Birmingham History Part 11, Coal and Clay at Lehigh, Al (New Historical Pics 10/21) is a free Model Railroad Discussion Forum and photo gallery. We cover all scales and sizes of model railroads. Whether you're a master model railroader or just getting started, you'll find something of interest here.

grande man

Bonafied Grande Nut
My interest in the Lehigh Mines was sparked by research John Stewart did on the area. John received an email asking for information on the Lehigh Mines from a fellow named Brian Johnston who recently acquired a Whitcomb narrow guage locomotive that had been used at the mine. When I read the info on Lehigh at, I knew a field trip (or several) was in order...;) Please come along and share the experience of learning more about the Birmingham District's past.

I'll update this thread with additional historical photos soon. Right now, I want to cover background info and current pics from the field.

Lehigh has several interesting twists from Birmingham District historical sites we've covered in the past. Information about the area isn't found in the usual places. I think there's two main reasons for this. First, the mine wasn't owned by a large corporation. Second, it's located just inside Blount, not Jefferson county. There's another very interesting fact about LeHigh that you'll soon learn that's the reason for some of the detailed info that follows. The rest was thanks to John's fantastic research.

The mining venture at Lehigh was founded by a man named Priestley Toulmin (1863-?) in 1901. Mr Toulmin was an Engineering graduate of Lehigh University, hence the mine's (and area's) name. He was formerly the superintendent of the Sloss Iron and Steel Company's (later Sloss Sheffield Iron and Steel) Brookside Mine and was employed by Sloss from 1888-1900. Mr Toulmin originally prospected the Lehigh area as a Sloss employee, but when the company declined to purchase the property he was approached by an investor named John Rutherford to go into business on his own.

In my initial preparations for a trip to Lehigh, I'll have to admit, I was a bit discouraged in looking at the USGS topo maps of the mine. First, much of the area north of the L&N rail spur had been strip mined in the 50's and 60's. Usually there's not much left of historic value in such cases. Also, none of the mine entries were noted. That's somewhat unusual. Still, there was one thing that really caught my attention, an arrow pointing northeast on the map of the tipple area layout labeled "To Mine, 1 Mile". Could this area have escaped the strip mining operation?

Here's a great map John found during his research. A few points of interest, "The Cabin" was Mr Priestley Toulmin's personal residence. The rock crusher was used to grind clay. At one point, Tennessee Coal & Iron recieved nine carloads of ground clay and WS Dickey recieved "crude" clay. Lehigh had 5 mine entries at one time, however, #5 was converted to an open pit clay mining operation. Note the "To Mine, 1 Mile" arrow, narrow guage mine trackage, and tipple tracks.

The following is a Google Earth/GPS Overview.
Labeled boxes are lat/long coordinates transferred from my GPS to Google Earth. They show the relation of the possible mine site to the Lehigh spur of the L&N. Note how the site location corresponds to the "To Mine 1 Mile" arrow on the old Lehigh tipple site map above. The red line is the L&N rail spur, a nine mile spur off the L&N railroad's nearby Birmingham Mineral sub. I believe the area labeled "Lehigh Mine Site" on the map below is the only remaining mine site at Lehigh.

Here's a few pics from the possible mine site...
An interesting structure... I'm not sure what we have here. Dynamite shack?

A look inside.

Side View.

I believe this to have been a stable (for mules).

Inside shot. Note the feed trough to the far left.

Overgrown crosstie. Could they have been used on a 3' mine RR?

Pile of ties.

Look closely. You're veiwing the possible roadbed of the mine railroad.

Spikes found near the tipple area.

As Paul Harvey says, now for the rest of the story. Before venturing onto the area I photographed, I stopped at a nearby house and learned who the landowner is. I went to visit them and they told me of a local man who worked at Lehigh. His name is Ned Franklin and I was fortunate to be able to meet him, his wife and one of his daughters. Mr Franklin is 93 years old and retired at Lehigh in 1962. His Father worked at the mine beginning in 1902/3. Mr Franklin and his family have been a joy to talk local history with and were very kind in providing me with several (mostly 8x10) photographs of the mining operations at Lehigh. Most were taken in 1924. The narrow gauge mine railroad is well represented in several of these pictures, as are other aspects of the operation. Mr Franklin named many of the people in the photos for me, Priestley Toulmin is in several. I'm hoping to meet with John Stewart soon and scan the photos for use here and on his website.

This is a letter John found at the Birmingham Public Library when researching Lehigh. Note the signature, Joe Franklin. That's Mr Ned Franklin's Father.:cool:

I plan to go back to Lehigh this winter and see if anything remains south of the L&N spur, where much of the settlement was. Right now, it's to overgrown to investigate. Mrs Franklin has learned of some mine car wheels and other such remnants reportedly still on the property. I'd like to find those as well. :)

To Mr Franklin and Family, thanks so very much for sharing your knowledge of the area with me. Meeting you all has been a rich experience.
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Steve B

Nice work Eric, if you can find people that old who still remember the past they are worth there weight in gold, if only i'd recorded some of the things my grandad said when i was little, there is an area near dads caravan site and the history of the ruins is amazing, but to a passing walker it's just a pile of old bricks and iron, i must go and record it


S.L.O.&W. Trainman
As usual, fascinating! I do hope you were wearing long pants as a couple of the photos show some very nice shots of poison ivy right where you were......:eek:

Thanks for sharing!

grande man

Bonafied Grande Nut
rhoward said:
As usual, fascinating! I do hope you were wearing long pants as a couple of the photos show some very nice shots of poison ivy right where you were......:eek:

Thanks for sharing!

