Occasionally I have queries about the coal mines which existed in the Bunker Hill area in the 1870’s and later. The first attempts at mining coal were made by Mr. Naylor and John B. McPherson in 1867. These men were unable to control the water entering the mine with their inadequate equipment. After a lot of labor expended and financial expense, they had to abandon the project.
As some men are stubborn, they were determined to try again. Work began in February 1870 and continued steadily both day and night, even under the most discouraging circumstances. Perseverance brought success, and before the end of the year a rich vein of coal nearly seven feet thick was uncovered. The quality was excellent according to experienced judges. Large quantities of coal were contracted to parties in the Litchfield vicinity. They evidently were more than satisfied with the quality and price to come from such a distance.
In January of 1871, an article in “The Union Gazette,” the Bunker Hill newspaper at the time, said the mineshaft was 264 feet below the earth’s surface. The temperature was comfortable and there was good ventilation. The roof was partly slate and partly stone so the working conditions were good. Supporting heavy joists were at four foot intervals. At this time fourteen men were working and got out around five hundred bushels a day. The cars of coal were hoisted in the elevator by steam power. One side of the shaft was used for coal carts and the other side was fitted with buckets for the purpose of emptying water from the bottom to prevent flooding. The cost of sinking the shaft and putting it in working order was close to $8,000.00. The mine was a successful boost for the area.
At one time Naylor and McPherson held a banquet at the bottom of the mine. They had invited the notables of Bunker Hill, but only eight brave souls came. The location of the mine is supposed to have been a little north of Bunker Hill at the end of Union Street. John Edsall remembers it as the Neil Mine, but I believe it is the same mine, and eventually, it was taken over by the Neil’s. Mr. Naylor retired in 1875 and was succeeded by William Neil. Two years later John McPherson retired. Neil acquired new associates interested in mining. These partners operated it until October of 1880, when it was abandoned. Twelve men were employed at the time. The nine month production for 1880 amounted to 61,029 bushels.
In a March of 1879 item, The Gazette editor told of his visit to the Neil Brothers Mine. He put it east of the city. It said he went down 250 feet and met miners who showed him the different departments. They demonstrated the blasting process. “When blasts were fired the whole earth seemed to shake”, he said. He called the Neil men, “Clever gentlemen”.
A cyclone went through the area on December 11, 1879. Houses, barns, and trees were greatly damaged. It tore the upper works entirely away at the Neil coal mine. In May of 1880, William Neil and Company broke ground for a shaft near the railroad track to the north part of town. Citizens paid subscriptions of $2,000.00, as a part of the total expense of $11,000. A January 1881 article said young men of the firm were William, Peter and John Neil, and James Monagham. Early September found workmen still drilling away at the heavy bedrock at 240 feet. Later that month at 250 feet, a six foot vein of coal of excellent quality was reached. Around thirty men worked the mine at this time.
The winter of 1882 was mild and this meant disaster for coal interests. One-half of the mine workers were laid off, and those who remained only worked two or three days a week. A notice was posted that said that the workers would only be paid two cents a bushel. There were a lot of pros and cons in the argument, the men struck for two and one-half cents and got it. By September, the forty men in number struck for three and one-fourth cents. An August ’81 notice said that William Neil and Company were extending mining operations, and it was necessary to secure more land. In the event that property owners complied with plans, a second shaft would be sunk on the Ed Davis property near the creamery, which I think was located further West from the main road.
October 22, 1885 reported that the Bunker Hill Coal Company organized in 1882, stocked at $20.000, had greatly improved the mine. It was one of the cleanest and most completely equipped mines in the west. The mine was more than a mile in length with all the entries connected. A bountiful supply of air was forced through the entire mine. It contained 5,000 feet of track for the coal buckets that were pulled by mules. The organizers of the company were; R.J. Whitney, President; Ferd Brother, Secretary; A.E. Bauer, Treasurer and Manager; James Monaghan, Engineer; and Peter Neil, Pit Boss. All had stock interests.
In 1886, the newspaper said the mine was in first class condition. They claimed the coal was even twenty percent better than a year ago. Only one mine in the St. Louis market surpassed the coal product for steam purposes, and all others were graded below it. Forty-seven men were then employed. In 1887, it was reported that the Bunker Hill Coal Company had greatly increased the capacity of their mines by putting in new and larger boilers.
A January 16, 1895 report said John Neil had brought a mule out of the mine that had been down for thirteen years. For the first few days the mule acted strange, but then began to regain his sight. I’ve heard that they were blind after living in the darkness for so long. In July of 1897, an item said, “There has been some complaint of the water used for street sprinkling. It came from Naylor’s abandoned coal mine, and a physician said the odor is due to sulfur and is not injurious. Besides, he thinks it will prove agreeable when one becomes used to the smell. Frank Cruickshank used to say that bathing in it would cure almost any kind of sores.“ February of ’98, “For a long time there hasn’t been a reasonable good living for coal miners, but now workman are in better shape and are getting full wages.”
