Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Farmers fail at mining in Benton Township

I happened onto a 1909 newspaper article the other day that offered a few details about my family's abortive coal mining enterprise --- something my dad had talked about but didn't experience personally because he wasn't born yet.

This happened midway through the period from roughly 1880 into the 1930s when coal was a growth industry in Lucas County and all sorts of people wanted a piece of the action. Here's the article from The Chariton Patriot of June 24, 1909:

New Mine to Start Development of Coal Field

The result of prospecting for coal in Benton township is the opening of a shaft on the farm of Harvey Whiteside. The shaft goes down to the depth of 83 feet where it strikes a vein of good coal that is two feet in thickness. A roof of rock is above the coal and there will be no trouble with water in the mine. The work of driving entries will begin at once. The company that will mine the coal is a corporation known as the Benton Coal Company. The company has leased the coal rights from Mr. Whiteside for a period of five years. He is paid one-fourth cent per bushel for the coal right. The members of the company are Harvey Whiteside, O.A. Scales, W.H. Holmes, Wm. Schreck, U.G. Berg, David Hupp, Ward Carpenter, Dan Myers, Irwin Myers. The endeavor will be to fully develop this field, but for the present the mining will be done on a limited scale, coal being sup pled as is now done at the Inland mine. The demand for this coal will come from farmers in the southern and southwestern parts of the county, which demand has heretofore been largely supplied by the mines near Bethlehem.

The shaft was located in the hills east of Wolf Creek about two miles south of Salem Cemetery on the old George Redlingshafer farm. George was an uncle of mine, some generations removed, and Harvey Whiteside, the Redlingshafer son-in-law who had purchased the farm when George died. With the exception of W.H. Holmes and Ward Carpenter, all of the investors were cousins. Irwin Myers was my grandfather; Dan Myers, my great-grandfather. They all lived along or just off the New York Road.

The good news here is that none of these guys lost much money. The bad news, they didn't mine much coal either --- perhaps enough to heat their own homes for a winter or two but little more. There were a couple of difficulties. First, the coal bed was not extensive enough to exploit commercially; and second, these men were farmers, not miners, and really didn't have too firm a grip on what they were trying to do.

Some years later, another group of investors sank a shaft just to the north --- west of the New York Road again, but north of the Chariton River. That enterprise didn't get off the ground either and pretty much marked the end of coal fever in Benton Township.

So when my dad was a kid, farmers in the neighborhood of Myers Corner still hitched horses to wagons and made the trek down to the mines east of Bethlehem for their winter supplies of coal.

I've sometimes wondered if, more than a century later, any trace of this modest mining enterprise remains --- a pile of dirt, perhaps, or a hole in the ground. I think, if approaching the Wolf Creek hill from the west, you crossed the the bridge across Wolf Creek and then walked south through the gap in the fence just the other side you'd be on the route to the old mine. But I have no idea who owns the Whiteside farm nowadays and lack the enthusiasm to ask permission and go exploring anyway.

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