Fortunately, I'm not very prone to problems from poison ivy. It's a good thing...;)

Looking down the L&N roadbed.

Remnants of trestle pilings on the L&N.

Looks like a good place for a trestle. ;)

grande man

Bonafied Grande Nut
Here's a few historical photos from Lehigh. My thanks to John Stewart for scanning them and, of course, a special thanks to the Franklins for providing them.

I love this shot of the mine railroad. Look closely, Mr Toulmin is standing to the right of the train.

This pic was taken at #5. Remember, #5 was converted to an open pit clay mine. In the pic is Priestley Toulmin.

The mine train emerges from the tunnel on it's way to the tipple/crusher on the L&N. We don't know who's operating the Fordson locomotive, but the second mans name was Ross Steele, and the third man was Charlie Sanders. Mr Franklin talks very fondly of Charlie.

Active clay mining. Note the locomotive. I don't have any info on it. Both the locos shown in these pics predate Brian's Whitcomb though. Edit, 9-27-06. During the interview with Mr Franklin (audio link on pg2), he identified the locomotive in this shot as a Vulcan. Here's some more info.

The following is a special shot of Mr Franklin's mother at the Lehigh Commissary. She graduated from the University of Alabama in 1904 and was the area's first school teacher. That must have been quite an accomplishment in 1904! Remember the letter in the lead post to Mr Toulmin from Joe Franklin? You're seeing this important Lehigh family come together...
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grande man

Bonafied Grande Nut
Hey folks, thanks for staying with the thread.

I've been thinking about the following pictures. I'm not sure how to really do them justice, but I've decided to give it a try.

History isn't about the places, it's about the people who lived/worked at those places and the lives they led. These are pics of Mr Franklin's brother, John. The first shows him as a child at Lehigh and gives us a glimpse into life in an Alabama mining town. The second is an even more special shot. John fought for our freedom as a pilot in WWII. He died in combat defending our way of life. Men like John played a role in history that is most important of all. I'm very appreciative of those sacrifices and in that spirit present these pictures to you.


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grande man

Bonafied Grande Nut
Hi all. Here's a few more pics of the clay mining that took place at Lehigh. Word is, one of these shovels is buried on the property! Anyone want to help me dig?:D



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grande man

Bonafied Grande Nut
jbaakko said:
Sure, I'll help dig for something like that, gonne fly me out there to help?

Well, with budget cutbacks and all, maybe you could drive?:D

A quick update on Lehigh. I recently learned that three nearby mines, Johns, Huffstufer and Wilson #1 were owned by Lehigh. I noticed this when reviewing the state geological site's list of underground mines. Mr Franklin confirmed that this was the case. The mine rails must have connected to these mines to move product to the L&N. In fact, the pic in the lead post of the rail bed is probably that very connection. Of the three, Huffstufer would seem to have the most potential for having anything left to photograph. Wilson #1 is shown by coordinates to be in a field beside the road, but could very well be in a wooded area nearby.

Also of interest, Mr Franklin tells me that the "Dinky", or mine steam loco, was transferred to Black Creek Coal and Iron's Thermal #2 mine. Mr Toulmin was vice president at BCC&I. I'd been thinking about visiting the Thermal sites for some time. Maybe I can get out there to see what's left...

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Josh, we would really like to have you join us. You would have to meet certain ARG requirements though: like to eat, be certified mentally challenged, able to exaggerate to the extreme, can't spell madall raylrowdng, and be willing to listen to tales that would even stretch the imagination of 'Boxcar Willy'.:rolleyes: :D

grande man

Bonafied Grande Nut
Hi all. For anyone that might be interested, the following links are of Mr Franklin talking to me yesterday about the mining operations at Lehigh. The first two parts are "trial size," the last two are larger files, but contain great info direct from the source, no middleman (or in this case grande man :D). I got a particular kick out of his comments about Lehigh's dealings with the L&N. He has been a real pleasure to talk area history with, having lived it himself. :cool: The pictures we were talking about are all posted here, save one.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4
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grande man

Bonafied Grande Nut
Quick Lehigh update... I learned this weekend (L&N Historical Society Convention) that the beginings of the track that eventually went to Lehigh left the Birmingham Mineral Division mainline at Village Springs and went to a nearby location called Compton. 1895 L&N system maps show Compton. The thought is that there was an ore mine there. I went there today, and while I didn't get to see any evidence of the mine, found part of the old roadbed. Also, there are still rails down at Village Springs in the pavement of Hwy 75. This was the south leg of the Village Springs wye. The L&N track charts from 1959 don't show the spur to Lehigh or Compton, though Mrs Franklin remembers the track being there at that time. It must have been abandoned and left in place. Earlier track charts I saw this weekend do show the spur, but I don't recall seeing the dates...:eek:

Part of the Village Springs wye. This track led directly to the nearby Birmingham Mineral Division main in this view. The Birmingham Mineral RR was a fascinating piece of Milton Smith's L&N empire and a huge part of the Birmingham area's history.

110+ year old railbed. I saw a cable over the right of way marking a hunting lease and had to turn back. Mr Franklin tells me there were 13 trestles on the line to Lehigh. I have hopes of finding at least one of them soon, but ran out of daylight this trip. I have coordinates of a possible trestle site for that upcoming search... Until then, I'll have to make do with the three wild turkeys and a coyote I saw today. :D

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