Published 11:30 am Monday, January 21, 2013
By CATHERINE LEGG / Community Columnist
In an effort to write a thumbnail history of the Dogwood-Underwood community just northwest of Montevallo, I found very little published information. I did, however find a friend, Howard Lucas, who grew up in Dogwood and whose father was superintendent of the mine there.
The material for this, the first of two articles, came from him; from an article, “Cahaba Coal Field Mining,” by Bobby Joe Seales, and from Dr. Jim Day, professor of history at the University of Montevallo.
Dogwood was a coal mining town where everything — the mine, houses, commissary, etc. — was owned and operated by the company under the names of Montevallo Domestic Coal Company (1915-1917) and the Little Gem Coal Company (1918-1948).
Located on the other side of the railroad tracks was the small town of Underwood, where people owned their own property; many were farmers or small business owners. The post office for the two communities was in Underwood in Mrs. Kirkley’s general store.
Coal mining from the Cahaba Coal Field in the early half of the 20th century was big business in Shelby County and the Dogwood operation reflected that.
“An early owner and superintendent, Sam Johns, was instrumental in its growth and success,” said Lucas. “The first mine was a sloped tunnel, about a mile long, into the hill, and branching out into various rooms/slopes to reach the many vein deposits.”
An additional mine was opened with a near vertical slope that gave access to coal deposits that would have been difficult to mine through Number One.
The Dogwood operation produced lump, nut and slack coal. In later years it was modernized using gasoline and electric-powered locomotives as well as electric hoists and fans, tractors to transport, and a 200-ton washer to clean the coal.
Dogwood miners earned 50 cents to $1.50 per ton and worked an average of 240 days per year. Average annual output equaled 13,411 tons before mechanization and 87,664 tons thereafter.
For those interested in more details regarding coal mining in this area, Dr. Jim Day has written a most informative book, “Diamonds in the Rough: A History of Alabama’s Cahaba Coal Field,” to be released this spring.
Catherine Legg can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.