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200 Years of History

200 Years of History

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Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V
Part VI
Part VII
Part IX
Part X
Part XI
Part XII
Part XIV
Part XV
Part XVI
Part XIX
Part XX
Part XIII: Charcoal Making
By R. Richard Willis

Before coal was readily available, charcoal making was a big business in Jefferson Township. The making of iron used large quantities of fuel (charcoal and later coal). Most of our vast forests as we see them today are second or third growth trees. Colliers, were people who made the charcoal! They usually lived in remote areas were wood was abundant. The Collier would live with his pit (A pit was built in the earlier days of charcoal making, but in later times, just a circular area was cleared of all burnable materials.) as long as the controlled burn was taking place. The secret of making charcoal was guarded well. The making of charcoal was a family run business. Grandfather, father, son and so on down the line.

Timber would be cut in lengths, split into billets and planks; then pilled in a circle like a huge tee-pee, with a “stack or chimney” in the center for airflow. Earth and leaves were pilled on top of the woodpile. The pile would then be set on fire usually through the chimney. A very careful watch had to be kept, since with the natural way of fire, is to burn fiercely. The earth and leaves on top kept the oxygen from the fire, so it would just smolder, but breakouts would happen. Then the collier would have to cover the breakout with more dirt and leaves, this would involve him climbing sometimes to the top of the burning pile, which could collapse. After the burn, the pit would be opened and the charcoal raked out. Then the charcoal would be put in baskets for shipping. When walking in the woods charcoal pits can still be found today. They usually are round somewhat saucer shaped with a mounded lip, usually little or no trees growing in them. If the earth is disturbed fragments of charcoal can usually be found. (Many thanks to Bierce Reilley.)

From a book
“That’s The Way It Was”
by Albert Riggs:

Mr. Riggs describes a charcoal mound some 30 feet in diameter about 15 feet high sometimes; about 30 cords of wood went into one of these pits. A cord of wood is about 128 cubic feet; a pit could yield about 300 bushels of charcoal. Albert, also tells of “Old Dan Morgan”, who lived up on Willis Mountain (Holland Mountain) where he would make his charcoal. This was a dirty process; Riggs describes “old Dan eating his dinner, hands and face black as charcoal could make it. He had bread and salt pork for dinner. He would cut off a piece of that salt pork and put it on a piece of bread and boy, would he thrive on that.”