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Monongah Coal Mine Town and Fairmont Coal Company History and Pictures


By Larry Brian Radka, a Monongah Boy


(Booth's Creek entering the West Fork River at a high-water level in Monongah)

Monongah, in Marion County, West Virginia, lies at an altitude of 873 feet, about six miles south of Fairmont and spreads out on both sides of the West Fork River where Booth’s Creek—named after Captain James Booth—makes its entrance.


Close-ups of this 2-page map,
 © July 5, 1921 by Ginn & Co., are displayed in appropriate places below
In 1768, Captain James Booth explored the West Fork Valley, the “lonely wilds of West Augusta,” and his lead eventually brought other settlers to the area.  In 1777, this adventuresome man organized a company of Rangers and led them in the Continental Army for 13 months.  Unfortunately, however, after returning to the area where Monongah stands today, the Indians killed him in an ambush on June 16, 1778.


Capt. James Booth's tombstone located near Booth's Creek
According to George A. Dunnington’s History and Progress of Marion County, West Virginia, “The death of Captain Booth was mournfully regretted by the settlers, for he was a man of great energy, good education, and possessed extraordinary talents.  He was probably the most prominent man in the settlements, and his death was felt to be a very great loss.”
(The clear, tranquil-flowing Booth's Creek near Petty John)
Booth’s early settlement, along a tranquil creek feeding the West Fork River* that flows a few miles north to Fairmont—where it converges with the Tygart’s (Tigers) Valley River to form the Monongahela—may have been originally called Petty John.  The name is underlined on the old map below, and Petty John’s location-point seems to closely match the area where Monongah sits today.  Two Virginians, Thomas and John Pettyjohn (Petty John), fought in the American Revolution in North Carolina, and they could have been comrades of Captain James Booth, and Monongah was named after one of them.



Nevertheless, the original settlement apparently had to wait for nearly a half century before progressing into a bonafide town.  “Monongah began its work toward becoming a town in 1850,” according to Thomas J. Koon, “when James Watkins hired a surveyor who laid out a section of the bottom land in lots and began their sale.  He selected the name of Pleasantville for his town but, since the area was overgrown with blackberry briars, a passerby stated that a more appropriate name for the settlement should be “Briartown” and the name took hold.”  According to Koon’s article in the Sunday, December 2, 2007 issue of the Times West Virginian,  “A post office was opened in 1879 listing the town’s name as Briartown.  Later it was changed to Clarkton, and still later to Monongah.”




Looking across the bridge toward East Petty John,
 Briartown, Clarkton, or Monongah as it's called today
Regardless of Monongah’s names of the past, what allowed the settlement to continue to partially sustain itself in future years was the West Fork River and the black outcroppings that lined its banks.  This type of coal was discovered and used long before any white settlers even thought of Briartown (or Petty John?).   “Those intrepid Jesuit missionaries, Joliet and Marquette, who explored the Mississippi Valley, discovered coal in the United States near the present site of Utica, Illinois, in 1673,” states A Popular History of American Invention.  “Later, in the year 1689, Father Louis Hennepin published a map showing a ‘cole mine’ along the Illinois River.  That the Indians were acquainted with numerous coal beds and used the black stones for fuel, and that they actually mined it, there is no doubt.  In 1766, they complained to the governor of Pennsylvania of the robbery of their mines by the white settlers.”
A miner digging out a cut underneath a coal face to be drilled,
 tamped with powder &  blasted down later
To the south, the oldest coal-mines believed to be dug by the Colonialists are those in the bituminous fields near Richmond, Virginia.  “It is said a boy discovered these beds, in turning over stones in his search of bait for fishing,” wrote Professor Floyd L. Darrow.  “This was 1702, but it was not until 1750 that the mines were opened.  During the Revolutionary War, coal was in common use throughout this region.”
Most likely, the West Fork River, in present-day West Virginia, played a part in supplying colonial Virginians with one of the ways of staying warm in the winter at the time.  This beautiful river is a principal tributary of the Monongahela River, 103 miles long, in north-central West Virginia.  Via the Monongahela and Ohio Rivers, it is part of the watershed of the Mississippi River, draining an area of 881 square miles.
West Fork River in Monongah, looking north by the remaining pier of No. 6 Mine's trestle)
The West Fork is formed near the community of Rock Cave in southwestern Upshur County by the confluence of small headwaters, tributaries known as Straight Fork and Whites Camp Fork.
(West Fork River looking toward Clarksburg, south to its source)
From this confluence, the West Fork River flows generally northwardly through Lewis, Harrison and Marion Counties, through the communities of Weston, West Milford, Clarksburg, Lumberport, Shinnston, Enterprise, Worthington, and Monongah to Fairmont, where from the west it joins the Tygart Valley River to form the Monongahela River.
It should be pointed out here that the West Fork River probably originally received its name because it is indeed the west fork of the Monongahela River.  The Tigers, Tygarts, Tygarts Valley, Tygart Valley, etc, regardless of its numerous names, was once considered to be just the Monongahela River, as the close-up of the 1921 map here clearly demonstrates.  Nevertheless, depending on which old map one chooses to use, the names for the east fork of the Monongahela River change substantially; and to reduce the confusion once and for all, I believe this river's name should henceforth and forever be called the East Fork River.  Do you read this cartographers?
Nevertheless, among the West Fork River's tributaries, it collects Stonecoal Creek in Weston; Hackers Creek in southern Harrison County; Elk Creek in Clarksburg; and Simpson Creek and Tenmile Creek in northern Harrison County.


