Historical Markers
Knox Mine Disaster Historical Marker
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Knox Mine Disaster

Poconos / Endless Mountains


Marker Location:
St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church on Main Street, Port Griffith, Jenkins Twp.

Dedication Date:
January 24, 1999

Behind the Marker

Officials dumped railroad cars into the Susquehanna River in a desperate attempt to plug the hole in the riverbed created by the Knox Mine Disaster.
Workers dumping railroad cars into the Susquehanna River near Pittston, PA,...
After 110 men died in the deadly markerAvondale Mine Disaster in 1870, the state of Pennsylvania began to impose safety regulations on mining operators. All too often, however, mine owners ignored those precautions in the rush to maximize profits. In the twentieth century the pressure to cut corners grew worse with each passing decade as coal steadily lost its market share and prices plunged.

A lack of knowledge about geology led oil prospectors to drill wells virtually anywhere, and to drill many wells at a productive site. Triumph Hill, near Tidioute, Warren County, boasted the highest density of wells in the oil region. Fifty derricks can be seen in this view.
Triumph Hill
In 1959, the River Slope Mine was only five years old, but it already extended well out under the Susquehanna River. The Knox Coal Company, and its lessor, the Pennsylvania Coal Company, had ignored map "Stop Lines" - where mining could not take place because of inadequate roof thickness - and continued to mine off course. State law prohibited mining within 35 feet of a riverbed, but the River Slope Mine came within 19 inches of the Susquehanna. Less than two feet of rock and gravel separated miners from 10 billion gallons of water. It was not enough.

On January 22, 1959, the roof gave way, trapping seventy-four men. Sixty-two of them would eventually escape, but twelve were never found. The Susquehanna River had smashed into the mine, creating a whirlpool that pulled the water in and flooded miles of mines throughout the Wyoming Valley. The disaster at Knox ended most deep mining in the Wyoming Valley, where it had been in decline since its peak production of 100 million tons in 1917.

Knox Coal represented one of many "contract mining" companies that came to dominate anthracite production in the mid-1900s. While the proliferation of these companies resulted in an increase of anthracite tonnage after World War II, these operations often saved costs by sidestepping safety regulations and mining with old equipment. The Knox Mine Disaster also exposed the corrupt tactics of United Mine Workers' officials, mine management, and mafia-connected interests in the mid-20th century. A grand jury investigating the cave in found seven men guilty of involuntary manslaughter and three of them also guilt of conspiracy. All the convictions, however, were overturned on appeal. It is little wonder then, that a daughter of one of the drowned miners called the disaster, the "Knox Mine Murders."
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