History of the City of Braidwood, Will County Illinois
From: History of Will County, Illinois
By: August Maue
Historical Publishing Company
Topeka-Indianapolis 1928

City of Braidwood.

In many respects, this city is peculiar, and in its growth certainly is a wonder; and, to any but inhabitants of the West, who are somewhat used to such phenomena as a large city springing from the ground in a decade, it would be considered a marvel.

In 1865, where Braidwood now stands, was nothing but a sea of tall grass, or in the winter a boundless field of snow, reaching out to meet the horizon, with scarcely a cabin intervening. As stated before, it was considered worthless with only a few farmers who were almost starving.

In 1878, Braidwood had a population of 5,000, with seven churches, three schools and gigantic systems of mining machinery.

In 1864, William Henneberry, while digging a well discovered the first coal. He had already sunk the well to a reasonable depth, but had failed to find water. Procuring a drill he continued his search, by boring to a greater depth. When about eighty feet below the surface, he came upon what proved to be a fine vein of coal. As soon as the fact became known, great excitement prevailed, and a shaft was sunk at a point known at Keeversville. This shaft fully realized the expectations of its projectors, and but a short time intervened before works of simple character were erected for the purpose of raising the product.

Individual and small company enterprises were thenceforward organized with varying success. The parties originating the same usually having more enthusiasm than capital, their efforts generally proved comparative failures.

In 1865-66, J. D. Bennett, M. B. Kiibourn, C. L. Whitcomb, Seth Turner and C. D. Wilbur leased some land, proposing to operate for coal. Wilbur was the State Geologist, and was a great enthusiast on the subject of coal desposits.

Their work was, however, but scarcely begun, when a company of gentlemen from Boston completed an organization for the same purpose, and Bennett and his company sold out to them. The Boston organization became known as the Wilmington & Vermilion Coal Company, J. M. Walker being the President, and A. T. Hall, Treasurer. With ample means at their command, the success of the work was fully assured, and the company continued in successful operation for forty years.

By 1880, the demand for coal had fallen off because mines were opened in other places. Seven hundred men were in the employ of the company at Braidwood. Of these one half were colored. The colored miners worked by themselves. In the summer season the miners were employed about one half of the time. They received eighty five cents per ton in the summer and ninety cents per ton in winter. The miners averaged 2 1/2 tons per day. Two shafts were operated to the capacity of 30,000 tons per month. General stores operated by the company for the sale of food and clothing were common then as they are now.

The Company employed at their two shafts, 425 men, about 300 of whom were at work all of the time, the remainder waiting their turn for employment, which was given to all from two to four days each week. About 130,000 tons of coal were raised per year, the capacity of the shafts being over 200,000. The total expense of the Company amounted to about $18,000 per month.

James Braidwood has, perhaps did more than any single individual to develop the coal industry in this region; especially, was this the case in its early history. He came from Scotland to America, in 1863, and to this vicinity, in 1865, and assisted in sinking most of the early shafts. In 1872, he, in company with some others, sunk the Braidwood shaft. Subsequently, the works were burned, and, in 1876 he started on his own resources, the shaft later known as the Braidwood shaft. He was not connected with the pool, but employed his men and sold his coal at prices independent of all corporations, most of his product being disposed of to the Bridgeport Rolling Mills at Chicago.

The history of Braidwood and Reed would be incomplete without an account of the strike. This account conies from Maltby's History. The panic of 1872-73 caused capitalists to withdraw their money from manufacturers and other enterprises which formerly gave employment to people without money or credit. Thus thousands of men and women all over the country were without the means of gaining a livelihood. As a consequence, a competition amongst laborers reduced wages, and still many, who would gladly have worked for smaller hire, had nothing to do. Labor arrayed itself against capital and manufacturers continued to withdraw thier means and invest in bonds and mortgages which were not threatened, and which, therefore, they considered safer, though not affording as great profits. This apparent conflict kept increasing until absolute necessity on the one hand and safety on the other have led to the organization of opposite parties. In 1877, this general strife culminated in a strike on the part of employes in all departments requiring labor. Mechanics, miners, railroad men and common workmen were infected with a premature desire to suddenly right their fancied or real wrongs. Trains were stopped, shops were closed and machinery of all kinds stood idle. This was the state of affairs in July, 1877. On the 1st of April, of the year mentioned, the coal companies of Braidwood had asked of their employes a reduction of 15 cents for Summer and 25 cents for Winter on each ton of coal mined, the reduction to take effect at once. The men would not accede to the terms proposed, and at once they stopped work, arguing that an unfair advantage was being taken of them in that many of them had bought lots of the companies and had improved the same, making it impossible for them to remove without serious loss. The companies were determined, however, and to keep their works in operation brought in miners from other localities, whom they employed by the day. After a month, several hundred colored miners were brought, who went to work for the companies at the reduction formerly proposed. Though deep mutterings were heard on all sides and some threats were made, nothing serious took place and hopes were entertained that the threatened trouble would finally blow over. But toward the last of July the general strikes occurring, and riots becoming common in many places throughout the land, the spirit of defiance took possession of the strikers, and they determined to drive out the "blacklegs," who, upon being apprised of the intention of the strikers. though promised protection by their employers and the county authorities, fled from the city. Some went to Wilmington, some to Morris, and others, who could obtain no means of conveyance for themselves and families, camped on the prairie. At this juncture, the Sheriff despairing of preserving order, the Governor was called on to furnish soldiers to quell the hourly expected outbreak. Accordingly, Gov. Cullom ordered 1,300 soldiers to the scene of the trouble, 200 of whom occupied the city about three weeks, the others returning to their homes in a few days. On the appearance of the soldiery, the "blacklegs" returned to the city and resumed work. At the end of the three weeks alluded to, the excitement attending the riot, as well as the disturbances themselves, ceased, railroads were in operation, factories were opened, and business generally was as brisk as before, and this community partaking of the modified sentiment prevailing in other parts, the trouble which had for some weeks threatened bloodshed was at an end. Many of the strikers took their former places in the mines, and some, with some of the "blacklegs," departed to other fields of labor. Peace and good feeling was so far restored that the visitor saw no trace of the once threatened rebellion. While the excitement was at its highest pitch, Gov. Cullom visited the city and spoke to the people, counseling peace and good order, and promising protection to the laborers to the extent of the full power of the State or of the United States army. The soil of the surrounding country, though but poorly adapted to agricultural pursuits, is yet quite well adapted to grazing and the dairy business, and this latter industry is just now receiving attention.

