KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — A humble, brick red and tan home on North Broadway Avenue appears like many others in the area. While it might seem ordinary at first glance, the home contains a wide variety of history in East Tennessee.

Some may remember the Howard House at 2921 North Broadway which was listed for $575,000 back in 2017. Just next door, another historic home can be found, and it is now also for sale.

At 3005 North Broadway Ave., a house stands that was once owned by a dedicated Tennessee Coal Miner, nicknamed “Lead Man.” Phillip Francis lived in the house with his wife, called Anne or Annie, and a few of their seven children, according to historical work by the Knoxville History Project and a biography in The Knoxville Journal from 1931. He was well known across East Tennessee for his work with coal mines, especially over in Jellico, according to the biography.

Phillip Frances, the Coal Miner who once owned 3005 N. Broadway.

While he was a man of many talents and skills. He was known as a hard worker, but very notably, as a leader, thanks to his action in the Fraterville Mine Explosion in 1896, sometimes referred to as the Coal Creek Mine Disaster or Fraterville Mine Disaster. The Knoxville Journal biography explains that there was a “terrible explosion” in a mine near Coal Creek that killed 184 people. As other miners refused to rescue those who were trapped, Francis shouted, “Come, boys, lets go to the rescue,” and the miners followed him into the mines. Francis then earned his name, “Lead Man.”

A few years after this explosion, Francis recalled in his book “Seventy Years in the Coal Mines” another explosion happened at the adjoining Cross Mountain Mine, which killed 74 miners.

“As I arrived near Coal Creek several miners came to me and asked me where I was going.  I told them that I was going to the mine where the explosion occurred. They then left me and went into another car.  In a few minutes they came back to where I was sitting and said to me, “We have forty miners on the train going to the mine to help. We are all from Kense Mine, Kentucky. We held a meeting and all decided that if you would be our leader we would follow you into the mine. We know you took charge in the Fraterville explosion and we wondered why you would risk your life going into a closed shop Union Mine. The Procter Coal Company, with its three mines of which you are superintendent, have fought us for many years; men having been killed on both sides and the fight still continues.” I said, “Yes, I have fought you hard but when I see my fellow miners in distress, I can not fight them for I am one of you. I was willing to take the risk by helping out with my long experience in the mines”, and I said, “I want to thank you men for placing your confidence in me.” Let me say that I have considered this one of the greatest compliments that I ever received in my life, when others are willing to place their lives in your hands.”

Phillip Francis in Seventy Years in the Coal Mines

Francis was not always the man that the biography referred to as a leader in any undertaking, civic, religious or otherwise. He had a humble beginning before he grew up to be the successful man remembered by historians today.

Francis was born on June 7, 1853, in Danville, Pa. According to the biography, his father, a Welshman, died two months later, soon after followed by his mother. While he was orphaned as an infant, his father’s heritage may have been important to him, as multiple Welsh influences and organizations were noted throughout the stories of Francis’ life.

The biography said the “Pennsylvania laws” showed that he was adopted by an old miner. Francis said in his biography that the man who adopted him was a drunkard, illiterate and could only read one sign, “Saloon.”

From the age of seven, Francis began to work in the coal mines as a fan boy and earning 13 cents a day. An inflation calculator from officialdata.org revealed when accounting for inflation, that wage would be worth $4.64 today. Although the miner told Francis that he could stay until he was 21, the biography said, “One night, the drunkard came home and abused Phil, kicking him out of the house with his iron boots.”

While Francis was still brokenhearted, he heard about Tennessee and the coal. He headed to state in around 1875 with E.J Davis, Jack Jeffries, W.T. Lewis and B.A. Jenkins, all of whom the biography states became affiliated with outstanding coal companies.

After he worked in the mines for several years, he headed back to Pennsylvania where he met and married Annie Meyrick in Mahanoy City in 1875, according to a note from one of his descendants who published excerpts of his book “Seventy Years in the Coal Mines” online.

The biography from The Knoxville Journal said the couple moved to Leaderville, Mo., where they panned the Rocky Mountains for gold and silver in the “rush” for a short time before they moved to East Tennessee. They moved near Jellico in 1883 and “went to work in the East Tennessee Coal & Iron Co. Mines,” according to the biography. However, Francis’ book suggests that Annie moved back to Mahanoy City then to Jellico in the fall of 1884 with their children Maggie, Lewis and Mary.

There are many tales of Francis’ life that could be shared, although he was well known as the president of the Francis Jellico Coal Company. A 1922 article in the January 20 edition of Journal & Tribune published shortly before the Francises moved to Knoxville stated:

“Mr. Philip Francis spent a number of years in the famous coal fields of Wales and has been one of the pioneer successful coal operators of East Tennessee and southeastern Kentucky….”

