Floods of 1850





History Of The Development of The Coal Industry In Schuylkill County

 pp. 43 - 46



Pioneer Coal Stage.-The birth of the great anthracite coal industry will bear date from 1820, when three hundred and sixty-five tons of anthracite were sent to Philadelphia from the headwaters of the Lehigh river. From that time forward capital has advanced its millions to carry on the coal trade, whose proportions increase with each succeeding year.

From 1795, when anthracite was first burned in a smith-shop until 1820, when it was used for fuel in Philadelphia, was a quarter of a century, during which period it grew slowly into public favor. In 1808 Judge Jesse Fell first burned it in a grate. Four years later Col. George Shoemaker, of Pottsville, took nine wagon loads of anthracite to Philadelphia, where he sold two loads for the cost of their transportation, and gave the other seven away. He was branded as an impostor, who was trying to sell black stones for coal. He induced Mellon & Bishop to try his black rocks in their Delaware county rolling mill, and the test gave anthracite coal to the world as the best possible fuel to be found. Colonel Shoemaker accompanied his coal to the rolling mill, where the foreman pronounced the coal to be stones, and of no account for heating purposes. Early the next morning Shoemaker and Mellon, who was a practical workman, kindled a fire with wood in one of the furnaces and placed the coal on the burning wood. They were then called to breakfast, and on returning they found the furnace in a perfect glow of white heat. The iron was heated in much less than the usual time, and passed through the rolls with unusual facility. The test brought an apology from the foreman, and caused Mellon & Bishop to notice its value and usefulness in the Philadelphia newspapers.

The first coal shipments by the canal were made in 1822, when 1,480 tons were poled down the line. Three years later came a wonderful rush of operators and speculators into the county-men who sought to win millions in a short time by speculation in the "black diamonds" that were in constant demand in the great manufacturing cities of the Atlantic seaboard. Land rose to fabulous prices, and two years later, when revulsion came, many lost their investments instead of having secured a fortune.

The early methods of mining were primitive and crude. The windlass and bucket were used to hoist the coal from the pit until, at thirty or forty feet, the water drove them out to commence a new pit. The gin worked by horsepower succeeded the windlass, and in a short time the pit was abandoned to open the veins at the foot of the hills by drifts. There the coal was first taken out by wheelbarrows, and successively by horse and mule power over wooden railways.

The next great trouble encountered was laborious and expensive transportation from the mouth of the pit or drift to the canal. The pick, the hammer, the shovel and the riddle were used on the surface to fit the coal for transportation, and then it was loaded into wagons and hauled to the canal, often at a cost of twenty-five cents per ton for each mile. In 1829, 79,973 tons were nearly all hauled in wagons and then the operators commenced to suggest railroads from the mines to the canal, while in the same year another event occurred that was important in the history of the county -- the building of the Union canal to connect the waters of the Susquehanna and the Schuylkill.

Union Canal -In 1828 it was proposed to make a dam across. Swatara gap as a reservoir for this canal, that was to connect the Susquehanna with the Schuylkill; but the citizens along Swatara creek objected, as it would destroy their rafting, and after various projects had been discussed it was resolved to construct a canal along that creek, with the exception of two miles of slackwater near the county line, in what was then the little dam. Work was commenced in 1828, and during 1829 was prosecuted along the entire line.  The canal was so far completed on November 30, 1830, that boats passed through it to Pine Grove, and on December 3rd left that place for Philadelphia. As first constructed the canal was capable of bearing boats whose capacity was twenty-eight tons, but when the coal trade increased this great water-way was increased iii size.

Growth of Coal Production -- In 1829 the following five railroads from the shipping ports to the mines were put under construction:

The Schuylkill Valley Railroad, running ten miles from Port Carbon to Tuscarora, and having fifteen branches.

The Mill Creek railroad, running four miles from Port Carbon up the Valley of Mill Creek,

The Mine Hill and Schuylkill Haven railroad, running fifteen miles from Schuylkill Haven to Broad mountain, and having five miles of branches.

The Mt. Carbon railroad, running seven miles from Mt. Carbon up the east and west branches of Norwegian creek.

The Little Schuylkill railroad, running twenty miles from Port Clinton to Tamaqua.

The superstructure of all these roads was a wooden rail, strapped with flat bar iron, and the motive power was horses.