The 103 miles of meandering water in the West Fork River flowed through a large area of western Virginia, and the new state wanted to use it for commercial navigation, but it was only useful during high water conditions.  Therefore, in 1793, the state chartered a company to make it permanently navigable, and required that dams for milling operations provide a chute for boats to pass downstream.  Construction of a system of locks, dams, and chutes was begun by the Monongahela Navigation Company in 1817, but the project was abandoned following damage by floods in 1824.  Nevertheless, a boat yard for manufacturing large flat boats for use in high water was established in Clarksburg around the time, and various goods such as old iron, whiskey, grain, flour, lumber, and coal, continued in the rainy months to be floated down the river to Pittsburgh and destinations beyond.
The areas around Clarksburg, West Virginia was (western Virginia at the time) and also Middletown (renamed "Fairmont" in 1843) were good sources of coal.   In 1835, the first coal mined in the Middletown area shipped to markets in Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and New Orleans.  The mines were small, independently owned operations, a humble beginning to an industry that would define much of Fairmont's coal history in decades to come.


(Old engraving from Scientific American of a steamboat pushing coal barges at Pittsburgh)
Those decades began in February 1850, with the successful journey of the first steamship, the Globe, steaming up the Monongahela to Fairmont, and its arrival thoroughly excited and delighted the city’s people.



Other big steamboats, which could also push coal barges, followed suit and made regular trips in high water during 1852.  These successes encouraged local efforts to secure permanent navigation on the Monongahela from Pittsburgh to Fairmont, through the organization of the Monongahela Navigation Company, but attempts to interest capitalists failed.
All this successful river activity certainly caught the eye of the local mine owners who could now ship their coal faster and easily by having their empty coal barges pushed by steamboats back up the Monongahela River during high water.


James O. Watson, founder of Fairmont Coal Company)

The river received added attention in 1852 when James Otis Watson built a suspension bridge from Fairmont across the Monongahela River to Palatine.*  “The Great Iron Bridge” provided for foot and wagon traffic that overshadowed the slow and cumbersome ferry-operations.



The connection increased business on both sides of the Monongahela River and served as an avenue to the new B & O Railroad line hammering its way from Fairmont to Wheeling.


