200 Years of History
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.”