At the turn of the century, the thriving mining community of Battelle was spread in a north-south line along the foot of Lookout Mountain five miles north of Valley Head. Today the forest has reclaimed the whole area and not a single building remains to cast the aura of a ghost town. Today scattered brick, piles of rotted lumber, an occasional piece of metal, mark the ruins of Battelle. Here and there a tame rosebush still fights for the survival among the weeds and vines and a row of jonquils looks strangely out of place.
It is difficult to realize that the settlement here once included hundreds of houses, a school, a commissary, a hotel and post office, in addition to the furnace and coke ovens. Battelle even had a water system, with water from a spring being pumped into a large wooden tank from which it was piped into houses.
For most of the historical data about Battelle, as well as the old photographs, we are indebted to Robert N. Mann, who was the first child born at Battelle. Man lives at Cedar Bluff and is county historian of Cherokee County and president of the Cherokee County Historical Society.
Mining prospectors found pockets of a fairly good grad of iron ore, coal and limestone-all the ingredients for making pig iron. The Lookout Mountain Iron Company was consequently formed by a group of Ohio mining speculators, headed by Colonel John Gordon Battelle. Although he already had large investments in the iron and steel industry in Ohio and the middle west, Battelle took a great personal interest in the operation to which he gave his name. He moved there and personally supervised the mine activity until it was determined that the mineral deposits were of insufficient quality or quantity to compete with the mines being developed in the Birmingham area. In 1905 the furnace was placed on a standby basis and the houses and other properties gradually liquidated.
During World War I the British government purchased the furnace, which was then dismantled and shipped to Calcutta, India.
Although Battelle’s financial venture in DeKalb County proved unsuccessful, he did very well with other mining investments. When he died in 1918 he left $4000,000 to his only son, Gordon. The younger Battelle, who died in 1923, willed the fortune to the Battelle Memorial institute of Columbus, Ohio. This organization has grown during the past 50 years to be one of the world’s greatest independent non-profit organizations with a staff of 5500 operating 15 offices around the world.
After the mining company ceased operations at Battelle and the better homes were sold and moved, there was never much activity in the community. The Belcher Lumber Company of Centerville operated there for a few years in the 1940’s. But in more recent years many people of the county had never heard of Battelle. And there were those among us who, never having heard of the 1900’s boom there, asked, “Where’s Battelle?” Anyone with a sufficient curiosity to make a bumpy five-mile ride and do a little hiking can still find what remains of the ruins of Battelle.