Old engraving of Palatine in the foreground, Monongah is to left behind the hills

 The B & O Railroad had opened the first line over the mountains from Cumberland, Maryland to Fairmont in that year.  Laying tracks west from Fairmont and east from Wheeling, the workers finally met on December 24th at Rosbys Rock in Marshall county, about eighteen miles east of Wheeling.  There, a massive sandstone formation, some 64 feet long and 20 feet wide, marked the completion of the line.  In honor of the rail system’s superintendent Roseberry Carr (aka Roseby) who oversaw the memorable connection, his crews chiseled his name, in huge four-foot letters, into the huge rock illustrated below.  They apparently misspelled his name, according to the history books, which apparently spell it correctly—but in various ways!  According to an email sent to me by Ed Yelochan, Carr “was a track laying supervisor for the B&O. He first worked on the B&O main line from Baltimore to Wheeling. When that was completed in 1852 he went to work on the Parkersburg branch, connecting Grafton to Parkersburg. He died in Clarksburg, VA in 1855.”


Nevertheless, on December 24, 1852, after a golden spike finalized the arduous construction—requiring 5,000 workers, 1,250 horses and $15,628,963—the first train from Baltimore chugged through the Maryland and West Virginia mountains, through 11 tunnels and over 113 bridges, to reach Wheeling on New Year’s Day 1853.



Ten days later, a grand street parade and banquet celebrated the completion of this important line of the B & O Railroad.


Note the trolley track in this photograph of Fairmont circa 1911
This awesome accomplishment opened Fairmont to shipping its products regularly east and west by rail without depending on high water in the Monongahela River.


James O. Watson's coal mine in Fairmont, W. Va.)

Watson, along with others, had opened a coal mine on Washington Street in the heart of downtown Fairmont, and the O'Donnell Mine had also opened, on the east side of the river near Palatine Knob in 1852.


This photograph of the south side of Fairmont,
West Virginia was taken around 1910
They took advantage of the B & O's improvement in transportation and became the first mine owners to ship coal from this region by rail.


J. O. Watson's New England Mine's empty and loaded coal cars at Watson, near the city limits of Fairmont
Nevertheless, steamboat transportation was cheaper than rail—especially when traveling with the current.  Monongahela River transportation, however, had one big problem--its 35-mile journey northeasterly to Pennsylvania was on a slope.  The average fall was over 2 feet to the mile, so a series of locks and dams was needed to make it permanently navigable and a viable alternative.**



However, after a long delay, in 1889 Morgantown finally secured regular steamboat service with Pittsburgh—by the completion of Lock Number 8, and the accomplishment was duly noted.  An enthusiastic crowd greeted the first steamboat to pass through the lock at the wharf in Morgantown, and the captain dazzled the onlookers when he fired up his brilliant electric carbon arc searchlight—the first that many of those present had ever seen.