When the Broadway home that the Fracises moved into was bought, it was originally 2129 North Broadway. Around the early 1950s, the city changed its numbering system on the north side of town, according to the Knoxville History Project. The home was then located at 3005 North Broadway.

When Phillip and Annie moved into the house in 1923, they were its first residents. As they were both in their late 60s, all of their seven children were grown. They had four daughters and three sons. The daughters were Iris, Hannah, Maggie, and Mary. Iris and Hannah were listed in the biography whereas and other two daughters were only identified as Mrs. J.D. Van Huff and Mrs. J.W. Williams., and it is said that both Huff and Williams settled in Knoxville. The names Maggie and Mary were listed in an excerpt from Francis’ book. The sons were Tom, Paul and Lewis, who stayed in Campbell County with one in Lafollette. Lewis later moved to Knoxville, according to the Knoxville History Project.

Francis was able to get a permit for a $500 addition to the house in 1925, and it would later be assessed for $4,500 in 1937.

Francis’ sons stayed close by to where they had grown up, forming their own coal company called Rex-Jellico in 1928 with offices in Jellico and Knoxville, according to the Knoxville History Project. Francis was said to be involved in that venture, which included a mine in Pioneer, Tennessee, despite the fact that he was 73 years old.

The home also served as the setting for Francis’ daughter’s wedding in April of 1933. Hannah married Dr. Gideon W. Stone in a “ceremony simply planned” without attendants according to the Knoxville History Project. The family was known to attend First Baptist Church, and the past or the church, Reverend F.F. Brown, officiated the wedding.

It is believed that the wedding was hurried after a brief engagement Hannah’s mother was ill. The History Project says that she died at the house in early September of that year, at age 80. The Stones moved in with Francis for several years, which the Knoxville History Project describes as common at the time and possibly especially appealing during the Great Depression.

In 1938, Francis’ daughter, Iris, died in Chicago. She was brought back to Knoxville to be buried at Lynnhurst, and Francis was a pallbearer. Iris’ husband spent Christmas with Francis at the Broadway home.

Francis was known to continue working, even in his old age, as the biography article in The Knoxville Journal had the headline “Still Going At Top Of Speed At 78, Phil Francis Is Ready for Work,” with some of the next lines quoting him saying “Guts, will power and determination” presumably in relation to his success.

Francis seemed to keep busy in his old age, according to the Knoxville History Project. He went on to write an autobiography, “Seventy Years in the Coal Mines,” which was published in around 1943, estimated by WorldCat. Francis died in March of 1945 at the age of 92 in the General Hospital, where his son-in-law, Dr. Stone, worked.

Although the home went through several different families, here are some key events that the Knoxville History Project mentioned that happened that involved the house:

  • In 1943, the Minton Tourist Home opened next door. While much of Broadway was residential up to this point, it was also a part of some routes to Florida and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
  • In 1944, the home was purchased by Dr. Horace Alford LaRue and his wife Irene Bracket LaRue. In September of 1939, Dr. LaRue would write a letter to the News-Sentinel to urge U.S. action against Hitler. The history project said it was the first of many, and 10 years later, he was still denouncing communism and socialism.
  • Around 1948, the LaRue family moved out of the home and rented it out over the next few years before seeming to move back around 1961. Throughout this time and after, it was noted that Dr. LaRue was writing many letters to the editor about a variety of topics to several newspapers before they moved, and it seems like this may have continued in the meantime and after the return.
  • In December 1969, Dr. LaRue would write another letter to the editor, calling for white people to “give the Negro his chance, his freedom, before the law and before God,” but apparently resisting the government’s involvement, “directing the affairs of others.”
  • When Dr. LaRue died in 1976, his obituary reported him living somewhere else in town. Over the next few years, the house seemed to be vacant or Irene lived there at some points until the home was sold.
  • In 1981, Paul Howard purchased the home. He was president of Howard & Howard Plumbing, which was located next door at 2921 North Broadway.
  • Throughout later years, the home would be vacant or used by members of the Howard family. The most recently noted was Anastasia Howard, who was advertising there in 2007.
  • The home was sold by the Howard Family in October 2021 to Keith Edmonds for $235,000.

The four-bedroom, two-and-a-half bathroom home is now for sale again, listed for a price of $449,990.

Read Francis’ biography here or the Knoxville History Project story here. You can also find his book “Seventy Years in the Coal Mines” at several Tennessee and Kentucky libraries, including the Knox County Public Library System. Some excerpts from the book are available online, although the entire book has not yet been digitized.