Tweetsie Trail may help preserve Estep Coal Co.

John Thompson • Feb 12, 2019 at 9:45 PM

ELIZABETHTON — One of the charms of walking the Tweetsie Trail is seeing some items that have survived for decades even thought there was no need for them to still exist.

One such survivor is the humble building that bears the name “Estep Coal Company,” which proudly boasted of “quality fuel” and to have been in existence since 1936.

The abandoned building stands right at the point where the Tweetsie Trail enters downtown Elizabethton at West F Street. For many years, Lindberg Estep ran his coal business out of the building. He would buy coal off the cars of the old East Tennessee and Western North Carolina Railroad. He would then break his purchase down into various categories, depending on the size of the lumps of coal, and the quality of heat it produced.

That was how Estep made his money, giving poor families a chance to buy a better quality of coal for their small amount of money.

The buisiness had long passed when the Tweetsie Trail was built. By that time, the property was shown on the deed of the Genesee and Wyoming Railroad, and there was not a hint about the man who worked there to help keep people warm during the coldest winters. Now that the city of Johnson City purchased the rails, the property is on a Johnson City deed, but there is no mention of the Estep Coal Company.

But lots of these little items are helping to make the Tweetsie Trail such a pleasure to walk. And the trail is even helping to preserve some of them. This week, a group of citizens got together to examine the condition of Estep Coal Company and make repairs and take other steps toward preservation. Professional builders like Charles LaPorte examined the water damage. Some brought money. Elizabethton Mayor Pro Tem Bill Carter brought a check for $800. That money represented some of the final proceeds of Tweetsie T-shirt sales.

More money came from Daniel Schumaier, leader of the Tweetsie Conservancy. He brought a check for $2,000 from the conservancy. With those two checks, most of the material needed for repairs can be purchased.

Sheriff Dexter Lunceford said the could provide inmate labor from Carter County Jail trustys to do the work. The men hope that perhaps the old coal company could be made into a place where tables and chairs would make it a pleasant stop on a warm spring day that Estep Coal was never intended to serve.

The group asks that anyone with photographs of the Estep Coal Company bring copies to City Hall.

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