The north German Lloyd steamer the "Koeln' taking on Consolidation coal at an eastern U. S. seaport
More importantly though, the B & O had opened a railroad between Fairmont and Morgantown 1886, and Watson and other local coal barons could now regularly ship their coal production to the northern steel mills, power plants, and eastern steamships—via rail to Morgantown and steamboat barges up to Pittsburgh for connections by river or rail elsewhere.
At the time, Connellsville and Uniontown, Pennsylvania mined a large portion of the high-grade coking coal used in Wheeling and Pittsburgh steel mills.
Coke is a carbonized product of coal, a special type that has a columnar structure, like the outcrop near Connellsville illustrated below.
It is produced by a decomposition process of heating bituminous coal to a high temperature, about 1800 degree Fahrenheit, in a closed chamber out of contact with the air.  The intense heat drives off volatile matter, such as gas, tar, ammonia water, and oils.  The residue, or char, that remains is called coke, which generates much more heat than the charcoal commonly used to heat metal-melting furnaces of the past.
At one time, smoke from nearly 50,000 coke ovens darkened the American skies.  Experts in the nineteenth century estimated that supplies of coal and coke in the United States were large enough to satisfy world demand for centuries to come.
The Connellsville and Uniontown coking-coal came from a narrow strip of the famous low-sulfur Pittsburgh seam, which extended down the Monongahela River and up along the banks of the West Fork River.
This part of the seam had been suspected of having equal or even a better quality of coking-coal than the section being mined up north.  U. S. Senator Johnson Newlon Camden took note of this and saw the possibility of making a lot of money by making West Virginia the coke-producing capital of the United States instead Pennsylvania if the suspicion proved to be true. 
So he bought into J. O. Watson’s Montana coal mines, northeast of Fairmont. along the Monongahela River, to have some experiments made on the qualities of its coal, and the outcome proved to be positive.  His investment began to pay off handsomely when he began shipping coking-coal north from the Montana Mines along the recently-completed B & O spur from Fairmont to Morgantown and then down the Monongahela to Pittsburgh and Wheeling steel mills. 
Meantime, Camden focused in on mining coking-coal from an undeveloped portion of the Pittsburgh vein, further south, running up the West Fork River through Clarkton and Clarksburg toward Weston.  However, there was no means of easily transporting the coal or coke out of that area on a regular basis since the West Fork was only navigable part of the year.
The government survey conducted by Captain Roberts in 1875 had regarded Fairmont as the head of the navigation of the Ohio, so there was little hope of getting any locks or dams built on the river to solve this problem.  So another means of coal transport would be the only viable solution.
Horses or wagons could only carry small amounts of coal at a time, and the roads were poor and often non-existent in the area.   So that meant a railroad was needed, one that could easily follow a low grade, the relatively flat ground along the edge of the West Fork River
Camden's plan was two-fold.  Buy up all the land and mineral rights in the area for a coal camp and mining operations and simultaneously initiate the construction of a railroad.   So he sent his agents, the firm of Dickerson and Clayton, out to the area around Clarkton to buy up property from the Watkins and Davis farms.
A coal-mine powder house still standing along the road to the old Davis homestead along Booth's Creek
This they successfully managed to do, and at prices well below the normal market value. Local farmers were apparently not aware of the coming railroad, which would have allowed them to up the price for the mineral rights to their property because steel tracks would have provided an easy means to ship out their dormant coal.
In 1888, Camden, and his business associates, completed the Monongahela Railroad, connecting Fairmont and Clarkton, and traffic flowed the following year.  His newly built coal mines and coke plant at Clarkton, under the name of Monongah Coal & Coke Company, were operating and shipping out their products the following year. 
By 1890, the Company's contract with the Ohio Coal Exchange Company for 100,000 tons of bituminous coal was allowing Camden's Clarkton enterprise to ship 3,000 tons per day, and about 30 per cent of that went to its local coke ovens for shipment to the northern steel mills.
The Company Store is the large building beside the road running on the right (east) side of the bridge
That was the same year that the Monongah Coal & Coke Company included a post office in its company store.  According to Davitt McAteer, in Monongah, The Tragic Story of the Worst Industrial Accident in US History, “The company’s principal owner, J. N. Camden, directed D. S. Thompson, who was the mine superintendent, to have the name Monongah, W. Va. printed on the stationary at the mine company’s address.”  With consideration for the action of such a powerful influence, when the town incorporated in 1891, Clarkton's name was changed to Monongah.
Late the previous year, Monongah’s miners had gone on strike for six months over the introduction of an electric coal-cutting machine, which threatened to cut the coal miners' wages.  The machine and its owners finally won over the lengthy standoff and the strikers relecutantly went back to work.
The failure of the coal miners to win their strike was not uncommon—considering the record for Pennsylvania.  The statistics for the 1880’s showed up in a January 12, 1890 review in The New York Times.  Therein, in analyzing Homer Greene’s recent release of Coal and Coal Mines, the reveiwer pointed these and some other pertinent information out by reporting:

“Treating of strikes, the author states that from 1881 to 1886 there have been in Pennsylvania 880 strikes, of which 186 succeeded, 52 partly succeeded, and 642 failed.  The loss to employers was $1,549,000 and to employees $5,580,000.  Having a practical acquaintance with miners, the author writes:”

