(Photo submitted) Local and state officials joined the Coal Creek Miners Museum Board of Directors to commemorate the 120th anniversary of the Fraterville Mine disaster.

Fraterville Mine Disaster remembered 120 years later

(By Leean Tupper, AC Mayor’s Office)  Officials gathered on May 19th, to conduct a wreath ceremony in recognition of the 120thAnniversary of the Fraterville Mine disaster, considered one of the worst mining accidents in the history of the United States. 

Lt. Governor Randy McNally, Rep. John Ragan, Anderson County Mayor Terry Frank, County Commissioners Tim Isbel and Shain Vowell, and members of Rocky Top City Council were among those who attended Thursday’s ceremony at the Coal Creek Miners Museum in Rocky Top. 

(Photo submitted) Local and state officials joined the Coal Creek Miners Museum Board of Directors to commemorate the 120th anniversary of the Fraterville Mine disaster.

The museum, a nonprofit organization operated by volunteers, tells the story of the convict lease system, and the Fraterville Mine and Cross Mountain Mine disasters. 

Also at the event was local historian Boomer Winfrey, a founder, contributor, and volunteer at the Coal Creek Miner’s Museum, who noted that out of the horrible disaster came good changes in mining regulations—one of those being that Tennessee took the lead in ending child labor in mines.

Several former miners and their descendants also attended the ceremony. 

“What was really unique about this weekend was that while we were commemorating the 120th anniversary of the worst mine disaster in the United States, there were only three males who survived because they didn’t go to work on May 19, 1902,” said Tim Isbel, Anderson County commissioner and chairman of the Coal Creek Miners Museum Board of Directors. “One was the grandfather of Tim Sharp, mayor of Rocky Top. Mr. Byrge is also a descendant of a miner who wasn’t at work the day the mine exploded.” 

Everette Byrge, a coal miner for 42 years, followed in the footsteps of both his father and grandfather who were miners. Byrge started working around coal mines at the age of 15. And, at the age of 21, he began working for Tennessee Coal in Briceville. Six years later, Byrge began working for Consolidation Coal Company in Powell Valley, Tennessee; after two years with the company, he was named a foreman at the company’s Tennessee and West Virginia locations. He worked for 30 years with Consolidation Coal Company, working in their Tennessee, West Virginia, and Kentucky mines with zero safety incidents. 

(Photo submitted) Board of Directors member Lisa Pebley, who created the commemorative wreath.

The Coal Creek Miners Museum presented Byrge with a resolution, honoring his commitment to mining and the coal industry, during Saturday’s reunion. 

Coal Creek Miners Museum Board of Directors member Lisa Pebley handcrafted the wreath that was part of Thursday’s ceremony. And, several members of the Board, including Gordon Cox, Tim Sharp, and Lonnie Dison, participated in Thursday’s wreath presentation as well as the Coal Miners Reunion on Saturday. 

“Saturday’s reunion was well attended. There were probably well over 200 people who came through the museum that day,” Isbel said. 

“The preservation of our history is important to our county. I appreciate the efforts the Coal Miners Museum staff put forth to keep our history alive,” said Commissioner Shain Vowell.

About Jim Harris

Jim Harris has been WYSH's News & Sports Director since 2000. In addition to reporting local news, he is the play-by-play voice for Clinton High School football, boys' and girls' basketball and baseball. Catch Jim live weekdays beginning at 6:30 am for live local news, sports, weather and traffic plus the Community Bulletin Board, shenanigans with Ron Meredith and more on the Country Club Morning Show on WYSH. Jim lives in Clinton with his wife Kelly and daughter Carolina, and cats Oliver, Bow and Libby.

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