During 1830 the coal market became overstocked, and the price declined. The next year was no better, but 1832 brought an increased trade and abundant prosperity, although the boatmen charged extortionate prices at times for boats. In the last-named year a coal mining association was formed for the county, and it reported the total capital invested in the trade at $7,106,000. In 1833 an outcry was made against incorporated coal companies, and a successful trade in 1834 was followed in the next year by the boatmen's strike, which terminated in a descent of three hundred arid fifty of them on Pottsville, where they were routed and their leaders captured. The year 1836 witnessed high wages, scarcity of boats and a good price for coal.

In 1837 Col. John M. Crossland took the first boat load of coal from Pottsville to New York, and established the direct coal trade with that city. The succeeding year ushered into existence the first incorporated mining company, against the protest of the people and the veto of the Governor, which was defeated by the House passing the bill over his head by the requisite majority. This company was incorporated as the Offerman Mining Company; but its charter never became operative.

About this time the discovery was made that iron ore could be smelted by anthracite, and the iron trade received new impetus, which was dampened in 1839 by a flood and a depression that continued throughout 1840 In 1841 times were better, but in 1842 a strike among the miners occurred on Thursday, July 7, which was crushed bloodlessly by the sheriff with the Orwigsburg and Schuylkill Haven volunteer companies.

The year 1842 witnessed a great change in the transportation of coal to market when the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad Company entered the field as a rival to the Schuylkill Navigation Company. The opening of tile Philadelphia and Reading Railroad was celebrated by a public dinner and ball at Pottsville, on January 11 arid the railroad company immediately reduced the cost of transportation to $1.11, but the producers instead of benefiting by this reduction in freight charges foolishly reduced their coal from twenty-five to fifty cents per ton on board boats at the landings. The trade became sluggish, wages had fallen to $5.25 per week to miners and $4.20 to laborers, and the coal producers ordering all wages payable in "store orders" precipitated the strike of that year among the miners who demanded cash for their work The Mine Hill and Schuylkill Haven Railroad was the first road in the country put in condition for the passage of the steam cars of the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad Company, and on May 2l, 1842. A train of fifty cars carrying one hundred fifty tons of coal left Schuykill Haven

At 4 o'clock in the morning and their contents was discharged into a vessel that set sail from Port Richmond for an eastern port in the evening of the same day. Thus the railroad superseded the canal and made possible the full future development of the coal region and the rapid movement of vast quantities of coal which the canal would have been unable to have accomplished.

In 1842 efforts were commenced to improve the methods of breaking coal, which resulted two years later in the huge coal breakers of the present day. From breaking by hand through iron rod screens with two-inch meshes, John White introduced wire screens with meshes of various dimensions to save the consumers all trouble of breaking.

In 1842 the penitentiary breaker was introduced. It consisted of a perforated cast iron plate through which the coal was broken by hammers, the coal falling into a hopper from which it passed into a circular screen worked either by hand, horse-power or by steam. In 1844 the modern coal breaker, patented by Joseph Batten, of Philadelphia, was introduced at Gideon Bast's Wolf Creek colliery, and soon came into use throughout the whole legion.

The breaker consists of two or more cast iron rollers with projecting teeth that revolve toward each other and through which the coal passes and is broken into the required sizes. After being broken it passes into revolving circular screens which separate the different sizes which drop into a set of schutes or bins, ready to be transferred by the raising of a gate into the railway cars. The dump schutes above the rollers always have elevation sufficient to carry the coal by gravity through the rollers, screens and bins into the cars. The entire breaker and screening machinery is generally driven by a steam engine of fifteen to forty horsepower.

The next move for the improvement of the coal trade was the reconstruction of the transporting railroads from the mines to the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad, These roads - now called lateral roads - were all reconstructed by 1845, and were operated, with a few exceptions, by the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad Company. The operators were now saved the expense of keeping up their own transportation cars, but were dependent on the railroad company for transportation facilities; and liable to losses by a shortage of cars and their unfair distribution. On March 10, 1846, the president of the railroad company met the operators, many landholders and the wharf-holders of Port Richmond, at convention at Pottsville, to arrange for an equitable distribution of cars for the ensuing season and to prevent in the future the complaints of injustice in that direction in the past.

During the four years succeeding 1842 the Schuylkill Navigation Company learned that it was in changer of losing the bulk of its coal tonnage and took steps to improve its facilities and enlarge its capacities of navigation.