The predominating race among the mine workers is Irish, next in point of numbers comes the Welsh, then follow the Scotch and English, and finally the Germans.  Of late years, however, Hungarian, Italian, and Russian laborers have come to the mines in large numbers, especially in the southern districts.  These people can hardly be compared with the English or German speaking races; they do not become citizens of the country, have in the main no family life, and are in a certain sense slaves whose masters are their own countrymen. . . .
The proportion of “good-for-naughts’ among the miners, however, is no greater than it is among any other class of workmen having the same numbers and the same advantages and disadvantages.  With the exception of the Hungarians, Russians, Italians, and Poles, of whom mention has already been made, the miners and their families compare favorably with any class of workers in the same grade of labor in America.
Nevertheless, long strikes like this one in Monongah in 1890, followed by efforts to unionize, would eventually spark the efforts of the mine owners to import more cheap, less rebellious, foreign workers—mostly Italians from southern Italy**** and Slavic workers from the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the turn of the century.
West Fork flowing north by the west (left) & east sides of the 1903 Monongah Coal Camp
And they were sorely needed to work in Watson and Camden's ever-expanding coal-mining operations.
A old colored picture-postcard showing a dirt street in Monongah in 1909—probably Camden Avenue
In fact, on June 20, 1901, to be specific, Watson, along with his other investors, merged their coal mines into one corporation, the Fairmont Coal Company.
The mines included the Montana and Aurora of the Montana Coal and Coke Company; Gaston of the Gaston Coal Company; New England and Shaft of the West Fairmont Coal and Coke Company; Fernum Hurry, Enterprise, Beechwood, Gipsy, Maulsby, Harbert, Viropa, Solon, Glen Falls, and Durham of the Briar Hill Coal and Coke Company; Meadow Brook, Uhlen, Melrose, Worthington, Luther, Lynch, and Reynolds of the Hutchins Coal and Coke Company interests; Chieftain, Columbia, Ocean, Highland, and Anderson of the Highland Coal and Coke Company; Palatine of the Palatine Coal Company, Monongah, with six separate plants of the Monongah Company; and Middleton of the Middleton Coal and Coke Company, for a total of thirty-six.
A special report in the June 18, 1901 issue of The New York Times also reported:   “In addition to the above, the company now owns 1,450 miners’ houses, 5,800 individual cars, 5,000 acres of surface land; and owns and controls 60,000 acres of the best coal in the district.  The annual output will exceed 6,000,000 net tons, and the company will have a monthly pay roll of $250,000.”
The above section of a larger coal lands map below, and this production chart, which were included  in a sales brochure created in part by the Fairmont Coal Company, show its vast coal-land holdings and the steep increase in its coal production in previous years.
The 1903 brochure claimed the Fairmont Coal Company held 61,800 acres of coal  and  owned. operated, and controlled 45 mines that could produce 8,000,ooo tons of coal a year.   That is an increase of 1,800 acres and 9 mines in just two years, which is indicative of the general increase in coal production in the United States at the same time.
Beside its acreage and mines stood Fairmont Coal Company's 1106 coke-ovens, with a capacity for producing 600,000 tons per year.***
Consolidation Coal Company's barge feeding its coal to the U. S. S. New York at Newport
However, on January 3, 1903  the Fairmont Coal Company merged its holdings with the Consolidation Coal Company.  This company, which was chartered by the Maryland Legislature in 1860, had operated since then in a comparatively small area of western Maryland, which contained the famous George's Creek Big Vein Cumberland Coal, one of the best bituminous coal fields in operation at the time.
Above we see its Ocean No. 7 mine.  The main operations of the company were located on the line of the Cumberland and Pennsylvania Railroad.
The C. & P. Railroad Shops, Power-House, and the Office of the Superintendant of Motive Power (1903)
It opened its first mines in 1842, and during that year its entire output amounted to 1,708 tons, while in 1903, Consolidation Coal Company produced 1,753,783 tons of coal, or forty-two per cent of the entire output of the Cumberland region.
One of Fairmont Coal Company's mines that Consolidation Coal Company controlled in 1903 was Monongah’s No. 6 mine, which had opened in October, 1899.  On May 12, 1905, ground was broken for Fairmont Coal Company’s No. 8 mine in Monongah.
An old legend claims that when the local Indians spoke “Monongah,” the word meant “Blood,” and nothing could be more applicable to what was spilled there on December 6, 1907—when a series of explosions and fires wrecked two of its coal mines and killed nearly all the miners working therein.  The official death toll was 361, but the unofficial number is much higher.
The number of dead coal miners was so great that the morgue's coffins overflowed onto  the sidewalks
Shortly after the tragedy, Paul U. Kellogg arrived on the scene to report on the disaster for Charities and The Commons, a magazine published by a New York organization dedicated to charity.  In his article published on January 4, 1908, under the subtitle “MINES AND THE TOWN,” these are his words:

