Isn’t this an amazing image?
What you see here is the mining operation of the Virginia-Carolina Chemical Company which operated here using the name Sulphur Mining and Railroad Company. It was close to where Douglas, Paulding, and Carroll counties intersect. Numerous mines dotted this section for many years before the Civil War and for many years afterward, but this particular site stands out for a few reasons.
Geographic descriptions regarding the mine’s location include variations of these phrases: “situated in the northwestern corner of Douglas County,” “three miles northeast of Villa Rica,” and “adjacent to Highway 61.” Perhaps the road seen in the image is what would become the road we know today as Highway 61.
Other descriptions state the property was “near the summit of the divide between Sweetwater and Mud Creeks. Today, that area of land is bordered by Friendship Church and High Point Roads.
Several resources mention the mine was originally opened by Jonathan Tipton from Tennessee around 1850. He was mining for copper. Tipton was followed by Captain F. Durgy, an experienced Colorado miner, who took charge of the property in 1890. Durgy brought in improved machinery, went down a depth of about three hundred feet, and found one of the richest mines in the country carrying gold, copper, and pyrite. One article stated the find was “a smelting proposition, and there is an immense body of the ore.”
Virginia-Carolina Chemical Company bought the mine from Drugy in the late 1890s. By the time they were done, they had invested millions into the mine with more machinery and erected the buildings you see in the image including the one hundred foot tower at the mine’s entrance. Machinery was placed on various levels of the tower.
The complex must have been an interesting sight for the local population!
Fannie Mae Davis mentions in her history of Douglas County very few local men worked at the mine. Most of the approximately two hundred hands at the peak of the operation were from Ensley, Alabama. The men brought their families, and they lived on the mine’s property. Their needs were met with a company store that sold everything from groceries to clothing. The mine’s mail went to the Leatherwood post office named for Benjamin Leatherwood less than a mile away across the Paulding line.
Besides the updated equipment and the large labor force, the Virginia-Carolina company also utilized dozens of mules. Some sources state the poor beasts of burden never saw the light of day working deep below ground until they dropped dead. Some sources state they turned grey and could be blinded if they were brought above ground.
The Virginia-Carolina operation was mainly concerned with pyrite; a mineral often referred to as fool’s gold, and is the ingredient for creating marcasite jewelry today. However, in the 1890s pyrite was mainly used to create sulfuric acid. The Virginia-Carolina operation used the mineral to create the acid and then shipped it to various fertilizer plants they owned across the southeast — 27 various plants in Georgia alone at one point!
Within six years of operation the Virginia-Carolina Company realized they had a transport problem. They needed a railroad, but the closest line was the Southern Railway that crosses Douglas County today.
A railroad spur was needed to transport the mammoth amounts of material being extracted at the mine. In October 1901 the Villa Rica Branch Railway Company was incorporated. The line’s sole purpose would be to coordinate with the Southern Railway and run from Villa Rica northeast for three miles to the Virginia-Carolina Company mine. The group of incorporators, all nine of them, were from Atlanta.
Initially, there were some issues obtaining right-of-way permissions from ten various property holders which ended up in the courts, but by April 1902 all of that had worked out via compromise and cash payments. Two carloads of mules and seventy-five men went to work building the three mile spur rail line.
From 1899 through 1917, the Virginia-Carolina mine extracted approximately 400,000 tons of pyrite from a shaft that would end up being 500 feet deep. An original 170-acre site grew to over 1,300 acres that also included a large power and milling site.
In July 1917 work underground was discontinued, and Southern Pyrites Ore Company became the new owner. They basically worked the tailings dump, the material that was left over after the pyrite had been extracted.
The former company store was purchased by W.J. Jeffers who had a community store located there for many years.
The tall tower over the mine’s entrance burned in 1919 more than likely due to arson. It was rumored the Southern Pyrites Ore Company would rebuild the tower, but nothing came of it.
Today, the Villa Rica Branch Railway line is abandoned, of course, but it has come up in some of the discussion regarding the Fullerville Trailhead project in Villa Rica which is to be constructed adjacent to the Fullerville Soccer Complex on Rockmart Road. I’ve seen news articles discussing the trail will run along the abandoned rail line from Fullerville, through downtown Villa Rica and then head north towards the old mine site. I believe ground was broken for the project this past January.
I truly hope some historical information will be given at the mine site, so trail-users won’t have to wonder what was once there.
Lisa Cooper writes the amazing stories of Douglas County each Sunday. You can find her new book “Every Now and Then: The Amazing Stories of Douglas County” online at Amazon, print and Kindle versions. Locally, her book can be found at the Douglas County Museum of History and Art and the Douglasville Welcome Center located at O’Neal Plaza in the former Douglasville Banking Company building.