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History of Pleasant Grove's Mining Disaster

Updated on March 14, 2017

Mining site

An example of the size of an operating coal mine during the same time period.
An example of the size of an operating coal mine during the same time period. | Source

November 22, 1922

Pleasant Grove is a small community on the outskirts of Birmingham, Alabama. The people that settled there in the late 1800’s were farmers by trade. In 1916, Woodward Iron and Coal Company opened a mine in the community and became the employer of most of the men in the area.

It was a chilly damp November morning when the miners left their homes and headed off to the Woodward #3 mine. November 22, 1922 started as all mornings started in this small farming and mining community between Bessemer and Birmingham Alabama. Children watched their fathers and older brothers leaving for work at the Woodward # 3 mine just as they did every other morning. Children would run alongside their fathers as they drove the truck to work with their lunch buckets and containers of milk in hand. Children would make a game of racing the family truck down the dirt drive to the main street. This morning was no different. The younger children went to school, the men went to work.

These men, old and young passed the Methodist church and the town cemetery on their route to the mine. Arriving to start their shift that morning, no one knew that so many would never make it out at the end of the day.

Tippel

The three coal cars sliced the electric cable of the tippel which sparked a fire with the coal dust and the gas in the surrounding mine opening.
The three coal cars sliced the electric cable of the tippel which sparked a fire with the coal dust and the gas in the surrounding mine opening. | Source

Everything was normal and work was progressing until the middle of the afternoon when there was an accident. Three mine cars loaded with coal from deep inside the mines were being hauled to the mine entrance. As they reached the top of the incline there was a break in the cable and all three cars roll back into the entrance of the mine. As they rolled back, they severed an electric cable, which caused a spark. When the spark ignited the coal dust, there was an explosion in the mine opening. The explosion which was both heard and felt in Birmingham, which is nine miles away. Over 400 miners were inside the mine at the time. The wreckage of the coal cars, the fires, and the poisonous gasses that remained in the mine entrance trapped them inside. The fifty men that were working in and around the mine entrance were immediately killed as the flame shot out of the mine and across the yard to the Tipple. At this point, no one knew the fate of the others trapped inside.

Coal Miner

Over 400 miners were in the mine when the explosion occurred.  Many ended up walking out in Dolomite and sliowly making their way back up the hill to Pleasant Grove. their families were insure of their fate as they walked home.
Over 400 miners were in the mine when the explosion occurred. Many ended up walking out in Dolomite and sliowly making their way back up the hill to Pleasant Grove. their families were insure of their fate as they walked home. | Source

The family members heard the explosion from all over the community in western Jefferson County. The noise caused all the women and children to come out of their homes and start heading to the mine. They came on foot, in cars, and trucks. They carried the small children as the older children helped with their brothers and sisters. No one knew what to expect. There was smoke over the mine and they knew that they were going into a situation they had all dreaded and feared. No one at this time knew how bad it was. The entire community raced to the number three mine.

Dolomite coal mine

A ohotograph of the Dolomite portion of the #3 mine. Many men ended up here after walking through the tunnels to safety.
A ohotograph of the Dolomite portion of the #3 mine. Many men ended up here after walking through the tunnels to safety. | Source

The scramble that took place inside the mine made news once survivors came out of the tunnels. The stories told that were then reported in the newspaper about the acts of individuals. One such story told of the Foreman that asked thirty men to remain and help secure the area with canvas and stone to block the “after-damp gas”. One man refused to stay and his body was later found, once the fans had been turned on and the air cleared, just a few feet from the brattice they had built.

Many men were able to escape using the underground tunnels arriving at the other entrance in the neighboring town of Dolomite several miles away. The tunnels had allowed them to escape the gasses which were released by the explosion at the front of the mine.

Men told of stepping into slight niches and blocking themselves in with their own clothing to escape the gas. The rescue of the men trapped inside continued all night with family standing as close to the mine as allowed. Mothers, wives, and children watching as one by one a man would struggle to the top and exit the mine. They would gather the miner close and hurry home relieved that their little family had been spared the fate of the families of those 89 that never made it out.

The associated Press reported the next day that the vigil went on all night with men struggling to exit the mouth of the mine. Some men appeared leading the wounded out with them. Some of the men that eventually were found dead had gone back to help others. This was a community in every sense of the word and everyone felt the effects of that day. These men were family, friends, and co-workers and they were heroes going through a nightmare of unfathomable proportions.

Most of the ones that died are buried in the small Pleasant Grove cemetery. The cemetery that is right outside the entrance to the #3 mine. The cemetery is located directly across the street from the Pleasant Grove Methodist Church. Tombstones that state that men like B.T. Dobbs a thirty-three-year-old man were killed in the Woodward Iron Company’s #3-coalmine explosion November 22, 1922.

Twenty-one-year-old Hershell Warnick and Tom C. Warnick, his thirty-eight-year-old brother both were lost that day.

Young men like Hugh Connell who was just twenty-four and men like fifty-eight-year-old D. A. Buzbee all left families grieving their loss.

Their tombstones stand as a silent tribute to the 89 men, marking the most tragic day in the history of one small farming community in Alabama.

