Coal Mines in Vermilion County, Il
From: History of Vermilion County, Illinois
By: Lottie E. Jones
Pioneer Publishing Company
Chicago 1911


In the year 1669 Robert Cavelier La Salle left his trading post in Canada on an expedition to China by the way of the Ohio river. He learned before he arrived at the Mississippi river that it emptied into the Gulf of Mexico; he then changed his course and followed the Illinois river. It was during this part of his journey that coal was first discovered in this part of the continent; he found coal croppings along the river bank.

It is claimed that Illinois is the first locality in which a coal mine was opened up on the north American continent, one having been opened up as early as 1670 at what is now Ottawa. When the boundary lines of Illinois were staked off no one knew of the vast wealth of coal underlying the great level plains within, and when statehood was granted in 1818, one of the largest coal producing states was annexed.


If La Salle had followed the course of rivers leading to Vermilion County, he would have found many croppings of coal along the Vermilion river.

The earliest mining was carried on in the bill sides by drifting in and following the vein, or by stripping, and today one, in looking around along the river banks and nearby ravines, will see many old workings that have gradually given away to modern mining.

In February, 1855, the General Assembly of Illinois issued a charter to Ward H. Lamon and others associated with him, to permit the company to engage in the mining business; nothing was done under the charter. Dudley Lacock did some mining, but he moved to Livingston County in 1854. Lacock owned considerable coal land west of Danville, but he did very little mining on it. W. Caruthers and Mr. Ball commenced operations in 1853; further to the south William Kirkland opened drift mines east of the Wabash Railway bridge, south of Danville.

About 1860 Chandler and Donlan were the first to do extensive mining, and they were followed by Peter R. Lonard. As early as 1860 Michael Kelly began an extensive strip mining business. Charles Dobins, also William Shaw, and B. Bensel carried on a profitable business for several years in stripping along the bluffs of the North Fork.

The real beginning of the great coal industry in Vermilion County dates from the time William Kirkland, Hugh Blankeney, Mr. Graves, and Mr. Lafferty opened up their mines in Grape Creek in 1866. J. S. Morin was in charge of the Kirkland mines; Kirkland was unable to carry on as extensive a mining business as he wanted to, on account of scarcity of miners, and he imported two carloads of men and operated extensively by stripping with horses and scrapers northwest of Tilton. The number of men was still inadequate for his business, and a whole shipload of Belgiums were imported to work in the mines. Kirkland sold his coal principally to the Illinois Railway Co., who had tracks laid to his mines.

About 1870 A. C. Daniels sunk shaft No. 2 for the Ellsworth Coal Co. and two years later sunk No. 4 for the same company. These properties were taken over by the Consolidated Coal Co. Shafts Nos. 2 and 3 were burned down; No. 2 by accident, and No. 3 by strikers. The miners who set fire to No. 3 shaft were caught, prosecuted and sent to the penitentiary in 1874.

To Michael Kelly belongs a great deal of credit for the wonderful strides made in this industry. He left his strip mine on the North Fork, and bought some coal land in the Grape Creek field. He soon had a considerable quantity of coal to market, and was able to furnish coal to the Chicago & Eastern Illinois Railroad Company for their locomotives; he also discovered another vein of coal at a depth of 90 feet; this vein was 8 to 9 feet thick and of better quality than the top vein. Mr. L. T. Dickerson took an interest in the business with Mr. Kelly; they made wonderful progress. Later Mr. Kelly acquired Mr. Dickerson's interest; he also purchased more land and had two mines in operation. About this time other men became interested in the possibilities of the coal industry. The Pawnee Coal Co. was organized in 1888 by Paul W. McKay and Mr. Hutchinson. They began extensive operations in Grape Creek; also the Consolidated Coal Co. began operations on a large scale in the Missionfield stripping proposition west of Danville.

The Brookside Coal Company was organized by Mr. Sandmeyer and operated a mine near the Pawnee at Grape Creek. The Himrod Coal Company was organized by Bernard and Charles Himrod, they took over the Pawnee Coal Company mines and also bought other land and opened the Himrod mine, under the management of Mr. W. W. Keefer, these mines made fast headway and became a big factor in the coal mining business.

In 1870 considerable mining was done in• west Vermilion Heights. John Short opened up a fine body of coal land and for a long time the place was known as the "Moss Bank Coal Mine." In 1873 this property was taken over by the Paris and Danville railroad. General R. H. Carnahan was in charge of these mines for several years.

In 1879 A. C. Daniels operated the Ellsworth mines, and bought the Carbon Coal Company, also several other mines south, and operated them under the name of the Consolidated Coal Company.

In 1873 William and Henry Butler made a contract with the Consolidated Coal Company to strip their coal in Missionfield district and for several years Butler Bros. struggled along but were unable to make the proposition pay and in 1900 practically abandoned the place, others tried it later but none succeeded.

The discovery of a lower vein of coal in the Grape Creek district by Mr. Kelly had the effect of transferring the extensive operations to this vein and aside from small workings very little coal was being taken out of the top vein. The coal land laying west of Danville was not as profitably operated as that of the south although Sylva Parle operated a mine west of Danville near the town limits, for several years supplying coal to consumers and local dealers.

In 1892 Mr. J. G. Hammond operated the "Economy," west of Danville on the Peoria and Eastern Railway, and on account of labor and other troubles which continued for a year or two, sent to Iowa for Wm. G. and John G. Hartshorn, friends of his to help him out, they bought an interest in the business and succeeded in bringing it up to a profitable standpoint. In 1903 Hartshorn Brothers and Mr. J. A. Barnard, general manager of the Big Four Railroad Company organized the Electric Coal Company, bought land four miles west of Danville, opened and successfully operated the "Electric" mine. Hartshorn Brothers and Mr. Barnard also organized the Hartshort Coal Company, which concern acquired the mine at Muncie, which was formerly owned by the Entronous Coal Company.

In 1909 the ill fated Missionfield mine came into the hands of the Hartshorn Brothers, who organized the Missionfield Coal Company, and notwithstanding the great losses suffered by former operators they were successful in making the strip proposition pay, the continued success of Hartshorn's operations in the west coal fields had the effect of greatly enhancing the value of coal land in that district, options on hundreds of acres was taken at one hundred dollars an acre in 1910.

In 1903 Michael Kelly bought out the Himrod Coal Company paying them $260,000. He then became the largest individual coal operator in the state. About 1900 the South Westville Coal Company was organized by Mr. Gerety and a large mine was soon in operation south of Westville. In 1905 W. B. McKinley formed a syndicate to take over the mines of Michael Kelly, for which they paid three million dollars. About this time the Dering Coal Company was organized by J. K. Dering and R. R. Hammond to take over the South Westville Coal Company mines. They also bought more land and soon had four mines in operation. The coal industry in Vermilion County at this time had reached its zenith, some two and a half million tons were mined in 1906. The Dering mines were operated under the management of W. G. Halbert and the McKinley mines under W. G. Hartshorn.

In 1907 the Little Vermilion Coal Company was organized by L. T. Dickerson, a large producing mine quickly followed its organization and was operated under the management of Alva Halbert.

In 1908 the Bunsen Coal Company, of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, a subsidiary of the Illinois Steel Company bought several thousands acres of coal land near Westville, Georgetown and Catlin, also they bought out the Little Vermilion Coal Company, later they acquired the Kelly properties from the McKinley syndicate and the mines were opened up for extensive operations. The coal industry in 1910 was brought down to three principal ownerships, the Illinois Steel Company and the Dering Coal Company in the south field and Hartshorn Brothers in the west field.

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