These changes were made by the close of 1846. Boats of from one hundred and eighty to one hundred and ninety tons could be floated on the canal; new docks, new wharves and landings were provided at the shipping ports, and cars were furnished in which to transport the coal from the mines to the canal.

There were one hundred and ten operators and one hundred forty two collieries in the county, and the active competition of the canal and the railroad company promised increased prosperity to mine owners and operators.



Floods of 1850

p. 48


On the 18th and 19th of July, 1850, a great flood swept down the Schuylkill valley and so suspended navigation that the coal supply was restricted and the operators were benefited for a time; yet their greatest prosperity came directly after the second flood that swept down and over the Schuylkill valley on September 2d. This last flood was the most fearful that had ever visited the county since its settlement by the whites, and in its pathway, of ruin lay the wreck of a vast amount of property. It burst Tumbling run reservoir, forty-two feet in height and covering an area of twenty-eight acres, with a capacity of 23,000,000 cubic feet of water, and sent its immense volume into -he raging torrents gathered from a hundred tributary streams.


By this second flood the canal was rendered useless for the remainder of the year, coal went up in price, and the railroad company could hardly furnish transportation for the demand of coal.




Tamaqua Borough.

pp. 168 – 170


On the Little Schuylkill branch of the Philadelphia and Reading and the Tamaqua branch of the Lehigh and Susquehanna Railroad, seventeen and one-half miles from Pottsville, is Tamaqua, which was taken from the territory of Schuylkill and West Penn townships. In 1799 Berkhard Moser settled on the site of Tarnaqua, where he built a saw-mill and two years later erected a log house. In 1817 Moser discovered coal, which was successfully mined until 1874, when the breakers were burned and the mines ruined, at a loss of $1,500,000 to their owners.


For twenty-five years after 1799 but few dwellings were erected. The town was laid out from parts of West Penn and Schuylkill townships in 1829, at which time the population was about 150. The design was to name it Tuscarora, but some enterprising person arose too early in the morning for the pioneers and gave that Indian name to the village four miles west As the waters of the Tamaqua, rechristened Wabash, the west branch of the Little Schuylkill, passed through the tract, it was decided to name the infant with the name of the creek, Tamaqua, which is Indian for ̉running water."


The town was incorporated in 1832, and improvements of a substantial character in 1846 were commenced which have been continued up to the present time. In 1849 the borough built water-works, and thirty years later commenced to organize their present well-equipped fire department. In the flood of 1850, over sixty persons, it is said, were drowned in the borough. Greenwood Roiling Mill was built in 1865, and Tamaqua Shoe Factory in 1874. The latter lay idle for about eleven years after 1877, and then the building passed into the hands of the Tamaqua Boot and Shoe Manufacturing Company, which was started by H. A. Weldy in 1888, and is now managed by his son Clarence. The factory gives employment to 45 persons, and the annual output is worth $50,000.


Tamaqua has two banks. The First National Bank of Tamaqua was incorporated in 1865, and surrendered its charter as a State banking institution. It was originally organized as the Anthracite Bank in 1850. The amount of Capital stock paid in is $100,000. This bank suspended payment October 14, 1878, and resumed just a month later. This embarrassment occurred in consequence of the failure of Charles F. Shoener. The bank has always been a paying institution. The surplus is now $70,000. Its present officers are: E. J. Fry. president, and Wallace Guss, acting cashier.


The second bank of Tamaqua is the Tamaqua Banking and Trust Company, which commenced business in 1865. At the time of organization Daniel Shepp was elected president, and H. A. Spiese cashier. Its present board of directors are: Dr. C. H. Drehr, Philip Kolb, W. S. Allabach, David Zehner, H. A. Weldy. Joseph Mitchell, L F. Fritch, Daniel Shepp and Al. Leopold. H. A. Spiese was succeeded by Al. Leopold, the present cashier. Capital stock, $78,000; paid-up stock, $47,000, and reserved stock, $21,000.


The Tamaqua and Lansford Street Railway Company was organized November 2, 1891, by F. P. Spicse, Robert Harris, D. D. Phillips. J. R. Coyle and C. W. Eberle. The officers are: F. P. Spiese. president; A. P. Blakslee, secretary; and P. J. Ferguson, treasurer.