The history of Reed Township as well as the city of Braidwood is so closely connected with the coal industry that they cannot be separated. In 1880, Braidwood had a population of about five thousand. It was perhaps the most important mining town in Illinois. Soon after that, coal was taken out in many regions farther south. As they went southward in the State they found veins of coal which were much thicker than at Braidwood. Some of these reached a thickness of eight feet in Franklin County and at Springfield. These heavier veins made it cheaper to lift coal because the miner could take out more in a day. Gradually the industry weakened at Braidwood. The production decreased from year to year. In 1916, the mine at Godley just a little ways from Braidwood was closed. In 1918, the one at Torino ceased to operate. In both of these villages, a large number of men were thrown out of employment. They removed their families nearer to their work, most of them going to Southern Illinois. At this writing, Godley contains perhaps ten houses which are occupied. Torino has been almost entirely abandoned. Only two or three of the houses in the village are occupied and they are almost unfit for use. In 1923, South Wilmington mine was closed down. While this was in another county it has a part in our history because some of the people at Godley, Torino, and Braidwood, found employment in South Wilmington. In 1928, one small mine without a railroad was operated north of Braid-wood. In July of that summer, Skinner Brothers sold the mine to the Northern Illinois Coal Corporation, familiarly spoken of as the "strip mine". This company closed the Skinner mine at once thus throwing out of employment 60 men. Skinner Brothers almost immediately opened up the old mine at South Wilmington where they will give employment to many of those who worked for them in the mine at Braidwood.

This brings us to the history of the "strip mine" which has been in operation about four months. The name of the company which operates this mine was given above. It is the latest development for mining coal in Illinois. For three years preceding this summer, they made careful survey of the territory and found that there are thirty-three million tons of coal in Will County. This lies near the surface, from thirty to forty-five and fifty feet below the ground. The new way is to take off the top soil and thus leave the coal exposed. It lies more or less evenly distributed to the depth of three feet. After the top has been taken off the coal is taken up by electric shovels and placed in the cars.

The machines which are used to strip off the covering of dirt are the latest and most ponderous electric machinery. One weighs 800 tons. They move forward and backward and are adjusted by means of machinery so that the revolving platform is level and all of this is done by means of electricity. One man operates the entire machine. He is assisted by two oilers and two pit men who work below with shovels to help clean up over the coal. This machine is operated for six days without stopping, in shifts of eight hours each. It moves forward 300 feet in 24 hours taking Goff soil for a width of 30 feet exposing three thousand tons of coal ready to be loaded on the cars. On August 10, they took out twelve hundred tons of coal. This has been the average run for a number of weeks. Another machine is being installed which will make the capacity three thousand tons a day. All of this machinery is the very latest for operation by electricity. It is impossible to describe the strength of this outfit. One may get some conception of it when he knows that the steel cables which are used in handling the scoop are two inches in diameter.

When the coal industry of former years was at its heighth thirty thousand tons a month was a good run. One hundred and thirty thousand tons a year was a good average. The records tell us that those old mines had a capacity of two-hundred thousand tons per year with five-hundred men employed. In this modern way we have one machine which lifts into the cars thirty thousand tons a month with one hundred thirty-five men concerned in the entire operation.

The Rossi Macaroni Company manufactures the Lincoln Brand of macaroni and spaghetti. This brand is known for its excellence throughout the United States. The National Journal of the macaroni factories is also published at Braid-wood. The factory employs forty people.

The clothing factory employs about thirty giving employment to young men and women who do piece work and acquire skill which enables them to make fifteen eighteen, and twenty dollars per week.

Two grade schools are operated, one in Lower Braidwood where they have two teachers taking care of about sixty children. When the coal mining industry was at its heigth this school had six rooms with an average attendance of five hundred. The other school on the East edge of the village employs three teachers in the grades taking care of one hundred children. This is less than one fourth of what it was in the gala days for Braidwood. Reed-Custer Township High School is a four year high school with four teachers employed. In 1928, the enrollment was forty seven. It is a good school rendering service to many who could not go elsewhere. Superintendent Dille has charge of the high school.


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