West Virginia mines have a bad name.  We know that they kill a great number of men in the course of the year.  We know that the United Mine Workers have been pretty much kept out of the country.  We know that some of the rankest abuses of the padrone system have been perpetrated in these hills.  But it isn’t necessary to make the mistake of one New York newspaper and take it for grated that where the greatest disaster befell the worst conditions were to be found.
[The Number 8 Monongah Mine with damaged portals and fan after the explosions of Dec. 6, 1907]
The Monongah mines are leased from ex-Senator Camden, by the Fairmont Coal Company, a constituent part of the Consolidation Coal Company, which is a Baltimore corporation operating perhaps a hundred mines in three states, and capitalized at $20,000,000.  Numbers 6 and 8 mines are properties which from a production standpoint are splendidly equipped.
One of the old postcards bought by me recently on an Ebay auction—Note the pole's carbon arc light]
No. 8 is a new mine. Its tipple is the biggest in the state.
[Fairmont Coal Company's No. 8 Mine Tipple is across the river in the center behind the railroad tracks]
A giant fan whirred at the mouth of a separate airway.
Remains of an old coal mine fan rusting away at the old Monongah Mine No. 8 mine site]
The cutting was done by machine and the cars were run by electricity.*****
Monongah is a company town.  It was a lone hill-side when the mines were opened sixteen years ago.  Most of the houses are company owned.  Some of the buildings are old, colorless, and bare; others are distinctly the reverse, and there is an absence of the tumble-down shacks found in proverbial mining settlements.  Double house, four rooms each, rent for $7 a month on the east side of town; three room houses for $5.  On the hillside opposite, new houses, four rooms, a river water hydrant for each two, and a well for every four, are going up at $7 per month.
[A line of remodeled four-room houses “on the hillside opposite,” by the removed streetcar line today]
Every house has board walks, and a yard 100 by 150 feet for a garden.  Electric lights are supplied at twenty cents a month; gas by an independent company, at fourteen cents a thousand, and coal at $1.25 a wagon load.  [Every yard was not that large]
[Notice the electric carbon arc light hanging at the end of the cable on the left side of the photo above]
The men are paid the middle of each month for the product turned out the month preceding; and in the interval can get orders from the office with which they can buy provisions at the company store, and at rates said to be no higher than in the independent stores of the town. (These orders are often cashed by the men at a discount.)
[The Company paid miners in scrip or tokens like these to purchase goods in the Company Store]
Sixty cents a month is deducted from the pay envelope of each married man, and forty cents a month from the envelope of each single man, and this goes toward the salary of the company doctors, who respond to all calls.  The men arrange the office to have insurance premiums deducted from their pay in a similar manner, and remitted direct to the insurance companies; and to project industrial providence a step further, the company is known to have offered a building free to a home missionary society.  In the case of accidents, the policy of the company has been considered liberal.  A man going into the mines of West Virginia assumes the risks “naturally attached to the trade.”  If he is killed and the company is proved to have been negligent, then it is liable.  Otherwise not.  That is the law of it as told me by the legal adviser of the operators.
In practice, the company has gone beyond the law.  It has never put a widow out of a house; if necessary it has sheltered her family as much as a year; has given her a chance to make a start at washings, or set her up in a boarding house, and required men to patronize her: or it has given her children employment.
“I believe the company has dealt fairly and honestly with its men, so far as it is possible to do,” said the Presbyterian minister of Monongah, who has been there for seven years.
 [Jewish Company Dr. David Bressler delivered  me from my mother Elwanda in this gray house  in 1943]
 [Men often enter & exit this world bald-headed & smiling. Why? I don't know!]
Of course, all has not been smooth sailing.  You can’t be land-lord, and gas man, and mine-boss, and doctor and a hundred other things to a community without some friction.
[Monongah's Company workers were not always “ruly”—and the unruly met in the brick building above]
But for the most part, the company acted consecutively in a policy that it was good business to get and hold at its West Fork mines a ruly, contented and healthy body of workers.  Those adjectives may not stand for the high water mark of a robust civilization.  They stand for a type of industrial efficiency, and imply certain standards of treatment and a wholesome environment.  And for these, Monongah mines have had a reputation throughout the state.
My father, George Radka, a latter-day Monongah coal miner, worked hard for many years inside the old No. 8 (later named No. 63) Coal Mine and outside on mining cars near the large tipple above for the Consolidation Coal Company until 1962.  They provided for my bread and butter in a “wholesome environment,” a little better than the one spoken of above.  Otherwise, I would probably not now be doing these Web pages!