The intention of this organization is to construct an electric railway from Tamaqua to Lansford and Summit Hill. The whole line, when completed, will cover a distance of about seven miles, and it is intended to employ the very latest improvements in the equipment and construction of the road, and have all appointments first-class. The company has an authorized capital of $50,000.


The Edison Electric Illuminating Company, of Tamaqua, was incorporated July 8, 1885, with an authorized capital of $30,000. It was organized with the following officers: Henry A. Weldy. president; F. P. Spiese, secretary and manager; and C. H. WeIdy, treasurer. The directors were: H. A. Weldy, F. P. Spiese, Dr. C. B. Dreher, Daniel Shepp and Samuel Brode.


The officers in 1893 were: Daniel Shepp, president; and F. P. Spiese, secretary, treasurer and manager. The present directors are: Daniel Shepp, F. P. Spiese, Dr. C. B. Dreher, H. A. Weldy and Samuel Brode.


The Tamaqua Legion was started in 1849 by J. M. & D. C. Reinhart, the name being changed soon afterwards to the Tamaqua Gazette, subsequently to the Tamaqua Anthracite Gazette. The paper suspended publication in 1861 for two months, and was then sold to R. L. Leyburn, who changed the name to the Anthracite Journal. Captain Leyburn entered the civil war a year later. Messrs. Fry & Jones assumed proprietorship until he returned.


The paper was then sold to the Monitor Publishing Company, and published as the Saturday Courier until it was sold to Eveland & Shiffert in 1871. In 1872 Mr. Shiffert's interest was purchased by Robert Harris. The firm later purchased the material of the Anthracite Monitor, a labor-reform journal, started in 1871, and which at one time had an immense circulation and influence. They thus acquired the title to the old Legion, and all the honors of the first printing establishment Tamaqua ever had.


In 1878 Daniel M. Eveland retired, and Harris & Zeller took charge. Tamaqua then boasted of two daily papers - the Item, published by Levi Huppert, and the Courier, by Eveland & Harris. They, however, were short-lived.


In 1881 the Courier partnership was dissolved, Robert Harris becoming the sole proprietor. The paper has since been published, up to June, 1893, as a weekly, when Robert Harris made it semi-weckly. It is a four-page, six- column paper, independent in politiccs, and has a good circulation.


The Tamaqua Recorder was founded in May, 1892, by Robert H. Hirsh, the present editor and proprietor. It is a four-page, seven column weekly, and has a good local circulation.



pp. 141 – 143


Railroads.-The first railroad in the State of Pennsylvania was the one built by Abraham Pott, in Schuylkill county, in 1826. This road was a half-mile in length and ran from Mr. Pott's coal mine to the mouth of Mill creek.


It was equipped with wooden rails, and its cars of one and a half tons coal capacity were drawn by horses, a horse being able to draw thirteen cars.


R. A. Wilder, who served for many years as chief engineer and superintendent of the Mine Hill, Railroad thus describes the railroads if the county in 1881


"The railroad system of' Schuylkill county embraces a network of roads more extensive and intricate than that of any other region of equal extent in the country. These roads ramify in all parts of the county where coal is mined, follow the windings of the streams through the many valleys and ravines, climb the mountains, over plains or by winding along their sides, or pass under them through tunnels. They enter the mines, to all parts of which they extend; and it is a well known fact that a greater number of miles of railroad run beneath the surface than above it in this county. Like the ramifications of the vascular system of an animal, these branches unite in a few main lines, which carry to the different markets the immense amounts of coal that are brought to them from the mines to which the branches extend.


"What are known as the lateral railroads of Schuylkill county were first constructed to accommodate the Schuylkill canal with a coal tonnage from the district south of the Mine hill and east of the west branch, covering an area of between sixty and seventy square miles. Previous to the construction of the laterals, the coal openings had been made in the immediate vicinity of the canal; no one was more than half a mile distant, and the tracks running to the loading place were no more than extensions of the mine roads a short distance beyond the mouths of the drifts. The mine tracks were very primitive. They consisted of notched cross ties (sleepers) on which a wooden rail, three by four or four by six inches, was laid and fastened by wooden keys driven in by the side of the rail. The gauge of the track was made to suit the fancy of the owner; but the average was forty inches. The mine cars held about a ton of coal and slate, and the wheels were loose upon the axle, like those of a wagon. There was usually a platform upon which the coal was dumped for the purpose of separating the impurities before loading, as breakers had not then been introduced."


