Pratt Coal Mines

The Pratt Coal mines are the beginning of Birmingham in many ways.

Birmingham was founded at the crossing of two railroads, in 1871, yet, there was little real commercial activity for several years.  There was a financial panic in 1873 and a cholera epidemic, to be sure, that slowed down business -- but the real problem was that there was little in the way of production of products for the new railroads to ship.

As noted elsewhere in Birmingham Rails, John Milner engineered the building of the South and North Railroad, and the L & N really made it possible from a financial point of view.  Milner understood that the railroads had to have product to carry -- much of his justification to the Governor and Legislature was about "coal" and the value of coal to the proposed railroad.  Remember, that Milner made the comparison that the coal potential in the area would far outweigh the value of the cotton crop.  Imagine the viewpoint of the planter legislators in 1875 about Milner's opinions.  But they say it is always darkest before the dawn.

Truman Aldrich really "found" the Pratt mines -- that is, he found the coal.  He identified the coal seam known initially as the Browne seam, and later changed in name to the Pratt seam in honor of Daniel Pratt who provided initial financing for much of the development that became Birmingham.  But it was Aldrich who systematically explored the area and surveyed the coal outcrops in the Warrior basin.

Remember it was Aldrich who came to Montevallo and developed the first real workings in the Cahaba Basin.  He continued his explorations into the Warrior Basin in the early 1870's, identified the Browne seam, and then in 1878 with Henry DeBardeleben and James Sloss organized the Pratt Coal and Coke Company, serving as Superintendent and Mine Manager.  The details are in Armes book, The Story of Coal and Iron in Alabama.

This is quite a story -- about coal and railroads, then later, about iron and steel.  Continue the story.


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