*Personal History of the Upper Monongahela Valley of West Virgina, By James Morton Callahan, Volume II, New York 1912

**The 1913 edition of the Semi-Centennial History of West Virginia, With Special Articles on Development and Resources, by James Morton Callahan, Professor of History and Political Science, West Virginia University
***From a forty-page 1904 sales brochure titled:  The Coal to Buy and How to Burn it, Being Practical Hints on the Selection of Coal for Present-Day Requirements, published by The Consolidation Coal Company, Fairmont Coal Company, and Somerset Coal Company, all of which J. O. Watson's family owned or controlled a large portion at the time.  Included in the publication were a collection of several photographs of the coal companies' mines and shipping operations as well as a fold-out colored map of their coal lands, part of which is presented above.

Janet Lieving and Jim Davis standing in front of Consol Energy's showcase of coal mining paraphernalia at Monongah


While I am touching on the history of Consolidation Coal Company here, I would like to thank Janet Lieving of Consol Energy, the descendant of the aforementioned company, and Jim Davis, my old childhood buddy, for their outstanding help with the acquisition of several of the photographs that you see on this Web page and others.


Note:  The Maryland Legislature chartered the Consolidation Coal Company in 1860, and it was formally established in 1864, but its organization was delayed by the Civil War.  Its headquarters for over eight decades therafter was in Cumberland, Maryland.



Above we see a picture of Consolidation Coal Company’s old Central Shop, which still operated in the early 1960’s when Monongah's No. 63 (old No. 8) Mine closed down.  This old structure now houses Consol Energy’s current headquarters for its “Northern West Virginia Operations.”  Make a careful comparison of the basic structure of this building with that of the old power plant for the Monongah No. 6 mine on the postcard below.  Of course, the old smoke stacks were removed long ago, and a little renovation has been done here and there since the day of the Monongah mine explosions, but the building still seems basically the same.  They built'em to last back then! 




****The emigration of non-literate peasants from southern Italy to the United States was becoming a problem for both countries by 1906, and some of these immigrants came to Monongah to seek their fortunes in the coal fields, wherein many would unfortunately find permanent rest at a premature age. In fact, the immigration of Italians to America was threatening to depopulate southern Italy. In an article in Charities and The Commons, under the title of “The Effect of Emigration Upon Italy, Threatened Depopulation of the South,” Antonio Magano pointed out:

“While we, in America, are considering the restriction of immigration by means of an educational test, the Italian parliament has spent several sessions discussing the possibility of forbidding the emigration of those who cannot read and write.  This would leave the educated classes free to emigrate, but would greatly restrict the emigration of the southern peasants who are needed to till the fields.  Only last March, one of the members of Parliament pointed out the fact that emigration, if it continued at the present rate, would surely prove a severe injury to the country.  Mr. Celsea said:”

The exodus of our people threatens to be in the near future far and beyond that which we believe and threatens to absorb that gradual increment of population which for some years past had been our pride.  Allow me to remind you that tour emigration from 88,000 in 1886, from 503,000 in 1903, enormously increased in 1905 to 726,000.  During the first half of this year (up to March), the number is 458,000, a tremendous increase over 1905.  Alongside of this fearful increase in emigration is the decrease in the number of those who return. For if in 1905, 78 per cent returned, in 1906, only 23 or 28 per cent.


