CHARCOAL PRODUCTION

Somewhere in Baileyville is Coal Hill, or as named in another document, Coal Kiln Hill. The Coal Hill lot is described as being between land of J. D. Lawler and J. F. Staples. It is bounded on the west by the Alexander Road and also by the Baring line. Most of us consider this land as quite flat so may be the following article will make us think differently about that hill.

A coal pit or coal kiln is a place where wood is changed into charcoal. Charcoal was once used in huge amounts at the Iron Works in Pembroke, but also was used by blacksmiths and likely would have been used by Tait and McCullough who had an iron foundry in Calais.

The following is from the Dennys River Historical Newsletter of July 1995. It is from memories Florence Porter Reynolds (born 1847 in Charlotte) wrote about her grandfather, Hugh Porter, and her father, John Wesley Porter. The excerpt that follows describes the local process used in the middle of the 19th century to produce charcoal.

I have a contract made between William Lyman and John W. Porter, August 29, 1843, whereby Porter agrees to cut and haul into piles suitable for coal pits, one hundred cords of wood on his land, for which he was to receive sixty-five cents a cord, to be paid within three months after all the wood was delivered. It was to be delivered before Oct. l, 1843. I think I will here have to describe a coal pit as they, with many other things of our childhood days, have gone out of style.

A man would select a smooth spot of land for his coalpit, then would haul the wood which was four feet long, mostly small round wood. He would stand some sticks round in a circle with tops touching, but the bottoms of sticks forming a good space inside of which was some kindling. Then he would keep standing tier after tier, always round. I have no idea of the amount of wood used in one, but suppose 20 or 30 cords. Then he would put brush over it and bank all over with dirt clear to the top, so it was a smooth round heap with the flat top all covered. He would have left an open space near the ground on one side to light the fire and I think a hole for draft in the top. After the fire was well started he would bank up every hole. Then he would have to watch it night and day to keep the fire from breaking out, as that would destroy it all in a very short time if an opening to the air was made. I think it took about 10 or 12 days and nights to burn one. Father used to say that the first rheumatism was caught while sleeping out near the coalpits, as he would not dare leave them to go to bed in the house, but take a blanket and lie down near them and get some sleep that way.

He used a great part of the wood off his place in that way as charcoal sold well to the Iron Works, which started up there about the time he began clearing his place.

When the coalpit was opened there were the sticks of wood all made into coal, and ready with a touch to fall down in heaps of clean nice charcoal, with lots of smut to it. In later years there was a market for it in Eastport. Uncle Isaac Gardner always burned and hauled charcoal until he was an old man. My father did not burn any after about 1854 I think, as by that time he had his land pretty well cleared. He later bought a strip more, so had some woodland always.

Was this what was going on at Coal Hill in Baileyville? Who can tell us more about Coal Hill in Baileyville? Such an intense fire must have left a burned-out area of topsoil. Does anyone have information about making charcoal in Alexander or else where in our area? Who wants to cut 100 cords of wood to four-foot lengths, stack it, cover it with dirt, and supervise the burning, all for $65.00?