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Tennessee: Fraterville Mine Disaster Anniversary Recognized; Miners Honored



June 3, 2022Officials gathered on May 19 to conduct a wreath ceremony in recognition of the 120th anniversary of the Fraterville Mine disaster, considered one of the worst mining accidents in the history of the United States.

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

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.



The May 21, 1902 edition of the Knoxville Sentinel, detailing the Fraterville Mine disaster two days previously.



Also at the event was local historian Charles "Boomer" Winfrey, who noted that out of the horrible disaster came good — positive changes in mining regulations. One of those changes was that Tennessee took the lead in ending child labor in mines. Winfrey is a founder, contributor and volunteer at the Coal Creek Miners Museum.

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 United States, there were only three males who survived because they didn’t go to work on May 19, 1902,” said 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.”



People gather at the entrance to the Fraterville Mine in May 1902 after an explosion claimed the lives of 216 miners. It was Tennessee's worst mine disaster.
Board of directors member Lisa Pebley created the commemorative wreath.



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 Co. in Powell Valley, Tenn.; 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 Co., working in its Tennessee, West Virginia and Kentucky mines with zero safety incidents.

The Coal Creek Miners Museum presented Byrge with a resolution, honoring his commitment to mining and the coal industry, during the Coal Miners Reunion on May 21.

Coal Creek Miners Museum board of directors member Lisa Pebley handcrafted the wreath that was part of the ceremony. And, several members of the board, including Gordon Cox, Tim Sharp and Lonnie Dison, participated in the wreath presentation as well as the East TennessCoal 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 stated in the release.



Coffins are collected for the 216 miners who were killed in the Fraterville Mine explosion in May 1902. It was Tennessee's worst mine disaster.



“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,” Commissioner Vowell stated in the release.