Laurel Snow: Where Coal Mining History Entwines with Nature

If learning about Tennessee coal mining history while surrounded by nature sounds appealing to you, then consider adding Laurel Snow State Natural Area to your bucket list. It is only a short drive from downtown Dayton, (which is known for the Scopes Trial), to the parking area and trailhead. The history buff will be taken back by the old mine openings, railroad remnants, and reservoir. The nature lover will also feel at home since Laurel Snow is home to many pristine creeks and streams, unusual plants, breathtaking overlooks, and towering waterfalls.

The mining history of this area dates back to 1877 when Sir Titus Salt, of England, acquired 40,000 acres of land in Georgia and Tennessee. Included in this purchase was 800 acres that became Dayton Coal and Iron Company and, eventually, the Laurel Snow State Natural Area of today. In 1887, Titus Salt Jr. took over the project in Tennessee until his death at age 44 of the same year. For the next 38 years, which brought an end to the mining operations, it was under the control of British and Scottish successors. During peak production, up to 1,200 men earned their living here. Over the course of their existence, the Company built and operated 7 coal mines, 375 coke ovens, 2 blast furnaces, 17 miles of rail, and around 200 employee houses in the area.

The last time I visited Laurel Snow I was lucky enough to have a conversation with a local historian. He was eager to share his wealth of knowledge about the area with me and I was fascinated by the interesting stories he had. My favorite was probably the one about the mules. In the very original days, mules were used to pull carloads of coal out of the mines and transport them to the furnaces and ovens. Apparently, some of these mules stayed in the mines continuously and, due to the darkness, went blind. They were still able to continue their duties, despite not being able to see, because they had performed the same job for so long and could remember exactly where to go. When I heard this story it absolutely blew my mind!

Below I will give you a “picture tour” showing some of the significant places and things you will see while visiting Laurel Snow. Enjoy!

This entrance is hard to miss and is only a short walk down the trail. According to the historian, it was actually built as a ventilation shaft for the nearby Dixon Slope Mine. While it may be tempting to venture inside, mines can present real dangers and this one contains a lot of water.
This stone arch marks the now-collapsed main entrance to the Dixon Slope Mine and is located just off the trail and up the hill. Its purpose was to intersect a highly productive coal seam an explosion in another nearby mine (Nelson Mine) had sealed off. Despite great efforts, it never actually reached the seam.
This mine is accessible directly from the parking area, but isn’t on an established trail. According to the historian, this was known as the Easy Money Mine. Now, I wish I had asked why it was called that.
This picture, taken during fall, shows the old railroad trestle piers crossing Richland Creek in the direction of the North Pole Mine.
Old stonework and walls for stabilization are a common site, especially since the trail follows what was once a railroad.
This small reservoir once served as the water supply for Dayton. As you walk the trail, you may still notice some of the old metal pipe that was used to carry water towards town. Today, its only use is for recreation.
Laurel Falls, seen here, is the larger of the of two waterfalls you can hike to. The other is called Snow Falls. A combination of their names is how the Natural Area received its name.
In spring, vibrant wildflowers can be found in abundance. These are a type of “catchfly.”
Always take the path less traveled… and thank you for reading!!!