and as such, it controlled everything, including the Company Store, where the employees could only use the script that they were paid. The hosiery mill was one of the first competitors to the Roane Iron Company. In 1912, James F. Tarwater decided to open up another hosiery mill in Harriman, called the Harriman Hosiery Mill. There was another mill in Harriman at that time called the Harriman Knitting Mill which started about 1903. At one time, the Harriman Knitting Mill employed several children about the age of 11 or 12 years. Other factories did also. In 1916, James A. Huff, who was the manager of the Rockwood Hosiery Mill, came to Kingston to locate a branch site for a mill. In 1919, it moved into permanent quarters. J.C. Stinnett, was the supervisor of the plant from its beginning until it closed in 1951. After it closed the building was used as a bowling alley and skating rink. It was located behind what is now Kinser Drug Store. It employed about 200 people over the years.

Harriman Hosiery Mill

Rockwood Hosiery Mill

Rockwood Hosiery Mill – Inside

Kingston Hosiery Mill

Roane Iron Company Mine Explosions

{Robert Bailey – Roane County Historian}

Working in a coal mine was and still is a dangerous job. In the 1920s there were several mine explosions that occurred in the Roane Iron Company mines in Rockwood that cost many lives. On April 29, 1926, two men lost their lives. A major explosion occurred on July 16, 1925. In that explosion, ten men lost their lives. Those men were;

  1. Claude Tindell,
  2. Raymond Watkins,
  3. Sam R. Doughty,
  4. Thos. G. Green,
  5. John W. Green,
  6. Sam L. Givens,
  7. Roy Limburg,
  8. Wm. J. Snow,
  9. Jas. Wilson,
  10. Thos. J. Sullivan.

However, the worst disaster happened on October 4, 1926. In that explosion, 27 miners lost their lives. Those who died, with the family left by each, were as follows:

  1. Will Rodgers, married, 5 children;
  2. H.M. Griffis, married, 4 children;
  3. A.J. Griffis, single;
  4. Ben Gibson, single;
  5. Sam Taylor, married, 3 children;
  6. Lee Jolly, married, several children;
  7. Ira Nelson, single;
  8. Van Kirby, married, 4 children;
  9. P.C. Craven, married, 2 grown children;
  10. S.P. Whittier, married, 6 children;
  11. Harry Lingo, married;
  12. Will Teague, married, 7 children;
  13. Arthur Teague, married, 5 children;
  14. W.C. Elliott, single;
  15. C.B. Davis, married, 1 child;
  16. Philip Galyon, married;
  17. Jess Dale, married;
  18. Walter Cunningham, married, 2 children;
  19. E.G. Smith, married, 1 child (is son-in-law of Will Rodgers);
  20. Clyde Teague, single, son of Will Teague;
  21. Will Armour, single;
  22. Frank Boles, single;
  23. Hector Smith, single;
  24. J.A. Freels, married, 4 children;
  25. G.C. McCoy, married;
  26. Frank Hinds, married, 3 children;
  27. Dave Brummett, married, 6 children;
  28. George Riddle, married, 6 children.

The cause of this disaster was given as the ignition of gas in one of the rooms.

Originally written for the Roane County Newsletter to the Community, September 2017.

Guido and Hindo – The German Police Dogs

{Robert Bailey – Roane County Historian}

Thomas L. Brown (1866- 1931) was one of the best known (notorious?) Roane County “characters” of his time. He was superintendent of the Roane Iron Company’s Chamberlain ore mines, south of the Tennessee River. Besides owning two ferries that operated in Roane County, he also was the owner of a steamboat that operated between Knoxville and Kingston. In today’s terms, he would be a multimillionaire. In a time when very few people in Roane County owned automobiles much less seen them, Tom Brown could be seen driving with his German police dogs, Guido and Hindo, riding with him. When he died in 1931, he left a trust of $1,500 in his will to take care of his two dogs. Today, $1,500 would be about $23,000. Tom Brown is buried in the Bethel-Kingston Cemetery in an unmarked grave. It is not known when Guido or Hindo died or where they are buried.

Originally Written for the Roane County Newsletter to the Community, September 2014.