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    • profile image

      Charles Turner 6 years ago

      Well written article and very interesting.

    • profile image

      Misty Leader Ayotte 5 years ago

      I would like to say thank you so much for writing this because i've been looking for this article for a while. My dad is cleaning up the tornado mess in Alabama and one of the job sites he's managing is the area that the mine was at. I walked to it and it was covered my trees because of how long it sat there. We moved a branch and we didn't see much because It was a far drop. There was no way we we're going to try to move anymore branches and trees so we walked away. I was really curious about the mine so i'm glad that you posted this :)

    • vicki goodwin profile image
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      Sojourner McConnell 5 years ago from Winchester Kentucky

      I am happy that you found this. I believe that history needs to be retold and with damage like the tornadoes shows how fast history can be erased. It is good to know that people like your dad are helping repair Pleasant Grove.

      Thank you for taking the time to read the article and to comment.

    • Jools99 profile image

      Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK

      Vicki, this is a very interesting article on a subject I find very interesting - when I was studying my family tree, I discovered a gr-gr uncle who died in a mining accident, he was only 37. He was just one man and so I expect my own family (at the time - 1920s) were pretty devastated but you cannot imagine the effects on a community of a terrible disaster like that you've described.

      Voted up and shared.

    • CASE1WORKER profile image

      CASE1WORKER 4 years ago from UNITED KINGDOM

      Really interesting hub about a horrible accident- when tradgedies like this are recounted it does make you stop and think .

      I can imagine the mothers and wives eagerly looking at each man as he came out of the pit- and the sorrow for those who did not make it out.

    • mollymeadows profile image

      Mary Strain 4 years ago from The Shire

      Vicki, this was an interesting hub. My grandfather was once briefly a miner in Kentucky but he quit, and I'm glad he did. Mining is such a dangerous occupation even today and in the past they had almost no safety precautions in place. Thanks for bringing this incident to light!

    • vicki goodwin profile image
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      Sojourner McConnell 4 years ago from Winchester Kentucky

      Jools, Thank you for your votes and sharing this article. The people still speak of the incident and it has been almost a full century. For a town that small to lose so many, it means that almost every family lost someone.

      Case1worker, Thank you for reading this article and taking the time to comment. That is what stayed with me as well, the thoughts of the wives and mothers waiting on any news and praying for each other.

      MollyMeadows, thank you for reading it. I agree the safety precautions were almost nonexistent. Mining was such a dangerous field, it was awesome when someone was able to leave that field before they were harmed.

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      Jamie 3 years ago

      This is so great. My property is on top if this mine. I love knowing the history of our city and this land!

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      Gail McGinnis 3 years ago

      My Grandfather, Hubert Earley, was in the accident, but he was not injured, but his brother Cleve Earley, was killed. My thoughts are of the families waiting to see if there loved ones were safe, and the ones that lost there loved ones.

    • vicki goodwin profile image
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      Sojourner McConnell 3 years ago from Winchester Kentucky

      When I was doing the research on this it broke my heart to think about the families that waited throughout the night for word on their relatives. I am sorry that your family suffered this loss, Gail. It was a terrible day in Pleasant Grove.

      Thank you Jamie for taking the time to read this and comment. I too believe that it is important to know the history of both the city and country.

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      Brett Duncan 3 years ago

      My grandfather Dave Thrasher worked there..

    • vicki goodwin profile image
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      Sojourner McConnell 3 years ago from Winchester Kentucky

      Thank you Brett for commenting and informing us of your Grandfather's time at the mine. I hope he was a survivor at the time of the accident.

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      John Travis 3 years ago

      My Great Grand Father, John H. Anthony lost his leg (unrelated accident) at this mine.

    • Ole Number One profile image

      Tim Hyde 3 years ago from Louisiana

      I lived on 2nd Place in PG from 76 - 94. I could walk out of my parents house and be at the entrance to that mine (I think it would be the same one it was abandoned) in 4 minutes. I can't tell you how many times my friends and me were in that shaft and climbing on the mountains of slate and never had a clue this stuff happened. Nobody ever said a word about it. My parents were from other places close by so I suppose all the older people had moved on or died off by the late 70's and it just got lost in memory. One thing I do remember vividly is that giant concrete coal railcar loader. I saw an icicle hanging off of it one time when it was snowy and cold. It was the biggest one I have ever seen to this day. (Alabama remember) It was at least 1 foot around at the base and about 6 feet long just hanging off there. No cell phones back then to snap a pic.

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      Kaye Capps Hutchins 3 years ago

      Thank you for this article. Both of my grandfathers Robert Capps and Mark Shearer worked at this mine until it shut down.

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      Robert Wales 3 years ago

      I was born in a house 1mile from that mine in 1940. The accidet was talked about often when I was young. The mine reopened and operated, Im guessing, into the late 50s. my dad would sing us kids a song of a little girl begging her dad not to go to work that day because she had a dream something bad was gonna happen. He went anyway and was killed. All us kids would cry when he sang it.