[Italian emigrants lined up in Naples to buy tickets for America from ill-starred Titanic's White Star Line]

“In the southern provinces, we found almost universal desire to emigrate.”




*****Above stands the mule, the predecessor to the steam driven donkey engine, the compressed-air engine and the electric mine locomotive or “electric mine motor”—as some call it today.  All of its descendants are illustrated below.


This unit weighed 7 tons, and the saddle tank used 9 x 12 inch cylinders carried on 2-feet-4-inch wheels
Steam engines—donkey engines—followed the use of mules for pulling trips of coal mine cars.  In 1866, H. K. Porter Company of Pittsburgh began building steam locomotives for service in coal mines.  However, since coal mines are often filled with highly flammable gas, the fire box always presented a danger of an explosion.



“The first Porter steam locomotive, called the ‘Black Dwarf,’ was built and was sold to Wood, Morrel and Company, of Johnstown, Pennsylvania,” wrote Floyd L. Darrow in his article entitled “Buried Sunshine”—included in Waldemar Kaempffert’s Popular History of American Invention.  “These early locomotives were manned, as a rule, only by one man—an engineer.  Since they traveled but two or three miles, only a small quantity of fuel was required, and this, about 700 pounds at the most, was carried in a box in the left-hand side of the cab.  Later, fireless mine locomotives were introduced.  In these, highly heated steam—what is called ‘superheated’ steam—is forced under high pressure into a boiler-like container, and enough of it is thus stored up to drive the engine for a few hours.”   Consolidation coal mines were some of the first to use these donkey engines to replace mules.



However, H. K. Porter Company brought out in 1891 its first compressed-air locomotive for service in coal mines, and Consolidation Coal company also took advantage of this development, as the George’s Creek Mine photograph above clearly demonstrates.  The compressed-air engine is ideal for mine haulage because there is no danger of sparks or short circuits that could cause fires and explosions.  This unit appears to be a two-stage compressed-air locomotive, using a double-expansion engine, which is highly efficient.  Since its introduction, it has hauled millions of tons of coal in the United States and other countries.

Nevertheless, because of its high degree of efficiency, great mechanical strength, and simplicity of control with a compactness of form unattainable in any other mine tractor, the electric mine motor has replaced nearly all the mules, steam locomotives, and the compressed-air engines.
The first electric mine locomotive, built by Jeffrey in 1888 for the bituminous mines of the United States
In Volume II of A Popular History of American Invention, Darrow, the Head of the Department, Brooklyn Polytechnic Preparatory Country Day School, gives us some history on the first electric mine motor—and even the first electric mine lighting—a little bit of which follows below:

“The first electric locomotive, operated by current from a dynamo, was not exhibited, even as a curiosity, until 1879.   But three years from that date these remarkable locomotives were doing service in the coal-mines of Saxony. . . .

“In 1888, the Jeffrey Manufacturing Company designed and built the first electric locomotives used in the bituminous coal-mines of the United States.   They were installed in the mine of the Upson Coal Mining Company, at Shawnee, Ohio.   A unique feature of the equipment was the use of one-inch galvanized iron pipes, instead of wires, for the conductors.”
“Electric lighting in the coal-mines was introduced about the same time as the electric locomotive.  Samuel Hines and Captain W. A. May, of the Hillside Coal and Iron Company, at Scranton, Pennsylvania used electric arc lights in their breakers in 1886.  Soon after this, the mines themselves began to be electrically lighted.”


Check back sometime for more Monongah and Fairmont coal pictures and history.





This page was last modified on Monday, February 19, 2018