Historical Markers
Schuylkill County Historical Marker
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Schuylkill County

Valleys of the Susquehanna


Marker Location:
SE corner, Laurel Blvd. and N 2nd St., Pottsville

Dedication Date:
May 26, 1982

Behind the Marker

Local tradition usually credits a hunter named Necho Allen with "discovering" anthracite in Schuylkill County. He apparently figured out that the "black stones" existed in abundance when his campfire accidentally ignited some exposed anthracite.

A view of Pottsville, in Schuylkill County, was created by J.R. Smith in 1833, and was "respectfully dedicated to the enterprising citizens of the Coal Region."
Pottsville, PA, circa 1830.
Schuylkill County's anthracite did not sell well at first. A man named William Morris tried unsuccessfully to market a wagonload of coal transported from the county in 1800. He carted the anthracite to Philadelphia but found no buyers. During the War of 1812, Necho Allen and Col. George Shoemaker launched a more ambitious partnership that aspired to buy up lands around present-day Pottsville and create a regular market for coal in Philadelphia. They were more successful than Morris, but still failed to crack into the home heating market in any significant way.

By the 1830s, the markerSchuylkill Canal regularly moved coal from Pottsville to Reading and on to Philadelphia - a distance greater than 100 miles. By the 1850s the Philadelphia & Reading Railroad had made its way to Pottsville and soon dominated the trade-buying out or driving out independent coal companies. Transportation networks assured delivery of anthracite to market, yet many mining ventures in the Schuylkill County failed. According to one study, between 1830 and 1875, nearly 80 percent of the coal operators in the county failed within five years.

Anthracite in Schuylkill County comes from the southern coal field. Mining in this field was more difficult than in the northern field because of steeply pitched veins of coal, running hundreds of feet upwards inside of mountains, and deeper than 3,000 feet. While early mining dug coal from hillsides, by the 1850s vertical shaft mines lowered men and empty wooden cars to great depths. From the shaft, horizontal tunnels called gangways were dug, that intersected the coal vein at angles. From the gangways, skilled miners used explosive charges to excavate "chambers," or rooms of coal, and then unskilled workers picked and shoveled the coal into awaiting cars. This type of deep shaft mining was made possible by improvements in water pumping technologies. These pumps removed approximately 20 tons of water from the mines for each ton of coal sent to the surface (about 30 million gallons per day.)

The Potts, Pattersens and Eckharts made Pottsville a center of wealth, and mining centers developed at St. Clair, Tamaqua, Mahanoy City, markerShenandoah, and Ashland. During the 1870s, the markerMolly Maguires were active in these mining towns and other isolated "patch towns". Several mine officials and bosses were killed and, in response, twenty purported "Mollys" were hung in Cumberland, Carbon and Schuylkill counties.

Much lore remains about the notorious Mollys and about whether those executed actually committed the crimes. What is certain is that Franklin B. Gowan, president of the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad, set out to crush any form of collective labor action that brewed in the southern field. Forming the Coal and Iron Police and hiring spies from the Pinkerton Detective Agency who posed as miners in patch towns, he quelled both the Mollys and the Workingmen's Benevolent Association's organizing efforts for a time.

To learn about bootleg coal mining in Schuylkill County during the Great Depression markerclick here.
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