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Adolph Ochs

News of a proposed 49,000-square-foot supermarket, fuel station and retail project on the Lines Orchids property at the junction of Timesville Road and Taft Highway in Walden stirs many memories.

Some may recall that Adolph Ochs, owner of both The Chattanooga Times and The New York Times, purchased 256 acres on Walden's Ridge and named the area Timesville. He advertised in 1889 that a one year's subscription to The Chattanooga Times would bring a lottery ticket for a 25-foot by 40-foot tract of land, which was advertised to have a spectacular view of Chattanooga, Lookout Mountain and Tennessee River. Joe Petrie in his 2010 article "Mountain Remembrances" in the Chattanooga Area Historical Association Journal added that "Perhaps with a tall observation tower this could be true. Subscriptions poured in from all over the country. There were 1,000 of these 'lucky' winners. In the 1950s and 60s visitors still came into Leo Brown's Hardware Store on Taft Highway trying to locate their parents' dream property."

Others may recall that coal mining came to the Timesville Road area after the Civil War. A State of Tennessee Department of Conservation report stated that coal mining was once very important in the Fairmount Quadrangle (an area of western Hamilton County and southeastern Sequatchie Counties) and included more than 40 mines or prospects but that the industry had dwindled at the time of the report in 1963 to four small active mines.

"Most of the mines are concentrated around the headwaters of Middle Creek southwest of Fairmount [behind the Lines Orchids tract], and just east of Hicks Branch. Most of the mines were small, employed only a few men and held only a few acres of coal," the report said.

Petrie noted considerable coal mining was done on Walden's Ridge in the early years, but small mines started closing in the mid 1950s. Old mine shafts remained in Fairmount, Walden, Timesville, Birnam Wood and Hidden Brook subdivisions. Jim Douthat in "Along the Pike" wrote that Timesville Road was originally known as "Smokie Road" due to the many burning slag fires and home coal fires along the thoroughfare.

Petrie concluded: "Leo Brown opened his store in 1958. At that time union coal miners were on strike around the area. Nonunion miners on Walden's Ridge were operating a large mine in the Timesville area. From his store, Leo saw a convoy of cars loaded with union pickets turn onto Timesville Road. The Walden Ridge miners got their guns and, from the hills above, fired a few shots down among the pickets, wounding several, including one of their own who was a union sympathizer. The pickets left immediately. Evidence of abandoned mines can still be seen. Old-timers remember miners with coal-blackened faces walking down Taft Highway after their day in the mine, or the slow pace of following heavy-laden coal trucks down the mountain."

Problems associated with the abandoned mines appeared over the years. "Health Consultation, Walden's Ridge Utility District" report dated Nov. 9, 2005, noted "that Middle Creek, like many streams that flow across portions of Walden Ridge, is impacted by Acid Mine Drainage (AMD). Past coal mining activities in the upper portions of the Middle Creek watershed are the source of the AMD problems seen in the lower reaches of the creek, including the portion flowing through the Timesville community. AMD formation occurs during and after surface mining activities, where the overlying rocks are broken and removed to get the coal."

On Jan. 9, 2013, the Chattanooga Times Free Press ran an article, "Signal Sinkhole, Cave-in of Old Mines Under the Road Causes Concern," which noted that local residents were stranded when a sinkhole 6 feet by 8 feet wide and a mine shaft about 20 feet deep opened beneath the private road on Battles Lane just off Timesville Road. The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation announced that a contractor was instructed to collapse the shaft, fill the hole with gravel to replace the road, and seal off the shaft. The article observed that the Timesville Road community is crisscrossed with old mines.

Tony Wheeler, a retired engineer and resident of nearby Lewis Mine Road on Middle Creek, points to the presence at the west corner of the Lines Orchids property of two air shafts that are part of a network of coal mines extending under Taft Highway, the Walden Town Hall and the Lines Orchids property.

Frank "Mickey" Robbins is an investment adviser with Patten and Patten. For more visit Chattahistoricalassoc.org.

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