Saturday, August 12, 2017

Coal Creek Miners Museum and the Importance of Ice Cream Socials (Free!)

Coal Miner's Museum and Norris Dam Park 

Last weekend we checked the weather forecast and discovered the only clear day was Wednesday So we changed up our plans and spent most of a very rainy week puttering around the RV, catching up on small projects and repairs. Like installing a new relay in the motorcycle. We now have turn signals again! 

We also decided to run the generator, which we need to do every 3-4 weeks. Well, at least we tried to run the generator. We pressed the crank button and nothing happened. We pulled out the owner's manual, ran through the checklist, and even made sure the overload switch hadn't been thrown. Nada.

Stumped, we went to ice cream social the next day and asked Fred, a former Chevrolet employee, for help. He came over and ran us through another check list, including hitting the kill switch for the coach - which fixed the problem. Yup, if all else fails, reboot!

On Wednesday, the skies were clear., so off we went (with working turn signals!) to the Coal Creek Miners Museum, which is currently free.

 Rocky Top bought an old bank building last year, so the museum is brand new. Right now, it only occupies the bottom floor, but the museum is hoping to raise enough money to open up the second floor, where they can have bigger exhibits.
Coal mining in this area was started by William Gibbs McAdoo (his granddaughter was Catherine Wiley, an American Impressionist Artist, who we've already mentioned in another blog post)

The museum's staff does tours, and are full of interesting information. Merle Travis, who released "Sixteen Tons" was the son of a coal miner. In the song, he talks about the debt his family dealt with, thanks to being paid in credit to the company store.
Many of the items on display in the museum highlight how dangerous mining was, and the dubious nature of the 'safety' equipment.
The staff member showing us around mentioned how one visitor had shared they were still using some of this equipment when he retired in 2006.
The museum also covers two local mining disasters, the Fraterville Mining Explosion, and the Cross Mountain Mine Disaster, which occurred only ten years later and only one mile away.
In both disasters, trapped men wrote goodbye letters to their families as they ran out of air. The museum has heart-wenching copies of these letters on display including this letter written by a father who was trapped in the Fraterville Mine with his young son.
You can read more about the men and boys who were lost, and the heartache of their families on this local website.

The museum also covers the Coal Creek Wars. While the protesting miners eventually lost their homes and their jobs in 1892, the incident lead to Tennessee to being the first state to end its convict-lease program in 1896.
Convict-lease programs was used throughout the South as a way to enforce Jim Crow laws, so this war ended up being another significant step toward the long road to ending these laws. If you are interested, there are a couple of other  Coal Creek videos on the museum's website.

After leaving the museum, we headed off to the Lenoir Museum in Norris, but not before zooming past a couple of beautiful old churches in Rocky Top.
We took 441 from Rocky Top to Norris Dam. Thanks to the recent rains,
the day was sunny but cool, with a breeze blowing off the nearby Clinch River.
The road ran along side sheer rock walls in several places, a reminder that we are literally on top of the Holston Formation, which was once a tropical sea millions of years ago.
Eventually, we began to see Tennessee Valley Authority signs,
and then one of the Norris Dam spillways. The Norris Dam was the TVA's first big project, way back in 1933.
We were going to check out the Lenoir Museum, but it was closed (the hours are Weds -Sat, 9am to 5pm and admittance is free).
This wasn't much of a disappointment,  though, because we still had the trails at Norris Dam State Park to explore. 

Although there is a fee to use the State Park, as far as we can figure out, the trails are free. (For those who have been following our blog for a while, you'll be happy to know that we didn't try to find the three historical cemeteries, which is part of this trail system!)

This area was once a small village of farms until the Great Depression.
One of the New Deal projects to provide much needed work was creating a dam on the Clinch River. The Rice Gristmill, built in 1798, had to be moved and is now part of the Lenoir Museum complex.
 In the early 1950s, Tennessee started a state park program, and purchased this park from the TVA. The trail we choose to walk was the Songbird Loop. There were many, many wildflowers,
and quite a few butterflies.
At first glance, this appears to be a forest but if you look closely,
you can see this was a replanting effort since the trees are in straight rows.
There are over 4000 acres at Norris Dam, but the trail we walked was well maintained and beautiful.  Both the City of Norris and the Friends of Norris Park help provide upkeep and maintenance, and the extra TLC shows.

Talking about beautiful, we kept seeing these gorgeous plants along the trail. Is this flame azalea? We're from Texas, so we've never seen azalea in the wild before.

Nope! It's jewelweed! Thanks Anne!
The trails also have another awesome feature - an accessible fishing pier.
While we were walking back to the motorcycle, we saw two guys taking advantage of the ADA path so they could fish together.  Very cool. 

Know Before You Go: Both the Coal Creek Miners Museum and the Lenoir Museum are free, but have restricted hours. It appears that the trails at Norris Dam State Park are free, at least if you park at the Lenoir Museum and walk in.


  1. Your little flower could be jewelweed which blooms in August. Known for its properties to protect from poison ivy. They often grow in the same environment.

    1. You're right! It is jewelweed - although why call such a pretty and useful herb a weed??? Hope you and hubby are having a great time on the water!!!!