Belton Gilreath

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Belton Gilreath, sometimes spelled Gilbreath (born September 1, 1858 in Greenville, South Carolina; died November 1, 1920 in Birmingham) was a building contractor, coal mine operator and philanthropist.

Belton was the son of merchant John Wesley Gilreath and the former Louisa Edwards of Greenville, South Carolina. He was educated at the McLaughlin Institute in Talbotton, Georgia and at Furman University, and began his career assisting his father's mercantile business in Saulter, Georgia. Soon Gilreath opened his own successful store in Merritsville, South Carolina. From there he became head of the Greenville Railway, Light & Power Co. He married the former Julia Margaret Burbage of Greenville on December 7, 1882.

In 1885, Gilreath moved to Birmingham and entered into the contracting business. His Decker-Gilreath Construction Co. erected the First Methodist Church, the Peerless Saloon, the Steiner Bank Building, and the Simon Block in downtown Birmingham. He also partnered with T. T. Hillman, J. F. B. Jackson and Nathaniel Baxter Jr to bid successfully for construction of Nashville, Tennessee's new sewer system.

In addition to his construction work, Gilreath opened the Pocahontas Mine. When it was worked out, he joined with James Spence, Joseph Hardie and John T. Morgan to form the Union Coal & Coke Co. and acquired the former Morris Mining Co.. Gilreath bought out his partners and renamed the enterprise as the Gilreath Coal & Iron Co.

Gilreath purchased the Burnwell Mines and later sold them to purchase several thousand acres of the Warrior coal field. He opened new mines at Beltona and operated them on behalf of the American Coal Corporation, which he served as president and general manager.

Gilreath was personally devoted to charitable causes, including efforts to expand educational opportunities for African Americans in the South. He served with Theodore Roosevelt, William Taft and Seth Low on the board administering the Negro Rural School Fund established by Anna T. Jeanes of Baltimore, Maryland in 1907 and was a trustee of Tuskegee Institute, Southern Female University and Athens Female College. He was also president of the Lake Mohonk Conference on International Arbitration and a member of the American Peace Society.

Gilreath and his wife had fifteen children, of whom nine survived to adulthood. Gilreath died in Birmingham in November 1920.


  • "Belton Gilreath" entry in J. T. White (1922) The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography. Vol. 18, p. 334