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      Donna Harbin Bowser 3 years ago

      I grew up in this Pleasant Grove community. I never heard about this mine accident. My parents are burie d in the little cemetary across from the PG Methodist Church. Will look for grave markers from the mining accident. Thank you for sharing this sad story. Pleasant Grove is a strong community, removing from the April 11 tornados. It seems to have always been a strong community.

    • profile image

      Ashley Grounds 3 years ago

      I am still very young only 22 but this article is so interesting to me! To find out all this information of my hometown. I now want to go find the entrance to the mine and the grave markers of the people who lost their lives. 11-22-22 will now always have a place in my heart and will always be remebered. Although i have no connections to the mine and still touches my heart!

    • profile image

      Karen McKee 3 years ago

      My parents moved to P.G. in 1956 and I was born and raised there. Never knew about this and find it so interesting to learn of my hometown history. Is there a way to get this article downloaded without downloading the zipware? It loaded a Trojan onto my computer so afraid to try again. Would like a copy of this please. Thanks for writing it and including photos.

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      Brittney McElrath 3 years ago

      wow its so interesting to learn about the history of pleasant grove, especially since it was so close to my house! I live one street over from that cemetery, I can look directly at it standing in my yard! this story also gave me chills because now I know how dangerous working in the mines can really be, my dad is a coal miner at Jim Walter #7...and I fear every night he goes to work that somethings gonna happen to him! but I just wondering why no one ever really talks about this incident!

    • profile image

      Jerry Wheeler 3 years ago

      My uncle died in this disaster. My father was a young boy when it occurred. He told many times of going immediately to the mine upon hearing and feeling the explosion. He watched as a lad as wife's searched among bodies for husbands and parents searched for sons. He described, in vivid detail, the subsequent rows of caskets at the Pleasant Grove Methodist Church. This was a devastating blow to a very quiet community. Thanks for the history.

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      Kelley(scholl) pope 3 years ago

      I grew up in pleasant grove, my granddaddy was fire chief there and all the scholl family grew up there. I can remember hearing this story from him and him talking about the lives lost. Thank you for sharing this....

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      Woody Talley 3 years ago

      My Dad told of his uncle who did in a mining accident in the #3 mines in Pleasant Grove. I'll be it's this accident. He too is buried in the Pleasant Grove Cemetary across from the Methodist Church. His name, Zollie Talley.

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      aaron thrasher 3 years ago

      I was born here and raised. I knew of the slate dumps but didn't know where the mine entrance was. Can you still see it from the road or where it once was.

    • Ole Number One profile image

      Tim Hyde 3 years ago from Louisiana

      No, they filled it in around the entrance and covered it over. It was located at the end of 3rd st. off to the right about 2000 ft at the wood line.

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      ashley smith 2 years ago

      I have grown up in P.G., been here since the 70's. I have been told about this tragedy and read many articles. I'm more than sure that over by the slate dumps a mine entrance was filled up with tires and cement. Once a kid was on a dirt bike riding up on the slate dumps and fell in part of a mine shaft. He survived thankfully! Thanks for the article.

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      James Parker 11 months ago

      I grew up in Pleasant Grove. We moved from Cullman County in 1953. I remember seeing the mine in operation with the great big trucks taking the slag out to dump it. I have ridden bicycles and later drove cars up on the slate dump. I have never heard this story however, and I find it very interesting. Most of the names mentioned in the article are familiar to me since I went to school with thier descendants.

    • vicki goodwin profile image
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      Sojourner McConnell 11 months ago from Winchester Kentucky

      The mines were an important part of the history of Pleasant Grove and the other surrounding areas. When I was researching this mining accident, I was talking to Norah Buzbee who at the time was in her 90's. She could remember that day just like it had happened the week before.

      I knew I had to share the story. It was too important not to.

    • profile image

      Kelley scholl 6 weeks ago

      I am from pleasant grove, I had heard of this accident but did not know all the details, my granddaddy john scholl had told me this story as a teenager, but again not in detail. Thank you for this, my family attended the Methodist church as well, the history of the little town I called home growing up is amazing.

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      David Blue 6 weeks ago

      I lived in Pleasant Grove and was honored by an invitation to join a group of families having a BBQ across the street from the football field and to my surprise I learned of this story while listening to many stories of family members who were relatives of this tragic day. Thank you for this story it should never be forgotten.

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      Joe Kirkpatrick 6 weeks ago

      My Grandfather Jim Reed was working night shift and had just gotten off work when the explosion happened! A tragic day that I've known about all my life!

    • vicki goodwin profile image
      Author

      Sojourner McConnell 6 weeks ago from Winchester Kentucky

      Your Grandfather, Jim Reed, and your's John Scholl were lucky to escape that. It was a terrible day for most of the families in Pleasant Grove with most in the community having a family member lost, missing, or dead. I can not even imagine the fear of walking to the mine and waiting for news. I am so thankful to Nora Busby for sharing this story with me and giving me other names to talk to about their memories on that day.

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      Thomas E. Badham 6 weeks ago

      Great article.

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      Gilbert Arevalo 6 weeks ago from Hacienda Heights, California

      Coal mines are dangerous places to work. You provide great research and outstanding sepia photos, adding an eerie quality to a horrible tragedy.

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