History of DeKalb
County Alabama - The Ruins of Battelle
At the turn of the century, the
thriving mining community of Battelle was spread in a north south line along the
foot of Lookout Mountain five miles north of Valley Head, Alabama. Today the forest has
reclaimed the whole area and not a single building remains to cast the aura of the ghost
town. Today scattered brick, piles of rotted lumber, an occasional piece of metal, mark
the ruins of Battelle. Here and there a tame rosebush still fights for survival among the
weeds and vines and a row of jonquils looks strangely out of place.
It is difficult to realize that
the settlement here once included hundreds of houses, a school, a commissary, a hotel and
post office, in addition to the furnace and coke ovens. Battelle had a water system with
water from a spring that was pumped into a large wooden tank and then piped into the
Most of the historical data and
old photographs of Battelle have been provided by the first child born at Battelle, Robert
N. Mann. Mann is the Cherokee County Historian and president of the Cherokee County
Mining prospectors found pockets
of a fairly good grade of iron ore, coal and limestone. All the ingredients for making pig
iron. The Lookout Mountain Iron Company was consequently formed by a group of Ohio mining
speculators, headed by Colonel John Gordon Battelle. Although he already had large
investments in the iron and steel industry in Ohio and the Middle West, Battelle took a
great personal interest in the operation to which he gave his name. He moved there and
personally supervised the mine activity until it was determined that the mineral deposits
were of insufficient quality or quantity to compete with the mines being developed in the
Birmingham area. In 1905 the furnace was placed on a standby basis and the houses and
other properties gradually liquidated.
During World War I, the British
government purchased the furnace, which was then dismantled and shipped to Calcutta,
Although Battelles financial
venture in DeKalb County proved unsuccessful; he did very well with other investments.
When he died in 1918 he left $4,000,000 to his only son, Gordon. The younger Battelle, who
died in 1923, willed the fortune to the Battelle Memorial Institute of Columbus, Ohio.
After the mining company ceased
operations at Battelle and the better homes were sold and moved, there was never much
activity in the community. The Belcher Lumber Company of Centerville operated there for a
few years in the 1940s. In more recent years many people of the county had never
heard of 1900s boom of Battelle. In 1969 when the Alabama Great Southern Train
derailed and propane tanks exploded there, news accounts gave the site of the wreck as
Battelle. Anyone with sufficient curiosity to make a bumpy five mile ride and do a little
hiking can still find what remains of the ruins of Battelle.
One tragedy occurred at Battelle
during the mining operations. A man named Drew Hester was working at the top of an 85 foot
furnace when he fell from the stack into the molten iron. A legend grew over the years
that, on dark nights, Drew Hesters screams could still be heard, piercing the
darkness of the forest-covered ridges as the phantom spirit re-enacted the fiery death
scene. At times adventurous thrill seekers test their nerves by walking toward the
supposedly haunted site of Battelle.
This Historic Marker of the Battelle Mining
Community can be found in the "Triangle" of Valley Head.