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Southern States Coal, Iron, and Land Company

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Marion County, Tennessee County Page

This page documents the history of the Southern States Coal, Iron, and Land Company (SSILC)

Southern States Coal, Iron, and Land Company, Limited

The Southern States Coal, Iron, and Land Company, Limited, was organized and officered by Thomas Whitwell, James Bowron Sr. and James Bowron Jr.

In April 1874, Major T. S. Thomasson of Chattanooga traveled to Tracy City with two visitors, Colonel Babcock of New York and a gentleman from England, James Bowron, Esquire. James Bowron was prospecting land with intentions of developing an industrial community equipt with furnaces, shops, and foundries, and open coal and iron mines. He represented a group of iron-masters of the Cleveland District of England as well as a member of Parliament or two. Bowron had already prospected through New England, Canada, Mexico, California, the Southwest, and the West Virginia field on a previous expedition to the United States. He, however, grew keen on the Cumberland Plateau, and on this second visit arrived armed with diamond drills and other boring devices for deeper consideration.

He scoured over the plateau for weeks before focusing on the old Ally farm nested in a cove of the Sequatchie Valley. This farm was located at the big bend of the Tennessee River where Andrew Jackson and his men had crossed in the beginning of the century into Alabama. The broad brown river curved down the middle of the valley between the Cumberland Plateau (all coal) and Walden's Ridge (all iron). The historic little Battle Creek flowed out of the steep, wooded Cumberland side past the Ally farm. The site stood forty miles below Chattanooga and direct on the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad. These advantages combined with direct river frontage and rich mineral fields presented the perfect site for the Englishmen.

After surveying the area to select his mines, he rushed back to Tracy City and asked Colonel Shook and Mr. Warner to introduce him to E. W. Cole, the president of the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad. Bowron's goal was to induce Cole to extend a track to the mines he planned on opening. The meeting was successful, and after communicating with Thomas Whitwell and the other English investors, Bowron purchased the Ally farm to construct a town and contiguous coal and ore lands to the extent of 163,000 acres.

As an admirer of the Pennsylvania mining town, Bowron named his town South Pittsburg. He paid tribute to his homeland by naming the coal mining station Victoria after the queen.

Around 1875 a company formed in Stockton-on-Tees England by the name of Southern States Coal, Iron, and Land Company (limited) to purchase and develop mineral lands in the Cumberland mountains.[1] The company officially incorporated on April 12th, 1875.[2] The SSILC purchased approximately 50,000 acres of coal lands above Jasper, Tennessee in the Cumberland Mountains. They also acquired 100,000 acres of iron lands in other sections of Tennessee. All of their properties were contiguous to each other, both by rail and river. They planned a factory on the Tennessee river a few miles north of Bridgeport.[1]

On March 1st, 1876 the company purchased about 1,000 acres of land around Battle Creek in the 11th Civil District of Marion County for $15,000. The company planned to erect a furnace and to build a wharf between the railroad and river. The land was formerly a portion of John C. Haley's farm, which he sold to George T. Lewis in 1868. Lewis sold it to Wood Wilson in the same year. The land was partially described in a plot of a survey made of the Haley lands by William Hall, County Surveyor, which was held in the Office of the Clerk and Master of the Chancery Court at Jasper in the case of John F. Anderson vs. John C. Haley et al (Number 230).[3][4]

In the summer of 1877, Thomas Whitwell offered James Bowron Jr. a large sum of money to lead a group of industrial workers to his father in Tennessee. James Bowron Sr. died shortly after and his son assumed management of the settlement. The inexperienced James Jr. was tasked with developing an entire town, selling lots and houses, and attracting workers and settlers. All of this had to be done while adjusting to life in a new country. He relied on the encouragement of Thomas Whitwell from across the Atlantic.

Tragedy struck in the following year when Whitwell died in a gas explosion at one of his iron works in Thornaby. With the primary investor (Whitwell) and visionary (Bowman Sr) now gone, James Jr. saw no independent future for the little English community tucked away in the Sequatchie Valley. He suggested consolidating with the Tennessee Coal and Iron Company, but the SSCIL directors were not interested.

After four years of struggling under young and inexperienced management, the directors finally entertained thoughts of consolidation. By this time, however, the company's financial woes weighed on its bargaining power and value. On February 1st, 1882, the Southern States Coal, Iron, and Land Company (Limited) was acquired by the Tennessee Coal and Iron Company for $700,000 of stock and $700,000 in bonds, secured by a mortgage on its property.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Nashville Union and American, Nashville, Tennessee, 25 July 1875, p. 1, accessed online at Newspapers.com
  2. Abstract of Articles of Association of the Southern States Coal Iron and Land Company (Limited), Marion County, Tennessee Deed Book L, p. 455, accessed online at FamilySearch
  3. Wood Wilson and wife deed to Coal, Land & Iron Co., Marion County, Tennessee, Deeds, Volume I, Page 139, accessed online at FamilySearch
  4. The Tennessean, Nashville, Tennessee, 11 March 1876, p. 3, accessed online at Newspapers.com

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