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|Friday, May 26, 2000
Area still filled with coal as well as legend
By Melissa Clement
Along the banks of the Deep River, seven miles from Sanford in Lee County, lies an estimated 100 million tons of coal.
Millions have been spent to bring it to the surface. More than 100 lives have been lost. Less than 1 million tons of Deep River Coal has seen the light of day.
Old-timers think there was a demon in the Deep River coal bed, guarding its black treasure from would-be profit-takers. According to a 1987 article in The State magazine, no one has ever made a profit from the Deep River coal.
It is unclear when mining started in the area, but records show that at least one mine, the Horton Mine, was in operation near the present town of Gulf. On land that is now the town of Cumnock, George Wilcox established a forge and forged cannon balls and shot for the Revolutionary War. Coal was mined in the area on a small scale for the next 75 years to supply local needs.
The Egypt Mine opened in 1855 and is said to have been the first commercially operated mine in the state. It was on the plantation owned by Peter Evans on Deep River. There is a story behind the name of the mine. When a drought parched the land, Evans’ farm was spared and produced abundant corn. One neighbor went to buy corn and quipped that it was like the biblical story of Joseph going to Egypt to buy corn. Years later, when the mine had earned a reputation as a jinx, the town and mine were renamed Cumnock for a town in Scotland.
In the beginning there was trouble transporting the coal on the narrow Deep River. An explosion caused the mine’s first three casualties. During the Civil War the mine was taken over by the Confederate army and coal was shipped by rail and river to reach the blockade runners in Wilmington. It was not a satisfactory fuel because it produced strong yellow smoke from the high sulfur content, smoke that betrayed the location of the blockade runners.
Some of the miners were Confederate soldiers who avoided combat by working in the mine. Other area mines began to operate, including The Black Diamond Mine and Taylor Slope. At the end of the war the mine was filled with debris to hinder enemy capture. Then the Deep River swelled and flooded the entire mine.
In the early 1890s the Egypt mine was reopened but closed again within the year because of fire. It was flooded and pumped dry again and again and another explosion took another life. On Dec. 12, 1895, a large explosion of dynamite left 41 miners dead and two missing. Families sued, miners refused to work and money ran short. On May 23, 1900, an explosion killed 23 and the company declared bankruptcy.
Then the Coal Glen Mine opened in 1921 across the Deep River from the Egypt. In 1925 an explosion took the lives of 53 men. The mine closed in 1929 when rain flooded the air shaft. It was pumped out but the mine flooded again in 1930 and was closed. Under the name of Raleigh Mining Company the Coal Glen mine opened briefly in 1947 and closed in 1951. The mine is also known as the Farmville Mine.
During World War II it was hoped that the iron shortage could be helped by mining the coal in the Deep River mines. It would be used for coke to smelt iron ore. But a study showed the coal would be more useful as fertilizer than for coke. There was some mining there in the 1940s.
In the 1970s the coal was expected to relieve the fuel shortage, but geologists reported in that because of high sulfur content, the coal probably wouldn’t meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s criteria.
The Deep River coal is difficult to mine because of the contour of the coal beds that makes them difficult to reach and there are geological faults in the coal seams.