Battelle was a thriving mining community at the turn of the century, having spread out to the base of Lookout Mountain, five miles north of Valley Head, Alabama. Now, the forest has taken over, and no buildings remain in what was Battelle. Ruins include scattered bricks, rotted lumber, and a few pieces of metal. A few tame rose bushes remain.
Before the town was abandoned, it consisted of hundreds of houses, a commissary, a school, a post office, a hotel, a furnace, and coke ovens. Its success was even marked by the fact it had its own water system, with water pumped from a spring into a large wooden tank that then piped it into the surrounding homes.
Robert N. Mann, the first child born in Battelle, has supplied the most historical information and photographs above anyone else. He is the Cherokee County Historian as well as the president of the Cherokee County Historical Society.
The town’s mining was the key to its success, as it had good grade iron ore, coal, and limestone – things that were needed to make a pig iron.
A group of Ohio mining speculators formed the Lookout Mountain Iron Company, led by Colonel John Gordon Battelle, the town’s namesake. Even though he had larger investments in the iron/steel industry in the Middle West and Ohio, Battelle had the most interest in his smaller operation at Lookout Mountain. Eventually, Battelle moved to the town, and supervised the mine activity up until the minerals became too scarce to compete with other mines in the Birmingham area. In 1905, the furnace was used on a standby-basis, and the town gradually became more and more empty as people left.
During World War I, the British government decided to purchase the furnace. It was dismantled and sent to Calcutta, India. Battelle’s investment in the mine was unsuccessful, but he did extremely well in his other investments. He passed away in 1918, leaving his $4,000,000 to Gordon Battelle, his only son. Gordon died in 1923, and had the fortune given to the Battelle Memorial Institute of Columbus, Ohio.
When the mining company’s activities ceased, the town of Battelle’s homes were almost completely empty and not much happened in the community. During the 1940s, the Belcher Lumber Company of Centerville operated for a short while, creating a small amount of business. In 1969, the Alabama Great Southern Train was derailed, and propane tanks exploded on impact.