”New Deal” in Roane County

{Robert Bailey – Roane County Historian}

When the Great Depression came along in the 1930s, many people became unemployed. Part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal plan was to put these people back to work. There were three programs which affected Roane County: the Public Works Administration (PWA), the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). In 1935, 500 jobs were given to Roane County men and women who were formerly on the relief rolls.

One of the largest projects was a farm-to-market road program which was to improve the county’s 2,000 miles of rural highways. Work was done in all five civil districts and employed 260 men. Among other works were the grading of Nelson Street and other city streets in Rockwood, repairs on Race Street in Kingston and work on Roane Street in Oliver Springs. Jobs were provided for 117 men. In Harriman 61 men worked on the High School athletic field and repaired and painted the public library. Three sewing projects were given to 72 women. Projects that may still be seen include the Rockwood Post Office and the terracotta mural done by a New York artist, Christian Heinrich in 1939 located in the post office. Heinrich named his mural, “Wild Life.” Pictures of it may be seen at www.wpamurals.com.

Also, the eastern addition of the Historic Roane County Courthouse was built. Included in the construction were vaults which were intended to protect the county records. Historical records projects were also done in Roane County. Many early Roane County records were transcribed, typed and placed into volumes of books. Among other records projects involved the transcribing of family Bibles and recording tombstones in various cemeteries. So, the impact of these programs may still be seen today almost 80 years after they were done.



















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

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.

Coca-Cola Bottling Works

{Robert Bailey – Roane County Historian}

If you look on the internet in places like eBay or through bottle dealers, one will find that there are several Coca-Cola bottles which bear the “Rockwood, Tenn.” raised lettering. In the 1890s there were several saloons located in Rockwood. The Swagerty Brothers (Jim A. and Tom F. Swagerty) owned and operated one of these saloons and bottled liquor. When liquor was outlawed in Rockwood in 1902, the Swagerty brothers switched to bottling Coca-Cola. They received their franchise from the Coca-Cola Bottling Works, Chattanooga, on September 1st, 1903. Besides Coca-Cola, they also manufactured all kinds of soda pop. In 1906, the Swagerty brothers sold their business to Walter Howard and H. Fowler. Later Tom Tarwater and T.A. Wright bought into the plant. Then, H. Fowler, Bart Bacon, and Sewell Howard became the owners. The first plant was in a one-room building on South Front Avenue. The bottling equipment consisted of a stove (to heat water), a tub, a water-driven brush, and a foot-power machine. Deliveries were made by a one-horse wagon. In the early days, the commissaries of coal, lumber, and mining companies were the major outlets for their product. The Roane Iron Company and the Brown Mining Co. of Roane County, and also the Stearns Coal and Lumber Company, New River Coal Company and Brown-Hill Colliery were among the places where one could purchase Coca-Cola and other soda pops. In 1916, a new building was constructed on South Wilder Street. An ice plant was installed which provided these retailers with free ice as an incentive to use the Coca-Cola Bottling Works. This building was located across the street from where Molyneux Lumber was located and was used until 1950. About 1919, S.D. Smith purchased the plant, and in 1923 he sold out to J.G. Repsher and C.L. Cole both of Mississippi. Presidents of the company through the years from 1923 included J.G. Repsher, Mellie T. Repsher (his widow), Saramel Rephser Crooks (the daughter of J.G. Repsher). Managers through the years were C.L. Cole, and his sons, S.P. Cole, Charles E. Cole and James T. Cole. A new building was constructed at 220 South Kingston Avenue, and the Coca-Cola Bottling Works was moved there in January 1951. In 1969 it purchased the Dr. Pepper Bottling Plant in Lenoir City, with the franchise to bottle Dr. Pepper. The Rockwood Coca-Cola Works was later sold to Johnston Coca-Cola of Cleveland, Tennessee and it was closed in 1998. Other bottling works were operated in Rockwood by Captain Robert H. Thompson (Thompson & Kelly), A.R. Humes, and Walter Smith in the early days of Rockwood’s history. Bottles have been found with the raised lettering identifying these companies and that they were from Rockwood.

Originally Written for the Roane County Newsletter to the Community, June 2013.