Ducktown Smoke: The Fight over One of the South's Greatest Environmental Disasters

By Duncan Maysilles | Go to book overview

2
THE REVIVAL OF
DUCKTOWN MINING
AND THE
FIRST SMOKE SUITS,
1890–1903

The railroad eventually reached Ducktown. On a bright summer day in 1890, a train full of businessmen, politicians, and reporters left Atlanta for the first rail trip to Knoxville by way of the mining district. Proceeding over tracks laid by wage-earning white mountaineers and shackled, mostly black, convict laborers, it chugged northward ever higher through the foothills in Cherokee and Pickens counties to pierce the Blue Ridge Mountains in Gilmer County at the old Indian town of Ellijay. It continued up the Ellijay Valley into Fannin County to the town of Blue Ridge, and from there made the descent into the Ducktown Basin by following the Toccoa River. Waiting at the McCays Depot (later renamed Copperhill) were several hundred people and a brass band to honor the momentous occasion. All eyes turned up river to see the first puffs of smoke from the train’s smokestack; all ears strained to hear the locomotive’s whistle and bell. When the train arrived, the brakes squealed, the band played, and then a hush came over the crowd as local dignitaries read and delivered a proclamation to the crowd. In the grandiloquent phrasings of the times, the proclamation stated, “We hail this event as the beginning of an era of matchless growth and prosperity to this, one of the richest sections of the South,” made possible because “our inexhaustible deposits of copper… are now accessible to the outside world.” 1

This was one of those rare moments when booster rhetoric rested firmly on present realities rather than airy hopes. Ducktown’s copper resources were a proven fact, as was the demand for the metal to supply America’s growing telephone, telegraph, and electrical industries. Completion of rail connections to Atlanta and Knoxville provided the last needed element for the revival of mining in the district. Capitalists on both sides of the Atlantic were alert to the new opportunities. London investors, operating as the Ducktown Sulphur, Copper & Iron Company, Ltd. (DSC I), monitored the course of railroad construction, acquired the holdings of the old Union Consolidated Mining Company, and spent heavily to reopen the mines as the final lengths of track were laid. In 1891, another group of investors from

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