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Anthracite Coal

Anthracite coal was discovered by Philip Ginder in 1791 on Sharp Mountain, an area nine mile west of the Lehigh River and forty miles north of Allentown. The Lehigh Coal Mine Company was formed in 1792, but eventually business began to falter because of the cost of transportation for anthracite coal to Philadelphia. The company could not compete with the bituminous coal that was being shipped over from England. The company briefly increased its sales under the control of Jacob Cist during the War of 1812 because bituminous coal could no longer be shipped over from England. Unfortunately, sales plummeted once again when the war was over (Hugh Moore Historical Park and Museums).

Two men in Philadelphia, Josiah White and Erksine Hazard, had purchased some of the anthracite coal from Cist and discovered that it was an excellent industrial fuel. They decided to lease, and then eventually purchase, the lands of the Lehigh Coal Mine Company. They began their efforts in the present day Mauch Chunk and formed two separate companies: the Lehigh Coal Company and the Lehigh Navigation Company. Shortly after, they merged to become the Lehigh Coal & Navigation Company, know as LC & N (Campion et al., 1997). Through the LC & N, a wagon trail was built in 1818 from the Summit mines to Mauch Chunk. This wagon trail transformed into a gravity railroad later in order to minimize the time needed for coal to get down the hill. In 1829, the Lehigh Navigation was completed as well (Hugh Moore Historical Park and Museums).

The easier transport of coal due to the gravity railroad and the completion of the Upper Grand Section of the Lehigh Navigation made it possible to open more coal mines. New companies began to open in the Lehigh region, although they all transported their coal via the LC & N (Hugh Moore Historical Park and Museums).

During the early years of the anthracite coal industry at Summit Hill, deep mining was not necessary because the coal was located relatively near the surface. It was dug out by workers with a simple pick and shovel. The coal was not always located at the same location on different mountains. When Cist had begun his coal mine operations, his mine was located at Room Run. In 1830, White reopened the Room Run mines located near Nesquehoning Creek. There were pros and cons to this location since coal at Room Run was located closer to the river than the coal at Summit Hill. It was, however, deeper in the surface of the earth (Campion et al., 1997). This coal was retrieved by drilling tunnels until the coal was reached (Hugh Moore Historical Park and Museums).
Ethnic diversity was extremely prominent in the industry. Some of these new immigrants faced harsh treatment, partly because many of them could not speak English. Ironically, much of this discrimination was lead by the Irish, who too, had been previously discriminated against. However, his was partly due to economic fears (Campion 1997).

Strong ties were formed by men and boys who worked in the mines since they were expected to aid each other in the event of disaster. Mining accidents were very common for anthracite coal workers. During mining, coal gave off methane (also known as firedamp). This gas was explosive and a constant threat to the well being of those in the mines. Fans were utilized to circulate the air, but the methane remained a threat. There are numerous explosions in the record books due to firedamp explosions. The worst in history occurred in the Avondale coal fields near Wilkes-Barre in 1869. One hundred and eight men and boys were killed when a match was lit following a strike, igniting the circulating air and causing a fatal explosion. The mine collapsed, trapping the unfortunate people and taking their lives. This, however, is only one of the many tragic accidents that occurred (Campion et al., 1997).

Working in the coalfields began as early as the age of nine. These "breaker boys" had the job of picking slate out of the tons of coal. This was hard work and would often would lead to bleeding fingers at day’s end. When machinery started to become more popular, some of these young boys were mangled to death in the blades of the machinery (Campion et al., 1997).

Drinking alcohol also became a way of life for the miners due to the danger and hard work. This was the case for those who worked on the canal as well, although LC & N looked down upon this. The work on the canal was not as dangerous as it was in the mines. It was important to have a level head when coal mining because of the technical difficulty. However, the drinking continued because it was just the way of life (Campion et al., 1997).

The anthracite coal industry began to dramatically change during the 1850’s and 1860’s. This was directly related to the changing transportation systems in the area. Railroads began to be a much faster means of transportation. They were also operable in the winter months when the canal froze over. In the 1870’s and 1880’s, the industry was growing quickly but unfortunately, the market was growing at a much slower rate. This created competition between coal companies as well as the transportation companies (Hugh Moore Historical Park and Museums).

In the beginning of the twentieth century, the coal industry began to decline. Alternative fuels such as oil and natural gas were becoming more popular energy sources. There were also continuous problems between the workers and the management resulting in numerous strikes that were also extremely detrimental to the industry. The number of jobs was also decreasing due to increased in technology and the implementation of strip mining. The Great Depression also caused the coal industry to decline further. By 1954, the LC&N stopped mining coal altogether (Campion et al., 1997).

The anthracite coal industry has had a major impact on the quality of the water in the Lehigh River. Over the past thirty years, the quality of the water has drastically increased. Coal silt deposits in the Lehigh River used to increase the acidity of the waters. Much of this silt was swept away by hurricanes and floods. In addition, the average pH of the river has changed from approximately 4.5 to 6.0 in the 1950s to the present range of 6.9 to 9.2 (Miller, 2000).

Today, abandoned coal mines are a major cause of the decrease in water quality in the Lehigh River. Abandoned mine drainage is the "single largest source of water pollution in Pennsylvania" according to the Wildlands Conservancy in Emmaus, PA. The tributaries that lead into the Lehigh River, including Nesquehoning and Buck Mountain Creeks, are affected by the acid mine drainage from eight coal mines. This decreases the quality of water in the river. Drainage from the mines also causes various changes to the water including lowering alkalinity levels, decreasing the natural buffering capacity, and introducing high concentrations of sediment, iron, sulfate, aluminum, zinc, and acidity (Urban, 1998).

Efforts are being made by the Wildlands Conservancy to decrease the effects of this acid mine drainage. They have received a grant to construct a 1.5 acre artificial wetland to remove acid mine drainage pollutants from the Lausanne Tunnel discharge. Hopefully, this will be another step towards increasing the water quality of the Lehigh River (Miller, 2000).


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