BUNKER HILL REVISITED, volumes I, II, and III.
Some more information on area coal mines outside of town. In the August 28, 1903 Gazette, an article reported on the Bauser-Truesdale mine in progress on the Bauser place. The property was up the hill to the north after crossing the bridge over Paddock creek, on the Bunker Hill-Staunton road, at the east edge of Bunker Hill. On this date, a distance of 35 feet was reached, and new machinery was to be installed soon to expedite the work. It was thought that the coal would be reached in a few months. I searched microfilm and never did find out any more news about the mine. A later item stated that the mine opened in 1903. Bauser originally lived in St. Louis. After retiring he moved to Bunker Hill in the early 1900’s and bought property on which the coal was found. Bauser and Truesdale were in partnership until 1906 when Ed A. Bauser took charge of the mine until October 1934. The mine was then leased by former employees and ran as a co-operative company. It's not known when it closed.
James Truesdale of St. Louis said the mine extended under the Duke Wilson property. He remembers a room full of batteries. The batteries supplied a common source of electric power which ran the coal cars. The fresh air-shaft was out in the pasture as he remembers. One time as a youngster James threw a small keg down the shaft and he never heard it hit bottom. A Gazette article said the shaft was 248 feet deep and the coal vein averaged five and a half feet thick. It was considered the best steam coal in this part of Illinois. The first four years, the coal was mined by hand. Later the coal was cut with a compressed air punching machine. After the mine was electrified with their own generators, the coal was cut with a long wall electric machine. A lot of Bunker Hill men worked at the Bauser mine, and a lot of men hauled coal from there, John Edsall was one.
As a youngster Sherwood “Chub” Howald remembers men working a mine on the north side of the Bunker Hill-Woodburn road, across from Wood Hills subdivision. He relates a story told by his dad, on the operator of the mine. Angelo Mancini operated the mine and was having trouble with water flooding the mine. He bought and installed a large pump. Not long afterward, someone stole the pump and that ended the mining operation. I called his son, Danny, and asked what he remembered about the coal mining venture. He said his father and Mike Briskovich, the older brother of George and Joe, worked it for about 6 or eight months. This was sometime between 1933 and 1936. It was a slope mine perhaps 250 feet into the hillside. After the pump was stolen, Angelo went to work in a mine in Fosterburg. That mine I am told, was at the sunken spot which is sort of a pond now, by the east side of the hard road as you go south from Fosterburg. Others who worked the mine at this time were Alfonso Castelli (Moonlight owner), August Zinni, Carl Monari and Ben Stefanni.
Another mine was located south of Woodburn, located in the northeast quarter of Section 36, Brighton Township, according to the abstract. It was north of Tichenal Road, formerly called “Coal Mine Road.” Others may remember it called Colburn Christmas tree road. A mineral rights agreement was signed in June, 1935 between Harry and Emma Hulick, owners and Fred C. Hausman, Ira Hughes and Henry C. Hausman, who were ready to excavate coal. They were to pay one-half cent for every bushel of coal sold from the mine. It was to be paid on the first of the month the to Hulicks. John Edsall remembers the mine was dug on property owned by his grandparents in the early 1900’s.
John and his Uncle Jack Johnson built the cage and the hoisting rig. It was used to dig the mine and later raise the coal. John told Ollie Schwallenstecker that Jack Johnson, who ran a sawmill close to Carlinville, sawed the boards and props for the mine. They used a steam engine and wrapped a cable around the drive-wheel. John Edsall said he had been in the mine lots of times. Picture of John standing in front of the old mine shaft in 2001.
Fred Roberts has heard the Hausman mine stories down through the years. The mine was dug by his relatives. Fred Hausman was his grandfather. John Hausman was Fred’s brother and Henry C. Hausman was Fred’s son. Ira Hughes was Fred Roberts’ uncle. These men dug the mine by hand and Jack Johnson helped as it was shored up. Fred Roberts said that the Hausman men worked all week for about $12.00 each and said that his dad worked at the Western Cartridge Company for thirty cents an hour and made more money than the miners. Walter Hausman from Brighton said a Buick engine was bought after the old steam engine played out. The Buick engine didn’t have a radiator so a half-barrel filled with water was used to keep the motor cool. Walter, son of Fred Hausman, said the mine was 148 feet deep, but the vein of coal was small in many places. Fred Roberts remembers having to crawl through some small spaces when he worked there one summer. The airshaft was on the south side of the road about a quarter of a mile from the main mineshaft.
At one time Ira Hughes was seriously hurt in the mine and there was a question whether he would survive. After months of recuperation he went back into the mine, but the accident had disfigured his face and cut off an ear, and had crippled him for life. The coal mine was a good one and men came from Alton with their trucks to supply the trade. In June ’38, Fred Hausman, Ira Hughes and Henry C. Hausman assigned their interests to Roscoe Moore of Benton, Illinois.