north carolina highway historical marker program
North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program



Marker Text:

Egypt Coal Mine opened in 1856 in Chatham County (in a section that is now part of Lee County). The existence of a coal bed in the Deep River Valley was documented as early as 1775, although knowledge of it was not widespread. Little is known about early efforts to extract the coal, although apparently there was one mine in operation in the county near modern-day Gulf by 1811. Although the presence of coal in Chatham County was noted by state officials as early as the 1830s, it was not highly sought-after until the development of the railroad and the steamship. By the 1850s, a number of mines in the county existed. In November 1853, an auger boring uncovered a coal seam some 400 feet deep at the Egypt site. A shaft was sunk, which reached the vein in February 1856. Production began a few months later, and by May the first advertisements for Egypt coal were issued. Coal was initially transported to Fayetteville by wagon, and steamship transportation quickly followed. The Western Railroad was developed to carry the coal from the mine to Fayetteville.

     During the Civil War, coal from the mine was utilized by both state and Confederate officials for the railroads, for the Confederate Navy Yard at Charlotte, and for Confederate blockade runners at Wilmington. However, the coal produced at Egypt was not of a high quality, and burned quite dark. Therefore, any blockade runners utilizing the coal ran an increased risk of being spotted by Union naval vessels.

     Egypt Coal Mine closed from 1870 until 1888 due to flooding along the Deep River and a subsequent lack of funds for rebuilding. The mine reopened in 1889. Tragedy struck in December 1895 when an explosion killed 43 miners. Although the mine shaft was cleared and production resumed, a blast five years later cost another 21 workers their lives. Afterwards much of the mine was flooded and production was limited. In 1905 the mine closed again only to be reopened in 1915 by the Norfolk Southern Railroad as the Cumnock Coal Company. In 1922, the Erskine-Ramsey Coal Company bought the Cumnock Coal Mine but it closed again due to financial and production difficulties. In 1927 the Cumnock Coal Mine was purchased by the Carolina Coal Company but it flooded again in 1929 and was closed for the last time.

The Carolina Coal Company also owned the Coalglen mine, about two miles north of the Cumnock Coal Mine. The Coalglen mine was also the site of a major mining disaster on May 27, 1925, when 53 miners were killed in an explosion. Largely owing to media attention to the Egypt and Coalglen disasters, companies agreed to pay worker’s compensation to injured miners.

“Coal Mining Disaster of ’25 Was N.C. Worst,” Winston-Salem Journal, August 31, 1992.
E. Emmons to the Editors, N.C. Standard, January 21, 1856, Semi-Weekly Standard (Raleigh), January 30, 1856.
J. H. Haughton, “For the Standard: Cape Fear and Deep River Improvement,” Semi-Weekly Standard, November 30, 1853.
Michael Hetzer, “The Coal Demon of Deep River,” The State, June 1987.
“Important Discovery of Coal,” Fayetteville Observer Semi-Weekly, February 14, 1856.
Wm. McClane, “Deep River Coal” (advertisement, issued May 21, 1856), Fayetteville Observer Semi-Weekly, June 23, 1856.
William S. Powell, ed., Encyclopedia of North Carolina (2006)
J. Daniel Pezzoni, History and Architecture of Lee County (1995)
John A. Reinemund, Geology of the Deep River Coal Field, North Carolina (1955)
Alan D. Watson, Internal Improvements in Antebellum North Carolina (2002)
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north carolina highway historical marker program

© 2008 North Carolina Office of Archives & History — Department of Cultural Resources