The early lateral roads were: Mine Hill, commenced in 1828; Mill Creek, 1829; Schuylkill Valley, 1829; Norwegian and Mt. Carbon, 1830, and the Little Schuylkill.


We give the following list of railroads of Schuylkill county in the order in which they were chartered and the years, so far as could be obtained. in which they were opened:


Union Canal, 1826, about 1830 to junction; Little Schuylkill, 1828, 1832; Mine Hill and Schuylkill Haven, 1828, 1831; Schuylkill Valley, 1828, first part of railroad, 1830; Mill Creek, 1828, partly opened 1829; Mount Carbon, 1829, 1848; Catawissa, 1831, 1854; Swatara, 1831, about 1840; Philadelphia and Reading, 1838, 1842; Mt. Carbon and Port Carbon, 1842, 1844; Schuylkill and Susquehanna, 1844, 1855 East Mahanoy, 1854, 1863; Lehigh and Mahanoy, 1857, 1865; Mahanoy and Broad Mountain, 1859, 1860; Nesquehoning Valley, 1861, 1864; Mountain Link, 1859, 1864; The Peoples', 1865, 1872. Girard Railroad to develop Girard coal lands never fully opened and long since abandoned. It consisted of several inclined planes and intervening levels. It was laid out from the Schuylkill to the Susquehanna, and the eastern end constructed, but not much used, as the whole scheme was an error in transportation.


During the past twelve years several important railroad facilities have been added to the previous liberal distribution of tracks to all parts of the county of Schuylkill.


There is probably no area in the United States of equal extent containing so many miles of railroad as are in operation here; and in no other territory is such a vast tonnage collected for die trunk lines leading to the great commercial marts.


Among the most important railroads recently constructed in Schuylkill county are the Pennsylvania, Schuylkill Valley Railroad, and the Schuylkill and Lehigh Valley Railroad. The former was built and is operated by the Pennsylvania Railroad Co., and the latter by the Lehigh Valley Railroad Co.


The first named follows the general course of the Schuylkill Valley from Philadelphia to Pottsville, and thence pushes northward across the Broad mountain into the middle coal field in the vicinity of Shenandoah, where it makes connections with other railroads. It also joins the Lehigh and Mahanoy division of the Lehigh Valley Railroad near Delano, and thence to the upper Lehigh region, and into the Susquehanna Valley. This line was opened to traffic about 1886 or 1887. A branch road extends from Pottsville via Fishback to Minersville and new coal operations of the Lytle Coal Co., west of Minersville.


The Schuylkill and Lehigh Valley Railroad extends from the Lehigh Valley Railroad at Lizard Creek junction to Blackwood Collieries, near Tremont, a distance of forty miles from the Lehigh river, and was opened to traffic in 1890. There is a branch road from West Wood junction connecting with the Peoples' Railway, and by it entering the borough of Minersville, and also extending to the York Farm Collieries near Pottsville. This road connects with the P. & S. V. R. R. at Schuylkill Haven, and enters Pottsville over that line under a contract.


A branch of the Lehigh and Mahanoy Railroad has been extended to the New Boston Collieries on the Broad mountain, which also connects with the northern division of the P. & S. V. R. R.P by which the Lehigh Valley Railroad trains enter Pottsville from the north under contract.


These railroads are constructed in the most substantial manner, and may, in the near future, become parts of trunk roads to the north and south in accordance with projected lines and surveys.


The Electric Railway System is beginning to furnish means for inter-communication between the towns of Schuylkill county, which will add greatly to their convenience of access.


The lines already constructed and in operation are the Schuylkill Electric Railway, extending from Yorkville through Pottsville and Palo Alto to Port Carbon, with branches to Fishback and the Upper Tumbling Run lake, and the Schuylkill Traction Railway, located in the Mahanoy Valley and furnishing facilities of travel to the many flourishing mining towns, and coal operations built up in that important part of the anthracite coal field. Both of these roads are operated by the trolley system, and appear to possess value as an investment, which will be greatly increased with growing economics; in the power department. The wasted energy of fuel is a terrible drain upon the commercial application of steam, whether applied direct to the movement of machinery and trains, or through the medium of the generated electric current.





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